River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Village Pump Soapbox

June 2002

I'm not a racist, am I?

Everywhere you turn these days the word 'racist' or 'racism' seems to hit you, along with the term 'political correctness', although I'm not altogether sure what that means.

Why was there such a fuss when David Blunkett expressed concern at the possibility of schools being swamped with asylum seekers? Surely if asylum seekers make up just 15% of a class in a school, then their different educational background and possible lack of fluency in English would have a very disruptive effect on the education of the indigenous children. I can't think of a better descriptive word than swamped.

A Conservative shadow minister was recently sacked for making a joke about Pakistanis. The joke was undoubtedly in bad taste and I would not support her for telling it, but did her action merit such a reaction? What about all the Irish jokes we've had in the past, many of those were in bad taste but nobody got the sack over them. I must confess to having told one or two Irish jokes myself, but they were jokes and they were a bit of a leg pull for an Irish friend of mine. They did not represent my view of the Irish as a people, in truth I have a good deal of affection for the Irish. Part of being British should be the ability to take a joke.

Immigration may not be a bad thing, may even be desirable. I have known quite a few people whose origins, or their family's origins, were in a different part of the world. All of those that I have known well enough to assess have been good citizens making a worthwhile contribution to our society and there are a few that I have been privileged to call my friends. I am equally aware, however, that there are statistics which show that certain ethnic groups are disproportionately responsible for crime and for dependency on social services. Of course this may not be all their fault but these are the facts and it should be possible to state them without being accused of being a racist. I believe that the Government is proposing to assess schools in terms of the success of their pupils from ethnic minorities in an attempt to raise the standard of achievement of some of these groups. That seems to be a good idea, although it is yet another constraint to be put on teachers. Apparently many boys from these groups have a good average level of achievement up to the age of eleven but slip behind from then on, presumably because of peer pressure. They then leave school inadequately qualified and often turn to crime. The worry is that, by trying to force teaching staff to concentrate on improving the standard of these groups, they may pay less attention to their pupils in the mainstream, unless, of course, they are given additional resources.

I am not at all sure that the scale of immigration that has existed over the last fifty years is a good thing. I'm not sure either that I like the concept of a 'multi-cultural Britain' if that means that Britain is to be a collection of different ethnic groups which each have their own religion, perhaps their own schools, live in their own areas and have their own loyalties rather than loyalty to their adopted country. We might soon become confused over what it means to be English, if we are not confused already that is. Nowadays the Scots, Welsh and Irish seem to have a clearer sense of identity than we do.

We had a wave of uncontrolled immigration from former colonies in the 50's and 60's and our politicians were reluctant to grasp the nettle of controls until the problem had reached major proportions. Now we are faced with an attempted invasion by so called asylum seekers who are, with the exception of a small proportion, economic migrants seeking a better life than they had in their own country. Who can blame them? The problem is that there are some 3000,000,000 people out there who would probably like to come here for a more comfortable life and it is obvious that, with all the sympathy that one might have for them, some form of strict control is necessary. Once again our politicians have been slow to grasp the nettle in the face of opposition from the PC brigade. Slowly they have begun to take necessary action but, to date, it has not proved adequate. We have all seen the pictures of crowds trying to get aboard the tunnel trains. The situation has got so out of control on occasions that they have had to close the whole terminal. Why do these people try so hard to get here when they have already crossed several prosperous European countries before arriving at Calais? The answer is obvious and the situation has to change.

The process of sorting out legitimate asylum seekers takes far too long and then, by allowing an appeal, the process is further stretched so that it becomes difficult to deny the applicant permission to stay. Just how many have been sent back I wonder? It is cruel and heartless to allow somebody to stay here for two years, their lives full of hope, and then deny them the right to stay on. Far better to have a rapid decision so that, if their application is denied they can pick up their lives in their own country. The USA has welcomed immigrants over many years but always in a controlled way. I believe that they also require a minimum standard of English and an oath of allegiance. Perhaps we could learn from them.

Does all this make me a racist? I don't think so. It is no more racist to criticise immigration policy than it is anti-semitic to criticise Israeli government policy towards the Palestinians. I will have nothing to do with discrimination against anyone or any group in this country on the grounds of race or religion and I would certainly actively oppose anyone who wished to take any kind of restrictive or violent action against an individual or group simply because they were of a different ethnic group or religion. But I would like to see tighter controls on further immigration and I would like to see greater efforts on both sides to integrate those already here so that we might remain one nation.

Ron Watts

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