I am proud of my country and the way it managed to dismantle an empire whist still remaining on good terms with nearly all the ex-colonies. There are a few things to be ashamed of, but overall it was a pretty good job. The British Empire was always a trick with smoke and mirrors. There were never enough Britons to go round, and, unlike the Romans, we didn’t make colonials into citizens. The reality of the situation became apparent during WWII. Lines of communication were stretched to breaking point and the colonials knew this. We accepted the loss of Empire with good grace.
Even when the Empire was at its zenith there was never a problem in accommodating foreign radicals. It is no coincidence that Engels and Marx lived and worked in a country that was safe and relatively liberal. Vladymir Illyich Ulyanov, better known as Lenin, stayed in London during his exile and even wrote a polite thank you letter to his landlady. At one conference the Russian revolutionaries had to be protected by the police from local toughs, after the Daily Mirror ran a campaign against these dangerous foreigners. The Latvian anarchists who provoked the siege of Sidney Street were the exception and not the rule. The police kept an eye on what the radicals were doing but generally left them to their own devices and were rewarded because the radicals realised in was in their own interests not to make trouble for their hosts.
The world has changed since then. We invited immigrants from the colonies to do the jobs we were not prepared to do. People came from the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent and soon became familiar sights in our cities. There was a lot of racial prejudice from the British. Houses with rooms for rent sported signs that said things like, ‘No Blacks, Irish or dogs’. It has taken two generations for these immigrants to be widely accepted and there are still racists, led by parties whose agenda is Fascist. It is a sad irony that some working class white Londoners are willing to vote for a party which is almost identical to the regime that caused East London to be bombed almost out of existence.
The latest wave of immigration came from Eastern Europe after the Soviet regime came to an end and the countries joined the EU. Polish food shops are common in most towns and most plumbers seem to be Polish. Where I live is dependent on agriculture, especially soft fruit and the economy is dependent on cheap labour from the Baltic states, Belarus, Ukraine and others. The racial prejudice previously directed to blacks and Asians is now directed to these groups. The EU is blamed for this new wave because being a citizen of an EU country gives you the right to live and work in any country in the union.
Currently we are going through a triple-dip recession and jobs are hard to find. In these conditions xenophobia and racism is increasing at a worrying rate. It is always easy to blame your troubles on the damn foreigners, however unfair that is. Stories circulate that foreigners receive preferential treatment in health care and social housing, both demonstrably untrue. The supposedly decent newspaper, The Daily Mail, runs campaigns if misinformation directed against the EU and the new wave of immigrants. The chief political beneficiary of this campaign is the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). This is currently taking votes by the sack-load from the Conservative Party, which is the senior partner in the coalition government. To counter this, many right wing Conservatives are trying to take the party even further to the right and take up UKIP policies.
Surely a better policy would be to counter the misinformation and work for truth and justice rather than fear and prejudice. We have to admit that we are a part of Europe. Winston Churchill one said, ‘Jaw-jaw is better than war-war’. Countries that trade openly do not go to war. My father fought in WWII, his father in WWI. I have been lucky in that I never had to serve in the armed forces. We have to accept that we are a small country with limited powers. We need allies, local allies. Economically we are vulnerable to events on other continents. When the USA sneezes we get a cold. In this situation we should be getting closer to our neighbours, not threatening to withdraw from the EU. We used to be a great country. We still can be provided we reject the views of the xenophobes and little-Englanders. As Kipling, the great poet of Empire said, ‘What do they know of England that only England know?’