Why the elite prefers Poles to proles

Praising the work ethic of immigrants has become a coded way of attacking Britain’s own white feckless ‘underclass’.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics

Why do sections of the chattering classes love immigrants so much? It isn’t only because Polish au pairs raise their children, Romanian builders lay eco-friendly solar-panels on their roofs, and cute Chinese girls serve them skinny macchiatos with sugar-free hazelnut drizzle on a Monday morning. It’s also because praising the work ethic and general decency of foreign workers has become one acceptable way to express disgust with Britain’s own white working classes.

Unlike spiked, which is 100 per cent pro-migration and which campaigns for freedom of movement for all, the British political and media elite was not traditionally known for its respect for migrants. Newspapers were at the forefront of depicting immigrants as socially disruptive, scrounging swan-eaters with a penchant for spitting in the street (Romanians) and fondling their crotches in public (Turks, Italians). Government officials continue to implement strict immigration controls that only allow in capped numbers of highly-skilled workers but not so many of those low-skilled, ill-mannered, gruff sons of toil from Bulgaria, thank you very much.

Yet recently, officials and commentators have taken to singing the praises of immigrants – and contrasting them favourably to Britain’s own feckless masses. One newspaper columnist praises ‘hard-working bloody foreigners’ who get jobs in Britain because ‘our own people are either too lazy or expensive to compete’. Apparently, ‘tax-paying immigrants past and present keep indolent British scroungers on their couches drinking beer and watching daytime TV’; immigrants are ‘despised’, the columnist says, only because they ‘seize opportunities which these slobs don’t want’ (1).

The idea that working-class native Brits are ‘slobs’ in contrast to busy foreign arrivals is widespread amongst the Op-Ed Classes. Mark Steel, the left-wing writer and comedian (well, I say comedian), argues that immigrants are preferable to a certain class of uncouth Briton because they’re not so obese, work-shy and vulgar.

Steel wrote about an encounter with ‘eight British blokes from Kent who had travelled to France for the day to get paralytic’. They ‘yelled and puked their way across the Channel’, he says. He concluded: ‘These blokes must agree the country is full up. So why don’t we suggest they sod off back to France to be banged up in Sangatte, and in their place we take eight asylum-seekers, who will be more pleasant all round and sure to ease the overcrowding as they’ll be a lot skinnier than these fat twats?’ (2)

In short? Let’s welcome migration, not in the name of liberty and equality, but as a means of phasing out the backward antics of our ’orrible proles.

Marcus Brigstocke, a BBC Radio 4 ‘comedian’, writer and failed arrester of former US ambassador John Bolton at the Hay Literary Festival last month (Hay: the books-and-lattes get-together where evil dictators fear to tread!), likewise prefers Poles to proles. He admits to being middle class – which means ‘the only exposure I get to Eastern European migrants is when they come and build something lovely for me’ – and says he finds British workers too lazy and, well, disgusting, to deal with.

He prefers migrant workers because they do jobs ‘on time, for the price they quoted, with a smile on their face, without needing eight gallons of tea every five minutes, and without leaving a turd in your loo so big that the only way you can flush it down is by breaking it up with a fucking stick’ (3).

This is a common commentariat prejudice about British workers… Actually, scrap that – it’s a common commentariat prejudice about manual workers: that they’re lazy, dishonest and generally pretty fecal. Where earlier snobs like Virginia Woolf were obsessed by the rough hands and gruff manner of manual labourers, today’s snobs sneer at the Sun-reading, toilet-staining antics of the lower orders. Maybe it’s because two of my brothers are builders – and good ones – that Brigstocke’s rant makes me want to whack him with a spirit level. Fat twat.

In the policymaking arena, too, it’s frequently argued that migrants are Beneficial while the British masses are Problematic. Last week, a report published by the British think-tank the Work Foundation called on the New Labour government to help change British natives’ ‘negative attitudes’ towards immigrants (4).

In government circles, and in quangos such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the greatest fear in relation to immigration is that the white masses will become agitated by it, and possibly even turn violent. Race experts warn the authorities to avoid using ‘the language of confrontation’ and ‘giving life to the racists’, and instead to talk up the ‘economic, social and cultural benefits of migration’ (5). In other words, try not to stir up the restless natives, good chaps – instead, why not re-educate them about the cultural and social wonders of controlled migration? It’s all a bit bloody rich coming from curmudgeonly, security-wired officials who obsessively restrict migration into the UK, especially from darkest Africa, Asia or Eastern Europe.

Of course it is true – as spiked’s ‘Open The Borders’ campaign has argued many times – that the vast majority of immigrants are hard-working and upbeat. Anyone who has left his family home, travelled thousands of miles (often illegally), learned a new language and set up shop in a strange foreign country must be pretty gritty and driven. Yet the new praising of migrants and dissing of natives is not motivated by a pro-migration love of liberty, but by the elite’s dislocation from – and deep distrust of – the mass of the British population.

Politically, the issue of immigration is now as much about policing the behaviour and thought patterns of British natives as it is about policing the borders. Elite celebrations of migrants’ attitudes and values has become a coded way of assaulting Britain’s own working and ‘under’ classes. Praising Poles or cheering Kurds is a way for politicos to demonstrate their open-minded, cosmopolitan, supposedly ‘tolerant’ values over the negative, localist, foul-mouthed attitudes of the ‘little people’ – those who, in Brigstocke’s words, are ‘so fucking stupid about immigration’.

This is a faux-cosmopolitanism, driven less by the elite’s desire to engage with foreigners than by their desperation to escape engaging with their own populace. Migrants are turned into mascot dolls for politicians and commentators to wave around in order to show how elevated and enlightened they are. To the extent that there are tensions between migrants and sections of the native population in Britain today, they are likely to be exacerbated by the cynical transformation of ‘good migrants’ into a stick with which to beat ‘bad natives’.

And isn’t it a little stomach-turning for those of who live, work and socialise with migrants to be lectured about our attitudes by people whose only experience of Poles is as paid labourers who pop around to ‘build something lovely’? My builder brother works cheek-by-jowl with Romanians. Every year he buys food and gifts for his Romanian colleagues’ families, and packs them into a van that is driven across Europe to the East. Later this year he’s attending the wedding of a workmate in Bacău, eastern Romania. This is how most Brits relate to migrants: as real people, rather than as cute and convenient symbols of one’s own moral superiority.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Visit his website here.

(1) God bless the foreigners willing to do our dirty work, Yasmin Alibhai Brown, Independent, 23 August 2006

(2) There is another way of dealing with immigration, Mark Steel, Independent, 27 June 2002

(3) Planet Corduroy, Marcus Brigstocke, DVD

(4) See Immigration: attitudes are not the problem, by Nathalie Rothschild

(5) See The new etiquette on asylum, Brendan O’Neill, LM, Summer 2000

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Topics Politics


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