Friday 5 February 2016

Diversity By Numbers

In the Huffington Post David Miliband is quoted as saying that if we take in a lot more refugees it only amounts to 40 a year in each constituency, a political map rather than an administrative one.

In August 1972 when Idi Amin expelled the Ugandan Asians it was one family per parish to give it the imprimatur of faith. It did not work out like that.  One city that took in more than most was Leicester, now one of the UK urban areas said now to have people defined as white British to be in a minority.

This tale from The Mail on Thursday says that a high street there is an example of how extensive diversity is.  This is not a town centre street it is one of several in the inner ring of housing on a busy route out of town, the road to Coventry.

Then today Friday the story is expanded to show location and give some reference to the past.  As it happens this was a patch that I knew personally between 1940 and 1970 and indeed lived for a time on one of the side streets depicted.

It was the ground floor of a late Victorian or Edwardian building at £3 per week.  Zoopla now estimates the rental at £1820 a month for the house as student housing.  Probably the demand for student housing is as substantial here as in many towns arising from the huge expansion of higher education.

The inference in the articles and indeed by academics that what has happened represents "diversity" and before this came to be the local population was a strongly homogeneous group of like minded nationalist people all of one ethnic type.

But it wasn't like that at all. "Diversity" may, in our modern world, be assumed and purported to be solely ethnic with very limited criteria but in the past there were many and various serious divisions in the way people regarded each other.

There was a complex of pecking orders and distinctions that you knew and lived by.  A basic one was religion.  The Anglicans and the Dissenters were not the same and each sector was divided in itself.  High and Low on the one hand and among the Dissenters a rich variety of Congregations all firm in their beliefs.

There was a minority of Roman Catholics who tended to be apart and a very small Jewish community, largely in the medical profession.  When the Dominican's arrived to build a Priory with a large Church near the town centre there were strong protests and fears of the Inquisition.

But the landlady at their nearest pub' "The Daniel Lambert", a small discreet back street one, was of the view that when some of them visited; they called it "the other confessional", they were much to be preferred to the local licensing committee, then in the grip of the Methodists.

This kind of thing was only the beginning.  There were pecking orders of class, inevitably, manifested by housing location and any status conferred by position in one club or society or association or another.  There was a strong sector of Working Men Club's, born out of the Mechanics Institutes etc. which had its own structure.

Not only was there ordering by employment status and work but in the different firms and economic sectors.  There was a pecking order of engineering firms.  David Attenborough has moaned about his short period working at a button factory.  I knew the owner well, a good and decent man, David was lucky to be admitted there.

As for the origins of the then population there had been the usual coming and going.  The families of a good many in town had arrived from broadly the area of The Midlands but with others from further afield in Britain and Ireland.  There were a few Italians in the food trades and ice cream makers and others arriving from the war years, including quite a number of refugee Poles.

Many had come because the town had become very prosperous with a thriving, expanding versatile diversified industry and commerce.  It was a key town in the British "Mittelstand" of the early 20th Century.  It was badly damaged by post war high spending centralised government planning and controls and policies which leached the prosperity and prevented real growth of middle and small firm businesses.

The first of the migrants in numbers from Asia and Africa arrived when this was in train.  The radical changes in the local economy and their extent over the next few years was a very difficult business made much harder by the impact on housing and public services.  Another complex layer of diversity was being imposed on an existing one which became displaced.  The older one was affected because of the mid 20th Century secular trends and the economic and structural changes of those decades.

The academics and media of the present with their extreme, narrow and limited view of the past have obliterated the diverse reality of the ways of life in our communities as they were and had been before.  Then was bad and now is good in the Orwellian sense of political thought.

It is a pity that the LSE team did not nip across town to another part where there is a community of Algerians with interesting ideas on diversity and identity.

They might have tried "Molly O'Grady's" by the Market Place for a sample of traditional Leicester beer.  It used to be called "The Saracen's Head".


  1. Ah the A46 to Coventry. I used that road a few times until the M69 was opened.

    As for diversity you are right. In the past it may have been based on different social factors but that is no reason to airbrush it from the picture.