The Observer on Sunday covered results from a poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Extremis project which revealed that of the 1,750 respondents, “37% admitted that they would be more likely to support a political party that promised to reduce the number of Muslims in Britain and the presence of Islam in society, compared with 23% who said it would make them less likely.”
The results also show that “41% of people would be more likely to vote for a party that promised to stop all immigration, compared with 28% who said they would be less likely to support a group that promoted such policies.”
Matthew Goodwin, co-founder of the Extremis project, which commissioned the poll, told the Observer that “although Britain lacked a successful extremist political party, much of the public was susceptible to far-right ideology.
“He said: "The results clearly point towards enduring public anxieties over the performance of mainstream political and business elites, immigration and also the role of Muslims and Islam in society."”
The results shed interesting light on developments in the last year, from Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s speech on Islamophobia in the UK passing the ‘dinner table test’ and the indignation it aroused in some quarters, to the speeches that followed from PM David Cameron on the failure of ‘state multiculturalism’ and the need for a ‘muscular liberalism’ and deputy PM Nick Clegg, on an ‘open, confident society’. And from the exploitation of immigration, multiculturalism and Muslims in electoral contests in mainland Europe and the UK.
The YouGov results point to a dangerous mainstreaming of Islamophobia in political discourse when 37% of pollsters express support for a political party that ‘promised to reduce the number of Muslims in Britain and the presence of Islam in society’. A response suggesting that respondents would support a political party that promised to reduce the number of Jews or Blacks in Britain would, rightly, invite widespread denunciation. The dismissive regard for growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK, alluded to in Warsi’s remarks on the ‘dinner table test,’ is a particular problem. With the number of mosques and other Muslim institutions which have been targets of far right attacks, it is surprising that no senior member of Government has spoken out against the proliferation of National Front, BNP or English Defence League provocations.
Perhaps a silver lining to the poll results lie in the generational divide. “The UK poll results suggest, however, that Britain may struggle to host far-right groups capable of such popularity, revealing a striking generational divide in attitudes towards multiculturalism. It found that large majorities of 18-to -24-year-olds rejected radical rightwing policies, with 60% saying that a party campaigning to halt all immigration would make them less likely to support it or that it did not matter to them.
“Less than a quarter of 18-to-24-year-olds said they would be more likely to vote for a party that promised to halt all immigration, compared with more than half of those aged above 60. Similarly, 27% of the younger age group said they would vote for a party that campaigned to reduce the number of Muslims, compared with 49% of those aged over 60.”
As Goodwin observes, “[The] process of generational change is a long-term game, and one that may not produce positive effects if mainstream politicians fail to protect young people from the effects of austerity Britain, and convince them that immigration and diversity are compatible with their own prosperity. But when seen at a broad level, the challenge is to avoid a short-term and knee-jerk response to the older, angrier and more hostile generations, and think about how best to support the "rise of the tolerant", and channel these more accepting generations into the political process.”
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