British Culture wars

Britain’s traditional way of life is under attack…or so I’m constantly told by the Daily Mail. This term is often used by UKIP supporters to justify their many myths on immigration and demands for “Brexit”. It is also their principle means of deflecting any attention on the negative economic consequences of any move towards Brexit.

However I wonder if they are correct in these assertions about threats to British culture and whether leaving the EU would solve such perceived problems…or do more harm than good!

The Numbers game
Firstly, the numbers. The latest info from the ONS puts net migration at 318,000. While this is high, its not the highest its ever been (that was 2005). The breakdown is that roughly 13% of entrants to the UK are British (who still count as net migrants if returning to the UK to live), 45% from outside the EU and the remaining 42% come from within the EU.

Of that 42% coming from the EU the largest proportion (50%) come from the EU15 countries, i.e. the original EU countries (France, Germany, etc.). 30% come from the EU8 (Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe), with just 19% coming from the EU2 (Romania & Bulgaria). So, far from the UK being swapped with hordes of Romanians, in truth they represent just 8% of those coming to the UK, half the number of British who re-enter the country each year.

Who is an immigrant?
While certainly there has been a sharp rise in migrant numbers recently (as noted), this has to be put within a historical context. There is nothing new about migration into the UK. From the arrival of the Celts and Romans to the Windrush, people travelling to Britain is part of the nation’s history. Farage himself is of Huguenot stock (hence the French sounding name). The Queen is more German than British (house Windsor was known as house Saxe-Coburg-Gotha until midway through WW1) and married to a Greek. So the sort of harsh migration policy talked about by some would represent a significant and historical change, one that will inevitably have consequences (such as the Queen & her husband needing to get a work permit!).

And it’s worth reflecting on the fact that “foreign born” (which counts not just migrants but their siblings and those now with British passports) represent only 13% of the UK population. One has to wonder how 13% can threaten the culture of the remaining 87%.

And until recently, the largest contributor of migrants to the UK was Ireland (a traditional that predates the EU of course). Those from the Indian subcontinent have been the largest source of migrants to the UK since 2011 (not Romania, nor Eastern Europe, nor anything to do with the EU).

Either way, to simply blame migration on the EU, doesn’t fit with the facts and figures and is little short of a fabrication by people either too lazy (or too stupid) to look them up, or perhaps borne out of a deliberate attempt to con and mislead the UK public. Thus one has to question how leaving the EU would solve the problem….if indeed there is a problem!

Furthermore, it should be remembered that the bulk of population growth in recent years has been down to demographic changes, i.e. people living longer.

Healthcare
And speaking of which, another all too common claim is that migrants can overwhelm NHS hospitals and increase waiting lists. While certainly migrants have put some pressure on the NHS its likely to be tiny compared to the pressure put on the 87% of the population who are British and predominantly older, quite apart from when we factor in the effects of poor diet and sedentary life style among many British. Given that the majority of migrants tend to be younger they are therefore far less likely to need to visit a hospital or GP.

And given that, most migrants tend to work and pay taxes, they will inevitably be contributing more to NHS funding than it costs to treat them on the rare occasions they do end up in a hospital. And of course more than a few migrants work as doctors and nurses. As one doctor put it, you’re more likely to see a migrant working in the hospital than sitting in the waiting room.

Instead I would argue the major reason behind the pressure on the NHS is a systematic failure of prior governments to adequately fund the NHS. Funding should have been increased to mean more hospitals being built and more beds added, in particular nursing and care home places (to get around so called “bed blocking”, again something that’s an inevitable result of an ageing population), when instead in some parts of the country the opposite has been happening, particularly driven by Tory cuts.

So I don’t really think we can blame migrants for this one. Indeed, with those from within the EU its worth remembering that there is a system in place that allows the UK to reclaim healthcare costs from other EU countries when their citizens are treated in the UK. There are holes in this system, however the solution is more cooperation with EU allies on this, not less. And keep in mind that with all those British retiree’s living down in Spain, Britain’s hardly got the moral high ground here.

Religion
Migrants are also blamed for causing changes in the UK’s religious mix. As most will know, church attendances have been falling for some time in the UK, while those subscribing to other religions, notably Islam, has been rising. That said, Muslims only make up 4.4% of the UK population v’s 42% Christians. And of all the things we could blame the EU for, I don’t think this is one of them. For those UKIP members who’ve never been past Dover (keep in mind they mistook Westminster Cathedral for a mosque once!), I think you’ll find that Europe is predominantly white and Christian.

Indeed, given that many of those from Eastern Europe tend to be devout Catholics, their arrival has led to increased numbers at church attendances. And many immigrants from places such as West Africa tend to be Protestants, helping to swell numbers in these churches too. So to blame immigrants for this is probably not being entirely fair. If anything immigration, in particular those from the EU, is having the opposite effect.

Certainly there are some worrying stories coming out about attempts to turn some British state schools into defacto madrasas. With even more worrying again stories about what goes on inside Islamic faith schools. However this is perhaps the inevitable consequences of allowing religious teaching to get mixed up with normal schooling. And the present government’s utterly disastrous system of “academies” and “free schools” has hardly helped the situation.

While I won’t advise going to the extremes of the US, where merely mentioned the “G word” in a school will result in you being marched off the premises. But clearly schools in the UK, both public and private, should be required to keep all religious teaching outside of normal school hours and only teach it to kids who are old enough.

Food
Of course Indians and Pakistani’s have had a significant impact on British life. Some slight changes to religious demographics are just one of them, but then there’s the impact on the British diet. However, I won’t really consider the Chicken Tikka Masala (which is probably of British origin anyway) a threat to anything…although that depends if it’s before or after beer! 😳

And it’s not as if armies of Paki’s go roaming British streets ripping pork pies out of people’s mouths and forcing them to eat curry. I’m reminded of this sketch from “goodness gracious me” where a group of Mumbai Indians get tanked up every Friday night and go for an English.

Curry and other exotic foods (or things like Mediterranean style salads and olive oil) might have been brought to the UK by immigrants, but they are being eaten in preference to traditional British food by the choice of British people. This is what the rest of us call “capitalism”. And given that such a diet tends to be healthier, I fail to see how its a threat to anybody.

Language
One complain about migrants is how they speak foreign languages and this makes some feel uncomfortable. And do you feel equally uncomfortable in France, where (surprise, surprise) everyone speaks a foreign language? Whatever you do Farage, don’t go visit a Welsh village! In any event, most EU migrants do speak English and often one of their reasons for coming to the UK is work experience while improving their English.

There is an issue with some migrants, notably those from further afield, such as India/Pakistan who’ve never really integrated and still act like they are back home in Lahore, including wearing Muslim dress and speaking their home language. However that’s hardly something we can blame on the EU. And as many of them have British passports or indefinite leave to remain, stricter migration controls are unlikely suddenly convince them to start talking English. And it is sort of a free country, so if quite frankly someone wants to speak Klingon or Swahili day to day (or dress up as a Klingon!), they do sort of have the right to do that.

There is certainly an issue with well-meaning councils and government departments, anxious to counter exploitation of migrants (by traffickers or slum landlords), printing a lot of material in languages other than English, or spend large amounts on translation services. There is perhaps an argument to be had for ending this practice. In essence, don’t come and live in the UK unless you can speak English. But this has to be balanced against the fact that the best way to deal with a number of social issues is by making sure migrants can communicate with their local authorities.

Pub culture
What about beer and British pubs? Certainly it is true that pubs in rural areas, as well as the traditional working man’s bar are under threat. Many have been closing down. However, the same thing is happening in Ireland, which I don’t think we can blame on immigrants (given that most arrivals to Ireland are Poles who drink as much as the Irish!).

Irish publicans are certainly of the opinion that the reasons for this decline in trade are the smoking ban, changes in taxes on alcohol, stricter drink driving laws and government austerity (leading to people cutting back on expenses such as going to the pub). So again, I don’t think you could blame immigrants for this one.

If anything immigrants, in particular those from the EU, have led to a very positive trend in British pub culture. On the continent people tend to drink with food. So many UK pubs have therefore begun to do pub grub, increasingly to much higher standards (beyond the traditional pork pie and crisps).

Migrants from EU states with beer drinking traditions, such as Poland, Czech Rep and Germany also brought their beer with them. This led to the realisation among British brewers that they could in fact sell things other than Lager, while Irish brewers realised there was no law stopping them brewing something other than stout. The result has been an explosion in microbreweries in the UK (and Ireland), with many new breweries popping up and many new bars specialising in the sale of such ales.

So I would argue that what’s happened has been that the traditional British pub hasn’t become extinct, it’s simply evolving. And lest we forget, its doing so because many in the country (not just immigrants) are voting with their feet and choosing the real ale or gastropub over the traditional drinking den. Something for Farage to mull over next time he’s sounding off against the EU while enjoying a real ale in a pub.

Crime
What about crime levels? Do migrants cause crime? Should we be worried, as Farage suggests, if Romanians move in next door? Well statistics show that when immigrants move into an area, crime rates generally fall.

Certainly this is an unfair generalisation. It probably relates to the fact that most migrants to the UK are predominately of working age and employed or seeking employment and tend not to be burdened with the sort of major social problems that often leads some UK citizens to crime. One has to assume a few bad eggs get through, but it’s not as if we’re short of homegrown criminals in the UK!

Contrary to popular tabloid myths, criminals can’t simply walk into the UK. There are measures to control their movements and make sure police forces across the EU are aware of a suspects criminal past, as well as ensuring rapid deportation of any, should an arrest warrant be issued (although funnily enough. Ironically in fact, many of the euroskeptics want to do away with these rules, no doubt worried about themselves getting deported one day (when their financial and tax avoidance crimes catch up with them).

The measure of things
And before anyone brings up the old chestnut of the metric system we might want to debunk a few myths here. Certainly the EU favours the metric system, as in fact does virtually every government on the planet earth, other than the US. But it has largely left it up to individual EU members to implement any change over to metric units. It is worth noting that Britain’s transition to metric units started in the 1960’sbefore the UK joined!

In Ireland for example, we swapped all speed limits from miles to km’s in 2005. We did this because anyone educated in Ireland since 1970 hasn’t got a clue what a mile is, the cars themselves are usually designed using the metric system (in my uni we certainly teach all our classes to future engineers in metric) and most of the legislation relating to vehicles (both Irish and EU) is written in terms of metric units. Even the Irish Ordnance survey maps have long been worked out in metric (as have the British ones incidentally). So really it was a case of the government in Ireland deciding to bite the bullet.

We still sell pints in Ireland, although even here I’d argue the metric 330ml serving offers advantages, as this is about the correct amount of beer for a light pub lunch. Two 330ml’s, particularly of the stronger European beers will also put you in that happy medium of being ever so slightly drunk, meaning you’re feeling the effects of alcohol, but without slurring you’re speech or feeling the urge to act like a tit.

They’re taking out jobs!
But I digress! Migrants “takin our jobs” is one you hear a lot from the tabloids. However, as a number of recent reports make clear (which probably explains why one of them was suppressed by Teresa May) there is very little evidence migrants are “taking jobs”. In fact the evidence suggests they are more job and economic growth creators.

Part of the reason why migrants are coming in is because there are jobs available in the UK and more often than not they are filling posts where there is a significant shortage of skilled workers (some even call it a “skills crisis”). Bottom line, if firms, such as Airbus, can’t hire the people they want here (or they get smothered under red tape filling out visa’s), they’ll move elsewhere.

In a globalised world its not so much foreigners coming over here and stealing you’re job we must fear but foreigners staying at home and your job moving abroad. Advocating any sort of system that allocates work on the basis of where you’re born stinks of national socialism, something that will send companies running for the exit.

Either way, the fact is that the UK is an ageing country and that means there is a need to bring in young people to keep the economy going and to pay taxes to fund the pensions of those who have retired. And its also difficult to ignore the fact that the bulk of UKIP support seems to come from economic black spots like the ex-seaside resort towns of the South East, where there are actually few migrants (they have the good sense to move!)

Migrant myths
Clearly neither immigration nor the EU are responsible for the many things blamed on them. Much of this is the product of various right wing myths and outright fabrications.

As I discussed in a prior post, Britain is not “full” by any stretch of the imagination. The bulk of population growth is (as noted) due to increased life spans and a higher birth rate. Pressure on public services, social housing, schools or overcrowded trains is due to the fact that successive governments have failed to plan ahead and funding has failed to match rising demand. This funding gap is largely due to their unwillingness to tax the very wealthy, who have seen their net income soar over the last few decades, while paying very little in tax.

The problem with racism and bigotry is that it involves taking the intellectually easy way out, as it amounts to blaming others for your problems. It amounts to passing the buck onto an easily ostracized minority rather than excepting the truth that the finger of blame must be pointed a little closer to home. In the end it’s reasonable to conclude that the bulk of Britain’s problems are a consequence of decisions made by the 87% who aren’t foreign born…notably the decision to vote into power a party who represent the richest 1%.

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5 thoughts on “British Culture wars

  1. Thank goodness for a voice of sanity stripping these myths and exposing them for what they are – a toxic mixture of prejudice, ignorance and lazy thinking.

    Like

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