I do my own casual surveys when I am away, as I have been these past few weeks in Britain. They are totally unscientific. Once in conversation I ask those around me — generally in pubs, I admit — what they think about this and that. For example, in the Labour heartland of working-class Liverpool there was little disquiet about nut-job Jeremy Corbyn’s policies. In fact, there was approval — the slight problem only that no-one had much knowledge of his policies. Printing money, leaving NATO, cozying up to Islamists and, the killer in current circumstances, of having a more lenient approach to admitting so-called refugees, were not top of my interlocutors’ minds or, in fact, anywhere in mind.
The ‘refugees’ crisis so far as I can tell is causing particular concern though not, I think, quite as much as the size of the problem warrants. Two exceptions were an ex-Royal Navy chap I met who wanted to herd them at the point of guns and ship them back, and a building-maintenance chap who thought that not only should Islam’s haters be deported but their whole families with them. On the edge, you might think, but a least they comprehended how great is the problem.
By the way, I put “refugees” in inverted commas because, as was the case of those who used to try making it to Australia before Messrs Abbott and Morrison hit their straps, most are clearly not escaping persecution. They are paying people smugglers to gain better economic prospects in Northern Europe.
To come back to the degree of national concern in the UK, one newspaper columnist in the Daily Express thought it amazing that a survey had found half the British people thought immigration is “one of the most important issues facing the country”. His amazement was that the other half didn’t, and that those that did regarded it as simply one issue among others. It is as though a survey in 1939 found that half the people thought Nazi Germany was one of the most important issues facing the country and the other half were more concerned about, say, shortages of bacon and butter. Is my analogy a complete stretch? Well, it might be a stretch but not, I would suggest, a complete one. However, the national mood will undoubtedly harden as the crisis unfolds.
In the other day’s morning’s paper – chose any recent morning – there was a story about Greece being overwhelmed by fleeing Syrians. A prospective figure of 160,000 heading for the Athens was quoted. Hungary is building a fence to prevent “refugees’’ coming through Serbia. This is public-spirited of them because the refugees don’t want to stay in Hungary. Once there, the EU’s Schengen Agreement allows them borderless travel to Northern Europe, which is where they want to go. Many want to go further, of course, and cross the Channel. No doubt many are succeeding. Reportedly, UK registered cars are being used to ferry refugees into the UK from France; apparently freight traffic is checked but tourist traffic not nearly so much.
In yesterday’s papers, the headlines were that over eight million migrants (those born overseas) live in Britain; and that doesn’t count what the Americans pointedly call “illegal aliens”. It is estimated 107,000 “refugees” arrived in Europe in July from Syria, Nigeria, Eritrea and Afghanistan, among other countries. And as one commentator ‘perceptively’ said, “it is only going to get worse with climate change.”
Television, and the BBC in particular, play down the crisis. This and the feeble political elite probably take the edge off the concern that would otherwise be reflected in the national mood. The TV news that I have seen tends to put emphasise on the UK’s “hard line” against the more generous approach of some other European countries, particularly Germany. The plight of “refugees” is emphasised, but no mention made of the plight of taxpayers who will have to feed, clothe and house them. And, perish the thought, no mention is made of the Muslim religious/cultural problem. There are plenty of close-ups of women (most in head scarfs) and children, when it is clear from crowd scenes that young men predominate – healthy and well-fed young men who ought to be trying to repair their own countries. If not them, who else?
Angela Merkel wants other European countries to do more; not surprisingly as Germany is being inundated. However, she has her priorities politically correct in criticising those of her countrymen who are loudly objecting to being invaded. What we are seeing is European suicide, with the political will that might otherwise exist to counter it having being effectively stymied. When national priorities should be foremost, the European Union brings palls of feckless indecision.
Germany’s answer is not to try to solve the problem; to stop the flow; to turn the boats around; to build high fences; to build offshore centres and make it clear that no illegal arrivals will ever settle in Germany. An Abbott-Morrison solution, in other words, is not on the cards. No, the answer appears to be to share the problem around. Well, there are plenty of refugees to go around so no European country need miss out – though those paying the more generous welfare benefits are likely to get larger shares.
At the UN, the Europeans apparently believe that more money must be provided to the “refugees'” countries of origin to lessen their incentive to leave. It is beyond belief that this kind of proposal is put forward with any seriousness. Surely, only the simple-minded would think it was any kind of solution.
Smoke is detected in the crowded theatre. It is nothing. No need to call the fire brigade yet.
Fire breaks out in the stalls. It will soon put itself out.
The fire spreads. Let’s form a committee to consider building safer theatres in future.
Keep calm, it will all turn out fine.
It won’t and I would expect that not even the BBC and Angela Merkel will be able to keep a lid for much longer on public outrage and electoral retribution.