Archbishop of York pleads for inclusive Britain

Government should trust the people and support multi-cultural communities 14 January 2009 – The Archbishop of York has called for a new vision of Britain which does not see immigrants as ‘guests in a hotel’, but as full participants in society with the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.

The call came in a lecture delivered to the Smith Institute in which Dr John Sentamu called for Britain to reassess its priorities as a country and to rediscover its vision as a nation, in the face of the recession.

The Archbishop of York said: "With the global financial crisis, we have seen a sudden and traumatic impact on our banks, on businesses and in so many of the things we have taken for granted for so long. It has brought home to us in a powerful and painful way that we have been tempted to put our trust in false securities (and I would argue false gods) and the need to think again. Governments and individuals are both radically reassessing their priorities and values as a result and so are the religious communities. Because of this, I believe it is also a unique opportunity".

In proposing a solution to rediscovering a big vision for Britain, Dr. Sentamu suggested a three fold approach based upon "freedom, social fellowship and service". Stressing the need for an interdependent approach the Archbishop said: "any analysis of society which treats people either as just individuals with no collective responsibility or on the other hand, as mere objects of economic and social forces is bound to fail. We are not just individuals confronted by the state. Instead, we belong to society through many different communities, geographical, ideological, faith and in many other ways."

Commenting on the loss of vision, the Archbishop criticised the policies of successive Governments which led to "over-cautious policy-formation, fear and irritation" linked to multiculturalism. Using an analogy developed by the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Archbishop said "With the decline of the empire and the growth of significant immigration to England from the Commonwealth, Chief Rabbi Sacks discerns a new approach which he compares this to a hotel. Guests are entitled to stay if they can pay their way, are free to choose their hotel and receive basic services in return for their payment. But they are guests – they do not belong. In the same way, migrants to Britain from the 1960s onwards have made their home with their cultural rights protected under legislation framed under a multi-cultural perspective. Consequently any sense of a shared common culture is eroded risking increasing segregation."

Dr Sentamu also called for a re-examination of the relationship between the Government and the electorate: "We need to re-assess the relationship between ourselves and government. For the real issue is not just what our government can do for us but what we can all do. This was the enormous strength of the Beveridge Reforms. They brought together concerns of the people, the vision of religious and other leaders in society and those of the government. This is why they began by being such an outstanding success. What we need to do today is to re-engage people in the whole process of how we plan and live together as a nation".

In the lecture, the Archbishop quoted the Prime Minister’s view that being British involved "choosing solidarity in preference to selfishness; thus creating out of the idea of duty and responsibility, the Britain of civic responsibility and the public realm" where British values were best carried out "by local clubs, associations, societies and endeavours – from churches and trade unions to municipal initiatives and friendly societies".

Dr Sentamu continued: "In many ways, the Prime Minister’s vision of Britishness has much to commend it. It is rooted in our history, particularly in its understanding of liberty and freedom of the individual. This is balanced by the concept of civic responsibility, of care for each other, of neighbourliness. However, this vision of Britishness flounders if it does not allow for participation, involvement and commitment from individuals and communities, which Gordon Brown recognises as vital to our ethic. The Government needs to bridge the gap between its rhetoric of devolving power to local communities and what is happening in practice."

The Archbishop concluded: "The vision for our country will be served much better if the Government is able to show that it trusts the people, and has confidence in communities to demonstrate this sense of ‘fairness’ and ‘charity’. `We need to encourage the Government to believe that they can indeed carry out the values contained in Gordon Brown’s concept of Britishness in their policies. Most importantly therefore, in order to provide the big vision we need, Brown’s vision of Britishness must engage with what is happening to people in their daily lives."

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