Tortoise Festival of ThinkIns – Is Britain becoming more intolerant?

Friday 28 June 2019

Duration: 6:30PM - 7:30PM

16-19 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8DY

Status: Completed

Is Britain becoming more intolerant? It’s fashionable to talk about a creeping nastiness in British life, about a rise in racist attacks and anti-Semitic language, and the fading of a long tradition of live-and-let-live. But not all the evidence points the same way. Injustices are still being ironed out (on gender, gay, or trans rights) and some of the most striking examples of a newly tolerant, accepting Britain – our attitude to same-sex marriage, for one –  seem to be holding steady. What’s the truth about intolerance in the UK?

Our special guests for this ThinkIn included:

Tasnime Akunjee, criminal defence lawyer who specialises in terrorism law.

Asad Dhunna, founder of The Unmistakables and director of communications for Pride.

Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas.

The Readout

What’s the truth about intolerance in the UK? Are we as tolerant of different people and cultures as we think we are? 

Let’s start with the data.  Recorded hate crimes have risen in every strand since 2011-12 – with hate crimes relating to transgender and religious issues both increasing by more than 400 per cent. But how are they recorded? Claire Fox (now a Brexit Party MEP) pointed out that the victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief and police officers don’t have to challenge the victim’s perception. Tasnime Akunjee agreed that the definition of a hate crime is problematic, but saw a clear link to political events (the EU Referendum). My colleague Matthew D’Ancona echoed this. Politicians need to take responsibility for the way they affect our public discourse with intolerant language. 

Secondly – technology. Asad Dhunna said people increasingly live on the internet, and to function as a society, interacting is important. But we now live in a world where that interaction can happen through a screen with the ability to mute and block. Internet users can then end up living in their own bubble, hearing the same views, not getting perspective. As those online behaviours migrate to the real world, our problems may multiply.

And finally there is nothing like lived experience. A common theme in the room was the prevalence of microagressions whether because of gender, race, religion or class. They’re difficult to measure, and can only really be heard.

What next?

  • Measurement: can we get to grips with the link between hot political language and events in the world? Like climate and weather, we know that change has consequences.

  • Understanding: the idea of microagressions is relatively new and contested. How do we walk a mile in the shoes of people on the receiving end?