In these fragmented times, there is a public appetite for the things that can bring us together. The jubilee is seen as the most important event of the year, ahead of the FIFA World Cup, although this vote of confidence in the monarchy comes with future challenges. Support is rock solid among older people in England’s home counties, but only a minority of those in Scotland, Britain’s ethnic minority and younger adults are in favour.
The monarchy should resist all attempts to make it a symbol of tradition to see younger generations ‘awakened’ – and instead cater to the public’s appetite for a divisive Crown. In this year of welcoming, the royal estates are set to be part of Homes for Ukraine, celebrating both hosts and guests, and how those welcomed to Britain from Hong Kong and Afghanistan today are joining new Britons from Uganda, Zimbabwe and Vietnam over the decades.
It’s as if half a century of change has piled into the volatile decade since the last jubilee summer – the diamond and, indeed, the 2012 Olympic summer – words in public conversation. The last decade was one in which many of us realized that Britain was more divided, anxious and fragmented than any of us would like – but perhaps not as divided as we ourselves we said so.
When it comes to ‘culture wars’, Covid has shown why Britain is not the United States. While in the United States choosing whether or not to wear a face mask was like tying your presidential ballot to your face, here the pandemic has generated the broadest social consensus on any contested issue in decades. That earlier sense of unity has since fragmented, as anger over rule-breaking at the top combines with anxiety over the rising cost of living.
It’s also been a decade since British Future was launched – to make our contribution to a more inclusive Britain. Tracking attitudes since 2012 reveals dramatic changes. There was a 30 point shift towards a perception of immigration as positive rather than detrimental to economic recovery – a view shared by 53% to 23%, a direct reversal of the conclusion from 24% to 55% in 2012 The importance of NHS workers during the pandemic contributed to a net increase of 42 points in viewing immigration as good for the NHS.
The positive contribution of ethnic diversity also generates greater trust. Today, 72% say having a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures is part of British culture, while 28% think it can undermine British culture. This question divided the public in two ten years ago. While political discourse may lag behind these changes, the results show the risks for politicians, right and left alike, who fail to realize that the appetite for culture wars is a very minority sport. There are identity divides to bridge, but more common ground than is sometimes acknowledged.
When asked to do the impossible and look ahead 10 years, this “wisdom of crowds” method yields some interesting predictions. Two-thirds of people think the rather disunited UK will remain intact (although the majority are slimmer in Scotland), but most people don’t expect a license fee-funded BBC to survive in its current form. Two-thirds of people think Britain will still argue with France over Brexit in 2032, and we’re split between the two on whether Covid will still ruin our lives. There is consensus that climate change will be taken seriously, but skepticism that the “race up” will have made a difference.
So Britain heads into the jubilee with a mixture of hopes and fears. Pessimism about economic pressures dominates public perceptions today. That the dramatic volatility of the past decade has not derailed our society should be cause for confidence that we can face this uncertain future with a resilience that can help us pull through.
Break Katwala is the director of British Future