A very useful feature in the Daily Telegraph informs me of the best 20 towns in Britain ‘for Christmas’. Number one on the list is the Cotswold village of Chipping Campden, to which we must surely all decamp immediately. People moan all the time that despite the profusion of new technology and our comparative affluence these days, we’re not actually much happier. But they forget to factor in things like the Daily Telegraph’s list of the best places to live in if you really like Christmas.
Think how useful that would have been to the parents of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Instead of journeying by donkey to the dusty, Hamas-run Arabic hellhole of Bethlehem, which has never actually lain silently, not even for a nanosecond, they could have hopped in a comfortable Audi 4×4 and made for Gloucestershire. Better a barn conversion than a stable, no? If only they had known. Chipping Campden came top of the list because there is the chance to do some ‘reindeer petting’, although hopefully not heavy petting, because that would be wrong, and also frequent performances from the Chipping Campden Mummers. It could hardly be better, could it?
Some mimsy place in Hampshire came second and that was the point at which I stopped reading the feature. Maybe Boston, Lincolnshire, was on the Telegraph’s list somewhere, but I rather doubt it. Ancient, noble and full of religion Boston may well be, but it has become a byword for disquiet recently, a synonym for unrest, on account of its thousand upon thousand of immigrants from what we used to call Eastern Europe and what we now, in order to be nice, call Central Europe. I was there this week to do a feature for the Sun on this very issue and, you have to say, it is remarkable, staggering, even. The town has become Polish, and there’s an end to it. The dispossessed English skulk in their few remaining frowsy pubs, glowering with resentment and full of bile and specious anecdotes; apparently the local council give each immigrant a brand new BMW when they arrive. ‘I know this for a fact, I’ve seen it,’ one local said to me, and his friends concurred. That’s a hell of a lot of BMWs, isn’t it? But it is true that the incomers are in general much better off and, for that matter, better educated, than the real locals. The tax credits they get help with the affluence bit, one suspects.
Last week I mentioned that there were one or two things you couldn’t say in this country of ours, stuff which transgresses the sensibilities of the terribly civilised and authoritarian political elite which squats on our shoulders like a well-dressed toad. Immigration is an excellent case in point: you are allowed to make the case against immigration if you base your arguments on the economic issues — how the locals are being forced either out of work, or to accept lower rates of pay, as a consequence of the new and eager arrivals from Poland and the Baltic states. For sure, the economic arguments certainly pertain to Boston, but I do not think that these are the clincher either for the Lincolnshire locals or more generally for the rest of us. It is the other argument, the cultural argument, which is more difficult to voice (if you are a politician) and will get you into trouble if you do.
You may remember the national outcry and furore when the UK announced it would be admitting to these shores the Asians who had been summarily evicted from Uganda in 1972; the protests, the gnashing of teeth and the overt racism directed towards the people who would become perhaps the most economically dynamic and culturally assimilated immigrants in our national history. The total number who came here from Uganda was 28,000; an enormous number, everyone thought at the time, how on earth shall we cope? It is not very much more than the number of Poles and Lithuanians who have descended upon South Lincolnshire in the last few years, 15,000 or so in Boston itself.
The locals there, and elsewhere, argue that it is not nice to feel an alien in your own town. They do not wish for a high street in which the English shops have closed down, to be replaced by ones which advertise their wares in a foreign tongue. This is, I suppose, racist of them. Just as it is racist of the London East Enders, if there are any left, who look at the Mile End Road — two miles of unrelieved burkas — and feel shoved out, colonised. Or the south Londoners who see shops down Southwark Park Road which resemble the flyblown, half-empty caverns from which meat is sold in downtown Mogadishu.
The response from the elite is always the same: areas change, nothing stays the same, get used to it — a hand airily wafted in the direction of these protests. My suspicion is, though, that the economic arguments weigh less heavily in the minds of those who have found their neighbourhoods colonised than the rest of the stuff, the stuff you are not meant to give voice to. People like familiarity and to hang out with the same sorts of people as themselves. Is that bad of them?