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Racist Britain?

A recent survey:

Indicated that 30% of those asked regarded themselves as describe themselves as either ‘very’ or ‘a little’ prejudiced against people of other races.

A racist party?

In recent local government and EU elections in the UK, UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party–a right wing anti-EU and anti-immigration party) rocked the political establishment.

Are they listening?

British Prime Minister David Cameron says he has ‘received the message loud and clear’. Well I’m glad that his hearing is in good working order. Now what Dave?

A much quoted recent survey:

The BBC has been making much of a survey carried out by Natcen, a social research company. In fact most of the media in the UK has been using the survey to prove… well frankly whatever point they want to make about racism/immigration in general/free-movement within the EU and the likely outcome of the next General Election in 2015. I don’t read The Sporting Life but I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody had used the report to predict the winner of the 3:30pm at Kempton.

A truly insightful survey then? Maybe. Let’s start with the question that Natcen asked–how many people did they actually ask, by the way? In their report on the annual 2014 survey they say they asked 2000 people ‘the question’. In their ‘blurb’ about the annual surveys on their website, they say they ask 3000 people every year. Statistically it may not be significant but perhaps they need to be a little more consistent…. or get the figure right?

‘Would you describe yourself as very prejudiced against people of other races, a little prejudiced or not prejudiced at all?’

Reportedly 30% of those polled responded they were either very prejudiced or a little prejudiced. That means that 70% regarded themselves as not prejudiced at all. That’s a remarkable figure when you consider that we humans are basically tribal beings and intrinsically suspicious of those ‘outside the tribe’. It is worth saying at this point that ‘outside the tribe’ does not necessarily mean those of a different skin colour. It might not be so prevalent now but ‘when I were a lad’ if you asked somebody from Yorkshire what they think of somebody from Lancashire you’d get an interesting reply. So you might well be saying, ‘ah but that’s not an example of a different race’. OK, What do the Scots or the Irish think about the English? What do the English think about the French…. or anybody not English, in fact? The point I’m trying to make here is that we are programmed to be ‘prejudiced’against, in the sense of being suspicious of, those ‘outside the tribe. It is also worth pointing out that tribalism is rife in Africa. If tribalism equates racism and thus equates an inbuilt prejudice against ‘others’ then not only is it not necessarily skin-colour or religion based, it also means that 70% of those recently polled either did not understand the question or were lying. Was it possible to misunderstand the question? Yes it was. In modern Britain most people, Nigel Farage’s diatribe against Romanians not withstanding,  would equate race with colour. I think a better question would have been;

‘Given that most people have an instinctive distrust of those they perceive as different to themselves, would you say that you act or speak in a way which might be seen as being racist?’

That still isn’t a very precise question, if you think about it for a few minutes but then how many people think deeply about any question that they are asked in the street? In today’s society ‘prejudiced against other races’ has certain connotations and who wants to be thought of, or think of themselves, as a racist? Not me, put me down as one of the 70% ….except I’m honest enough to say I do harbour certain feelings of instinctive distrust. HOWEVER, having travelled around the World a fair bit I have learned that you can’t judge people by the colour of their skin, their religion or even whether they have shaved heads and tattoos.

Given that racism equates to an instinctive distrust of those we perceive as being different to ourselves then to a certain extent we are all, by definition, racists.

What really matters is how we act and to a slightly lesser extent, how we  speak.

UKIP. A racist party?

The short answer is ‘yes’. Be under no illusions, however much Mr. Farage may issue subsequent apologies and explanations of what he said the underlying message of UKIP is ‘Johnny Foreigner go home’. This does not mean that everybody who voted for UKIP is a racist, far from it . Granted there are those who do not want ‘them’, whoever ‘they’ happen to be, living next door to them or even in this (the UK) country but what do most people talk about when asked about immigration and the problems that it causes?

In no particular order, they might talk about overcrowding in general, job opportunities, lack of housing, lack of school places, medical facilities or public transport. This raises some awkward questions for politicians in general and  governments of the day in particular because what the majority of people are really talking about is a lack of investment in the infrastructure of the UK. How do you invest in the infrastructure of a country? ‘Seemples’ (sorry, that comes from a current UK TV advert featuring an extremely cute ‘baby Oleg’) you spend money on building more houses, building more schools, more doctors’ surgeries and developing public transport. All fine and dandy but governments have to raise the money to be able to spend it. Tax and spend? Not particularly popular in these parts Squire…. and that of course is why it hasn’t been done. Private Finance Initiatives? Only if you’re a Tory Government and you think voters have short memories. The media would be quick to remind people of previous PFI fiascos in the event that any government felt inclined to raise money by the same method. Privatisation? Nothing left for any government to flog-off, to be honest. No, no government would dare to actually privatise the NHS (National Health Service), not even a reincarnated Margaret Thatcher would be so bold or politically suicidal.

That brings us to the question of if you do build more houses and doctors’ surgeries etc etc, then who is actually going to build them in the first place and who is going to work there once they have been built. It raises slightly awkward questions about whether people are prepared to do what they perceive as menial and/or low status jobs. The answer to that is a resounding ‘no’ and it’s not confined to the UK. Take a look at any developed or developing country and you will find that the ‘indigenous’ population abandon perceived low status jobs  as fast as they can and consequently labour has to be imported to fill the job vacancies. Take nursing, for example. A skilled job, requiring long training, dedication and an empathy with people. Queues of Brits wanting to be trained as nurses? Nah! As a result many nurses are imported, not from the EU as it happens but from Commonwealth countries. Is the country in general grateful that these people want to come to the UK to work and keep the NHS functioning? ‘Bloody foreigners, coming over here and taking jobs from us Brits’. So that will be no, not grateful, then. At this point I’d better not mention those nurses (and doctors) who elect to go to other countries to work. Immigration is actually a two-way street but most people don’t realise it, or don’t want to realise it. Much easier to blame ‘Johnny/Jeannie Foreigner’ for coming over here and taking our jobs. Of course, the media could play a part in informing people……

Want the right answer?

Then ask the right person. If you are a TV journalist and you want to record a tirade against foreigners and immigration (because that’s what you, or rather your editor, think the viewers want to watch) then a likely target would be the bloke with the shaven head and tattoos who has just voted for UKIP. Failing one of those being to hand, seek out a ‘retired major’ type. Or a slightly ‘chavvy’ white couple. It is vital that you don’t interview anybody who comes from an ethnic minority because you (or your editor) have read the Natcen report and you’re seeking to prove that a)UKIP is a racist, fascist party and b) racism is on the rise in the UK. Don’t believe me? Let me tell you a story.

Many years ago I and a friend were going over to France, by ferry, to pick up his boat and sail it back across the Channel. For some reason that I don’t remember now, the ferry was much delayed and eventually cancelled. Passengers gathered in muttering queues around the check-in desks, seeking information. Some was forthcoming but at that point nobody really knew what was going on and the staff were fed up with being harangued by the unhappy. Enter the local TV crew and attendant journo intent on making a name for herself. The journo patrolled the lines of would-be travellers. ‘Are you happy with the way the ferry company staff are handling this situation?’ Given that they obviously hadn’t been told what was going on and were trying their best to placate the irate most people answered yes, under the circumstances, they were happy with how the situation was being handled even if they weren’t happy with the situation itself. This did not make good television and eventually somebody was found who had a lot to say, in a very loud voice. Their opinion didn’t reflect the general opinion but it was much more entertaining. The message is clear. If you want the right answer, ask the right person the right question.

The unfortunate truth is that whilst UKIP attracts some very dubious people it also attracts many who are not happy with the way that the country is being run but who are unable to articulate what they feel. Either because they don’t have a platform to articulate their feelings or because they are unable to express themselves.  Immigration, the EU…these are not really the root causes of the discontent being felt although they are perceived, and much touted, as such. People no longer feel that they have a voice, a say in the way the country is being run. The politicians, the banks, big institutions….they aren’t listening.

So are they (finally) listening?

Actually, I think they may be.

First of all, let’s see the UKIP vote for what it really is…. a protest vote. How do I know that? Seemples’ (watch the adverts….no really, they’re very cute). I can’t put a percentage on this but virtually everybody who was interviewed and said they voted for UKIP, when asked if they would vote the same way in the forthcoming general election, said ‘no’. The voter turnout was very low, around 36%. The reality is that incumbent governments expect to get a bit of a kicking in local elections, particularly just before a general election and in the event the Conservatives didn’t get much of a hammering. Labour didn’t do as well as they should have done and the LibDems were virtually wiped out. UKIP are a populist, one trick party. A vote for them in local/EU elections is perceived by the discontented to be harmless because it won’t make a blind bit of difference to peoples’ lives if they do get the largest number of MEPs and local councillors. UKIP don’t actually control any local councils and they certainly don’t form a large bloc of votes in the European Parliament. The results are completely non-indicative of true support for them and their policies.

Prime Minister Cameron has been listening and may well have received the message. The result of the next general election hinges on what he now does, or at least is perceived, to do. The ‘killer app’ for the Tories is they have promised an in/out referendum. There are dangers in that, of course, but the election of so many anti-EU MEPs from across Europe will have concentrated minds and put the spotlight on the necessity for reform. I grant you there was a danger that the actual number of those elected, significant but not game-changing in the big scheme of things, could have led to a collective shrug by the European establishment, but this seems not to be happening. President Hollande of France has done a complete ‘volte-face’ over the EU and come out strongly in favour of curbing EU Commission powers and allowing individual nation-states more say in their internal affairs. This means that France, the UK, Sweden and Holland (the country) are now firmly in favour of internal reform. Germany does not want the UK to leave the EU. The stage is set so ‘over to you, Dave’.

Is Britain more racist than it was?

I don’t believe so. Yes the media love the ‘shock horror’ aspect of the recent poll and have talked it up as much as they can. Politicians will waffle on about ‘the need to listen’ and how racism and extreme right wing parties must be combated. UKIP, or more accurately Nigel Farage, will continue to bang on about how people in this country are desperately concerned about the levels of immigration and the quality of the immigrants coming in but a few moments reflection will tell you that concerns about the EU and immigration are really only symptoms of a wider discontent.

Politicians need to understand that it is not listening that is required but action. Action in the form of investment in the infrastructure and therein lies the problem. During World War Two there was a slogan, ‘Dig for Britain’. Might a good 21st century equivalent be ‘build for Britain’? Supposing you actually had to do something to receive state benefits? Nah, the unions would create merry hell. Be ‘jobs for Brits’ though, wouldn’t it?

It is easy, very easy and much more comfortable, to blame ‘them’ for interfering in our daily lives and imposing ‘their’ rules and regulations. Less comfortable is to understand that ‘we’ need to take responsibility for  letting the politicians get away with introducing measures/laws that we don’t want and don’t in fact produce the desired results. It is, afterall, in our own interests but how to stop being so apathetic? What is needed is a leader. How about it, Dave?



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