Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Human footballs

The dreadful attack on a young male asylum seeker in Croydon a few days ago shows how easily wolf-pack bloodlust can take over, with near-fatal results in this case. The young man was in a vulnerable place - waiting at a bus stop - and he was not 'white British'. He got noticed. He became a focus for a sudden surge of hatred, with a lot of local young men and women joining in. South London is not a safe area for people who look foreign, not when a mob of prejudiced young people are around. And now the victim is in hospital, after being beaten up, and in a very bad way. His story will eventually come out. It'll probably be one of family distress in a war-torn land, an expensive and dangerous bid to escape, endless difficulties, and personal hardship and endurance to reach Refuge Britain. The victim will not seem particularly special or meritorious, but simply a young man who came to a free and peaceful country, hoping for a better future. He didn't deserve to be a human football.

What a welcome to 'civilised' Britain, to be kicked on the head by scumbags whom I'd personally like to taser till they scream for mercy.

I don't think that attacks like this are a consequence of Brexit. They were bound to happen as the general population became ever more and more obviously multicultural, and the hard-core 'white British' element felt ever more squeezed. But Brexit, now a reality, had the promise in their minds of a reversal to the rot, a halt to all the hated diversity, a banishment of all the foreign faces, of everyone who is 'not us'. And this spurious promise might have emboldened some of the attackers sufficiently to cast off all restraint, and do their worst in the gut belief that they now had the upper hand.

This is not what I voted Brexit for. I didn't vote for a closed society infested by hate gangs.

And yet this kind of thing was always a possible outcome. The ridicule and denigration of foreigners, all of them now reduced to stereotypes. And not just impotent Middle-Eastern refugees. Suddenly the EU officials in Brussels are getting demonised - characterised not as quiet, sensible people who are doing their best to direct all the diverse and interlocking affairs of a continent - with only their ultimate political and economic vision really at issue - but as self-satified, fatcat, spiteful and domineering headmasters insistant on setting all the rules, eager to sneer and punish. And individual countries - Spain, for instance, over Gibraltar - are now getting lampooned in the most xenophobic manner. What next? Howling British football fans on the rampage somewhere, fans from South London perhaps, hurling abuse and insults at continental locals, and possibly killing somebody? Expect it. It won't start a war, but it will freeze relations with Europe and stand in the way of achieving a reasonable result from the complex disengagement negotiations.

It was put to me by trans, gay and lesbian people I knew that Brexit would mean a certain retreat from further legislation to support vulnerable minorities. Even the withdrawal of existing rights and protections. Some quivered in fear at the prospect. I pooh-poohed what they said. I thought that an independent and self-governing Britain would, on the contrary, want to be seen as a land of open governance, opportunity and fairness, exemplarary on its human rights-and-values record. It would all be part of a drive to be super-attractive to talented incomers wanting to settle here. Border controls? Of course. But only to prevent over-crowding, and the fostering of an unskilled, under-productive underclass dependent on the state. And high human values would bolster Britain's moral standing among nations. You can't wag fingers at wayward regimes if you don't look after your own people well - all of them. So it would need to be Britain as a beacon of excellence; and not Fortress Britannia, a besieged offshore stronghold in which the trapped inmates have a worse and worse time of it.

I still think we are on course for the sunnier outcome. The first step, the so-called Great Repeal Bill, will incorporate all EU legislation into our very own corpus of law. No rights lost. It's true that the government of the day, this one or the next - or any down the line - can meddle and tinker with that starting position. But then I hope they will, to keep pace with evolving public opinion.

The EU may have in the past forced British governments to pass specific laws, but also much was done on our own initiative, in response to the public mood and public representations. And I think parliament was often bowing to what had become the de facto situation in the nation at large. Taking a long view, I would say that much good and just law - workable law, anyway - has always needed the groundswell of public opinion behind it before it could ever be put on the statute book. Laws are ineffective unless the public wants to obey them. And it does take a long, long time for public attitudes to change. It's almost as if there's naturally a wave of fresh and innovative laws with every new generation, but no more frequently. And yet as older generations fade away, so new ideas gain general acceptance, and the laws to support them follow. My parents tut-tutted over many trends and notions that were currently being talked about. Those things didn't chime with their world-view, what they had grown up to believe right. But I knew the ideas that they were so uncomfortable with would gradually come to be part of ordinary thinking, and eventually what everyone younger than them would consider proper and correct. It just takes time.

It would be naïve to say that pubic opinion is always infallible, and can never be misdirected. Or even that it is naturally progressive. British people have always been very conservative in their views, and new notions often have a hard time making rapid headway against ingrained prejudice and ignorance and unwillingness to see past superficial differences. So although it may become rare for a gay, lesbian or trans person to be beaten up at a bus stop, they still have a long way to go. In fact I doubt whether it will, in Britain, be socially normal and unremarkable to be different in a sexual or gender sense during my lifetime - whatever the legislation.

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