Is the 2015 UK general election being fought now, as the European elections approach?
The bright sunshine and sharp showers that have characterized mid May in London could be seen as a metaphor in regard to the fortunes of the main political parties as the European elections approach. Despite attempts by the main newspapers to throw light on the other dimensions of being a full member of Europe, they have failed and immigration remains the core issue. That in itself is an indication of the problem. Unless ordinary British voters feel directly affected by European issues, it is just not high on their agenda, but even those not affected have a strong opinion it seems.
Undaunted, postal voting papers have arrived in tens of thousands of homes across the UK this week and, in this increasingly stay at home democracy, people will be completing instructions to “… place completed form A into envelope B but with the reverse address showing through the front window and then place envelope B into…” Need I go on? If there was a way of deterring people from voting by post then this school exercise is it. One wonders how many envelopes will be left partially completed by the time the 22nd gets here.
On a more positive note The Daily Telegraph, darling newspaper of the Conservative right and center, published a double page spread on, you guessed it, immigration and whether it was good for Britain and I have to say it came out pretty strongly against continued levels of immigration – unless you are Polish. The Telegraph tells us that, despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to reduce immigration levels to “tens of thousands” before the May 2015 election, 209,000 EU nationals came to Britain last year – an increase of 60,000 on the year before. This of course shatters his pledge, but of this total number 111,000 were Poles. French nationals also increased, deserting François Hollande’s fiscal attacks on the wealthier classes, and parts of London and a number mostly the wealthier areas have become honeypots of French cafés and schools. But despite this staggering and continuing increase, the Poles were not singled out for criticism. Quite the reverse. Does Mr Parker (a businessman from Wales) believe that Polish arrivals have cost British workers their jobs (the main plank of the UKIP attack this and next week)? Not at all. Parker replied that “the Poles’ work is outstanding. The pride they take in it is amazing. They look after a machine and we get more use out of it. We spend less money and we do more business and then we hire more people.” Now who could argue with that economic theory? But the initial impact and cost of unbridled immigration is a social one.
Criticism is harshest in the UK when it comes to immigrants from other countries – especially in the cities. Parker was in rural Wales and therein lays the paradox that rural areas seem to be better at assimilating and accommodating foreign nationals than cities. Similar to the overcrowded tower blocks of poverty and unemployment that you pass on your way into Paris by train, so The Telegraph tells us, we have police forces across the country reporting an increase in anti-social behavior in overcrowded areas of cities, drinking, and violence especially where large numbers of young males have arrived to work. These are predominantly the cities of the North where migrants are attracted by the lower cost of living and where, they hope, work is plentiful.
This dichotomy between largely positive attitudes to Poles in large numbers and criticism of other nationalities in smaller admittedly more condensed numbers, does beg the question of whether Britain is a racist country? Further food for thought for this comes from a recent poll. The highest levels of criticism of Britain’s immigration policy comes from those who know no immigrants at all – 71% of whom want drastic action by government to curb what they see as excessive and uncontrolled immigration. That number drops to 58% amongst people who do know immigrants. But although The Telegraph sees this as a positive message, the fact is that, according to this opinion poll, on average 64% of all UK nationals want drastic action, and this is where the main and very centrist political parties are under most pressure. No matter what the real or perceived benefits or problems that surround immigration into the UK, the 2015 general election is being fought now as we approach the May 2014 European election and the central parties will not commit or be drawn on their policies for the future. The ducking and diving on this issue merely plays into the hands of UKIP.
But we should not despair. When Mr Tuczynski, a 37-year-old married Pole who came to the UK seven years ago, was asked where his builders came from to do work on his new home (which he no longer has time to do himself) he answered: “They’re Welsh builders. Welsh boys. They’re reliable, they do a good job.” Does this tell us that Poles are taking jobs from British workers or in fact creating them, as their hard work creates their own wealth which can then be re-distributed to a British workforce now having to measure up to the standards required to get the work? Of course it could also be that they too want the best they can get for their money and how the worm will have turned.
Born in 1960 to a Polish soldier, Philip Bujak joined the British Army in 1979 and then pursued a very successful career in education, becoming Headmaster of Stover School for Girls (520 pupils) in 1993. From 2003 to 2014, he was Chief Executive of the Montessori Schools movement in the UK (750 schools). He read history and politics at the University of East Anglia (1979-1982), is the author of four books, and is a Freeman of The City of London. He takes an active interest in Polish affairs and politics in the UK, and is a regular supporter of Polish Heritage projects, receiving the Pro Memoria Medal from the Polish government in 2012.