Migration is one of the defining political issues of our time, and all around the globe national politicians are seemingly unable to meet the challenge. Their collective failure requires us to ask challenging questions about the nature of identity in the 21st century. In Open and Ethical, a new Fabian Society report, I argue these questions will lead us to focus on cities as the building blocks for a new politics which is open to newcomers without sacrificing community and solidarity.
Today there are more than 1 billion migrants in the world. Much of this movement is voluntary, but the scale of forced migration has also increased exponentially in recent years. There are currently around 22.5 million refugees and another 40.3 million internally displaced people worldwide – more than at any time since the second world war.
Onto this stage has stepped a generation of demagogues, from Trump to Farage to Le Pen to Salvini. All have deliberately stoked resentment against migrants with electoral success. We are not facing a global political crisis on migration simply because of a few ‘bad apple’ politicians. The deeper problem here is about the inability of national narratives to generate the necessary solidarity to embrace diversity in a time of economic uncertainty.
But I fear that if we only contest notions of collective identity at the national level that we will be waiting a long time for any meaningful success.
As the first elected European city mayor of African descent, migration is hardly an issue that I can avoid. However, I’m also a Bristol boy, and I wake up every day proud to have the opportunity to serve the place I call home. Bristol has a chequered history when it comes to race and migration, with much of the city’s wealth being generated through the transatlantic slave trade. That legacy remains a…