Anyone watching or listening to the BBC at the end of February can’t have failed to notice that UKIP were holding their Spring conference. It just so happened that the Green Party were holding their conference too but despite them having an MP and almost as many Councillors and MEPs as UKIP they barely got a mention in the media. Reports from the UKIP conference abounded on Twitter with the hashtag UKIPSpring – presumably an attempt to link the Spring Conference with the Arab Spring. If we are to believe the BBC and national press, UKIP have every chance of replicating the Arab Spring, sending shock waves across the national political landscape in May 2014. Unfortunately, a resounding win for UKIP will produce a similar outcome, you only need to look at Libya and Egypt to see what a resounding success the Arab Spring was for the masses who had hoped for positive change!
In his final address to the conference, former Public School boy and stockbroker (such a man of the people!) Nigel Farage bemoaned that fact that due to mass immigration under Labour and the Tories he didn’t recognise his country anymore. This apparently had nothing to do with the fact that we no longer use pounds, shillings and pence, that its impossible to buy a Morris Minor or that women no longer stay at home to look after the kids and cook the breadwinners supper. No it was because no-one (apparently) speaks English anymore. Farage recounted the story of how he was on a train from Charing Cross to Stepford and it took until he reached Grove Park before he heard a single English voice. It’s all down, apparently to the European Union, who have forced us to accept waves of European migrants. These migrants are, we are told sponging off our benefits system and the NHS and put our public services (including schools) under intolerable strain. Apparently migration brings no economic benefits and we would be better off if we left the EU, though you might want to read this, before rushing off to the polling booth in May.
Our beloved United Kingdom (by which Farage means England) has been over run by foreigners who can’t be bothered to learn English. In making this claim, Nigel Farage managed to add 2 and 2 and make it equal at least 7. Leaving aside the possibility that a significant number of the foreigners he overheard on his train could have been tourists (Greenwich, a top tourist destination is in the area his train was passing through), there are other possible explanations for the number of foreign voices he heard. His train passed through New Cross, home to Goldsmiths – University of London, which like many Universities (University of Greenwich is close by) has a substantial number of overseas students from the European Union, South Korea and China. These students make a significant contribution to the UK economy (the 4th biggest foreign exchange earner) and most of them speak another language in addition to English, which they need for their studies.
Now I don’t know whether Mr Farage has spent much time in the company of foreigners but if he had, he would know that when people are in the company of others who speak the same language, they generally use their first language. I have French friends who live in England and who are perfectly fluent in English (their daughters even speak it with a south London accent) but when they are at home, or with French friends they speak French. I have observed the opposite in France, where English people who speak French fluently speak English (rather than French) when in the company of English friends. So how can Nigel Farage be so certain that the people he overheard couldn’t speak English? The simple answer is that he can’t and he knows it, he simply wanted to make a cheap, xenophobic point.
This lament, about foreigners living in England who won’t learn the language is a tired tale that is trotted out by politicians of all parties and is arguably one of the most hypocritical of all labels applied to foreigners living in the UK. It may be true that there are pockets of immigrants who can’t/don’t/won’t speak English but they are no different from the British ex-pats living abroad. I have lived in France, Spain and Portugal (all popular destinations for British migrants) and have seen very limited evidence of British people learning and using the language of their host countries. In Portugal I knew people who had lived there 20 years but couldn’t speak a word of Portuguese and resorted to the standard technique of talking slowly and loudly to any local resident who didn’t understand English. Like the ex-pats on the Costa del Sol in Spain they existed in a British (English speaking) bubble centred on the church, golf club and English bar. Any visitor to the Dordogne or Aquitaine region of France is as likely to hear English spoken in the summer months as they are French.
It suits Nigel Farage’s Little England agenda to distort in this way. Like so many of his supporters he yearns for a bygone age when Britain ruled the Empire, foreigners were something you either killed or ruled over and the most exotic food you might encounter was a Peach Melba for dessert after Sunday lunch. He claims that UKIP isn’t a racist party, an easy thing to say, but it shows all the signs of being a xenophobic one. A final word of caution for Mr Farage and any of his supporters who feel uncomfortable hearing a foreign language spoken in these sceptered isles, whatever you do, don’t go to Wales, even the road signs there are written in a foreign tongue.
Croeso i Cymru!