IN the past few days, various pieces of nastiness have floated to the surface of British life. I don’t mean Nigel Farage giving inflammatory speeches. He’s always doing that and we expect nothing less.
Not long after the vote to quit Europe was announced, examples of the ugly side to British life began to bubble up through the post-vote sludge. First Polish families in Cambridgeshire were said to have had cards pushed through their doors telling them to go home (with the text helpfully printed in English and Polish).
Yesterday further examples of such disgraceful behaviour were shared on Facebook. These snapshots suggest that unless we are careful the post-Brexit mood is going to turn nasty. And may well have done so already.
One of the posts was from Channel 4 News and it showed commuters on a tram in Manchester – big, decent-hearted Manchester, a city of many people. The tram is crowded and a tall man with a ponytail has attracted the attention of a runty yob. The youth shouts, “I’ll waste you, bro”. The man says: “How old are you?” The yob says: “Don’t even talk to me – you’re an immigrant…” Only his version contains more bleeped-out f-words. “You’re a dirty little immigrant. Get back to Africa.”
The man, who sounds American, says: “You are very ignorant – you’re not very intelligent, do you know that?”
The dim lump of Mancunian humanity starts chanting: “Get of the tram – get off the tram.” Then the genetic-throwback and a similarly dumb pal push down the tram and start flicking beer from bottles at the man. A woman passenger says: “There’s a baby there. There’s no need for that. There’s absolutely no need for that.”
The victim, angry but squaring up, says: “Seven years in the military…” Others around him say it’s not worth it.
The yobs leave or are pushed off, amid cries of “Disgrace.” One woman says something poetic in its anger: “To England you are a disgrace.”
The woman who filmed the clip told Channel 4 News how scared she was; and who could blame her, but well done for capturing a sorry incident that illustrates how careful we have to be right now.
Another post was from the excellent James O’Brien on LBC and shows him taking a call from a German woman who has lived in Britain for 43 years and relates, heartbreakingly, how she has been receiving abuse since the vote.
Amnesty UK reports a 57 per cent rise in reports of racist incidents, with director Kate Allen saying: “Some people now feel licensed to express racist views in a way we haven’t seen for decades. The referendum campaign was marked by divisive, xenophobic rhetoric as well as a failure from political leaders to condemn it. We are now reaping the referendum rhetoric whirlwind.”
Yesterday that whirlwind blew into Leeds, with reports suggesting a Polish shopkeeper had been attacked and “told to go back to his country”. Further examples lobbed into the national dartboard of xenophobia include a Muslim schoolgirl reported to have been cornered by a rabble who said: “Get out, we voted leave” and the Eastern Europeans allegedly stopped from using the Underground with shouts of, “Go back to your own country.”
Another example includes right-wing protestors in Newcastle carrying placards urging the country to “start repatriation”.
Such examples should depress the hell out of us. They have not been caused by the vote to leave, as such attitudes already existed below the skin like incipient boils or something. But in the post-Brexit heat, too many people feel free to scratch away at the hate.
As a proud but disillusioned member of the 48 per cent, I deplore the snapshot of our country these incidents give. Of course most of those who voted to leave also deplore such views. But some of them perhaps do not. And that should worry us. It should make us angry.
But we should we react with the authority of that man on the tram in Manchester. And we should all chant that phrase spoken on that tram, words that deserve to become a slogan for a worried age: “To England you are a disgrace.”