I want to write from the viewpoint of those who voted for Brexit. In reality, I should go out and interview some people, but for the moment I’m merely going to imagine how they feel.
My wife, who by now is probably sick of me supporting Brexit, suggested that people voted Brexit because they might just have had enough. Enough of what? I asked. The answer is not very clear, but there seems to be the idea of too many people coming into the country. Britain appears to have been the go-to country for people from outside the European Union for a long time.
Some think that people have abused this country, that others come here to profit from the system, to get a job, and that they will be integrated anyway. Perhaps it is because there are already communities from elsewhere who accept newcomers. And some people have come here to join this communities and then complain about the system, and expect the system to change to accommodate them.
Of course, there is the question of how systems, peoples, communities live together and the UK has been a haven for this type of integration. The Liberal in me knows that we can accept other religions without changing our values.
But Brexit, then, is the backlash come to balance this liberalism. Perhaps it can go too far; there is a limit.
The idea is that a country can only accept a certain number of people after which point it fills up and there is no more room. I understand that to some degree; many people live here. I live in London where prices of flats, lodgings, houses, in general, have risen because there is such demand.
Could one say that if there were no or fewer immigrants that the prices of homes would be lower? I doubt it. London is the powerhouse, the place to get work. Would this be any different if there were fewer immigrants? And isn’t London so efficient and effective because of immigrants? The streets are clean, the bins emptied, the parks tidied, the public toilets clean because immigrants are doing the dirty jobs.
And what of this idea of competition for jobs? Is there competition for employment between British people and others for the menial tasks? Perhaps only to a degree. Those who complain vociferously about Brexit and competition do not target so much the Indians and Pakistanis because they provide useful services such as corner shops but target those who take the artisanal jobs such as painter and plumber. They cite the Polish people who, whether qualified or not “steal jobs” from the local people.
But the more people in the country, I argue, the more we need plumbers. The more houses there are, the more we need painters, even with the number of dwellings staying relatively constant. What artisanal jobs depend on the number of people rather than the number of houses?
Then there is the idea of culture, that people from elsewhere change our culture. That they either pollute it, dilute it, or evangelise so that our children risk becoming gay or Muslim. Again I do not understand this notion. If you are secure in your convictions, then you will not change, you will not be led astray into surrounding influences. And what if you convert to Haré Krishna? I would not like my children to convert to Islam, but I’m not concerned that they will fight the Jihad. Perhaps I should be.
Luckily in Britain, Islam is relatively moderate, although there are some nutcase Imams out there who have been preaching revolution. Maybe they should be prosecuted, especially if they promote violence. Perhaps they could just be seen as the mad fringe elements just as there are so many nutcases in the world. This is where we differentiate free speech from action.
But in general, communities, systems, religions, philosophies coexist happily as long as they don’t seek to squash their neighbours, while they are content to worship their god in relative privacy, that they do not attempt to evangelise, convert, worse, criticise their neighbours for their beliefs.
The law of the land prevails. And while it remains reasonable and balanced, we should adhere to it and respect it. If we do not, then Justice will require it of us. In Britain, one can still be confident that the justice system is reasonably balanced and sensible because it has been proved to be so over generations.
In many places, the justice system is biased or dysfunctional. There are so many countries where corruption means that the justice system cannot function properly. These countries have far greater problems than us.
Here in Britain, we have our issues of violence on the far right. People like Tommy Robinson deserve more severe punishment and Justice than they are getting at the moment. The establishment panders to these people because they almost certainly feel that they are their electorate. Or at least the establishment does not crack down too hard on these people, because they represent an undercurrent of feeling, even if most people do not commit acts of violence.
What undercurrents are there? Those feelings that Britain is for British people, that Muslims, Pakistanis, black people, in general, are not British. There is some vague truth in this, as they are “imports”, but they have assimilated into the country, they are given nationality, and become British for whatever reason, no matter how they came here.
They are not the only imported people, come here from elsewhere. The Jews, of course, are case in point. The Jews were rejected when they came here from Russia, Poland, Lithuania at the end of the 19th century. But they integrated because they had secular mannerisms and clothing (they were not all Hasidim), they worked, provided services and found protection in their communities, in their numbers.
Integration in the 21st century
So the case is very much the same for black communities here now. The Pakistanis and Indians have had their trials. How many generations have been insulted on the street, and subject to the general far-right racism of the white football hooligan?
So this question of integration is one that is still posed even in the 21st century. There is the liberal intellectual question, a cultural one of whether we can and how we integrate and live together?
Then there is the visceral hatred of ignorant pigs who will target anybody with their innate violence and target any group whether Muslim, Indian, Pakistani, Jewish whoever, just because they are violent and stupid. Britain surely has done a poor job of educating these people. They still read the Sun and have not been brought into the middle-class liberal fold. They still feel the need to attack anything.
The Sun itself is an outlet for these feelings. Why do they feel the need to continue this and promote these attitudes? Why do they get such support? There is a vicious circle between the people who have these ideas and support from the newspapers who pander to these feelings to sell copy.
I’m suggesting here of course that these feelings are superficial. Perhaps, but I think they are based, not on complete ignorance, on lack of thought or lack of intellectualisation. Some feel threatened if they see black and brown faces in the street; this is racism borne out of insecurity. I don’t understand it.
Confronting conflicting ideas
I suppose if I were a real journalist or prepared to confront these ideas, I would go out and speak to racist communities if they exist. Where would I find these people? Would I go to the pub and talk to white, middle-aged workers? And what would I find? Would I find anything different from what I’m writing here? Would it be conclusive? Perhaps I need to do a poll. Perhaps there is some information on the internet? Maybe I could join a group of crazies and ask them, but they would probably tell me to disappear because I would not be one of them.
So I could go as a journalist genuinely wanting to find out what they feel, why they feel hatred towards others. What a project! Maybe I should ask some Brexit voters to tell us all how they feel; there are enough of those on Twitter; I could surely attract a few to explain.
I should write some provocative text to pique their interest. Something like: Are you a racist? Would you be prepared to participate in a questionnaire about how you feel about people from other communities? What is your motivation for voting Brexit? What do you think about immigration? Do you believe that immigrants take your jobs? Not as preaching to the converted as do the Brexit party leaders, but confronting them, saying openly that I do not hold the same opinions but that I want to understand. I would have to guarantee to reflect their points of view honestly.
I genuinely don’t know why people are racist, xenophobic, or violent. Where does it come from? Can damaged childhoods explain it all? Or is that just patronising? Should I keep an open mind as to their reasoning? Is it possible for me to ask open questions without becoming angry, without explaining things for them? Could I listen and hear what they have to say without judgement?