Tuesday, 20 May 2014

On Farage’s ‘Romanian Neighbours’, And Why The Worst Thing He Said Went Unnoticed

A whole host of renowned political twits have come forward to condemn Nigel Farage's 'Romanian neighbours' comment as racist – most notably David Lammy, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg, and Diane Abbott (whose own history of closet racist utterings makes her an ideal candidate to look for it in others).  

While he has lots of odious ideas, technically Nigel Farage is right when he says that if a group of Romanian men moved next door to you, you would be a bit concerned (I stress the point that he said ‘men’, not ‘people’). Clearly that comment needn't mean that all Romanians are a threat - but given the ever-expanding number of male crime gangs in this country, you wouldn't be human if you didn't at least consider that a group of men moving in next door does involve at least a small chance that they might be a crime gang. This is a natural reaction that just about anyone might feel, without being the slightest bit racist about it. Your house is one of the primary assets in which you've invested hugely, so to expect people to be devoid of alert in gauging potential dangers is a rather unrealistic expectation.

Nigel Farage may well have it in for most of the UK's immigrants, or he may just be genuinely concerned about what he thinks is a too-relaxed border policy that sees too many undesirable criminals enter the UK (make your mind up which it is) - or maybe it's a bit of both - but simply stating that most people would be concerned if a group of Romanian men moved in next door isn't factually incorrect, particularly in the initial stage before they had got to know them a bit.

Personally I think Nigel Farage would have been better trying to vindicate himself the next day along those lines rather than following it up by saying: "Any normal and fair-minded person would have a perfect right to be concerned if a group of Romanian people suddenly moved in next door" – which, when you substitute ‘men’ for ‘people’, does sound a bit dodgier. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett certainly seems to think so, saying:

“That is a statement that can only be described as bigoted, racist and disgusting. Those Romanian people might be doctors, or IT professionals or care workers, or Roma seeking a better life away from prejudice and as likely as any other people to be good neighbours, who'll feed the cat or lend you a cup of sugar.”

Well yes, quite – but that’s trivially obvious, and beside the main thrust of Farage’s point. If you’ve arrived at the knowledge that your new Romanian neighbours are doctors, IT professionals or care workers, and you’ve already engaged in sugar swapping and pet-feeding, you no longer are in the position where you are concerned that they might be a dangerous crime gang, so the point is somewhat academic.

I’m perfectly willing to agree that Nigel Farage is not the most desirable of politicians – it just seems surprising that the “Romanian neighbour” point was the one for which everyone is choosing to vilify him when there are so many more indictments to which he could be subjected.

Speaking of which, I said in the title that the worst thing Nigel Farage said went unnoticed. The comment to which I'm referring is when he said on Newsnight last night that 'foreign aid should be cut'. Let’s get this straight – Mr Farage thinks the piddling support we currently offer to the poorest people in the world should be even less than what it is? It's shameful that politicians are trying to score political points with Romania-Gate, but yet lack the discernment to see why suggestions to cut the already miniscule foreign aid is actually a far worse form of discrimination than being concerned about the probability of a Romanian gang moving next door to you.

Foreign aid helps the world’s neediest people – not enough – but it is recognition that outside of our comparably comfy UK surroundings, there are people out there still dying through lack of access to fresh drinking water. When Nigel Farage says ‘cut foreign aid’ he’s asking us to champion even further neglect towards people far far worse off than us in favour of people who happen to share the same nationality as him. Of course, we understand why he says it – there are no votes to be won from foreigners who lack drinking water, and there are plenty to be won from British people who’d be the beneficiaries of a foreign aid cut – but I’d have much more respect for a politician if he or she was brave enough to castigate Farage for that comment, and show that they could put integrity and solicitude before popularity-mongering.

Finally Nigel Farage’s comment that he was uncomfortable hearing foreigners speaking their own language on a train was a stupid thing to say, and does rather fuel the flames of racist accusations against him. Farage strikes me as a mess of contradictions, half-truths and unreasonable prejudices - but him and his UKIP members have clearly got the other parties worried, which is why they are targeting him with anything they can find. They've got it wrong, though, with Romania-Gate, because to target him with that involves indirectly targeting just about everyone else in the country too.  

* It seems, though, that Farage felt the outside pressure to the extent that he later disassociated himself from his original terminology - "Do you know what, in life sometimes people get things wrong. I regret the fact that I was completely tired out and I didn't use the form of words in response that I would have liked to have used."

** Photo courtesy of the BBC