Keynote speech to the DIVERSECrawley AGM 2020

Could I start by passing on my thanks to Ashwin for inviting me today and my gratitude to all those who contribute to the work of this wonderful group?

I was asked if I could talk today about how we manage diversity in Crawley, the reality is that we don’t really ‘manage’ it. You manage problems, but diversity itself is and never has been a problem.

The very words I’m using are a creole of Germanic and Romance languages, far closer to Dutch than to our island’s original Celtic languages.

My notes were written using letters inherited from the Romans, who took them from the Greeks, who learnt from the Phoenicians, whose simplified script was copied from the very same hieroglyphs which line the burial chambers of Egyptian tombs.

The very mathematics which enables us to talk online today finds its origin in Hindu India, by way of Islamic Arabia.

We talk of a ‘clash of cultures’, but far from conflict it is the meeting of cultures which time-and-time again has allowed civilizations to grow and to prosper…and that is very much where I see the power of diversity running through the history of Crawley.

The truth is that immigration is part of the very foundations of our town…literally, it was Irish labourers who moved to the UK who built the first phases of Crawley New Town, laying the roots for the substantial Irish population living in the town to this day.

Each new culture which have come to the town over the following 73 years have followed that same pattern of bringing new cultural aspects to our town and setting down roots. Every time I visit the Sanatan Mandir at the Apple Tree Centre, I’m amazed by the intricacy of the craftmanship and proud to have something so beautiful in our town. While the highly modern architecture of the Crawley Islamic Centre and Masjid sat at one of the key entrances to the town, makes a powerful statement about Crawley as a proudly multicultural town.

Growing up here, you think nothing of it. Even at an overtly religious school like Holy Trinity, I had friends of all the town’s major faiths. Our families might have celebrated different festivals at different times, but any other differences were only skin deep.

To be clear, I am not talking about ‘integration’ in the way people often use it to mean the sacrifice of one’s culture in order to be accepted, that has characterised far too many dark chapters in the history of the world, my own great-grandfather took on the name ‘Lamb’ to try to avoid the discrimination which came with bearing a Polish name like ‘Ivaniski’.

Crawley’s motto is ‘I grow, and I rejoice’ and that is what is how I see diversity in Crawley. The continuous meeting of cultures, helping us to continue to grow forward together.

Of course, that isn’t inevitable, in fact that harmony has seemed increasingly at risk over recent years. While there are valid arguments both for and against immigration, and for and against the EU, in the wake of the EU result we saw an increase in racially-aggravated crimes across the UK, including in Crawley.

In some ways this isn’t surprising. As a country we have spent decades failing to build the housing the country needs, we have allowed working conditions to decline and public services to be cut to the bone. Is it any wonder that when people can’t get a place of their own, when they have no guarantee of decent paying work, and can’t get a doctor’s appointment when they need one, is it any wonder that the idea of more people moving into an area seems totally unreasonable.

Now, none of these problems were caused by diversity, nor would they be resolved by somehow turning back the clock on it. But anger is powerful, and for the unscrupulous stoking these emotions into a full-blown culture war is a far easier route to political power than actually fixing the problems which have caused it.

In the USA, this approach to culture war culminated in a President failing to condemn actual Neo-Nazis for starting a race riot in Charlottesville. In Britain, it has not yet gone so far, but I like many others was horrified to find that Far Right groups like Britain First now feel that sufficient support has been stoked up that they can tour towns like ours to get support.

But in that lies hope. For in the end, it wasn’t the police which sent them running, it wasn’t politicians, it was the community itself which made its feelings clear. The lesson today is the same as it was at the Battle of Cable Street, the only thing which has ever stopped Fascism is good men and women prepared to put themselves in its way.

If we want Crawley to continue to be a town which takes strength from its diversity, it cannot just be a case of stopping the most extreme forms of this culture war. We have to demand of politicians that they stop working to divide us. That instead of invoking Churchill and the Second World War to whip up nationalistic feeling, they remember why we actually went to war: to end the threat of Fascism. That real patriotism is found in what you do for country: housing the homeless, ending the scourge of poverty pay, and rebuilding the welfare state that the soldiers returning from war voted for.

It is only by working together as a community to overcome these threats that we can be certain we will again be a town confident in our diversity.

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