Miles On Monday
The weekly thoughts of York writer Miles Salter
A couple of years ago, I did a day’s workshops in a state funded primary school near Bradford. The school was made of mainly Muslim children whose families came from Pakistan. On the other side of the road was a Catholic school.
At the end of the day, as I was leaving, I was amazed by what I saw: the Muslim families left the school on their side of the road. On the other side, white families filled the pavement.
It was a strange, and rather depressing sight: two tribes, safe in their own cultures, separated by 20 feet of Tarmac that might as well have been a canyon.
On Saturday night, I was in London, which is now a multi-ethnic city, with a vast diversity of cultures and languages. Whilst it is true that there are pockets of London where different cultures preside, a city where many people can live and work together seems a healthy sigh of the times.
The recent rise of UKIP is worrying: not least because people cannot seem to see through Nigel Farage and his henchmen.
As somebody has said, the party are “BNP in blazers” or as the comedian Mark Thomas described them when he was in York in 2013: “political chlamydia”.
Farage has traded on people’s concerns about immigration, but beneath that his party has an unpleasant streak of homophobic, racist, sexist middle England which is lamentable.
People may feel concerned about immigration, and the impact it has on local services – schools, the NHS etc. But asking an untried party which has more than a hint of a lunatic fringe in it could take the UK into unchartered and dangerous waters.
The irony is that UKIP, which wants to pull away from Europe, now has 24 MEPs in the European Parliament. Meanwhile, it cynically parades its non-white representatives so that it can allude the charge of racism.
Nigel Farage is now trying to position himself as a sensible, reasonable, trustworthy politician.
The support that UKIP have received from Yorkshire and Humberside is worrying. UKIP has now got three of the six available European seats, after 400,000 people from the region voted for the party.
Yorkshire, for all its character and diversity, remains an island within an island. Remember the scene in An American Werewolf In London where two American men enter a Yorkshire pub and are stared at with a palpable lack of generosity by the men huddled over their pints?
Outsiders are not welcome, the film said with grim humour. Is that how we really want to come across to the world?
I’ve encountered mild forms of racism throughout white society: in the home counties, in greater London amid working class men and in Yorkshire and Hull. Latent racism and suspicion of other cultures runs like a seam through the UK.
We want to eat cuisine from around the world and travel the globe, but ask some to share our prosperity with outsiders and they stare back in disbelief
The blinkered “let’s not let anybody else in” approach is the worst sort of reactionary, old guard stuff. It reveals people who are unimaginative, small minded and lacking in compassion.
If immigration is to be curtailed, that may be reasonable to many, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
If you were being bombed in Syria would you want a safe haven to go to? Or humiliated by the Taliban because you are a woman? Where is our compassion?
We are one of the richest countries in the world but we can’t seem to bear to share what we have.
We want to eat cuisine from China, India and other parts of the world, and we want to travel freely all over the globe without hindrance, but ask some of us to share our prosperity with outsiders and they stare back in disbelief.
As Tony Blair said last week: “The way to deal with UKIP is to stand up to them and take them on.
“What they are putting before people is a set of solutions that anybody who analyses where Britain has to be in the 21st century knows their solutions are regressive, reactionary and make Britain’s problems worse, not better…
“Attitudes that are closed-minded, anti-immigrant, anti-EU, stop the world I want to get off, those attitudes don’t result in economic prosperity or power and influence in the world.”
The political storms are gathering. The 2015 election could be tumultuous.
Let’s hope people start to see through Farage and UKIP, who represent the worst of what Britain can be.
- Miles Salter is a writer based in York
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