Identity politics poses new challenges to our society, which neither the old
left or right are well equipped to deal with. The policy buzzwords of ‘diversity’, ‘respect’ and ‘inclusion’ dominate many areas of social life, such as schools, healthcare, museums and galleries, universities, the workplace and law courts, but they have ushered in a corrosive process of social fragmentation. People are encouraged to think of themselves as atomised victims, fearful of those around them and in need of support. We need to challenge the cautious climate where people are inhibited by speech codes, behavioural guidelines and the fear of causing offence. Our priority in the 21st century has to be the recreation of a public space where everyone can passionately debate the future of our society.
In particular over the next 18 years, I am concerned about the growth of a ‘diversity industry’, which perpetuates a new kind of tribal thinking about minority groups. There is an army of professionals, policies and legislation designed to manage people’s differences, but I believe it makes us even more
anxious about coming together. In particular, I believe the relativism of diversity policies has undermined the confidence of those working in education and the cultural sector to carry out their universal mission. They are afraid to claim that their knowledge could be of value to everyone, regardless of background. A first step is to expose the parochialism of diversity policies and overturn the damage they cause. Second is to uphold in schools, universities, galleries, museums and libraries the belief in people’s capacity to transcend their particular ‘labels’ and identify beyond the familiar.