Is ‘Brummiephobia’ a hate crime now?
Venting petty prejudices towards people from Birmingham should not be a police matter.
The phrase ‘hate crime’ conjures up some nasty images. Perhaps of thugs launching unprovoked, homophobic attacks or of skinheads hurling racist slurs. Last week, it was widely reported that police were investigating a hate crime of a very different kind in the Welsh seaside town of Aberystwyth.
A note had been left at a property in leafy Iorwerth Avenue, accusing a ‘low-life’ from the Midlands of having ruined the street. It demanded that they take their ‘clapped-out, crappy boats, jeeps, cars and your vomit-inducing accents back to Brummieland and please take a few thousand other Yaw Yaws [sic] with you’.
As someone born and bred in Birmingham, I suppose I should be offended by this note. In truth, it’s laughable. It’s not remotely threatening and makes the author look like a bit of an idiot (not least because they both misspell and misuse the phrase ‘Yam Yams’). But that hasn’t stopped Jones the Plod, aka Dyfed-Powys Police, from treating this incident like it’s Kristallnacht.
Recognising some crimes as ‘hate crimes’ might sound like a good thing when you’re dealing with a vicious racist assault or when someone is attacked because of their sexuality. There’s something particularly disgusting about someone being attacked because of who they are rather than anything they’ve done.
But what kinds of ‘hate’ turn a regular crime into a ‘hate crime’? The idea of dispensing extra-severe punishment for a hateful act leaves the authorities with the invidious problem of defining what qualifies as hate. If attacking someone because they are from a different country is a hate crime, what if the two nationalities involved are English and Welsh? And once you start sliding down that slippery slope, you end up investigating Brummiephobia. Which is just plain silly.
Who on Earth would have a problem with Brummies anyway? If you don’t like the accent, well, it’s probably the nearest thing we have today to what Shakespeare would have sounded like. And he was the greatest playwright who ever lived.
We Brummies could bang on about how our hometown was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution and many other claims to fame. But, by and large, we singularly fail to blow our trumpets. As cultural critic Jonathan Meades noted in his filmic paean to the UK’s second city, Brummies have a ‘self-deprecating, unboastful and peculiarly ironic humour’. If anything, instead of investigating Brummiephobia, the authorities might want to invest in some mass-assertiveness training. Brummies are just too damned easy-going for their own good.
The truth is that many people seem to reserve their greatest ire not for people from the other side of the world or with different religious beliefs, but for people who happen to be from the town down the road. So it’s no great surprise that someone from Aberystwyth would throw his or her toys out of the pram about people who speak the same language and have much the same upbringing all because they’re from a city 120 miles away. It’s irrational, sometimes even unpleasant, but it doesn’t need to be criminalised.
Still, if there’s a silver lining to this incident, maybe it’s that it demonstrates the absurd logic of the politics of victimhood. It shows the police are all too happy to waste time and resources on such trivialities, while failing to investigate actual crimes. It’s truly daft to criminalise petty prejudice and neighbourly disputes. Let’s bin the notion of hate crimes altogether.
Rob Lyons is a spiked columnist.
Picture by: Dyfed-Powys Police.
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