At first glance, the idea of policies supporting community cohesion can only be seen in a positive light.
Anything that repairs the bonds affected by greater individualism and mobile labour markets, and helps integrate people from different nations and cultures into one mutually supportive whole, is to be welcomed.
However, a closer look at statements by politicians from all parties and by members of interest groups reveals that the idea of social cohesion is often used to justify tough policies on asylum seekers that are unlikely to increase their integration into society.
A key concern of politicians is the need to avoid being accused of racism or undue harshness towards minority groups. For this reason, the positive aim of social integration provides a useful way of masking a tough line.
Two arguments are used to justify the tough treatment of asylum seekers.
The first is to protect social cohesion.
We see Labour politicians arguing that their harsh policies are designed to maintain good community relations. Meanwhile, opponents of the government’s policy are claiming that damage is being done to society because of a lack of toughness in the system.
The second argument justifies a tough stance on asylum seekers as a way of preventing the far Right from gaining support.
Opponents of asylum claim that if mainstream politicians do not act harshly enough, the far Right will rise in prominence.
However, no speaker offers an in-depth explanation of the reasons behind damaged social integration or looks at the implications beyond an increase in support for extremist parties.
This may be useful because it prevents a deeper discussion into the issue, which could shed light on the ambiguous use of the phrase “damage to social cohesion” in this context.
Certainly no MPs in the comments I have studied mention the type of racism, prejudice and violence that asylum seekers experience on a day-to-day basis.
Throughout these MPs’ arguments, race relations are presented as finely balanced - so much so that with too many asylumseekers they may well collapse.
The argument must therefore be based on the assumption that British society is badly integrated and that race relations are characterised by racism hidden under the surface of society. It assumes that far Right extremist parties are waiting to emerge at any point.
This suggests that many pro-asylum groups are accurate in their claims that scare tactics are used in arguments against asylum seekers.
It may also explain why no speakers using these arguments elaborate on what is meant by the term “poor social cohesion”, because these arguments rely on the racist assumption that different groups cannot live side by side in Britain.
Perhaps more problematic for people making these arguments is that they implicitly criticise those people they are aimed at.
If it is the British public who are deemed unable to live alongside asylum seekers from other countries, they are implicitly being accused of racism.
MPs, in effect, are justifying prejudice on the grounds of an existing prejudice, in what appears to be a circular argument that blames the victim.