What Lib Dem members think about immigration (Part I)

by Stephen Tall on May 2, 2011

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 530 party members have responded, and we’re currently publishing the full results.

Immigrants should be free to follow own cultural traditions, say 7-in-10 Lib Dems

LDV asked: Which of the following statements best reflects your view?

    12% – People from other countries who come to live in Britain should leave behind their own cultural traditions and try to live like British people
    69% – There is nothing wrong with people from other countries who come to live in Britain continuing to follow their own cultural traditions
    3% – Don’t know / No opinion
    17% – Other (please specify)

By a long way, then — almost 6:1 — Lib Dem members in our survey believe immigrants to the UK should be free to continue to follow their own cultural traditions. Of the 17% who chose ‘Other’, most chose a hybrid: that immigrants were welcome to continue following their own traditions, but should actively try to adapt to a more British way of life.

Here’s a selection of your comments:

Depends which traditions. Food, music, literature, dress add to the richness of life. But people need to live by the law, in particular recognise equality for women.

We have a long history of taking our cultural traditions with us all over the world, why should we expect others to do differently?

I don’t like the binary opposition implied by these options. There is a middle way between maintaining cultural traditions and adopting the culture of Britain, which is indeed what the vast majority of immigrants do, and which is what I believe is right. I do think, however, that there can be a tendency (on both sides) to want to live in culturally homogenous areas, and that the state therefore has an important role to promote integration.

Immigrants should be supported if they choose to maintain their own cultural traditions – but they should also be encouraged to make adaptations to fit in with British culture and integrate with British people.

Any private traditions can be maintained, it is those such as face-covering, readily apparent to others, should be left behind.

There is a balance. People coming from other countries should, by all meansm, continue their traditions. But they should also adapt to UK culture, so that they do not undermine community cohesion. For example, I wish wives learned English, and children of immigrants were not pressurised into arranged marriages from their previous country.

7-in-10 Lib Dem members say immigrants should learn English

LDV then asked: Do you think that someone coming to live permanently in England from another country should or should not be required to learn English?

    71% – They should be required to learn English
    24% – They should NOT be required to learn English
    5% – Don’t know / No opinion

I have to say I was quite surprised at the large proportion of those signing up to a ‘requirement’ for immigrants to learn English — by a margin of almost 3:1. However, it’s clear from the comments that most of the 71% of Lib Dems who did tick the ‘required’ option did baulk at the term with its implication of enforced language-learning, and instead stressed that there should be strong encouragement but not a legally-enforced requirement.

Here is a selection of your comments:

I don’t think anyone should be “required” to do this, but I think it should be very much encouraged. In any case, people are going to find they are much more employable and able to form new social bonds if they speak English!

There should be no requirement for them to learn English as the majority of them will learn it anyway for convenience.

I don’t think Liberals should accept the word “require” but should strongly support newcomers learning English short of compulsion.

They should be encouraged to learn English. They should not be thrown out if they can’t or won’t!

Maybe not “required” but they should certainly have the chance to give it a shot.

Are British ex-pats living in Spain required to learn Spanish. It is a good thing if people learn English. Inevitably it must reduce the life chances of children if English isn’t spoken in the home. Strongly encouraged with a sense of ‘on your own head be it if you don’t’ is fine. Required, No.

Lib Dem members unsure about success of integration of immigrants in UK


LDV then asked: Which of these statements comes closest to your view?

    40% – I believe there are some minority communities in Britain that are not integrating with the British way of life, and this worries me
    19% – I believe there are some minority communities in Britain that are not integrating with the British way of life, but this does not worry me
    33% – I believe that most minority communities in Britain are integrating with the British way of life
    2% – Don’t know / No opinion
    5% – Other (please specify)

An interestingly nuanced response here: a plurality of Lib Dem members — 4-in-10 — say they are worried that some minority communities are not integrating with the British way of life. However, 1-in-10 say they are not worried by this, and 1-in-3 believe most minority communities are integrating successfully.

Here is a selection of your comments:

My worries are equally about the attitudes of some minorities and the attitudes of the British who do not integrate with them. NB – it’s also a lot easier for middle-class people like me to preach tolerance, we have it easy!

What is this British way of life of which you speak?

I agree with the first and third of these. Lack of integration by some groups worries me a bit, but most are integrating. Religious literalism is a concern.

I would encourage incomers to integrate with the British way of life, or something like it that is consistent with their own traditions – but I wouldn’t force it

Demonising particular minority communities creates more barriers to integration. “The British way of life” is usually not defined; it might be helpful if it was.

Integration, however, may not be the right word. It implies that people moving to the UK should somehow become some kind of White Anglo Saxon clone who supports Man U or Chelsea and drinks tea and lager. The important thing is that they should mix and be an active part of the community into which they have moved, enriching it with their difference.

Most are integrating, some are militantly not, and this worries me.

I am sure there are enclaves of ex-pats overseas who have retained an isolationist “little England” mind set. The UK has a strong tradition of arrival, ghettoisation and then dispersal and assimilation – just look how the East End has changed in terms of demographics in the last century. What we need is a US mindset that says I am Asian – British, Scottish – British, Jewish-British etc.

“the British way of life”…forever evolving, and growing as it has been since the time the ancient British tribes came to these lands.

In Part II: has immigration been discussed too much, and what did Lib Dem members think of Vince Cable’s broadside against David Cameron on the issue?

  • Almost 1,300 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Over 530 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 18th and 24th April.
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  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll