Friday, August 25, 2006

Oh Lowri Turner, Don't Think I've Forgotten About You...

At the risk of turning this into a blog where I just whine about stupid columnists, Goddamn Lowri Turner. You remember Lowri Turner right? Remember? Well, this week Mrs 'I don't have anything against gays but' turns her keen insight on immigration.

To the middle classes, immigration from countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union is a win-win situation. After years of being held to ransom by surly builders and overpaid nannies, they are back in the driving seat. Hand Vladimir a meagre bundle of cash and those gutters are fixed in a jiffy with no mention of a cup of tea or going home at 3. Vonya will be just as willing to come and live in your house and look after your kids for a pittance.

It's not often that you get someone who isn't living in the nineteenth century being so open about taking such advantage of other people.

For company bosses too, this new pool of highly motivated, skilled workers is a godsend. Well, if you were a boss would you rather employ some spotty British youth or Vicky Pollard type, or a young man from Estonia with a mother and four sisters to support back home? The latter obviously.

Everyone under 23 is a chav, obviously.

Plus, we're told, these people bring a taste of a different culture with them. This translates, if you are one of the chattering classes, into a fabulous little ethnic bistro round the corner. I have a Polish deli not far from me and a Russian restaurant and Bulgarian and Hungarian eateries can't be far behind.

"And dahling, they all talk in that funny noise that almost sounds like talking and if you throw them a quid they'll do one of their funny little dances for you! They really are a hoot! Not like the girl we had to let go last week, we gave her her monthly wages and she didn't have the common decency to prostrate herself at our feet in thankfulness! Honestly, the ingratitude!"

The result is a middle-class consensus that immigration is good for the country. I am part of this consensus. I think immigration is a good thing. Still, I hosted a radio phone-in this week and I heard a rather different story from a section of the population who are being hushed-up because their views and experiences do not fit the official response. They are what we used to call the working classes, but now we're too embarrassed to call them anything really.

Now, see that bit up there where Lowri says: immigration is good for the country and I am part of this consensus? I believe that this is a lie. I am led to this conclusion because Lowri spends the rest of the article repeating the usual claptrap racists spout through a variety of third persons without any attempt to counter it.

I talked to builders who told me of some Eastern European counterparts driving untaxed vans, living 10 to a house and doing work for cash at prices that they, as men with families to support and mortgages to pay, couldn't hope to match. Some of this is sour grapes, of course. Our builders have long preferred cash and are not known for being eager beavers.

Oh, you didn't accidentally refer to them as 'the so-called working classes' in their hearing did you?

However, it is not just building jobs that those from the former Soviet Union are mopping up. Factory and agricultural work, as well as care jobs are all popular. The obvious argument is that these are all jobs that we don't want to do. They are poorly paid and low status. But, rather than accept these facts and just hire in a more desperate lot of foreign workers, shouldn't we be thinking perhaps about improving the pay and conditions so they are fit for our own people? As one caller said to me this week, 'The British working classes are being sold down the river.'

Another caller had an astute prediction. He said, 'Just you wait until it's middle-class jobs that are being taken, see how you like it.'

And it's already starting. I spoke to a dentist who was incandescent that the Government has just hired in Eastern European dentists to solve the NHS dental shortage. We already have lots of foreign doctors and nurses, but it will be interesting to see how the middle classes react when they are followed by accountants, lawyers and management consultants. They'll be choking on their borscht and blinis then.

Accusations of racism are easy to sling at those who have concerns about the influx of foreign workers. However, I also heard worrying stories this week of a brand of old-fashioned racism that is being imported with some of those who are arriving here.

If you were shut behind the Iron Curtain for a lifetime, it is unlikely that your views on race are enlightened. Some of those travelling here from tiny villages have never seen a black person. I was told of one university lecturer from Khazakhstan who came home to her UK landlady every night and wept because she was so horrified by the brown skins she encountered.

That's not actually racism Lowri. I would hazard a guess it's 'culture shock'. My Concise Oxford defines racism as 'a belief in the superiority of a particular race; prejudice based on this'. Now maybe your Kazakhstani was weeping because the inhabitants of those brown skins weren't all strung up at the nearest lamp-post but so far it's only you and your phone-in friends who are the closest to expressing a belief that they're in the master-race.

As one black caller told me,

"Ooh, ooh, look! 'Black person', 'black person'! I must be right, I've got a black person backing me up!"

As one black caller told me, 'I grew up with racism and things had got better. Now it's like going back 20 years.' One cabbie recounted how he hears the N-word used in the back of his cab now and another woman reported a squat opposite her house populated by Russians, some of whom paraded about wearing Nazi insignia. It sounds unbelievable, but she was adamant.

So she must be right.

Now, none of this is an argument against immigration. We are a nation whose wealth is founded on foreign labour. Our continued prosperity depends upon it. Besides, with so many of us opting these days to retire to Spain, we can hardly moan when others want to come here. However, not listening to certain opinions and experiences because they are uncomfortable and unfashionable is simply wrong.

However, listening to people when they're full of shit isn't exactly a prescription for mental health either.

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