England has become more tolerant and open on the whole but Brexit has left the country “deeply polarized”, a major new report concludes. The study identifies a softening in attitudes towards immigration and finds that two-fifths of the population (39%) have liberal outlooks – compared with 22% six years ago.
But researchers pointed to a narrowing in the middle ground, with nearly a quarter of people (23%) remaining entrenched in categories that are hostile to immigration and multiculturalism.
Brexit divides Britain into two very distinct groups and there is little prospect that a deal can be secured without angering and furthering alienating one or both, according to the paper published on Wednesday by campaign group Hope Not Hate.
The analysis, which is based on a large-scale survey, also raises concerns about a worsening in attitudes towards Muslims and Islam. Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope Not Hate, said: “Despite the turbulent events of recent months, it is heartening to see that England remains, overall, a liberal and tolerant place.”
“However, significant challenges remain, with Brexit likely to dominate politics in years to come and set to trigger feelings of betrayal amid a tough period of economic downturn.”
“The fear and hostility displayed towards Muslims is deeply worrying, despite most people claiming that they stand firm against extremists’ attempt to conflate their heinous actions with that of an entire religion.”
“Clearly there is a lot of work to be done here, both by those tackling hate crimes and misinformation, and potentially by Muslim communities themselves.”
More than 4,000 people were asked 140 questions and sub-questions to gauge the latest attitudes towards contemporary issues in England. The report’s findings include:
- Only 6% of those surveyed are very confident that Theresa May will secure a good deal for Britain in negotiations with the EU;
- More than half (54%) of 18 to 24-year-olds feel represented by Jeremy Corbyn, compared with just 18% of over-65s, who are most likely to identify with Mrs. May (42%);
- England has become more positive about immigration, with the majority of people (55%) considering it good for the country, although there is agreement across the social spectrum that it has added to pressures on public services;
- Londoners are significantly more liberal towards immigration than those from elsewhere;
- Two-fifths of respondents (42%) reported that recent terrorist attacks had increased their suspicion of Muslims in Britain;
- Attitudes to the Grenfell Tower disaster were split – with 43% of people seeing it as a manifestation of wider inequality, while 57% regarded the fire as a tragedy from which a “big political statement” should not be drawn.
Researchers divided society into six “identity tribes”: two are very positive towards immigration, two are strongly opposed, and two in the middle. The report concludes: “What our survey does show is a growing polarization in society.”
“While more and more people are joining our more liberal groups, a quarter of the population remain entrenched in our two tribes that are most hostile to immigration and multiculturalism.” It adds that while faith, integration and terrorism will all pose important challenges over the coming years, Brexit “will really shape the future of this country”.