I was going to post something about the pros and cons about the EU, examining the issues and explaining why we’re better off staying. However, after the murder of Jo Cox MP, I want to address the festering undercurrent of xenophobia and right wing nationalism that has had tragic consequences. Whether or not the attacker shouted “Britain First” or has mental health issues is beside the point. Let’s wait until it comes to trial and we find out the full facts before jumping to conclusions in this case.
However, I know the EDL and Britain First have been having demonstrations around Birstall, Batley and Dewsbury for some time but they have largely been either pitied or ignored. I think we’ve got to a stage where their odious beliefs need to be challenged and the mainstream politicians who encouraged them need to think more carefully about what they’re doing. If you play with fire, don’t be surprised if it gets out of control.
Two wrongs do not make a right. One murder does not make another acceptable. Extremist views from one minority group do not need to be matched with extremist views from another. This is not about “them and us”. Regardless of race, religion or other background everyone has the same needs, to be fed, housed, to love and to be loved by others.
Yes, there are valid concerns about things like immigration, the globalization of labour, unfamiliar cultures, and the loss of national status as other countries become more successful. However these will not be addressed by turning the EU into a proxy for these fears, or by persecuting innocent people. Immigrants don’t “take” jobs: employers choose to employ them. Illegal immigration is already illegal. Making it more illegal is a nonsense. Intercepting illegal immigrants at the border shows that we do have border control. Just because millions can work in the UK, through EU or Commonwealth membership for example, doesn’t mean that they will.
The UK has always been a melting pot of different cultures: even the name United Kingdom reflects this. My own ancestry includes German, Irish, Scottish, Roman Catholic and Protestant. A consequence of wanting to be a world player is that people will want to come from all over the world to live and work here. Immigration to take up skilled jobs in public services was encouraged by people like Enoch Powell in the early 60s when he was Health Secretary. One thing that centuries of immigration into the UK shows is that people will integrate into society if given a chance. Let’s not forget the biggest cultural influence around: the mass media. What you buy, what you think, what you believe, or how you use language are all influenced by watch you watch on TV, read in the papers, or online. This has a far greater effect than a family down the road worshipping at a mosque or a synagogue instead of a C of E church. The media tends to concentrate on the more outrageous stories but it doesn’t mean that what’s being reported happens all the time.
It matters not that there are some who dislike “our” way of life. Always have been, always will be, but hating them back is not the answer. They want you to hate them. If you can’t ignore them you can isolate them. Make it clear that their hatred is not welcome. Talk to people with different cultures. Find out why they have those beliefs. Aim for mutual understanding even if you disagree. If you want them to integrate into British society, help them into it. Share a joke, ask how their family is doing, have a moan about the weather. It’s sometimes said that it’s best to talk to your neighbours before you need to talk to your neighbours. Even more so if they’re newly arrived and don’t know anyone. A friendly hello can help to avoid a lot of problems down the line.
The Brexit debate was supposed to be about whether or not to remain in the EU. Traditionally this is a very dry and boring subject. With all that’s been going on I think we need to take a few steps back and think about what sort of country we’re becoming. This isn’t just about the tragic events in Birstall. A society where everyone is suspicious of each other is dangerous. It takes time to unwind years of wariness so for now let’s ignore the extremists, whether from the EDL, Britain First, or whatever outfit Anjem Choudary is running these days, and try for just a bit of understanding and a bit of tolerance. That’s the type of country I want to live in.