The revelation yesterday that UKIP had employed Latvians to deliver the very leaflets that warned people that their jobs were under threat from Eastern Europeans was greeted with amusement and some surprise – but it really shouldn’t have been surprising. This is the same campaign that had posters starring an Irish actor, displayed on billboards owned and run by a French company. This is the reality of modern Britain – and a reality that should be celebrated rather than feared. We’re a country where people of all kinds of origins work well together and, in general, get along pretty well together too. What’s more, it’s not just modern Britain, but Britain throughout the ages. In a lot of ways, for me, it’s the best thing about Britain.
UKIP should really realise this. A quick glance at the names of their leaders should give them the clue. As well as having a German wife, Nigel Farage has a French name – or perhaps a Belgian one. Roger Helmer, the MEP who is now their candidate for the Newark by-election, has a name that comes from southern Germany. No prizes for guessing the origin of the name of their Director of Communications, Patrick O’Flynn. It’s a regular (Swedish) Smorgasbord of national origins at UKIP.
UKIP’s logo also demonstrates their original mission – to save the pound. That’s the pound ‘sterling’. The word sterling is short for ‘Easterling’, the nickname given to the representatives of the Hanseatic League, a powerful group of German merchant towns in the late middle ages: even our currency is originally German. Our language, too, is a hotchpotch of others, mixing Old English, Latin, French, German and others. We might eat pork (French) that comes from a pig (Old English) or a swine (German), with apple (German) sauce (French) and potatoes (Haitian Carib via Spanish). That’s if we’re not eating chicken tikka masala…
The further back you go, the clearer it becomes. Pretty much every Royal House we’ve had comes from Europe. The Normans (French), Plantagenets (French), Tudors (Welsh), Stuarts (Scots), William of Orange (Dutch), Hanovers (German) were all from outside England – and Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (German) only became Windsor for presentational purposes. One of our ‘greatest’ kings, Richard Coeur de Lion, didn’t speak a word of English and much preferred to be in France. St George, the Roman/Palestinian mercenary we share (like so much else of our culture and history) as patron saint with a wide number of other countries, from Georgia to Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro and Palestine. Britain has been swept by waves of immigrants as far back as we can record. Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Danes were just the start – the likes of the Lombards and the Huguenots more recent examples. In every age we have been mixing cultures with people from all over the world.
That’s the bottom line. Our culture and history, as well as our present day, is one based on immigration and the joining, merging, mixing and enjoying of different cultures and peoples. It has always been that way – and that’s something we should understand and celebrate. We shouldn’t be trying to invent some ‘pure’ past or mythical identity of Britishness that is separate from everything else. We’re not separate. It’s the mix that makes us what we are – and the continuous changing and developing of that mix. Immigration doesn’t threaten some pure culture – because that pure culture doesn’t exist and never has. Our culture is one of immigration, and always has been. That’s the reality of Britain.