Wednesday 17 December 2014

Waste of space: An open letter to Nigel Farage

Busy traffic on the M4.
Source: Bristol Post

Dear Mr Farage,

As an immigrant to the UK, I am very angry at your remarks that "immigrants" caused you to be late for an event in Wales on 5 December.

You are well aware that traffic accidents and road delays exist. Immigrants did not suddenly take to the roads with the sole purpose of slowing you down. It is clear that being on time for your supporters in Wales is not your highest priority, and you chose not to allow for unforeseen delays. Take responsibility for your error, instead of blaming me.

It is true British roads have become more crowded in recent years, because of increased car ownership as well as a rise in population. You didn't blame underinvestment in rail, or unnecessary car journeys, or population growth in general. You decided to single out immigrants.

The implication is clear: In your estimation, we have less right to drive on British roads than native-born citizens. To you, we are quite literally a waste of space. You were referring not to hypothetical immigrants who might arrive in the future, but to people who are here today. You say we are not welcome on British streets.

What else do you not believe I deserve? The job I work at, the house I live in, the very soil I stand on?

I work at a major scientific research institute just outside of Cambridge. It is a world leader in its field, a success story of which Britain should be proud. Its contributions to medical science have saved countless lives, and will continue to do so. It is also highly cosmopolitan. My own office contains ten people from six different countries. This institute has been successful precisely because it welcomes talent from all parts of the world.

Usually I get the bus or cycle to work, but today I drove in. According to you, I should not be doing this. I have less right than you to be on the roads. I was a waste of space.

How dare you speak like this?

Perhaps you would say highly-skilled immigrants are welcome, but unskilled ones are not. That is missing the point. For one thing, when I came to this country I was not an elite professional; I was a 13 year old child. Furthermore, it is not only the highly-paid and highly-skilled who contribute to Britain.

Take, for example, a hospital cleaner. It is not an enjoyable job. The hours are terrible, the pay is bad, and the work is boring and often unpleasant. I would have to be in a desperate situation before I took this job, and so would you. A lot of British people feel the same way, so many hospital cleaners are immigrants. They may well be unskilled and have a poor command of English, otherwise they would find more pleasant work.

Their work is low in status, but of the greatest importance. You have no doubt heard of the rise in MRSA and other hospital-borne infections, which kill an estimated 5000 people in the UK each year. Our first and best defence against these is thorough cleaning. Not only is the hospital cleaner working hard, obeying the law, and paying taxes, he or she could literally save your life.

You say this person has no right to drive to work? You believe an immigrant who cleans hospitals is a waste of space? Once again, how dare you?

We immigrants do important jobs, including those which native UK residents can't or won't do. Everyone in the UK benefits, native-born and immigrant alike; and yet you begrudge us the very ground we travel on. You should be ashamed of yourself. I call upon you to retract your remarks and apologise for them.

You are a politician of some influence; I am an ordinary person with a blog. I feel secure enough to criticise you for three reasons. The first is Britain's tradition of free speech. The second is that I have dual citizenship, and my passport says "British citizen" the same as yours, so I have no doubts about my ability to remain in this country. Finally, I am a white English-speaking Canadian, so I am not a likely target for racism or bigotry.

Not all the immigrants you choose to insult can feel so confident. Times are hard, and we all face frustrations, ranging from unemployment to bad traffic on the M4. You have chosen to make scapegoats of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. When bigotry or violence is directed against immigrants, it is unlikely to affect me; but others, less secure, less Anglophone, and less white, will be in the firing line.

You are playing to the basest instincts of humanity: Hatred of the other, the foreigner. This has real consequences. For example, there were 694 racist attacks on NHS staff in 2012-13, an increase of 65% in five years. When you say immigrants are not welcome, you directly encourage the criminals who commit such assaults.

I don't care if you do this because you personally hate immigrants, or just because you find it amusing and profitable. What I care about is the result. You are taking the diverse, kind, and confident country I love, and trying to turn it into a mean, hateful, and frightened place.

I believe you will fail. I believe the British people are better than you, and as a group they will reject your poisonous railing against immigrants. I have no expectation you will take any notice of this letter; but I hope at least a few British voters will read it, and understand why you and your political party must be rejected.

Yours sincerely,

Iain Roberts

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