Opinion: Clegg’s big fat gypsy blunder

Once a week I stay with a relative in South London. I am not talking here about Nick Clegg’s South London (a Putney, Wimbledon or Clapham) but about a very different South London – the border between Camberwell and Peckham. The Guardian-reading euphemism would be that Camberwell and Peckham are “vibrant and diverse” places. The upshot of some of that diversity is that at all times of the night people hang around chatting in the street, especially in the summer. In a ground floor flat late at night it sometimes feels a bit intimidating. I have never talked about this with anyone other than my family. Why? Because most of the people are Nigerian. To complain about Nigerian people in London out at all hours would be considered totally unacceptable. So why then are David Blunkett and Nick Clegg free to complain about Roma in Sheffield out at all hours?

It is comical for Clegg to say that Roma people must behave in a British way.  In my own home county of Hampshire Roma people first appear in parish records in 1638. But still our local press talk of them as interlopers and newcomers.

There are no nods and no winks here, no dog whistles in what Clegg has said – it is populism pure and simple.

Roma people are the most discriminated in Europe, with even British Gypsies suffering shocking levels of infant mortality and health inequality, but there is little interest in such inequalities, just drivel like “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding”.

How strange these people are, our politicians say, how alien. Roma people socialise in big multi-generational groups. How un-British – why aren’t their elderly in old people’s homes, their children in their bedrooms playing computer games alone like normal children?

What is most troubling is that Clegg, who purports to be a liberal, complains that Roma people behave in a “way that people find difficult to accept”. They don’t do things the way we do and that is enough to condemn them.

Has he never heard that “None shall be enslaved by conformity?”
 
* Ruth Bright is a former Lib Dem PPC and councillor. Her late father was a Romany speaker.

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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67 Comments

  • Andy Boddington 15th Nov '13 - 12:12pm

    Ruth, this article makes my week. It is so spot on in an era of populist politics, where populism so often equals ill informed prejudice.

  • paul barker 15th Nov '13 - 1:15pm

    Could you supply a link to the Clegg speech, I missed it & cant find it anywhere ?

  • Paul

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24944572

    (Google is your friend!)

  • Ruth Bright 15th Nov '13 - 2:07pm

    Andy – thank you.

    Paul- the comments were made on LBC. I believe you can hear them on the LBC site and also on the BBC.

  • Gypsies used to undertake seasonal rural work: much of this has disappeared: hop picking would be an example. Gypsies used to run fairs but many of these have disappeared. The days when itinerant people travelled around Britain undertaking seasonal work and selling goods made by themselves has largely disappeared. The problem is that there is large competition for unskilled and semi-skilled work in Britain. The construction is only just coming out of 4-5 year recession. The construction industry has gone from the longest boom to the longest recession in 60-70 years.
    Having immigrants living on welfare and competing for housing is asking for trouble. If one looks at conflict , from the time of hunter gatherers , it is largely over resources. Part of the reason why Britain has developed advanced high tech manufacturing was that it opted for cheap labour post 1945 rather than investing in more advanced machinery which used less but more highly skilled tradesmen . Germany builds the robots which build the cars. If one looks at construction sites one plant operator on machine can do the work of 3 -4 labourers . East European immigrants have greatly assisted in keeping the wages of unskilled and semi-skilled people down: superb for customers and employers , not so good for British unskilled and semi-skilled workers.

    Th welfare state was based upon rewarding those who fought for Britain in WW1 and WW2. Beveredge never said the welfare State was for people who have never contributed to this country: it was for those who had endured poverty yet had been prepared to die for all our freedoms. The Fijians and Gurkhas have had a superb record of fighting and dying for this country and hardly anyone would begrudge them living here. From the time of Rome ,fighting for a country earned citizenship.

    By the way populism is democracy : the rule by a minority is tyranny. Conformity is basically meaningless , it depends upon the nature of one’s family, friends and the place one works. If one’s parents worked on the Guardian , lived in N London, were members of CND and were against Fox Hunting and their children loathed the city, loved fox hunting , joined the Armed Forces, worked on nuclear weapons and played rugby and boxed as well, they would be rejecting the conformity of their upbringing.

  • It was something Nick said on LBC but this article probably helps: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24944572

    To be fair to Nick (and David Blunkett for that matter, someone I rarely defend), he hasn’t raised this as an issue unprompted or in an attempt to be populist. There has been a relatively recent influx of Slovakian Roma to the Page Hall part of Sheffield, which has led to some tensions in what is actually already a culturally diverse community, with residents even coming to council meetings with questions and a petition about it.

    I appreciate that using the right language to talk about this is important, but please don’t make a kneejerk reaction that assumes the worst of Nick. He is trying to work his way through what is actually quite a difficult issue locally.

  • daft ha'p'orth 15th Nov '13 - 3:56pm

    Reckon it’s this and/or this, Paul.

    You mention British Gypsies suffering shocking levels of infant mortality and health inequality : the literature is better at pointing this out than at accounting for it (disclaimer: the following, like your remark, refers to British Gypsies not to recent immigrant Slovak Roma: it’s not clear to me that the same stats or conclusions apply since the lifestyle is by all accounts remarkably different).

    It’s worth noting low levels of immunisation are an issue, as is low uptake of screening, contraception, prenatal care, etc. Mental health issues suffered (depression, anxiety, paranoia etc) have been linked in recent reports to social exclusion. And abuse is a problem, too: 61% of married English Gypsy women experienced domestic abuse. Suicide rates are six times higher than the general public, there is a recent rise in substance abuse, none of this is good news but it has attracted significant recent interest…

    Whilst we can respect and support the strange, I can’t summon up any outrage about the idea that social integration (not homogenization or assimilation) might be in everybody’s best interests as regards the previous paragraph. From the stats it looks if anything as though tensions are worsening – looks like a healthcare crisis brewing if nothing else. Central and local government could do more to target healthcare and associated services, to provide better mental health support in general, to improve child support provisions and so on, but it does take two to tango. Healthcare offered needs to be accepted before it can improve matters. Education likewise. Social exclusion can be addressed through participation; again, that’s not one person’s choice either.

    Returning now to the good people of Page Hall, the thing about being prejudiced against Roma because of how Roma people happen to socialise? A hint of special pleading in there. Since stats have usefully been collected and made available, we can see that Page Hall doesn’t appear to be suffering from an excess of people being very nice to their grannies.

    Equality and human Rights Commission, Inequalities Experienced by Gypsy and traveller Communities: A Review (2009), p.55 http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/research/12inequalities_experienced_by_gypsy_and_traveller_communities_a_review.pdf

    Cambridgeshire PCT and Cambridgeshire County Council, 2010, Cambridgeshire Travellers Joint Strategic Needs Assessments
    http://cambridge.newcastlejsna.org.uk/webfm_send/25

  • Ruth Bright 15th Nov '13 - 4:15pm

    Simon – I think I have very fairly reflected what Clegg said.
    Anders – There is nothing kneejerk about my comments. The first time I heard a Liberal Democrat councillor make offensive remarks about gypsies was in 2002! As I outlined in Liberator earlier this year I have previously made a complaint to Tim Farron about an e-mail where a Lib Dem parish councillor referred to “pikeys” and made derogatory remarks about East European immigrants. I patiently waited a year while the complaint was kicked around by the President, the diversity officer, the region, the constituency and the local branch to no effect whatsoever.

    I think the party has a problem on this issue.

  • Ruth, to push your thoughts a little further, there is among a few councillors and activists, a problem with racism and homophobia. I have even heard the odd sexist comment. It does, I agree, seem strange in a party whose very being is all about treating everyone equally, and accepting diversity, but there it is.

  • Simon Shaw – you do seem to get inordinately defensive about what Nick Clegg or his entourage have said. Why is that?

  • Anders – Of course, BBC showed a vox pop clip of comments from that area about this subject.

  • Tim, his point is that what this article claims Nick has said and what Nick actually said are two very distinct things.

    Now, in some people’s minds there may exist a real debate to be had on the appropriateness of Nick’s comments, but that debate cannot and will not occur here because this article does not actually address Nick’s comments. Right now, this article is little more than a populist rant and a knife job.

  • “Now, in some people’s minds there may exist a real debate to be had on the appropriateness of Nick’s comments, but that debate cannot and will not occur here because this article does not actually address Nick’s comments. ”

    It’s equally a problem that it’s not at all clear from Nick Clegg’s comments what aspects of behaviour he was criticising or exactly how he wanted the Roma to be more “sensitive to the way that life is lived in this country”, so it’s difficult to know how appropriate his response was.

  • Ruth Bright 15th Nov '13 - 5:27pm

    “Liberal” Al – the idea that as an ordinary member of this party I have the status or the power to “knife” the Deputy Prime Minister is as you well know absolutely ridiculous! Good on Simon Shaw for at least having the courtesy and courage to attach his real name to his comments.

    Like most scheming female political assassins I have small mouths to feed and I will be back to reply in more detail once I have given them their tea. In the meantime. “Rak tute”

  • Liberal Al – I am well versed in Simon Shaw’s tactics thanks. Which are basically, nitpick over things he disagrees with, when a broader point has been made, knowing that he then will not have to address the substance of the criticism.

  • Ruth Bright 15th Nov '13 - 7:21pm

    Back again.

    I am concerned that by being unspecific Nick Clegg appears to be condemning not criminal behaviour but culturally specific behaviour. He has NOT condemned Blunkett – quite the reverse – and Blunkett’s words were that “they” should “adhere” (not adjust but adhere) to “our culture” and “our way of life”. I believe this language would be considered completely unacceptable if it was applied to any non-Roma ethnic group.

    Clegg has said that Slovakian Roma families must be sensitive to the British way of life. This appears to relate largely to their free assembly which leaves other residents feeling “unsettled”. I can’t see what that means other than telling them to live in a British rather than a Roma way.

    Anders, perhaps the local community has started petitions etc and so Clegg is not the instigator. How sad though that he has decided to follow and not to lead.

  • Ruth,

    And how would you like Nick to ‘lead’ on this?

  • Simon I am interested in the truth, of course. I think honesty in politics, while not always easy in practice, is an excellent aim. I accept, that by generalising about your “defensiveness”, or your avoidance of broader truths at the expense of nitpicking, I am sometimes being unfair to some good points you make, but I stick with the broad thrust.

    One of the truths of politics you ignore in your approach is what is now called “dog whistling”, whereby someone can always deny an accusation, by alluding in roundabout ways to things. The fact that most inattentive members of the electorate can get what is being said, while apologists can totally deny any such meaning is the aim of the dog whistle.

    I can certainly accept that I sometimes generalise too much – I hope you can also accept that your nitpick tactics often ignore the dog whistle.

  • Ruth Bright 15th Nov '13 - 7:58pm

    crewegwyn – perhaps by keeping an open mind and by not assuming that those who are “unsettled” by difference are necessarily in the right.

    20 years ago when I was a Southwark councillor an alcohol rehab centre was planned just outside my patch. Residents from nearby estates in my ward were stirred up to believe that catastrophe and disorder would soon ensue with drunks (and depressingly they seemed to be especially worried about Irish drunks) hanging around causing mayhem. It was a marginal ward and it would have been tempting to score points by playing on people’s fears. In fact my colleagues and I were successful in the much harder task of bringing together residents and the centre workers and clients.

    Nick Clegg is exactly three weeks older than me but probably three billion times more powerful and influential. Why does he not use that power and influence to bring people together?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 15th Nov '13 - 8:17pm

    There were elements of what Nick said which were actually quite good:

    “At the end of the day, the solution to those tensions, whether it’s in Page Hall or in Slough is of course, people, human beings talking to each other across community divisions on the ground.”

    I’m not sure what harm people talking on the street is doing. It’s like the assumption that 3 teenage boys walking down the street together is a gang up to no good when they’re off to the cinema or to volunteer at a youth group.

    Nick has the right solution, though. Talking.

    The Roma , as Ruth says, have suffered horrendous discrimination and I would have liked Nick to have recognised that. He could also have added that people have to be careful not to judge others who have a different lifestyle. It would have been a good opportunity to get a good liberal message out about conformity.

    His comments, unintentionally, I think, an be construed as criticism of an entire ethnic group and that’s not what I expect from him.
    Better than Blunkett is not a very high bar.

    The Roma seem to be taking grief from all quarters at the moment. In that context particularly, extra sensitivity is required when talking about them.

  • “Personally, I think that saying that people coming to this country have “got to be sensitive to the way that life is lived in this country” (as Nick did) is perfectly reasonable and it doesn’t mean that Roma are being told to live in a British rather than a Roma way.”

    Yes, it sounds reasonable in itself, but the question is in what way the Roma are alleged not to have been sensitive. The only example given was that groups of them were congregating in the streets – something that is not in itself illegal. If Nick Clegg is saying that immigrants shouldn’t congregate in the streets because that is not “sensitive to the way that life is lived in this country”, then he is actually telling them how to behave, isn’t he?

  • Ruth Bright 15th Nov '13 - 9:29pm

    Caron – “Better than Blunkett is not a high bar” – quite.

    Simon – I really appreciate the tone of your last comments. I concentrated on free assembly as the issue that seemed to have caused most distress and misunderstanding. I admit I haven’t done any live radio for a few years but I was pretty good at it and I busked adequately when I was asked my opinion on things I knew nothing about (like the Rugby World Cup!)

    Surely it is the Deputy PM’s job to think on his feet about ultra- sensitive issues? It gives me no pleasure to find fault; on the one occasion I listened to his LBC phone-in its entirety I thought he was polished (but not too polished) and charming. Hence my belief that when he talked about the Roma he was not working the issue through (as Anders put it) but that he knew exactly what he was saying and how it might be construed.

  • daft ha'p'orth 15th Nov '13 - 10:31pm

    @Chris
    These are large groups (police have been quoted in interview as talking about groups of 60, other reports suggest larger numbers). Police are using Section 30 dispersal orders to disperse gatherings, which means the police view said gatherings as causing or believed to be causing antisocial behaviour. As I recall, large gatherings generally need permission from the council, especially if you obstruct pavements or roads, the exception being if you get together on private land you happen to have permission to use. If I and my family go and lurk on the pavement, blocking the way, then (should they notice… which will only happen if we’ve been there for long enough and are causing a large enough problem for anyone to tell them about it) the police will politely suggest that we find somewhere else to be. If we lurk in our front garden nobody can or will stop us unless we’re causing a separate problem, like making a lot of noise at midnight or swearing at passers-by.

  • It certainly can be the case that some members of some ethnic and/or immigrant communities can tend to behave in a way that is unacceptable. However, if that is a problem that a politician wants to address, the very least he/she can do is to be specific, and to condemn only behaviour which clearly is unacceptable. That isn’t necessarily enough to avoid provoking tension, but it is an essential start.

    You can say that you are concerned about the large numbers of Ruritanian flashers. If it is true that flashing is unduly prevalent amongst Ruritanians, then your remark is fair comment and the police should take action. However, even though it is perfectly fair comment, you ought to worry about the risk that Ruritanians generally will suffer discriminatory treatment, whether they flash or they don’t. You certainly shouldn’t indulge in reckless comments such as “all Ruritanians are evil flashers”, or indeed “there is a bit of a problem with Ruritanians”. Because harmonious social relations are just as important as dealing with antisocial behaviour, and, reckless generalisations are not going to help achieve social harmony.

    So how does Clegg measure up against these criteria? Well, here is the direct quote as given by the BBC:

    “There is a real dilemma… when you get communities coming into a part of our country and then they behave in a way that people find quite difficult to accept.

    “They behave in a way that people find sometimes intimidating, sometimes offensive. I think it is quite right that people should say. And on this, if not many other things, I actually agree with David Blunkett.

    “We have every right to say if you are in Britain and you are coming to live in Britain and you are bringing up a family here, you have got to be sensitive to the way that life is lived in this country.”

    This demonstrates two glaring faults. One is that a totally non-specific accusation is made about “offensive” behaviour, with no distinction between criminality, ASB, or just being a bit different from your typical Brit. The second is “communities… behave”, which tars a whole ethnic group with the same brush.

    It’s the sort of depressing, borderline racist standard stuff one might expect from some members of the Tory right, or UKIP, or Blunkett.

    It is being uttered by the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

    I find myself unconsciously inclined to repeat “Liberal Democrat” twice over, following the example of Neil Kinnock when he condemned Liverpool Militant Tendency with a repeated, incredulous reference to “a Labour Council – a LABOUR Council”.

  • @Ruth, please do not bring your gender into this, it is completely irrelevant. I never mentioned your gender and I could not care less about it, you could have no gender at all for all I care, it does not make your point any more or any less valid. It is completely moot – and you bringing it up is the worst kind of red herring fallacy, an appeal to emotion. Please do not do that, it adds nothing to the topic at hand and merely makes us both look foolish when we start arguing like children over who is the bigger meanie.

    The point is, right now, your article is simply a contextomy. It does not address what Nick says and instead seems intent of slandering him to the point that you did not even include any of his text when making contentious remarks about his choice of words. That is what a knife job is. Note, I never said it was an influential knife job, so your status (and your gender) are most certainly moot in relation to my comment.

    “How un-British – why aren’t their elderly in old people’s homes, their children in their bedrooms playing computer games alone like normal children?”

    Now, here is what you said about British culture, I was going to resist calling you out on it, but I now I think I actually wish for you to address, how is making suspect and unsubstantiated (as well as condescending) generalist comments about British culture in an article supposedly criticising suspect and unsubstantiated, generalist comments anything other hypocritical? Fundamentally, one of your signing off lines in a highly sensitive topic like this is an argumentum ad hominem, not very compelling to me. However, I do find quite insulting and generalist and, actually, statistically incorrect.

  • Chris, I do think that the vagueness of Nick’s comments can be seen as problematic (as well as, in parts, positive) for the the reason’s Caron brings up (I will not bother repeating them, as she sums this whole issue up perfectly).

    So, fundamentally, my comments are not a defence of Nick’s, but merely me highlighting the questionable nature of this article, which seems (maybe unintentionally, as well) more intent on making emotive rants about Nick and – to a lesser degree – British culture than it does about actually making a logical and thought provoking critique of Nick’s comments.

  • Thank goodness for the clarity and accuracy of Ruth Bright’s original piece. She has got straight to the point of why Nick Clegg is so often an embarrassment to Liberal Democrats.
    His ridiculous centre-party mantra is shown up for what it is in this context.. If you make comments which are half way between the comments of the racists in the Tory Party and the comments of the racists in the Labour Party you end up making racist comments.

    For the nit-pickers who defend Clegg, here is what he said –
    Mr Clegg added: “There is a real dilemma… when you get communities coming into a part of our country and then they behave in a way that people find quite difficult to accept.
    “They behave in a way that people find sometimes intimidating, sometimes offensive. I think it is quite right that people should say. And on this, if not many other things, I actually agree with David Blunkett.
    “We have every right to say if you are in Britain and you are coming to live in Britain and you are bringing up a family here, you have got to be sensitive to the way that life is lived in this country.”

    As has been pointed out by David Allen 16th Nov ’13 – 12:01am
    It’s the sort of depressing, borderline racist standard stuff one might expect from some members of the Tory right, or UKIP, or Blunkett.
    It is being uttered by the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

    The sooner Clegg goes, the better. We should not put up with a leader of the party who fails to understand the basic beliefs and values of the party.

  • Guess who said (March 2013) –
    “That kind of low populism patronizes the British people and it is an insult to the many migrants who have contributed to our country. British society has been shaped by migrant communities in ways more profound than any cliché about chicken tikka masala, or Notting Hill Carnival, or Polish builders can ever express.
    I’m the son of a Dutch mother – she, herself, raised in Indonesia; a half-Russian father; husband to a Spanish wife. Like millions of Brits, if you trace our blood lines back through the generations, you end up travelling around the globe. And I’m a liberal. I’m immensely proud of this nation’s wonderful diversity and openness. Those are great British traditions too. ”

    Yes it was Nick Clegg.
    So how would he have felt if he had been listening to LBC and some important politician said –
    “Now I realise that some Russians, Dutch and Spanish people may have an illiberal attitude towards Roma families but there is a real dilemma… when you get Russians, Dutch and Spanish communities coming into a part of our country and then they behave in a way that people find quite difficult to accept.
    Russians, Dutch and Spanish people behave in a way that people find sometimes intimidating, sometimes offensive.
    We have every right to say if you are in Britain and you are coming to live in Britain and you are bringing up a family here with your Spanish wife, you have got to be sensitive to the way that life is lived in this country.” ??

  • The whole tone of this debate is quite surreal.

    Nick Clegg said something totally sensible, balanced and moderate which would be applauded by most right-thinking people. “It is comical for Clegg to say that Roma people must behave in a British way,” says Ruth Bright. In what kind of parallel universe is that remotely “comical”?

    Why shouldn’t they follow our norms? If you come to live in a country, you should accept that you behave according to the cultural norms of that country. If I go to Saudi Arabia, I’m not going to drink alcohol in the street, am I? Likewise, if you find your own neighbours in south London behaving in a way that is intimidating or unsettling, I don’t think that is OK either.

    “Roma people socialise in big multi-generational groups. How un-British – why aren’t their elderly in old people’s homes, their children in their bedrooms playing computer games alone like normal children?”

    They can socialise in big multi-generational groups, but that does not mean it has to be done on the street in a way other people find intimidating, does it? As for your unsubtly implied stigmatising of British culture, I don’t think it aids the debate much really.

    The fact that you apparently see British culture as something to be criticised, ignored and derided as “comical” is deeply worrying.

  • @ John Tilley

    “Thank goodness for the clarity and accuracy of Ruth Bright’s original piece. She has got straight to the point of why Nick Clegg is so often an embarrassment to Liberal Democrats.”

    I really despair at this kind of comment. Nick Clegg is merely stating in a very moderate way what people in his constituency feel: that there has been a massive influx of newcomers to a small area and that that they are behaving in a way that they find upsetting. That is not being “an embarrassment”. It is reflecting the feelings of his constituents and from what I read about the situation in that area of Sheffield Hallam, those feelings are not entirely without justification.

    ‘“We have every right to say if you are in Britain and you are coming to live in Britain and you are bringing up a family here, you have got to be sensitive to the way that life is lived in this country.” It’s the sort of depressing, borderline racist standard stuff one might expect from some members of the Tory right, or UKIP, or Blunkett. It is being uttered by the leader of the Liberal Democrats.’

    No it is not borderline racist. It is just plain common sense to have respect for your host culture. My partner is Italian and I live part of my time in Italy. I make damned sure I follow cultural norms to the letter and have learned the language to fit in.

    Presumably you are saying that when we British go abroad we should completely ignore and ride roughshod over local cultural sensitivities. Because that’s what it sounds like to me.

  • “These are large groups (police have been quoted in interview as talking about groups of 60, other reports suggest larger numbers). Police are using Section 30 dispersal orders to disperse gatherings, which means the police view said gatherings as causing or believed to be causing antisocial behaviour.”

    Thanks – that’s useful information about the problem which wasn’t conveyed in anything Nick Clegg said, as far as I heard.

    But I’d still say that if the problem is one that’s covered by the criminal law – on obstruction, for example – then I see no reason to come out with all this convoluted stuff about immigrant communities being insensitive to the British way of life. Why not just say that it’s important that everyone obeys the law?

  • “Presumably you are saying that when we British go abroad we should completely ignore and ride roughshod over local cultural sensitivities.”

    The question is not whether what Nick Clegg said was reasonable advice viewed in isolation, but whether it was an appropriate response to the local circumstances.

    If someone feels it wasn’t, of course that doesn’t mean they would urge people to be insensitive to other people’s feelings. That’s just an elementary logical fallacy.

  • Well said Ruth, a credit to Hampshire!!

  • Ruth Bright 16th Nov '13 - 9:30am

    John Tilley – thank you.

    RC (yet another person who feels they have to post anonymously) – I merely said that it was comical for Roma/Gypsies to be portrayed as outsiders when (certainly in my own county) they have been part of the fabric of British life for centuries. My part of Hampshire is famous for the quintessentially English Jane Austen who resided in the village of Chawton in the nineteenth century. As I say in my piece, according to parish records, Roma gypsies got to Chawton nearly 150 years before the Austen family! Hardly newcomers to Britain.

    Are there not real questions to be asked about the atomised way so many of us now live our lives? Jeremy Hunt recently extolled extended families and queried our tendency to see residential care as the answer to old age. It touched nerves for him to raise these issues but he was right to do so.

    Lots of British people use television and computer screens as baby sitters (I am doing just that as I type!). If Clegg and co can query Roma outdoor lifestyle I have very right to question the British indoor lifestyle.

  • RC 16th Nov ’13 – 9:09am
    I make damned sure I follow cultural norms to the letter and have learned the language to fit in.

    Dear RC,
    I am sorry but I have had to use the initials because I do not know your name.
    One of the cultural norms in this country is that we use our full names. This is not a practice followed by everyone in Liberal Democrat Voice . But as you are such a stickler for fitting in and you pride yourself that you “follow cultural norms to the letter” perhaps you could tell us what your name is.
    Your sincerely
    John Tilley

  • “Jeremy Hunt recently extolled extended families and queried our tendency to see residential care as the answer to old age. It touched nerves for him to raise these issues but he was right to do so. ”

    He was wrong to do so. Residential care has an important place in the care of the elderly and the ill. Making disparaging remarks about “our tendency to see residential care as the answer to old age” is dangerous. It makes carers feel guilty when they have to make necessary choices about residential care, it encourages families/friends/neighbours to think that they must undertake the difficult [and hazardous] task of caring for very ill people who would be happier in residential care and it allows the state to excuse itself from caring for the needy in the belief that “extended families” can do the job. Before I became involved in the care of the elderly, I too believed that residential care was “a bad thing”. After experience and education, I now know that residential care is often a “good thing” and the best option for the person in need of care. Nothing to do with Roma or gypsies, I know, but these comments by the original poster and by Jeremy Hunt needed to be challenged.

  • Helene Tadcastle
    Even more reason to fit in. You show no concern for unskilled and semi-skilled British people who are going to fight even more for any pay rises. The Roma will live on welfare and those willing to work will force down the price of unskilled Labour. The Roma have low levels of education which mean that British children any state primary schools will have any chance of competing with those at prep schools.

    Immigration has only kept the pay of unskilled and semi-skilled suppressed and made education even more difficult at state primary schools. Very few of the state primary schools in this area of Sheffield will be able to compete with prep schools. If one looks at many C of E primary schools in affluent and rural areas, they offer an education on par with many prep schools.

    When Jewish immigrants such as Karl Popper and Isiah Berlin came to Britain ,they came from families already highly educated in the classics. Gymnasia offered a grammar school education. The 10,000 Kindergarten children produced 4 Nobel Prizes.

    If one looks at successful immigrant groups such as the Huguenots, Parsi in India, E African Asians, Lebanese Sunni Muslims and Christians they are highly educated , learn languages and customs quickly . One can teach oneself a foreign language by buying a grammar book , a dictionary and reading newspapers, listening to the radio and setting oneself task such as learning 5 new words a day . One also can buys books on the history,culture, religion and geography of of the country .

    Immigrants should learn English, the history of the UK, and show they are loyal with their heart and stomach, not just their stomach. If immigrants show the gratitude of the Kindergarten Children to this country , then there would be fewer problems. If the Roma were hard at work teaching themselves English, British history and customs, they would not be on the streets.

    The Welfare System created by Beveredge was for British people who had endured poverty yet fought for this country in Boer War, WW1 and WW2, not to support work shy from around the World.The aim of the Welfare State was to produce fitter and better educated Britons who could better compete in a more technologically advanced World : it was not designed to support those who neither paid into it or had not fought for this country. As Lloyd George said ” Build Homes for heroes” . Those who had fought for the UK in WW1 should come back and live in decent homes not overcrowded,damp and cold slums.

  • Charlie 16th Nov ’13 – 12:44pm
    Charlie contributes a rather unusual and eccentric version of history .
    It is difficult to know where to start in responding to Charlie’s collection of inaccuracies and misinterpretations . But I will have a go.

    If Beveridge’s intention had been to confine the benefits of the Welfare State to war pensioners and ex-service men and women he would not have written the recommendations for a welfare state fas he did. He did not restrict the proposed benefits in his recommendations for the very good reasons that he sets out in his various works. I can only assume that Charlie has not actually read anything that Beveridge wrote.
    I recommend he reads ‘Why I am a Liberal ‘ to learn what Beveridge actually believed.

    Charlie’s knowledge of what he calls ‘UK History’ is also rather suspect. He goes on about the importance of learning English and then throws in a reference to Lloyd George – apparently he is unaware that Lloyd George actually championed the use of another language in UK schools . I wonder if Charlie was aware that Lloyd George was the ring-leader of a strike by school students against English cultural dominance. All a bit of an inconvenient truth if you hold to Charlie’s version of History.
    Charlie also seems rather ignorant of the schooling of Isaiah Berlin. Born in 1909 he arrived in this country in 1921 and went to Arundel House School in Surbiton – a school which I know very well, I have lived within walking distance most of my life. I suggest Charlie reads Michael Ignatieff’s excellent biography of Isaiah Berlin to learn exactly how great Isaiah’s knowledge of english was on his first day at school. He might be surprised to read that the young Isaiah knew a version of the Music Hall song ‘Daisy, Daisy’ and 75 other words.

    Does Charlie mean Kindertransport rather than Kindergarten ? The first was about getting jewish children away from the Nazis, the second was and is a type of pre-school experience for very young children. Not sure how good your german is Charlie but Kinder Garten literally means Childrens Garden.
    And as for Karl Popper – his family had converted to Lutheranism before Karl was born in Vienna in 1902. It is rather misleading to describe him as a jewish immigrant to the UK or to associate him with Kindertransport as he was actually in his thirties when he first came to England on his way to New Zealand to take up a University post. It was in New Zealand that he wrote ‘The Open Society and its Enemies in 1946. It was only then after the second world war was over that Karl Popper came to live in England.

    In conclusion, I think that before Charlie starts lecturing Roma families on how they should get an education he might want to fill in some of the gaps in his own education. If nothing else Charlie you might want to learn to spell Isaiah.

  • Is there really any need for the kind of unpleasantness that runs throughout this thread ? There must be many others like me who are just turned off by it all. Surely it’s possible to put forward an argument without resorting to personal comments, especially those ridiculing a person’s perceived lack of education, which is always dangerous, as one might be found wanting too – John Tilley, in English we use capital letters for countries and for ‘nationality’ words.

  • Ruth Bright 16th Nov '13 - 9:12pm

    A few thoughts before this thread shuffles off this mortal coil.

    Charlie – sorry to be awkward but people like my Dad managed to speak Romany AND serve in World War Two. It is true that many Gypsy people did little in World War Two but that (as Helen reminds us) was because they were being exterminated. If you want to see some deeply moving images of Roma people in World War Two do look at the “Travellers Times” website.

    Ed Shepherd – as I outline in the LDV article “Care dilemmas for us all” I have worked in residential care and seen it at its worst and best. I work with people with Alzheimer’s disease and agree that homes can work very well for people with dementia. However, I stand by my comment that there is a tendency to see residential care as the answer to old age. One of the reasons Roma people appear in large groups is because several generations stick together in a way British people often did (certainly in the case of my ultra-rural family) just a few short generations ago.

    I agree that the extended family has its drawbacks (not least the tendency for the burden of care to be carried largely by women) but it is wrong for the inference to be given that big family groups working, playing and socialising together outside is somehow unBritish.

  • John Tilley
    I never said The Welfare State was just for ex-servicemen and war widows. The Welfare State came about because after two world wars , the vast majority of the middle and upper classes, realised they had an obligation to the poor who had fought for Britain. Officers such as Carrington, Whitelaw and Pym realised that while they had a comfortable life in the 30s, many of the soldiers had known hardship. One aim of the NHS was to improve the fitness of the British population so that over time ,the demands upon it would decline.

    It is fine to speak languages other than English but in Britain, it is common sense that all who live here learn English. Lloyd George would not have had much success it he only spoke Welsh and not English.

    Where immigrants already speak English and are skilled, they assimilate much more easily into Britain , examples would be Asians from East Africa . The Huguenots who came to the UK in the 16C assimilated very quickly ,mainly because they were highly skilled: many were silk weavers.

    I never said one needed a grammar school education. What I said that Jewish people who had had the benefit of a Gymnasium education assimilated more quickly . In general, highly educated and skilled people assimilate into new cultures more easily than uneducated and unskilled people: for example all the Indians employed in computer companies in Sillicon Valley.

    Diversity is not a benefit in a school to the poorly educated and skilled Britons, especially those are slow learners. How many primary schools where there where the majority of the pupils speak English as a second language reach the standard of some C of E primary schools in affluent areas which practically offer a prep school education for free? Where significant immigration has occurred in such places as Boston and Peterborough it has put considerable strain on the welfare state There are Britons entering the infantry at 16-18 years of age who have reading ages of 11 year olds. Andy McNab praises the Army for improving his writing and reading skills: this should not have been be necessary .

    Immigration does not benefit un and semi-skilled Britons competing for jobs and resources such as social housing. Diversity is neither good or bad, it depends upon the practices introduced . Are we saying FGM , honour killings, women not being allowed to learn English and work by their husbands and forced marriages bring benefit to this country? Increasing immigration to the levels Britain has experienced since late 90s has never been put in any party manifesto. The reality is immigration has benefited employers and customers of some services but not the poor of this country. The construction industry as late as the 80s provided well paid jobs for manual labourers , remember Super Hod. The construction industry was the last industry which provided well paid employment for un and semi-skilled men. The influx of Eastern Europe labour has reduced wage inflation in the construction industry and there has been a recession for about 4 years.

    So If anyone thinks diversity is always excellent,talk to the British construction workers and their families about their experiences over the last 4 years.

  • Ed Shepherd 17th Nov '13 - 8:09am

    “However, I stand by my comment that there is a tendency to see residential care as the answer to old age. One of the reasons Roma people appear in large groups is because several generations stick together in a way British people often did (certainly in the case of my ultra-rural family) just a few short generations ago.”

    And I stand by assertion that it is dangerous to try to make people feel guilty because their relative/friend/neighbour is in residential care.

  • jedibeeftrix 17th Nov '13 - 9:18am

    A few thoughts:

    Helen – “Now we are into a minefield which favours monoculture over multiculture – not based on the reality of Britain, again.”

    Why a minefield? It has always been clear to me that i support multiculturalism as a descriptive and reject it as a normative term:

    “The term is used in two broad ways, either descriptively or normatively. As a descriptive term, it usually refers to the simple fact of cultural diversity: it is generally applied to the demographic make-up of a specific place, sometime at the organizational level, e.g. schools, businesses, neighborhoods, cities, or nations.

    As a normative term, it refers to ideologies or policies that promote this diversity or its institutionalization; in this sense, multiculturalism is a society “at ease with the rich tapestry of human life and the desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit.”

    @ Charlie – Your post at 10:15 on the 16th was very insightful, and I am in large part agreed. I am the descendent of those emigrant Huguenots, and proud to be so.

    @ Ed – “And I stand by assertion that it is dangerous to try to make people feel guilty because their relative/friend/neighbour is in residential care.”

    Agreed, it doesn’t do to romanticise multi-generation households when you realise why it was necessary.

    My wife comes from a rural polish farming village. She wasn’t raised by her parents, she was raised by her grandparents, as had countless previous generations been.

    This was necessary for two related reasons:
    1. Her parents were busy wrecking their health toiling in the fields twelve hours a day six and a half days a week, year after year.
    2. Her grandparents, having done the same, were in such poor health that looking after the kids was all they were capable of.

    It is perhaps no bad thing that modern lifestyles mean that parents get to actually parent their kids ( is it?), and grandparents have the health to pursue a vigorous and independent life.

    This creates its own pressures, would you willingly choose to live with your parents again for what might be 30 plus years of their retirement (massively increased over the typical situation in rural farming communities)?

    As an aside, this societal change is coming as a huge shock to to many middle aged poles (a country that is still 80% rural agriculture based), whose children are now in the UK, because the prospect of ‘retiring’ to look after the grandkids has now evaporated for them.

  • I don’t think this was borderline racist, I think it was overtly racist.

    If Nick had substituted any other minority for Roma, the outcry would have rightfully been overwhelming.

    The clumsy phraseology of people coming here having to conform to our culture is reminiscent of 1960s attitudes to early black and asian immigrants, and the real irony is that , as I understand it, many of the Page Hall are exactly the asian immigrants previously discriminated against!

    We will never appeal to UKIP voters, so please let us not try and pander to them

  • David Allen 17th Nov '13 - 7:19pm

    RC said,

    “Why shouldn’t they follow our norms? If you come to live in a country, you should accept that you behave according to the cultural norms of that country. If I go to Saudi Arabia, I’m not going to drink alcohol in the street, am I? Likewise, if you find your own neighbours in south London behaving in a way that is intimidating or unsettling, I don’t think that is OK either.”

    This is a fairly reasonable point, though I have had to cherry-pick it out of what Clegg’s supporters have posted. As I tried to convey in my previous post, it can certainly be the case that cultural differences between ethnic groups can cause problems, and that the police may need to take action to maintain the peace. It is reasonable, up to a point, that incomers should be expected to adapt to established norms. Today’s Observer reports that the police do take action when they are concerned to see large groups of Roma on street corners late at night. The police sometimes ask them to move on, which is within their rights, and they do move on, as they should.

    Whether British people abroad are quite so compliant is questionable. RC mentions not drinking alcohol in the Saudi Arabian streets, which of course British people do not do because they don’t want to be locked up forthwith. It seems however that many British expatriates do break Saudi Arabian law and drink in private. If British people do not always respect the customs of the foreign country they live in, why should Roma people be expected to do so?

    But my larger point is about how politicians should react to such tensions. To reiterate once more, they can reasonably express some sympathy with longstanding residents, and they can support measures which genuinely aim to keep the peace without infringing the basic liberties of either incomers or longstanding residents. But that’s all. They must not stir up or exploit tension. They must not describe the behaviour of a community as “offensive”, without giving any indication of what it is that they consider offensive. They must not attack an ethnic group on an indiscriminate basis, tarring all its members with the same brush, and using ambiguous words such as “offensive” to magnify the significance of the ill-defined behaviour complained against.

    Clegg fails all these tests. He is – in my humble opinion – an enemy of liberalism and of civilised standards.

  • Pat Dore 16th Nov ’13 – 7:15pm

    I seem to have upset Pat Dore with my inadequate skills in the use English. Sorry Pat.

    By the way, Pat, were you equally upset by the racist attitudes that I was responding to?
    Were you upset by the use of wildly inaccurate or totally misleading references to people like Isaiah Berlin or to Kindertransport?

  • Jane Leaper 18th Nov '13 - 7:58am

    Dear Ruth, thanks for this article. I blogged on Clegg’s statement before I’d read it. In my opinion this kind of language is not acceptable. I’m considering leaving the party over this, not just because of Clegg’s statement, but the deafening silence that has followed it by other party members. Frankly, I don’t want to go out canvassing for a racist.

  • jedibeeftrix 18th Nov '13 - 8:21am

    i am reasonably familiar with the OED definition of “racism” and I am struggling to see how that can be applied in any way to Cleggs words.

    please enlighten, jane…

  • Jane Leaper 18th Nov '13 - 9:26am

    I suggest you read Gary Younge’s article in today’s Guardian, then your conceptual struggle may be over.

  • Andrew Whyte 18th Nov '13 - 9:35am

    The total absence of any reporting of Cleggs comments on LDV (apart from this rightful criticism of it) flags up how racist his comments were.

    Just imagine of he had said “people feel threatened by Pakistanis gathering late at night on street corners” – that would be a deeply racist comment, and just substituting Roma doesnt make it any less so.

    Maybe one of the downsides of a weekly show on radio is that the Farage effect (speak first, think later) kicks in

  • Andrew Whyte 18th Nov '13 - 10:20am

    Joe

    If Cleggs comments were considered mainstream then there would be a full transcript on here.

    The absence of that makes me think that the editors are as embarrassed about it as I am. I’m struggling to see how gathering in the street can be seen as threatening; surely that is just an issue of perception as police statistics do not point to any increase in crime in the area concerned.

    Seems to be similar to the problem that lots of parish and town councils get with complaints about young people congregating on street corners – again, prejudice and perception, not necessarily increased risk.

  • jedibeeftrix

    Well, I think one problem is that he said “when you get communities coming into a part of our country and they behave in a way that people find quite difficult to accept, and they behave in a way that people find sometimes intimidating, sometimes offensive”, which does imply the whole of the community in question is behaving in ways that are considered intimidating and offensive. And that community is essentially one defined by race.

    And I still don’t understand why he chose to characterise the problem in terms of an immigrant community failing to be sensitive to the British way of life. If the problem is one of intimidation then why not simply say so? It’s not as though any race is incapable of intimidation. The intimidation of ethnic minorities can hardly be said to be absent from the British way of life.

  • Because of the British media and NGO’s idea that anywhere east of Frankfurt, and anywhere south of the Alps is full of racists who don’t accept European values, this story has been greeted with huge glee in Slovakia. A sample from Facebook, throwing back the same things they have heard levelled at them from right-thinking people in the west over the last two decades: translation:
    “Bad, bad, bad Brits! Brits are fascists, SS members, racists, It is their obligation to look after the Roma!”

    In Australia there are older Aborigines who can remember when their particular tribes were pre-white contact; in other words they lived their childhood in prehistoric times. Now it is not possible to expect that they or their children, or grandchildren have had sufficient time to catch up and should just be dealt with on a colour blind basis by the authorities. With the (East European) Roma you are dealing with a similar kind of situation (a couple of generations of settled, non-nomadic life) and you should be looking at what actually gets results in similar situations such as Australia or with the Roma in the countries where they come from – rather than expecting to be able to recycle the kinds of policies (i.e. big doses of colour blindness) that have worked with minorities so far in the UK.

    None of the above has anything to do with Gypsy/Roma/Travellers who have been in the UK for centuries and about whom I make no claim to know anything and no doubt have different history and a situation, (I can’t help feeling this catch-all term lumping Gypsy/Roma/Travellers all together is wrong).

  • Ruth Bright.
    16th Nov’ 9.12pm. I have never said I was against immigration or against Gypsies : I have said the Welfare State was to support the poor who had fought for Britain in WW1 and WW2 .

    I have also said that reduction in agricultural employment since 1945 ,has reduced economic opportunities for Gypsies. In late 40s , as many as 11 people could be employed on 300 acre farm ,enough for a cricket team : now perhaps there are 2 . I would also suggest that land use has as late as the 60s there appeared to be far more fallow land where gypsies could camp and undertake seasonal rural work. Both the work and land has disappeared

    What my concern is for immigrants who do not make adequate effort to learn the languages and customs of this country. A friend who lived in Japan taught herself to such a standard that she passed a Diploma in advanced Japanese from SOAS when she returned – this shows what is possible of one has the self discipline. The examples I used showed people educated ,cosmopolitan and skilled in business have shown to adapt to new cultures and therefore benefited economically.

    All immigrants must demonstrate they are loyal to this country with their heart not just their stomach. This means not taking welfare if they have not fought for this country and/or paid taxes covering what they they taken out . Immigrants must learn the language, history and culture of this country ( paid for by themselves ) and with good grace relinquish any customs or traditions antipathetic to this country. If immigrants were hard at work teaching themselves English, the history and customs of Britain they would not be on the streets.

    One criticism I was told by a Saudi of Americans troops in his country was that they talked too loudly and swaggered down the street which gave them an appearance of arrogance . Learning about the customs of language, tone of voice , loudness , body language in general is vital when one is new country . In many of the Arab countries people often converse at closer distance than most Britons find comfortable. In Britain it may be acceptable for someone to slap somebody on the shoulder or base of the neck and say well done . In a Arab country if this was done with the left hand this would be an insult and especially near the base of the neck and could be construed as signifying a master slave relationship.

    When in dealing with Japanese , there is complex etiquette , which of one follows, makes life much easier. In much of the Asiatic world one never shows the soles of one’s shoes, passes anything with ones left hand, take shoes into a house. Where people eat with their hands , it should be only with the right and the food should not be above the first joint. In a social gathering, in many muslim countries , where there are husband and wife couples, it would be risky for man to speak directly to the wife. The sensible method is if one is unsure, is to watch and observe. When in Rome do as the Romans.

    If one looks at at the last 350 years , where Britons have operated successfully overseas it is because they have learnt the languages and customs of the countries. Yes there are many Britons in Spain who make little attempt to learn Spanish but there are families who have successfully run wine Madeira, Port and Sherry companies . A British business man helped to start Barcelona Football Club-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Witty. I believe the Witty Family still lives in Barcelona and when one died recently, the players wore black arm bands.

    As they say ” Manners Maketh Man “- the manner in which one presents oneself to the World is the manner one is judges.

    Charity begins at home. The first loyalty of the middle and upper class Britons is to the poor Britons- they must be first in the queue fro resources.

    There is also a massive gap in the standards of state primary school. People talk about increasing apprenticeships and the type we need are the electrical -mechanical ones offered by the utility companies . Thames water apprentices requires 5 GSCEs including maths, english and science : the higher ones require two A Levels. Sunday Telegraph article shows that good state primary schools increase house prices by up to 40% ?
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/10454536/Cost-of-living-near-Britains-best-primary-schools-revealed.html

    The reality is that many British children where the Roma live in Sheffield go to poor performing primary schools which will only reduce their chances at secondary school. What percentage of the children attending the local comprehensives will achieve good enough GSCEs to take an apprentice ship with a water or a electrical utility?

    Roger Daltry , a working class chap from Shepherd’s Bush, has stated that immigration has adversely affected his working class friend’s earning power.

    Immigration must never reduce the earnings of the poor or increase competition for jobs and resources ( especially homes) and reduce standards in the schools attended by the children of the poor.

  • Ruth Bright 20th Nov '13 - 9:28am

    Thanks to everyone who has taken the trouble to comment. It is intriguing to say the least that Nick Clegg changed tone so radically for his performance on Andrew Marr. Let’s hope he will go one stage further and distance himself from what Blunkett said.

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