Saturday, May 31, 2014

On UKIP's version of reality, and mine

Since giving up my car last year I've been using taxis to get about - buses are no use to me because of mobility problems. Consequently, I have a lot of conversations with tax drivers, almost all male. Yesterday's were interesting.

On the way into town, P commented that he was glad he didn't live in Ipswich any more. It wasn't the same as when he first lived there, he said. Too many immigrants, and groups of young men from Afghanistan and similar places, hanging around, he said. He didn't mind it if they came here to work and tried to fit in with our ways, but when they kept to themselves and expected us to respect their cultures, he couldn't be doing with that.

When you consider the violence in countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, I said, it isn't surprising that so many would want to escape it. Would he want to stay there? No, he supposed not. And maybe it wasn't fair to generalise, I said. I mentioned a Afghani taxi driver who'd driven me from the station one day, whose English was better than many native speakers, and who was very courteous. He told me he'd been here eleven years. I wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't had some sort of professional job, perhaps as an interpreter. Yes, said P, there are some like that. There will be more, I said, not just from countries where there's conflict, but because of global warming people from Africa are being driven north. The real problem, I said, is that the global population is increasing, there are too many people, and many women either don't have access to birth control or their husbands won't allow them to use it. P went quiet. I know he has children but I don't know how many. He changed the subject.

I was driven home by N, a Bangladeshi driver from a different firm, a friendly, helpful man. I know one of his colleagues well, and we chatted about him. He asked how long I'd lived in the village, and what I did before I retired, and we discovered that we both had connections with Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource, me as a Humanist and him as a Muslim. It turned out that we both knew some of the same people. He said his daughter was a nurse in the local hospital's Intensive Care Unit, one of the many minority ethnic staff who keep the NHS going. When I asked him to drive carefully because there are lots of ducks with ducklings around the village, he mentioned that his grandfather in Bangladesh has a huge pond on his land with a wide variety of water fowl. I asked if they'd been affected by flooding, and he said no, their land wasn't on the flood plain. I wondered how long that would last, since Bangladesh is a low-lying country, crammed between a delta of rivers in the Bay of Bengal.

I like both these drivers and expect them to drive me again. I didn't ask if they'd voted in the recent election, or who for. It's unlikely that they'd both vote for the same party, if they voted at all; the turnout was abysmally low.

Most of those who voted for UKIP did so without fully understanding all of its rubbish policies. Xenophobia played a part, as it did in the other European countries where right-wing parties gained seats. In the New York Review of Books, Professor Mary Beard warns of a general failure to challenge UKIP's ridiculous claims; politicians from the other parties, apart from the unfortunate Nick Clegg, seem to prefer appeasement. The comedian and social commentator Mark Steel takes the mickey, as usual, writing,
... if we end the movement of people across Europe, that would mean the 808,000 British who live in Spain would all have to come back, which would be the equivalent of a town the size of Brazil being dumped on our overstretched resources ...
According to the BBC,
There are about five million British expats living and working abroad, with the popular destinations being Australia, Spain and the US. Figures from 2011 suggest that about 3,000 British citizens every week move away from the UK on a long-term basis.
UKIP doesn't mention this, of course, or the other facts that they prefer to ignore. The Office of National Statistics reported in 2010 that there were 7,354,000 foreign-born people living in the UK. Some of them will have been here decades, married British-born people, raised British children, paid British taxes, staffed British hospitals, the railways, the buses, and all sorts of other services that we can't do without. Yes, some of the figures have been unreliable but not that much. We've always been a mongrel race, and subsequent waves of immigrants have diluted the mix even more.

I wonder how many of those who voted for UKIP had more than two children? Would it ever occur to them that the main reason for many of the problems we face, including nationalist, ethnic and religious conflicts, is that there are too many people on our small planet? Not just too many immigrants - too many people.
The mid-range global projection is that the planet’s population will increase from seven billion to nine billion by 2050. Broader estimates range from eight to 11 billion, depending on how effectively and quickly reproductive and development programmes are implemented in developing areas of the world to address the key drivers of population growth: the lack of reproductive health and contraception, lack of women’s rights and poverty.
Nasty as it is, there's something inevitable about UKIP. It's partly the result of a general feeling of disappointment and frustration. There's competition for jobs, but there'll never be enough jobs and too many jobs cost more in terms of waste than we can afford. There's competition for housing, as the bubble gets bigger (it must burst, leaving thousands with negative equity), city sites remain derelict and green fields disappear. Car adverts promise stress-free motoring on empty scenic routes, while the reality is cities coming to a standstill. Many feel entitled to enjoy prosperity and comfort, without having to face some harsh truths. Instead of telling them the truth, most politicians perpetuate the fantasy of economic growth, ignoring population growth. They're not brave enough to tell people that things will have to change. Wouldn't it be good to have some honest politicians, who'd say yes, we're in a mess, but we could make some positive changes? Most major social change has been in response to a crisis of one sort or another. Serfdom was ended by the black death, when there weren't enough peasants to till the land. The Thames got cleaned up when the stink became unbearable. Public health improved after disease had wiped out thousands. Nutrition improved after the military found their troops were so weedy they weren't fit for battle. And so on. Well, we're in a crisis, so let's do something about it. This planet's too small for xenophobia.

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