The Politics of Diversity: Immigration, Minorities and the Radical Right

Submitting Institution

University of Manchester

Unit of Assessment

Politics and International Studies

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Political Science, Sociology

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Summary of the impact

The past fifteen years have seen intense debate around the social and political impact of rising ethnic diversity, with a range of stakeholders consequently reliant on the provision and diffusion of sophisticated and evidence-based analysis. Research undertaken at the University of Manchester (UoM) has risen to this challenge, reaching out to a variety of individuals and groups, providing timely research-based interventions to help shape, inform and improve policymaking and political discussion in this critical yet poorly understood area. Sustained collaboration, alongside the targeted dissemination of findings to key decision makers and civil society organisations has enhanced public debate, and shaped key interventions made by: Governmental actors (e.g. DCLG, GO-S, Electoral Commission), the three main political parties, Parliamentary Committees (APPGM & MAC) and a number of civil society organisations (e.g. Runnymede Trust, Changing Minds).

Underpinning research

The impact is based on ongoing research at UoM (2007-date), with the first major publications in 2008. It is built upon two large grants; `Understanding Immigration Attitudes' (funded by the `Changing Minds' consortium) and the `Ethnic Minority British Election Study' (ESRC). The key researchers are: Dr Robert Ford (Lecturer, 2007-); Dr Matthew Goodwin (2007-9, now University of Nottingham); Dr Maria Sobolewska (Lecturer, 2010-); and Professor Anthony Heath (2010-). A series of overlapping projects have been undertaken with the overarching aim of developing a clearer understanding of the political and social impacts of immigration and ethnic change in Britain. Several intersecting trends background this research: the largest and most diverse influx of immigrants in British history; the growth of British born second and third generation minority populations; new concerns about Islamic extremism and terrorism, community cohesion and integration; and the rise of new radical right political movements looking to exploit tensions, such as the British National Party (BNP) and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). To date, the team has pursued three main lines of enquiry:

  1. Attitudes to immigrants and ethnic minorities. The team have examined how the British view immigrant and minority groups, measuring how these views are changing over time and considering which factors explain them. An important decline in prejudice against ethnic minorities driven by generational change has been clearly shown, albeit with an undertow of persistent and intense anxiety about immigration [E]. Through the use of innovative survey methods, the research reveals pragmatism and flexibility in British views about immigrants, challenging the conventional wisdom that the dominant British perspective is one that opposes all forms of immigration. In fact, Britons appear positive about immigration when they see a clear economic benefit, suggesting attitudes are more complex than commonly assumed [B].
  2. Drivers of support for fringe right parties mobilising against immigrants and minorities. Ford and Goodwin have analysed the historically unprecedented rise in voting for two `radical right' parties (the BNP and UKIP), with support strongest amongst so-called `angry white men' — white working class voters, anxious about the impact of immigration and Islam, and disaffected with political elites who they feel have ignored these concerns [D].
  3. Understanding ethnic minority political behaviour. Research undertaken by Heath and Sobolewska has developed a unique data source — the Ethnic Minority British Election Survey (EMBES) — that provides the largest and most detailed collection of information on the political attitudes and choices of Britain's diverse minority communities. It reveals that ethnic minorities in Britain are committed to participation in formal British political processes and institutions, and for the first time in the 2010 Election the gap in electoral participation between minorities and the white majority had closed [C]. However, several issues were noted: the under-registration of some ethnic groups; the exclusion of minority concerns from the political agenda; and clear evidence that minorities were much less likely to be contacted by the political parties [A].

References to the research

(all references available upon request — AUR)

Key findings from all three lines of enquiry have been published in leading political science and sociology journals. The EMBES data is accessible via the UK Data Archive, ESDS and online.

[A] (2013) Heath, A., Fisher, S., Rosenblatt, G., Sanders D & Sobolewska, M. The Political Integration of Ethnic Minorities in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press) (REF2014) (AUR)


[B] (2012) Ford, R., Morrell, G. & Heath, A. "'Fewer but Better?' Public Views about Immigration", in Park, A. (eds.) British Social Attitudes: The 29th Report (London: NatCen) (AUR)

[C] (2011) Heath, A., Fisher, S., Sanders, D. & Sobolewska, M. "Ethnic Heterogeneity in the Social Bases of Voting at the 2010 British General Election" Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 21(2) 255-77 (REF 2014) doi:10.1080/17457289.2011.562611


[D] (2010) Ford, R. & Goodwin, M. "Angry White Men: Individual and contextual predictors of support for the British National Party" Political Studies 58(1) 1-25 (REF 2014) doi:10.1111/j.1467-9248.2009.00829.x


[E] (2008) Ford, R. "Is Racial Prejudice Declining in Britain?" British Journal of Sociology 59(4) 609-36 (REF 2014) doi: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2008.00212.x


Details of the impact

Pathways to Impact: The increasing salience of the themes of immigration and diversity has created a pressing demand for research-informed expertise. In order to reach out to policymakers, third sector groups and communications organisations, the researchers employed an integrated impact strategy. This approach began with the `Challenges to Cohesion' conference (UoM, 11/2008), and has ensured that breadth and significance are balanced. It involves:

  • Disseminating research in partnership with non-academic actors, as concise policy briefings, or targeted (including media) interventions on key emerging issues, to inform public debate.
  • Building long-standing relationships with governmental, party political and civil society actors, in order to disseminate evidence, and effectively support evidence-based interventions.


(i) Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG): Ford, Goodwin and Sobolewska have worked closely with DCLG, who are active in policymaking around integration and violent extremism. This work has included: a paid expert review of DCLG evidence on attitudes to violent extremism (4/2010); a private discussion of immigration attitudes research, with a specially prepared briefing (4/2010); an event on race equality policy (11/2010); personal consultations on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes (3/2012); a meeting on integration and extremism with Under Secretary of State Andrew Stunell MP and senior policymakers (6/2012) — subsequent to which Stunell's Senior Research Officer e-mailed to say: "Your presentation was well received and has stimulated much discussion here"; and a roundtable event on integration and cohesion issues where key results from the immigration survey were presented in a specially prepared briefing (7/2012), with subsequent pick up of ideas, and a series of knowledge exchange workshops with senior policymakers ensuing (2/2013) [1].

(ii) Home Office Migration Advisory Committee (MAC): Ford and Sobolewska were commissioned as part of a paid expert consulting team reporting on `The Impacts of Migration on Social Cohesion and Integration'. Findings were presented to Home Office ministers (23/9/2011), with the MAC Secretariat praising the report: "We are very pleased with the content of your report and the contribution that it makes to the literature in this area... [I]t will be useful for the MAC and policymakers to be able to draw on [your] discussion of this issue and the distinctions that you make in future" [2]. The report was subsequently published on the Home Office website (1/2012), forming part of a widely cited and highly regarded set of evidence-driven academic reports from MAC to policymakers. The report led to an important shift in the policy recommendations submitted to ministers, switching from an emphasis on negative social impacts to an emphasis on the limited impact of migration on social cohesion, and a call for greater focus on economic deprivation [2].

(iii) Government Office for Science (GO-S): Both EMBES and other core research by the team informed the GO-S report on `The Future of Identity', with UoM findings — on generational change in religious identities, on the role of relative deprivation and perceived discrimination on ethnic and British identity, and of dissatisfaction with British democracy on the part of second-generation people of Caribbean heritage — highlighting opportunities and challenges for government over the next ten years, via policy recommendations published in the final report (1/2013) [3].

(iv) Cabinet Office/Electoral Commission: Findings on electoral registration have been drawn on, in developing proposals for the planned move to individual electoral registration (IER). The Electoral Commission confirm that: "EMBES has enabled us to better understand the registration levels of important groups within Britain... [and] will better facilitate the Electoral Commission's future assessments of the move to IER. It will be an important source of evidence for reviewing the impact of the changes on the five ethnic groups included in the study" [4].


(i) The Conservative Party: Ford and Goodwin presented key findings, on the far right and attitudes to minorities, to senior Conservative MPs and policymakers, in a meeting chaired by the Tim Montgomerie, editor of (5/2009), and two meetings chaired by Baroness Warsi (12/2009 & 1/2011). Resultantly, UoM research helped to inform the `Nothing British' campaign group, founded to combat the BNP. The researchers attended a strategy dinner (3/2010), followed by regular communication with the group's director, who commended Ford's contribution: "Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us yesterday. I...thought we made good progress on a difficult issue" [5]. Additionally, Ford and Goodwin's research on attitudes to Muslims and minorities provided important background information for Baroness Warsi's influential early 2011 speech on Islamophobia.

(ii) The Labour Party: Ford has been consulted by advisors to Ed Miliband MP (Leader of the Opposition) concerning the development of migration and integration policy, briefing senior policy aides (12/2011 & 11/2012), and preparing a paper for Harvey Redgrave, senior Miliband aide and Head of Home Affairs policy. This was followed up with an interchange on migration and integration issues, drawing on EMBES, which informed the approach outlined in Miliband's prominent speech on immigration and integration (12/2012). Redgrave attests: "Your analysis on public attitudes and segregation made an important contribution to Ed Miliband's integration speech in December and Ed was personally very grateful for your efforts" [5].

(iii) The Liberal Democrats: Ford delivered an expert briefing on British immigration attitudes to the Liberal Democrats `Immigration Working Group' (20/3/2013). The specially prepared briefing was attended by senior policymakers and was well received, with a former Minister (Stunell) noting that: "We really appreciated your clear and cogent presentation of public opinion evidence and research... The information you provided has helped to inform our discussions and will impact on how we develop the Liberal Democrat policy in this area come September" [5].

(iv) All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration (APPGM): Ford has built a strong ongoing relationship with the APPGM, which aims to develop a balanced and informed debate on migration among MPs and policymakers. He wrote a widely circulated briefing document (7/2011) summarising key research findings, appeared in person at two MP briefings (7/2011 & 12/2011) and at a Labour conference fringe meeting (9/2011). The briefing has been described — in a letter signed by key figures in the group — as "a vital resource, enabling policymakers to inform themselves about the key academic findings on this important and contentious issue" [6].


(i) The `Changing Minds' Consortium has provided over £250K to develop and analyse two modules of immigration attitudes survey questions. Key results have been presented to the senior grant managers from these organisations (a cross-section of the most influential third sector organisations working in this policy area) in regular briefings, and have influenced their strategy. The former co-ordinator of Changing Minds notes that: "analysis from the British Social Attitudes survey has informed a number of advocacy strategies of civil society organisations... Ford has, through introductions facilitated by foundations, briefed and educated policymakers, opinion formers and decision-makers (including politicians) directly. For example, briefings to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Migration were widely circulated beyond those directly briefed....Dr Ford's work has clearly had multi-level impacts on public understanding and debate on race, migration, integration, and identity in the UK. Similarly, the current co-ordinator, adds: "Dr Ford has been an invaluable contributor to the work of funders and NGOs in the field of immigration. He has presented to a wide cross section of individuals, provided written briefings, and developed an important set of immigration focused questions to augment the data generated by the British Social Attitudes. Dr Ford's academic rigour and accessible style has enabled organisations to use his work to shape their strategies: There is no question he has improved the quality of evidence and analysis underpinning this policy area" [7].

(ii) The Runneymede Trust: Sobolewska and Heath's ongoing collaboration with Runneymede led to a successful bid to develop the website to disseminate key findings from EMBES (1997 & 2010) in an accessible format, providing interactive analysis facilities so that users can easily generate their own data visualisations. Heath wrote a briefing paper with the organisation's research director that was widely circulated to policymakers via the Trust's website, and through its role as secretary to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community. As Runneymede's Head of Policy Research attests: "Maria's work is particularly valuable... in explaining this evidence to politicians, journalists, thinktanks, other race equality and migrant organisations, and indeed wider society. With EMBES, we now have much more robust evidence and are also able to disaggregate patterns among different ethnic groups. We have used this evidence... as our response to the government's proposals on individual electoral registration... and Runnymede has highlighted Maria's findings in discussions with ministers, civil servants and indeed wider society" [8]. EMBES research and data has helped to inform and shape public debate about how different political parties appeal differently to different ethnic groups, especially how the Conservatives are still much less likely to appeal to ethnic minority voters. There have also been press articles discussing EMBES data in conjunction with this debate, including twice in the Economist magazine [9]. This finding also informed a Radio 4 episode of the `Analysis' programme: `A New Black Politics?' (6/11/2011). Online briefing papers and a video about EMBES have been uploaded on the Runnymede Trust's website, with the team publishing an article online for the Guardian's `Comment is Free' column that attracted over 500 responses [9]. The work was also cited by Lord Ashcroft,, and by Gavin Barwell MP in the Telegraph [9].

(iii) British Future: Ford has communicated findings to senior staff, regularly consulting over research and communications strategies. In particular, he co-authored a widely discussed report on ethnic mixing — `The Melting Pot Generation'. The director of British Future confirmed the value of this contribution: "We have regularly made use of Rob's expert opinions and research knowledge... to ensure our own work is accurate... Rob's contributions... have had a genuine impact on the work that we do... help[ing] to ensure that the accessible frame we offered to media outlets — about athlete Jessica Ennis being representative of an emerging social trend and "generation shift" in attitudes — was reported in a solidly informed, evidence-based way, which used that accessible personal story as a way in to reporting academic research findings, helping academic research to reach a very wide public audience" [10].

Sources to corroborate the impact

(all claims referenced in the text)

[1] Emails from DCLG Research Officers (11th May 2010); (7th March 2012); (26th June 2012)

[2] (2012) Saggar, S., Somerville, W., Ford, R. & Sobolewska, M. `The Impact of Migration on Social Cohesion and Integration: Final report' (January); Email from MAC Secretariat to Saggar (18th November 2011) & `Ministerial Submission' (9th December 2011)

[3] (2013) GO-S `Foresight Future Identities: Final Project Report'

[4] Testimonial from Research Strategy Manager, The Electoral Commission (5th July 2012)

[5] Political Parties: Email from Director, Nothing British (15th May 2009); Confidential document from Head of Home Affairs Policy and Senior Advisor to Ed Miliband MP (7th January 2013); Confidential document from Liberal Democrat Working Group (7th August 2013)

[6] Testimonial from Chair & Secretary, APPGM (7th January 2013); (2011) All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration Briefing Document (July)

[7] Testimonials from former and current Coordinator, `Changing Minds' (25th & 27th June 2013)

[8] Testimonial from Omar Khan, Research Director, Runneymede Trust (July 2013)

[9] Press Coverage: (2013) The Economist "The colour of votes" (2nd February) & (2012) "Bagehot: David Cameron's race problem" (3rd March); (2012) `Has multiculturalism failed in the UK? Not really' The Guardian (10th August); (2012) Lord Ashcroft `Degrees of separation: Ethnic minority voters and the Conservative Party'; Conservative Home, Blog Posts by Paul Goodman (5th November 2012) & Stephen Crabb MP (12th July 2013); (2013) Barwell, G. `Still Toxic: Why Right-Wing Voters won't Vote Conservative" The Telegraph (23rd April).

[10] Testimonial from Director, British Future (20th December 2012); (2012) British Future `The Melting Pot Generation...' (December)