The discussion around immigration and social cohesion has dominated reports from the Tory Party Conference: the big issue of the moment.
Teresa May could well be right: there may be a direct relationship between the boundaries of inter-racial tolerance and the numbers of new migrants settling in the UK. That is certainly the proposition our leaders are presenting.
Schools are directly expected to address this. They are expected to promote the values of tolerance and help to create a democratic, inclusive society through developing ‘British values’ in their students.
On the same day as these speeches I received a copy of new research from Ipsos MORI (as yet unpublished, used here with permission). It looks at the characteristics of “Generation Next” – their term for today’s teenagers – in research that examines the nature of successive generations since the 1940s.
One finding is that only half as many in this generation are worried about immigration compared to older members. To be more precise: 47% of those born before the war consider immigration to be the most important issue facing the country. 24% of teenagers think the same.
In fact the last time immigration was such a big concern for the older members was 2007 when 44% reported a similar concern, but at that time 31% of teenagers felt the same.
In this and other respects the research suggests that we are creating an unprecedentedly welcoming era, concluding that there has been a clear social trend towards openness and tolerance of difference.
Alongside that a similarly traceable difference reveals that teenagers are only half as likely to expect ‘the ordinary man/woman in the street to tell the truth’. 34% compared to 70% in the older generation.
Before you tell me that was always the same with teenagers – that’s exactly what this research demonstrates – it wasn’t.
Which is what concerns me about the original proposition relating to the limits of human tolerance…
If you judge our nation by the teenagers, it is possible to be more tolerant.
And if you judge it by the elders, it is possible to expect more truth.
What teenagers might need to hear most from politicians is messages that ring true. They may not hear that in Teresa May’s rhetoric as they don’t sense that lack of cohesion.
But, as I write, this makes today’s sideswipe at Jeremy Corbyn by David Cameron (suggesting he had sympathies for Osama Bin Laden’s cause) feel like a sideswipe at young people’s trust in democracy, I fear. It is hard to believe he didn’t know he was distorting the truth there.