You need a lot of patience to be an ambassador from an Eastern European country to Britain these days – the kind of patience a police negotiator might need to talk down a drunken husband holed up with a shotgun or perhaps a potential suicide about to jump off a balcony.
Every other day, it seems, you are called upon to justify the presence of your fellow citizens in our green and pleasant land, and point out that most of them don’t actually want to come here, and that the majority of those that do work and pay taxes, in accordance with the same rules that enable Britons to work anywhere in the continent.
Given that many Britons don’t even know much about your country, but assume a great deal about it, you have to go back to basics, and frame your arguments at a very primitive level. With a sigh you might have to spell it out, for example, that your people are not vampires, criminals and parasites intent on ‘grabbing benefits’.
As a member of the diplomatic profession, you have to control your exasperation. You might ask ever so politely, as the Polish ambassador Witold SobkÃ³w did yesterday, if our Prime Minister would stop ‘stigmatizing’ your countrymen and suggest instead that
‘When we discuss immigration, let us not talk about numbers and nationalities; let us concentrate on solving the problems together, on assimilation and integration, on preventing uneasiness in neighbourhoods where there is a significant increase in population, on showing the benefits for the UK.’
But all the time, you must suspect that such appeals are falling on deaf ears; that your arguments are aimed at politicians and tabloid editors who are coolly and deliberately pandering to xenophobic and racist prejudice for their own political purposes or because they are simply too cowardly to do anything to challenge it; that you are dealing with a public that is becoming increasingly impervious to rational argument when it comes to immigration.
Having spent some time here, you will have noticed that the British public ‘concerns’ about immigration have risen to hysterical pitch during the last twelve months. You may have noticed a new survey suggesting that three quarters.of the British public want to cut immigration.
And now a new report by the charity Childline suggests that these ‘concerns’ are percolating down into the nation’s schools. The report noted a 69 percent rise in the number of children contacting the organization for counseling about racist bullying last year compared with the previous year.
Many of them were young Muslims who were labelled by their classmates as ‘terrorists’ and bombers.’ Others were new arrivals whose accents or limited English earned them the abusive nickname ‘freshies.’ Now where on earth would our children have got such ideas from? According to James Kingett of the charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRTRC):
‘Often children are picking up language at home and from parents and taking that to be fact. The rhetoric at the moment around immigration is incredibly pervasive. The prominence of the immigration debate may have had a knock-on effect, filtering down in classrooms.’
Indeed it might. Because it may be that children are merely repeating what their parents say at home. But it may also be that they have simply picked up on the messages that are so often implicit in Great British Immigration Debate.
And the politicians who have done so much to legitimize the most rancid and toxic prejudices while pretending to address the public’s ‘concerns’ cannot be entirely surprised if the nation’s children are beginning to express these concerns in their own way.