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Educating migrants – welcome to Britain, the home of the ASBO

October 29, 2016
By malachybrowne -, CC BY 2.0,

Calais Jungle

The other day I nearly fell off my chair when I read about the kids we in Britain have rescued from the Calais Jungle camp. According to the London Times, some of them are being settled in a small town in South-West England. Those lucky enough to end up in the beautiful county of Devon, well known for its pleasant climate and cream teas, will apparently be given lectures on “British culture and traditions”.

Quite right too. After all, they certainly need to learn about our tradition of tolerance, of welcoming the oppressed over many centuries, our respect for difference, our democratic values and our belief in the freedom of speech. Not to mention how to brew builders’ tea, and whether to put the clotted cream directly onto the scone or on top of the strawberry jam.

But what made me choke on my cornflakes with a mixture of mirth and horror was the revelation of who was being entrusted with the delicate task of putting our new guests right on all these matters. A retired teacher, you might think, or a social worker. A volunteer from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, or perhaps someone who has a bit of experience in communicating with people from different cultures as the result of having worked in the Middle East or Africa, where many of the migrants were born.

But no. The chosen agency is none other than the Devon and Cornwall Police.

So no doubt our guests will be warned about laws that prohibit the slaughtering of goats on the streets during religious festivals. They will learn that while it’s OK for a US presidential candidate to grope a passing woman in tight clothes and a generous superstructure, these things don’t go down well in Devon. They will learn about Asbo’s (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, in case you’re not familiar with the term), dangerous driving, fly-tipping, late-night drinking and a host of other things that we British are not supposed to do. They will be encouraged to tip the wink to the local constabulary if they notice any of their friends shopping for rucksacks, batteries and chemicals.

Will the message to these young people be that they’re here on sufferance, and if they step out of line they’ll be toast? Perhaps I’m doing an injustice to our police, but it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be a strong dose of law and order on the agenda.

For me, the choice of the police for this job epitomises Theresa May’s Britain. Or, to put it another way, post Brexit-Britain, in which our ruling politicians are persuaded that the most vocal 37% of the electorate favour an orderly society above all other considerations, including material prosperity.

That’s certainly a popular view. After the EU referendum, academics and media commentators made much play of the death penalty correlation: that you could have predicted who was going to vote for Brexit based on their support of the death penalty.

This theory had its roots in a survey of voting intentions before the event. 24,000 white people took part. Hardly a rock-solid sample of the countrywide electorate, I would have thought. Nonetheless, it became received wisdom in some quarters that if you believed in putting people to death, you were 70% likely to go for Brexit.

And so, it seems, the divide was never about class or wealth. It was about values. Authoritarianism versus laissez-faire.

The other night, I was discussing Brexit with a psychologist friend. He buys into the death penalty theory. But he goes further. The reason, he thinks, why we are going through a period when authoritarianism seems attractive is that we are the only member of the EU not to have experienced an extreme version of it in living memory. The others, barring Sweden, suffered war, invasion and the imposition of one form of totalitarianism or the other – in other words, communism or fascism.

They are therefore left with a horror of extreme ideology. So much so that in his opinion the right-wing parties in countries like France and Germany are unlikely to gain political power. He associates authoritarian values with male values, and laissez-faire with female. Try telling that to the ghost of Margaret Thatcher, I wanted to say, but didn’t.

I thought further about what he said.

Even though during the Second World War and in the couple of decades thereafter we in Britain went through a draconian phase, our authoritarianism was relatively mild compared with that suffered under Hitler and Stalin. And yes, we retained the death penalty until 1965. But thereafter the floodgates of laissez-faire opened. We legalised abortion and homosexual acts. We abolished exchange controls. We introduced no-fault divorce. And we joined the European Union, thus opening our borders to our neighbours and diluting our sovereignty.

So was the referendum result a foregone conclusion? Are we in the grip of politicians who believe that we are yearning for paternal values – respect for authority, law and order, tradition? As opposed to maternal values – diversity, respect for difference, tolerance, the embracing of change? Does this explain the 52:48 divide? And can we characterise the remaining EU member states – driven by a spirit of “never again” – as staunch adherents of those maternal values?

With all due respect to those far better qualified than me, I don’t buy into the death penalty theory, or the maternal/paternal argument. The sample for the death penalty conclusion is too narrow and too thin. As for gender traits being the dominant cause of the decision, the argument breaks down when you consider whether those traits are real. Yes, the “caring professions” – teaching, medicine, social work, HR – are over-populated by women. Yet are female practitioners in those fields any more or less resistant to change, tolerant of diversity or supportive of law and order than males? Not in my experience.

And think of our two women prime ministers. Neither Thatcher or May can be described as soft on issues that characterise an authoritarian mindset. As for the idea that our EU colleagues are immune to a return to ultra-authoritarian government, I’m not sure Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Victor Orban would agree.

There were many other reasons put forward as to why we voted for Brexit – sovereignty, immigration, the age divide, economic deprivation, the power of emotion (fashionably referred to in the US as post-truth politics). No doubt they all played a part.

What interests me is that attention seems to be almost entirely focused on the motives of the Brexit voters. I can find little analysis of the reasons why 48% of the voters opted to remain in the EU. If, as one survey claims, 64% of eligible people between the ages of 18 to 24 cast their votes, as opposed to 90% of those over 65, and younger voters overwhelmingly supported remaining in the EU, we should ask the question why the young see their future differently from the old. And so should any government that wishes to create an enduring core of support.

This certainly appears to be Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy. He is frequently described as building a movement as opposed to a party electable in the short term. Has he and his Momentum shock-troops successfully tapped into the zeitgeist of the young generation of voters? And will their idealism survive the ageing process, or will their political arteries harden, just as those of Tony Blair’s youthful supporters did?

All that remains to be seen, but the thoughts and dreams of those younger voters who opted to Remain, as well as those who didn’t, have received very little exposure in the mainstream media.

There is another aspect of the Brexit divide that doesn’t seem to have been much discussed. It’s also relevant to the polarisation in the US in this fractious presidential election year.

The idea that there are two types of freedom – “freedom from” and “freedom to” is nothing new. Without getting into a deep discussion on the nature of freedom, it does seem to me that the Leave voters bought into the message that Brexit is about Freedom From. From interference by Brussels, from immigrants, from EU bureaucracy and so on. And on a wider level, freedom from crime.

The Remain voters, on the other hand – especially the younger ones – seem to have bought into Freedom To. Most especially to work and travel where they please. Again, on the wider level, freedom to marry who they want, to say what they want, to get blasted on whatever they want.

Freedom From is about leave me alone, don’t bother me. Freedom To is about the world being my oyster. And it’s in our attitude towards freedom that we are most deeply polarised – between the fearful, the defensive and the resentful, and the confident, the optimistic and the outward-looking.

This is to an extent at odds with the Brexit evangelists who rattled on during the referendum about the nirvana of a Britain free to trade with the world and determine its own future. But I sense that their message was swamped by the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from the likes of Nigel Farage.

It’s in attitudes towards freedom that Britain today most closely resembles the US. I like to think that a Donald Trump would never flourish on the British political landscape (though Farage in his role as a Donald mini-me together with his pugilistic colleagues cause one to wonder). But Trump is all about Freedom From: immigration again, interference by federal government, terrorism and the corrosive effects of globalisation.

So is this where we in the UK are heading? Towards a country with closed borders and an ever-expanding role for our police? At some stage will the lion and the unicorn on our national crest give way to effigies of a CCTV camera inside a castle? I doubt it. These tendencies come and go, though I don’t see another Summer of Love arriving any time soon.

But I do wonder at a society in which PC Plod is being taken off the beat and sent to lecture children. Have they run out of burglaries to solve?

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