The power of storytelling

What’s the story of the 2015 general election? Over the past few days, many competing explanations have been flying around the internet and the media, as we all try to make sense of an unexpected result.

One thing we’ve seen in the course of this election is that stories are often more powerful than facts. Stories don’t have to be true to be powerful, but they do need to be attractive; they need to make the listener feel better, or feel that she is not alone.

Here are a few attractive but untrue stories about what happened on Thursday.

There’s no money left, so we all have to tighten our belts

This story has been told to us by all the main political parties and all the mainstream media for the last five years. No wonder people believed it.

It is a lie, of course – one of those big lies that 20th century dictators were so fond of. As Caroline Lucas says, there is plenty of money – the question is, who has it?

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The story works because it makes sense in the world most of us live in – the real world where most of the money we earn goes to pay our bills and rent, and more debt means we have less to put food on the table each week.

But when it comes to managing a national economy, that story doesn’t make any sense at all.

A lot of the money the government has coming in is from taxation. That goes up and down according to how much income and profit is being made in the economy. If people are earning more and spending more, and businesses are making more profit, then there will be more taxation coming into the government’s coffers. And vice versa.

If we all individually tighten our belts – spend less, put more away in the bank if we can, get made redundant when businesses tighten their belts – then there is less money circulating in the economy and less tax being paid to the government. That makes the gap between what’s coming in and going out (the deficit) bigger, not smaller.

The reason the deficit has increased is because the government had to borrow a lot of money to stop the banking sector going bust in 2008. The crash happened because the global financial sector gambled with unsustainable lending. It was nothing to do with the Labour government having spent money on public services in the UK.

Borrowing money to save the economy from crisis is one of the special things governments can do, which households can’t do. It’s one of the reasons why that story doesn’t apply to the national economy.

I understand why people believe the story that we all need to tighten our belts. In many ways it’s more believable than the true story – the banking industry gambled with money they didn’t have. When they lost, we all paid the price because the Tories preferred to punish poor, sick and disabled people, rather than their schoolfriends in the City.

The Tories are extremely popular in England

Looking at the new political map of the UK, it’s easy to understand why anyone might think the election result represents a big leap in Tory popularity in England. However, this is also not true.

Despite the Tories gaining 21 English seats in Parliament, their vote share hardly increased between the 2010 and 2015 elections (it went up by 1.4 percentage points to 41%). Labour’s vote share in England increased by 3.6 percentage points to 31.6%, and they too gained seats in England – there are 15 more Labour MPs representing English constituencies than there were before the election.

The real story of this election in England is, of course, the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote and the rise of UKIP and, to a lesser extent, the Greens.

In seat after seat, the same pattern is repeated. Labour and Tory votes both increase by a small margin, the Lib Dem vote is slashed to around a fifth of its previous level and the UKIP vote increases massively to put them in third or second place. In many constituencies, Greens are attracting between 1000 and 2000 votes, even where they have never stood a candidate before.

There is no evidence of voters switching en masse from Labour to Tory, nor, I would guess, are many people swapping their vote directly from Lib Dem to UKIP.

I think the former Lib Dem voters are either staying at home or voting Labour or Tory, or Green. Meanwhile, both Labour and Tories are losing votes in substantial numbers to UKIP. Because UKIP haven’t won many seats, this trend is not easy to see, but the map of second placed candidates shows it much more clearly.


The election doesn’t demonstrate the overwhelming popularity of the Tories, it shows how badly our electoral system is broken, and it shows that there is a sizeable minority of voters, even in England, who are not persuaded by the mainstream consensus represented by Labour and the Tories.

The success of the SNP represents an upsurge in nationalism

I don’t think even Ed Miliband believes this one, though it keeps popping up in the media and in the mouths of flabbergasted Scottish and English Labour politicians.

I know very little about Scottish politics, but as far as I can tell, what happened in Scotland was that people were looking for an alternative to that Westminster consensus. They saw very clearly that they could not hope to find it in Scottish Labour, after the naked display of establishment solidarity between Labour and the Tories at the referendum.

And the SNP was able to tell a better story – one that didn’t rely on the twisted logic of austerity but which offered hope, and a way to make a real difference.

The SNP managed to do in Scotland, what the Labour Party has long failed to do in England – truly listen to, and stand up for, the people who are being done over by capitalism. Mhairi Black MP puts it well:

“The thing that got me fired up [during the referendum campaign] was standing listening to people pouring their heart out to you, telling you how much they were genuinely struggling. You’re used to hearing statistics about poverty, but then you realise these aren’t numbers, these are people’s lives, filled with anxiety and struggle.”

The presence of 56 MPs who have been elected to the House of Commons on a clear anti-austerity mandate is a massive change in the make-up of Parliament. Before the election, there were a small handful of MPs who were prepared to challenge the lie about austerity and speak up for the millions suffering through benefit cuts, sanctions, the housing crisis and the privatisation of the NHS. Now, their numbers have been multiplied tenfold.

Just as the presence of Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett changed the terms of the debate before the election, the fact that the SNP is now the third largest Parliamentary group will make a difference to the stories that can be told in Westminster.

UKIP voters are racist fools

There’s no doubt that racism is a large part of UKIP’s appeal. But that’s not really surprising, as all the right wing parties in this election based their campaigns on racism, one way or another.

Far from immigration being a subject which it is somehow taboo to discuss, the last two general elections have been about little else. Other – arguably more pressing – issues (climate change, anyone?) have not made it onto the agenda of the so-called national debate.

Racism, on the other hand, is rarely discussed in a serious way. It is furiously denied by everyone, as if it were an unsavoury drug habit, but never acknowledged as a structural power imbalance with deep roots in the cultural and economic history of our country.

I’m sure UKIP voters are racist. White people generally are. If we don’t want racism to be an attractive story in politics, we need to start by recognising that racism permeates society at every level. It’s not an unfortunate character trait of people who are ignorant or have been misled, and it can’t be magicked away by the training courses and monitoring forms which seem to be all that survives of the 1980s anti-racism efforts of the Labour left.

The rise of UKIP doesn’t reveal a big upsurge in racism. It does seem to have brought racist sentiment out into the open and given it legitimacy. But it also represents the filling of the vacuum left by Labour in the face of five years of austerity, and the failure of the anti-austerity movement to tell a convincing story about the reasons for low wages and poverty.

There’s nothing we can do now

What’s happened in Scotland shows that it is possible to change the story. But we won’t do it by continuing to do what we’ve done for the last five years.

We need to reach beyond the left, and beyond those who are already voting Green or Labour, to the people who are disengaged and disenfranchised by the political process.

I don’t know how to do it, but I am inspired by the courageous campaigns around housing in London, such as the Focus E15 campaign, the New Era Estate campaign and the Sweets Way occupation.

Locally, in Brighton, the People’s Assembly against Austerity has an open meeting coming up. I’ll be there, hoping to hear new ideas for getting our stories told better and louder.

24 Comments on “The power of storytelling”

  1. This map worries me, if PR was introduced we could have as many as 80 extreme right-wing neo-fascist UKIP MP’s in parliament. Not a pleasant prospect.

    • Fiona says:

      Don’t you think the UKIP vote is a protest vote? Without a doubt we need to change our electoral system and change always brings something unexpected with it, but we can’t hold onto our old system through fear any more than through inertia.

      • No I don’t think all UKIP votes were protest votes. I’ve done a lot of doorstepping both this year and last and I’ve surprised how many working people that would normally vote Labour have swallowed Farage’s guff about immigration and the EU etc. and become firm UKIP supporters. He appeals to some peoples basic fears and prejudices. His image of a beer drinking, fag smoking,hail fellow well met, bloke down the pub has blinded the media into believing he is a really good person. If people stopped and thought about things they may realise a certain man in Germany rose to power by blaming the Jews for all Germany’s problems in the 1920’s and 30’s. I fear Farage and UKIP are almost as dangerous.

      • Bill says:

        How anyone who writes “’I;m sure UKIP voters are racist. White people generally are.” is so far to the fascist left as to dropping off the face of reality,People who work in manual jobs have seen their living standards ripped to shreds by the arrival of Poles etc who will work for a lot cheaper wages . I know the outcry there would be if the Universities and colleges got rid of their teaching staff to use cheaper people who had been encouraged to come here by the Government of the day . We working men and women need a party that really represents our needs and our wishes.UKIP isnt that, we know, but neither was the Labour party and has not been so for many many years, Posh kid guilt ,failed communists and left wing activists who only talk among themselves are all that is left of a once mighty Party.Until the likes of you take your heads out of your arses and asks the “proles” what are our problems ,then to the Wilderness with you and don’t come back till you know who it is you want to represent. Us or yourselves .

      • Dani says:

        Hi Bill, Thanks for commenting.

        I agree with you about the Labour Party – anyone who wants to represent working class people needs to start by finding out what working class people think and what their lives are like. I don’t think the Labour Party wants to do either of those things.

        Personally, I’m not looking to represent anyone – apologies if I gave you the impression that I was. I am interested in working with and supporting anyone who wants to rebuild a tradition of solidarity that the Tories and UKIP are doing their best to destroy.

        If there are people who are prepared to – or forced to – work for less than the going rate, then that will drive down wages, of course. As far as I know, the only way that situation has ever been turned round is through independent workers’ organisations, who are strong enough to bargain collectively on behalf of *all* workers for a fair rate for the job.

    • Susanne says:

      Someone pointed out that if there was PR, people would use a different voting strategy. There would not be this tactical voting malarky. I don’t know how valid this argument is, but it makes sense to me.

      • Anna says:

        I agree, Susanne. I think about a lot of people who were torn between voting for the Green Party – whom they felt best represented their views – and voting Labour, in an attempt to keep out the Tories. In the end, many of them voted Labour. In a PR system, they would be able to vote for what they want, rather than simply voting for the ‘least bad’ option.

      • Dani says:

        Hi Susanne and Anna. Thank you for your comments. I agree that a change to the voting system would change the way people vote.

        I think enabling honest voting is more important than strict proportionality. Any system in which we could vote by putting candidates in order of preference would transform the practice of politics for the better. I don’t understand why any of the parties want to keep the current system, which actively prevents them from talking to people about what they think and requires them instead to spend so much time talking about who is most likely to win.

  2. Fiona says:

    This is an excellent article, and think as someone who lives in Scotland, you have a good understanding and an unusually unbiased view of the outcome of the general election here. You also examine the myths we have all been fed throughout the UK in this election with great clarity.
    Scotland has its own devolved parliament and MSPs are elected by a PR system, which works reasonably well and of course we have recently had the referendum which was amazingly empowering for many many Scots, especially the youngest voters. The political mess of the Westminster government that followed the referendum definitely had a huge effect on how people voted here. But of course not everyone voted SNP, just 50%, so not so different from the referendum, and we all knew we were voting in a general election and not for independence. Nicola Sturgeon MSP and leader of the SNP is an excellent politician, she is clear, positive and listens as well as talks to the electorate. The turnout was mostly higher here, but I was pleased to see it was much better across the whole UK than the previous election, so it is moving in the right direction. We do want to see a change in Westminster politics, but Scotland has a small population, and the SNP would not be sending all those MPs if PR had been adopted in Westminster before now. However that doesn’t mean I like many others up here are against PR.
    I too have been following the campaigns around housing in London and am full of admiration for the group of women behind it. What courage and determination. It is an outrage that social housing has been allowed to be mismanaged to this extent and that local people who cannot afford to pay exorbitant rents are so ignored by their mayor, their councilors and their MPs. It was a grassroots movement that made the change for us in Scotland, though quite what happens next is unpredictable.

  3. Dani says:

    Thank you for your comments, Fiona and Teraina. I think the high vote for UKIP is very worrying, but I don’t think it is an argument for not reforming the voting system. If anything, the voting system is lulling us into a false sense of security. It makes it seem as if UKIP is insignificant, because they only have one MP, even though their vote share across the UK was over 12%, with much higher and lower variations in different places.

    I think different people will have voted UKIP for different reasons. Some are registering a protest vote – so reforming the electoral system may in fact reduce the numbers who feel that voting gives them no voice. But I think you are right too, Teraina, that some people are voting UKIP more positively because they believe immigration has caused the problems in their lives.

    Changing those beliefs is difficult, and I’m not sure how we can do it. We certainly can’t wait until 2020 before we start to try.

  4. Lucy Nabijou says:

    Thanks for a very clear and convincing article and I agree with virtually all you say. However, I’d strongly take issue with your line that ‘I’m sure UKIP voters are racist. White people generally are.’
    I don’t dispute that this country has a huge problem with racism and xenophobia that resonates from way back in the colonial era, but isn’t it a bit, well, racist, (not to say unhelpfully simplistic) to say that ‘white people are generally racist’?
    I’d be inclined to go with ‘all people are generally xenophobic’ (a more accurate term to describe the UKIP phenomenon, I think), except for when they consciously decide they don’t want to be. Many, many people throughout the history of mankind have seen the wisdom and virtue and good common sense in rising above their most base instincts towards suspicion and hatred of ‘the other’, and learning the lessons of tolerance and acceptance of difference. It’s a lesson we just need to keep on re-learning.
    Many of the (not always white) UKIP voters have a chip on their shoulder (in reality nothing to do with immigration, but linked to the consequences of economic globalisation) and an open ear to simplistic xenophobic explanations for their lot in life – explanations that had been amplified by politicians and media for many decades before anyone had ever heard of Nigel Farage.
    What these people lack now, that Farage has successfully tapped into, is a sense that they are being listened to and their very real economic/social circumstances being given serious attention by the political establishment. Labour should be reflecting seriously on this point now, not reaching for more platitudes about immigration control, though I fear they are about to get stuck in another bout of irrelevant Blair/Brown tribalism.

    • Dani says:

      Hi Lucy, Thanks for your comment.

      I agree that my “white people generally are racist” was a bit throwaway. What I was trying to do was to move away from the idea of being racist as an individual failing and towards an understanding of it as an integral part of our political, cultural and economic system.

      Did you have time to watch the video I linked to? It’s at I thought the idea of racism as a business that is being successfully marketed to us all, every day, was very interesting. We all live and breathe racism every day. It would be astonishing if none of it seeped into our brains.

      I also read this article recently, and found it really useful:

      I think this bit is what I had in my mind when I wrote the original post:

      “The most effective adaptation of racism over time is the idea that racism is conscious bias held by mean people. If we are not aware of having negative thoughts about people of color, don’t tell racist jokes, are nice people, and even have friends of color, then we cannot be racist. Thus, a person is either racist or not racist; if a person is racist, that person is bad; if a person is not racist, that person is good. Although racism does of course occur in individual acts, these acts are part of a larger system that we all participate in. The focus on individual incidences prevents the analysis that is necessary in order to challenge this larger system. The good/bad binary is the fundamental misunderstanding driving white defensiveness about being connected to racism. We simply do not understand how socialization and implicit bias work”

      • Lucy Nabijou says:

        Thanks Dani. I get what you were trying to do and agree with it. And I do think it is very hard for people in relatively privileged positions (whether in relation to race, class, gender, disability, etc) to recognise the unconscious biases that are working in their favour, as they take their privileged positions for granted as ‘normal’ or ‘natural’, not necessarily through any bad intent, but more a lack of empathy and imagination.
        It seems many of the people who voted UKIP themselves feel left behind, marginalised, and underprivileged. As you say, the political, cultural and economic system we have has played a blinder at pitting one marginalised group against another.

  5. Pat says:

    Excellent piece and following debate

  6. Fighting fracking will unify folk as its done here in #FrackFreeLancashire . Discussion of fracking seems to have almost got D-noticed during the election “debate” and most folk have no idea what’s heading their way. There’s also every likelihood that the North will become an autonomous region now that the Scots have effectively ended the Union. #TakeUsWithYouScotland

    Great blog post by the way

  7. Jimbo says:

    What an atrociously biased article. To say that ‘White people are generally racist’ is a comment that is itself, blatantly racist. I have never met a more irrational group of people than those like yourself, on the extreme left of society.

    I, like millions of people up and down the UK voted UKIP. I, as an educated young person hardly fit the sterotypical Ukipper.None of the many UKIP supporters I know are racist and several of them are themselves from abroad. I deplore racism. The bigoted attitude of the miniscule minority of hard-line lefties with a hugely disproportionate say in the media has resulted in a scathing smear campaign against UKIP. Yet all it has done is steeled the resolve of those fed up of being denied a voice by so-called liberals who preach freedom of speech and equality yet neglect to afford it to those with differing views. Call us what you like, we’re not going anywhere.

    My concern is the growth of support in my generation for the neo-communist, socially Marxist and utterly immoral Green Party.

    • Dani says:

      Hi Jimbo, Thanks for your comment.

      What is it that attracted you to UKIP, if you don’t mind me asking?

      • Jimbo says:

        Hi Dani, Thanks for your response – not least given the nature of my comment. I don’t mind at all.

        The primary reason I have been won over by UKIP is their policies. I had been a Conservative supporter but my support for them was on the basis of choosing the ‘least worst’ party.

        On the economy I could never agree with Labour’s policy of unlimited borrowing but struggle to accept the way the Conservative cuts seem to hurt those in need. I believe in the country living within it’s means by removing the deficit but by making cuts that are going to be the least harmful to society as a whole. UKIP want to scrap less vital forms of public spending such as HS2 and to leave the EU and hence not pay the vast membership fees. This would protect key areas of public spending such as the NHS, Education and Defence from being cut.

        On moral issues I take a right wing stance. I do not agree with legalising drugs, liberalising abortion laws or redefining marriage. I feel that the Conservatives have stopped making a stand on some of these issues, whereas UKIP are generally closer to my own Christian viewpoint on moral issues. They are also the only significant party outside of Northern Ireland standing up for religious liberty in the face of an ever-militant secularism.

        On the subject of immigration, a number of my closest friends are immigrants and I bear absolutely no ill-feeling towards people as a result of their race or colour. This should, of course, go without saying, but the media smear campaign has created a stigma around people like myself who have concerns about immigration and as such I am forced to make my this point very clear. I accept that as the second-most densely populated country in Europe with heavily strained public services, the last thing we need is a rapidly expanding population. An open door immigration policy can never work when we do not have a similarly unlimited supply of jobs, school places, homes or hospital beds. Only UKIP campaign to leave the EU, which is the only way we can establish border controls. UKIP also support limiting child benefit to 2 children, hence removing a state-funded encouragement for overpopulation. Some of my immigrant friends share my position on this subject and indeed voted UKIP too.

        Then of course, there is the matter of the EU itself. I would not wish for the UK to remain a member unless Cameron is able to significantly renegotiate our membership. I doubt very much that he will repatriate many powers, if any. In addition to concerns about immigration, I do not agree with the EU overriding National Parliaments and imposing excessive regulations upon us. We do not need to be told what vaccum cleaners we can use by people we didn’t vote for. I agree with Farage’s evaluation of the situation, that the EU should have remained as a trading bloc and not morphed into a political union.

        On the issue of education, I support UKIP’s policy for the establishment of more Grammar Schools to improve social mobility.

        I also feel very strongly in the principle of fairness between the constituent countries of the UK. Currently England has fewer MPs per person than Scotland or Wales, recieves less funding per person than those in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and lacks an English Devolved parliament preventing the absolutely right policy of English votes on English laws. UKIP policy on these issues is aligned to my own.

        I hope this gives a comprehensive answer to your question. I hope that yoiu will also agree that my reasons for voting UKIP are far wider than the issues of Immigration and Europe and that racism plays no factor in my decision.

      • Dani says:

        Hi Jimbo. Thank you for taking the time to reply to my question.

        (By the way, I’ve removed your corrections, as your original comment reads clearly and says what you intended it to say in the first place, as far as I can see.)

        I think we are unlikely to find much common ground, and I would understand if you don’t want to continue this conversation for very long, but I do have a few points that you may or may not like to think about.

        Firstly, I am bemused that you perceive the media portrayal of UKIP to be inaccurate and misleading, but you accept without question that, for example, Labour’s economic policy is one of “unlimited borrowing”. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, and that in fact, Ed Balls was intending to match Tory spending plans for at least the first year of a Labour government. Their manifesto says “There is not a single policy in this manifesto that is funded by additional borrowing.”

        Similarly, a large part of my original blog post was devoted to challenging the idea that removing the deficit is a way of “living within our means”. Indeed, that whole concept doesn’t really make sense when applied to a national economy. There isn’t a fixed amount of money coming in – it varies with the amount of economic activity going on.

        This leads me to my second point, which is in response to your description of our public services as “strained” by immigration. I agree that public services are strained, but this is a result of harsh funding cuts imposed by a government obsessed with deficit reduction.

        EU migrants to the UK – the only group of immigrants not already subject to stringent controls – are net contributors to the economy. Their presence here helps to create and sustain the jobs, schools, hospitals and homes you correctly identify as being in short supply. The shortages we are all experiencing are not caused by people travelling around Europe looking for work. They are caused by a government of millionaires selling off our common assets to their mates.

        Finally, on the question of racism, please read my earlier comments in this thread, particularly the one addressed to Lucy. When I say that white people (a group which includes me) generally are racist, I am not just throwing insults around. I am talking about the need to understand how racism is embedded in our culture.

        Our economy was built on a profoundly racist foundation. The beautiful Victorian buildings of our cities were created using the proceeds of the slave trade. The reason the UK is one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world is because the British state violently conquered many other countries, enslaved or murdered their non-white inhabitants, and used their natural resources to enrich our own economy.

        When British people talk about the need to control immigration, to compete in the global marketplace, to retain our status as a high skilled economy, it is laughable to say that racism is not a factor in those debates. Racism is always a factor.

        It’s not about who your friends are. It’s about recognising that being a white person in the UK means being handed a load of advantages on a plate and acknowledging the damage that does to our ability to show proper human fellow-feeling to all the people who aren’t so privileged.

      • Jimbo says:

        Thanks for your response Dani – I strongly feel that people of different views discussing those views is a very important way of learning to respect the views of others in society. The last thing I want is to see an ever-deeping division where people only associate with those of like mind and isolate themselves from those with which they disagree. This approach leads to mutual bigotry of the opposing side.

        In terms of the media portryal of UKIP, what I am talking about is the way in which the media has drawn attention to any and every person associated with the party who has made an unacceptable comment and the way in which they have portrayed these comments as the views of the party. The same approach has not been applied to other parties and UKIP have been especially strict on removing those with views inconsistent with those of the party. You are right to pull me up on my supurlative comment about Labour – I should apply the same standard of fairness to Labour which I expect to be applied to UKIP. However, whilst the manifesto might contain that comment you quoted, the IFS was very critical of Labour’s financial policy and was of the view that the country would be deeper in debt than under the Conservatives.

        In terms of the country living within it’s means – I accept that many countries run on a defecit. However, it is irresponsible to allow that deficit to get out of control. I think it is worth drawing attention the fact that the deficit is the amount added to the National Debt each year. I am afraid that I simply fail to understand how a country with debt levels as high as Britain’s should be anything other than ‘obsessed’ with reducing the deficit. It is incredibly short-sighted to borrow money you can’t pay back to have what you want now, when our children will be made to foot the bill in the long run. We should be paying off our bill, not adding to it.

        On economic strain to public services – I refer to Nigel Farage’s comments in one of the television debates where he draw attention to the two sides to the equation. On the one hand, the supply, i.e. the amount of public spending on a department clearly affects it’s ability to perform. On the other hand, so does, the demand, i.e. the population size. So I accept your assertion that the cuts have a role to play, but fail to comprehend your suggestion that vast levels of immigration do not. The cuts, I would suggest, are necessary to stop adding to our debt, but unlimited immigration (which it undeniably is within the EU) is not necessary and so this is side of the equation I believe should be tackled as a result.

        I also accept that EU migrants are generally net contributors. I know many EU migrants who work very hard. I also know many who claim vast amounts of benefits to sustain their families containing large numbers of children. I have known personally such migrants in my home town who have had 9 children and know several with 6 or 7 currently. I have known families of EU migrants on benefits continue to have more and more children they will not be paying for. You can bet your bottom dollar that they are not net contributors. Under the current system, we are unable to distinguish between the givers and the takers. How can anyone support such a system? It is a misconception that UKIP want to stop all EU migration. They simply say that we should allow a reasonable number of people to come and work, and indeed add great value to the country whilst preventing benefit tourism. I love my friends from Europe, but I am able to distinguish between the workers and the shirkers and believe the system should do the same. I am unable to swallow the suggestion that we should allow the population to grow uncontrollably and simply build more and more houses, schools, hospitals and the like. That is not a sensible or sustainable policy, not least when the Greens who subscribe to it also want to somehow protect the environment at the same time!

        On the subject of racism, I did read your earlier comments, bbut I do not accept them. I am disgusted when I read of the history of our nation. We, alongside many other European Nations behaved in an extremely racist and inhumane way to people across the globe. I have a friend working with the Aborigines in Australia who recently told me of the remaining effects of colonialism and genocide on that people group. However, I do not buy into the idea that we have to feel personal guilt for these vile actions undertaken by previous generations. I am not personally responsible. I know you haven’t used this argument, but it often seems to underpin similar arguments made to the ones you have made.

        You have correctly stated the racism of the past, with which I agree. You then go on to boldly assert that this therefore has a bearing on the attitudes of people today, with absolutely no reasoning to back it up. I would argue that to suggest that all concerns about immigration are racist is as ‘laughable’ as you seem to think my position is. Tell me, are my UKIP-voting friends from other countries ‘racist’ when they agree that immigration should be controlled? Are they motivated by ‘white privilege’? Are you seriously suggesting that my concerns about over-population, which is a better peg on which to hang my concerns than ‘immigration’, are motivated by a sense of superiority over races my ancestors ‘put in their place’ through slavery or exploitation? As I have said, I am by no means proud of the way our race has treated others.

        I also do not accept that simply being a white person in Britain means you have a huge advantage over others. Can you imagine the response you would get from urban white working-class families if you told them they were ‘privileged’? I volunteered in a school for several weeks with many children from such families who had very tough circumstances and I find it genuinely offensive that anyone would show such ignorance as to suggest that only non-white people start off with a crippling disadvantage in life. I realise that this sentence might come across angrily, but please be assured that that is not my intention. The fact that you are white yourself does not mean you can freely make sweeping statements about white people which are breathtakingly unfair without be held to account for doing so.

        The reality is that there is a very small section of society who have the sizeable head-start over others you refer to. They tend to be the aristocratic wealthy families, who are indeed generally white. This does not mean that the majority of white people, or anything remotely close to a majority have this advantage. Neither does it mean that no non-white people find themselves in advantageous circumstances. My mother’s family struggled to make ends meet and had to work very hard to relive themselves from near-poverty. Please, do not devalue their struggle because of the colour of their skin. We don’t solve the problems of society by playing one group against another.

        I also want to push back on your statement that who your friends are is of no importance. The fact that some of the people for whom I care the most are non-white immigrants is absolutely key to undermining your suggestion that I am a subconscious racist. If that was the case, why would I closely associate with people I viewed as being of significantly less worth than myself, without my inbuilt bigotry kicking in? After all, it is ’embedded’ into my psyche as a white person, is it not?

        Finally, why does wanting to control immigration constitute a lack of ‘fellow-feeling’ being shown to people from abroad? I am not saying that I don’t want people to come because they are foreign, or another colour to myself. It is simply a case of being sensible about the numbers of people the infastructure of this country can support without bursting at the seems.

      • Dani says:

        Hi again Jimbo.

        I’m not going to go over the same ground again on the deficit. I’m not sure from your comments whether you read the article by Paul Krugman that I linked to in my last reply. If so, I guess you didn’t understand it. Let’s leave that to one side.

        I’m also not going to respond in detail to your points about personal guilt and racism being embedded in your psyche. That is not the argument I am making. Please read this article, which directly answers some of the points you made.

        And please read this piece. I’m willing to bet that the kind of day-to-day experiences described there are not ones that you have had to deal with in your life. I certainly haven’t. If you live your life free of the constant drip-drip of racism, from the police, neighbours, your children’s friends, strangers in the street, etc, it’s very hard to imagine what that would be like. That state of happy ignorance is a great good fortune that most white people take for granted, pretty much all the time.

        I would like to respond mainly to your argument that it is important for the UK’s immigration policy to make a distinction between “workers and shirkers”.

        As an aside, when I said that EU migrants are net contributors to the UK economy, I wasn’t talking about them on an individual level. I meant that as a group, people from the rest of the EU who live here put in more to the economy than they take out. So if they were not here, we would all be poorer. This is related to the issue of public services. People from the rest of the EU work here, pay taxes and many also contribute labour in public sector jobs. Far from being a drain on our services, they make, on balance, a positive contribution to the supply side of Nigel Farage’s equation.

        But your “workers and shirkers” comment really got to me. I don’t know if you have any children. I have two, now both teenagers. I can assure you, being a parent is the hardest work – the most physically and mentally demanding work – I have ever done. When I think about the everyday life of a woman with 6 or 7 children, let alone 9, “shirker” is hardly the word that springs to my mind!

        Living on benefits in the UK is tough, no matter how many children you have. I reckon keeping 6 children fed, clothed, shod, sheltered and safe from harm would take a lot of creativity and resourcefulness.

        I would like to know how you think a system can be devised which performs this miraculous feat of distinguishing between “workers and shirkers”.

        Without knowing anything about the people you mentioned, I have no way of knowing why they have large families or how hard they or their children are working. I don’t know whether they help their neighbours out with childcare or volunteer at the community centre. I don’t know if they have depression or asthma or a child with special needs. I don’t know if they are lonely without anyone nearby who speaks the same language, or if their children have a starring role in the school play.

        Nor do you. Nor would an immigration official. They would instead make a series of assumptions and judgments in order to sort people into categories based on impersonal characteristics like nationality, qualifications, bank balance.

        The truth is that we all give and we all take, all the time. That’s how complex societies work. The “givers and takers” are not two separate groups of people. Working hard doesn’t mean you don’t need benefits. Being unemployed doesn’t mean you don’t pay taxes.

        It seems to me that this “workers and shirkers” comment of yours is precisely an example of concern over immigration leading directly to a lack of fellow-feeling. Rather than consider the real, individual, unique lives of people with large families who happen to be foreigners, you apply a sweeping (and derogatory) generalisation to them.

  8. […] The power of storytelling → […]

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