Friday, December 05, 2014

What would a UKIP Britain look like?

UKIP are making the news. Putting aside all the more outlandish elements – like the major donor who thinks it should be illegal for women to wear trousers, or the councillor who thinks there’s a causal link between gay marriages and flooding, or the guy who thinks we should euthanize babies with Down’s Syndrome (these are all real things – Google them) – there is a chance of electoral success in 2015.

Certainly, what UKIP has done is drive an increasingly hostile political narrative around immigration. The way immigration is reported and the way immigrants are written about in the press is almost entirely negative. It’s as if wanting to live somewhere else is criminally immoral and anyone wanting to move overseas is a black-hearted monster. Which I guess is bad news for the one and half million British-born people sunning it up in Spain.

I have a stake in the immigration debate because my Grandmother was an immigrant. She met and married my Granddad while he was on active service during the war – getting married in 1945 before the war ended. She gave birth to my Mum just after coming to this country, in January 1946.

It was a difficult time to be an immigrant. Being Scandinavian, Grandma had an accent that sounded a bit German to many people. Many men had been killed in the war, so there was an imbalance in society meaning many women were unlikely to meet and marry someone. So there was resentment of a foreigner marrying a man, when men generally were in short supply. (My Grandma was told this.)

My Mum has told me that when she was little the other mums in her village wouldn’t let their children play with her. For no other reason than her mum (my Gran) was foreign.

These days we would call that racist. And rightly so, because it was.

But that racism is what I think of when I hear Nigel Farage braying on about immigrants. The narratives we listen to shape our thought patterns. If we really believe the wicked foreigners are after our jobs and our women and our comfortable lifestyles; if we think they are criminals and thieves, then that will shape how we respond to them.

Racism is subtle. We can easily find ourselves agreeing with comments like the one Nigel Farage made about not wanting to live next door to a family of Romanians. And the next thing is you’re not allowing your kids to play with their kids for no other reason than because you are racist.

And that’s what I think a UKIP Britain would look like. It’s sad so many people seem to think that would be a better place to live. I hoped people were better than that.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

When people say ‘Please fund my experience of a lifetime’

I’m starting to get annoyed by some of the things people are contacting me about asking for ‘sponsorship’. Specifically, I’m annoyed by being asked to help them raise funds as they have an ‘experience of a lifetime’, usually in a far-flung exotic corner of the world.

Now, this is not a particular rant about short-term charity trips or missions. I have my doubts about the effectiveness of those, but they are often to less than glamorous places. One of my closest friends went to visit an orphanage in Uganda in the summer. A few years ago I contributed to somebody’s place when our church ran a soccer school with kids in Burkina Faso. So, I’m not entirely anti the idea of sponsoring someone on foreign travel.

But I think there’s a distinction between visiting an orphanage to produce a film about the kids there, to raise awareness and possibly funds back home, and, say, hiking up Kilimanjaro. Or walking the Great Wall of China. Or cycling from Boston to New York City. Or scaling Machu Picchu.

These aren’t particularly worthy endeavours in themselves. They are things that tourists do. And I don’t see why I should feel guilty about not ‘digging deep’ to support people doing them. In fact, the sheer shamelessness of people asking me to help fund their fancy holidays makes me want to go on a slapping spree.

I know, I know, it’s for charity. But charity would be better served if people didn’t fly halfway around the world and donated the equivalent money. It’s not for charity. It’s for you. If it was for charity you would do these things in this country. You can shave your head anywhere. I’ve known people brave the bracing waves of Barry Island on New Year’s Day. If you want to cycle from Boston to New York, you can do that without leaving Lincolnshire!

And I’d say, if you want to go do those things – climb Kilimanjaro, run the Great Wall, bike round the States, or see the sun rise over Incan pyramids – then go and do them. Go! Have a great time. Take lots of photos. This world is full of great experiences and you are allowed to experience them. You don’t have to dress it up as just doing it for a cause. You can just do it for the joy of doing it; realise your dream for nothing more than that.

Just, you know, pay for it yourself.