It’s a strange time. A man who preaches the politics of fear has achieved creditable results in both the local and European elections. Across Europe the far right has done well. Racist, xenophobic, homophobic just-about-any-phobic parties have received lots of votes. Though not, sigh of relief and some pride, here in London, where we know a thing or three about living in ethnically, sexually diverse communities made up of people of all colours, creeds and nationalities. And hey, you know what? We like it. We don’t feel threatened. We reforge our national identities all the time as new influences enrich our lives.
The idea that Englishness is somehow immutable is a nonsense. It doesn’t take much understanding of history to know that.
I looked at my fellow passengers on the bus the other day after hearing yet another speech about how how national identity was threatened and I felt proud. The two women sitting front of me were in their early sixties, obviously friends, chatting about their families, their homes. One black, and from her accent from west Africa, the other south London to her core. There were school girls of different races, some wearing the hijab, giggling and jostling each other just as remember doing with my friends decades ago. Tuning into other conversations, there were a number I couldn’t understand. The languages sounded eastern European, but I wouldn’t know what they were.
So I don’t really understand why our politicians, instead of challenging UKIP’s vision of a very little Britain, set sometime in the early 50s but without the Teddy boys, are kowtowing to this nationalist agenda and talking about tightening immigrant controls, reducing the benefits rights of migrant workers left right and centre.
This year we are commemorating the start of the First World War. Propaganda about the Germans saying they ate children and all that sort of nonsense wasn’t really so different from what these nationalist parties are peddling.
Tonight there has been a one off special of Goodness Gracious Me a programme which began on Radio 4 and transferred to television. I think we could do with a new series now. They are targeting UKIP ideas, and raising awareness through comedy. Fabulous. If you have not had the pleasure, click this link. You might want to try The Kumars at Number 42 as well. I’m sure you’ll find some clips on YouTube.
Anyone who doesn’t think that our culture hasn’t been enriched by this diversity has not been in a bookshop or art gallery in a while. Actually, check those double negatives, as I may have got one too many. Newer arrivals, including Nigel Farage’s hated Romanians, have yet to make a mark on the literary and art scene, but it’s only a matter of time.
My own Huguenot ancestors weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms at the end of the seventeenth century, but today one in three of us here in the UK has Huguenot ancestry.
It’s quite something when Michael ‘Tarzan’ Heseltine says he winces at UKIP’s speeches. But the picture is wider. Maybe it’s the origins of the Second World War that we should be studying, how Hitler rose to power on a tidal wave of nationalism and the terrible consequences of Germans’ hope that he would restore their pride. After the Second World War people said ‘never again’ but our politicians fawning desire for votes means more and more mainstream politicians are borrowing UKIP’s clothes.
Be afraid, be very afraid. But above all, be active. Reject this vision of a insular, simplistic society, and have faith in the future of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Britain which will not be the Britain we know today, but something as new and exciting as our society is as excitingly different from what was before. Remember, women only have the vote in the UK since 1918; homosexuality was illegal until the 1980s; we recently celebrated twenty years since women could be ordained in the Church of England. All these are changes which would have appalled the reactionary elements of our society in times past. But would you want to turn the clock back? I shouldn’t. Immigration has been hugely beneficial to this country. And, I would imagine, to every country.
Celebrate diversity, don’t fear it. United we stand, divided we fall.