I really didn’t want to write about the referendum in this column especially after reading humblebrag tweets from political journalists about their lack of sleep and disappearing fingerprints, worn away by typing endless copy.
We know they’re secretly exhilarated by it all because chaos sells. And I wasn’t sure I had anything new to add anyway.
But I have to speak out about the rise in racist abuse. Every time Daesh attack and kill, we hear calls for ‘decent’ Muslims everywhere to condemn such crimes against humanity; to floridly demonstrate that not all Muslims support Islamic terrorists. Yet when it comes to the 57% rise in the incidence of reported hate crimes in Suffolk and other parts of the British Isles, I haven’t seen similar calls for every ‘decent’ Brexit supporter to vigorously denounce these new incidents of racial hatred as ‘not in my name’.
When abuse along the lines of ‘Leave the EU, no more Polish vermin’ is being posted through letter boxes and shouted in the streets, I think it is fair to say that there exists a link; certainly some pretty despicable people have leaped upon the Leave vote as a mandate to brazenly discriminate against those they blame for their own plight. The biggest con perpetuated by the establishment upon Brexit supporters is the idea that they will receive the keys to the kingdom should all ‘foreigners’ be deported. If you are poor, unemployed or underpaid and living in a deprived region you will still be all of those things if we leave. Sadly, nobody is going to be knocking on your door post-EU begging you to accept the job of your dreams, a house made of gold and a hot supermodel wifelet and that, my friend, is not the fault of the EU, just as the subprime scandal in the USA, which helped to trigger the start of the recession, was not the fault of the EU.
I suspect that the decline in the study of modern languages in British schools has played its own part in the mess we now find ourselves in. Competency in another language is a vital factor for the UK’s prosperity in a globalised market and it has been estimated that our lack of language skills are retarding our international trade performance at a cost of almost £50 billion a year. Our stubborn refusal to communicate on anything other than our own linguistically-challenged terms will result in xenophobia becoming our major export after our departure. English will not always be the lingua franca and when that day comes, baby we’ll see how froid it is out there in the big wide world. This is our government’s fault.
I think about the Polish soldiers who were our steadfast allies during the Second World War. Then there’s the Polish neuro-orthopaedic consultant-surgeon working in an East Anglian hospital who spent years training a team to perfect a surgical technique that benefited my own daughter in a 13-hour operation. I am friends with a language teacher from Austria who has taught Spanish to many teenagers in St Edmundsbury. I think of the Eastern European staff in my neighbourhood grocery shop who have introduced me to the delights of dark chocolate coated plums, beetroot horseradish and pierogi. There’s the Portugese and Filipino nurses at the West Suffolk Hospital, the French wait staff at Maison Bleue and the friendly Portugese cafe on Angel Hill which sells the best pasteis de nata in the town. These are the people the Far Right racists want to ‘go home’, when all we should want is for them to feel at home here.
As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme, I’m reminded of the poet Siegfried Sassoon who wrote of ‘shaken hues of summer: drifting down’ and, as the subject of his poem, a young soldier lay on his deathbed, he beseeched us to:
“Light many lamps and gather round his bed.
Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live.
Speak to him; rouse him; you may save him yet.
He’s young; he hated war; how should he die
When cruel old campaigners win safe through?”
Sassoon speaks of deeds done in the name of the powerful few at the expense of the powerless many. These words are still relevant to us now, as we endure the aftermath of this Trojan Horse of a referendum. Please speak out against these acts of hatred because to be silent is to tacitly support them.
-- Nicola Miller is author of The Millers Tale blog. Follow her on Twitter: @NicMillersTale