Come January, the right-wing media in the UK might have some explaining to do. The Daily Mail (and their friends in UKIP and the Tory Right) have been telling us that Britain will be flooded by immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria, as the last restrictions on their immigration to the UK are lifted.
Some of the rhetoric gives the impression that you will barely be able to move in London, Dover or Skegness for the number of Romanians and Buglarians pouring off the boats.
I dare say that Nigel Farage and his friends will soon be brushing away the figures showing that Romanian and Bulgarian immigration is lower than predicted. Neither UKIP nor the Daily Mail let the truth get in the way of scaremongering.
Much of the coverage easily confuses “Roma” with “Romanian”. Last month, the Daily Star ran a front page attack on “Roma” immigration. It quoted the former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, who has suggested that such immigration could lead to riots.
I find it hard to believe that such immigration could really reach the levels of Polish immigration a few years ago; the UK was not in the middle of an economic crisis in those days.
The Sun said recently that that Romanians and Bulgarians would come to Britain for its welfare state and “generous benefits”. This is even more unbelievable, given that to get here they will have to pass through countries with considerably more generous welfare states (notably Germany).
One of the reasons that might help to draw migrants to Britain is the fact that they are more likely to speak English than the languages of certain other European countries. Ironically, the global dominance of the English language is an indirect result both of US global power and of the general British unwillingness to learn languages. These are both things that tend to be defended by the same people who condemn immigration to the UK.
In the 1930s, the Daily Mail ran attacks on Jewish migrants “pouring” into Britain. They were fleeing the Nazis.
Today, racism and xenophobia are still alive and powerful in the UK. The BNP may be disorganised and the EDL disintegrating, but the Mail and the Sun always had far more power than both of them. UKIP are considered a respectable mainstream force, as their racism comes with suits and smiles.
Decades after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and other forms or racism continue to be powerful forces. The recent cases of children being snatched from Roma parents who don’t look like them shows crude racial bigotry hovering just below the surface of supposedly democratic state authorities.
I began this blog post on a train from London to Brussels. The journey took two hours, slightly shorter than the train trip from London to Manchester. To get on the train, I was required to walk through a metal detector and then display my passport. Why is this required for Brussels but not for Manchester or even the much longer journey to Scotland? Because of a series of historical accidents that divide people up into nations and nationalities.
Corporations can largely ignore these borders, moving money and employment wherever the mood – or the profit – takes them. The rest of us are confined by them, encouraged to define ourselves by them and to rate those of our nationality as being more worthy of life and work than those who live across an arbitrary border.
Lack of housing is blamed on migrants rather than on the failure of successive governments to build decent social housing and to stop people leaving houses empty. Low pay is attributed to migrants willing to work for less, rather than a lamentably low minimum wage.
It is common to blame our problems on those who seem different to us. I know that I can do this too. My prejudices are not acceptable either. The first step to overcoming prejudice, at a personal or social level, is acknowledging its existence.
Being British is part of my identity. So is the fact that I have a beard. These two aspects of my identity are of roughly equivalent importance to me. But I am constantly told that I must rate one of them as more important than anything else about me. Indeed, we are so accustomed to thinking in this way that we barely notice we are doing it.
When Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbour?”, he responded with a story about a man who showed love to a stranger despite racial, religious and cultural differences (commonly referred to as the “good Samaritan”). It’s time we recognised nationality and ethnicity for the arbitrary and trivial distinctions that they are.