Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Suddenly Northampton's not such a nice place

A decent young Labour Councillor Gareth Eales published a straightforward appeal for compassion for the refugees .
Nothing unusual you might think with such a crisis facing so many millions of innocent people,fleeing not as a section of the press might imply as 'economic migrants' but simply folk terrified of the violence in their country.
Of course the world has seen it before,perhaps not on the scale its happening but then several countries from Syria through Iraq to Afghanistan are in perpetual turmoil.For a variety of reasons millions of people are in dreadful camps ior are risking everything to flee in unsafe boats ,victims of poverty,malnutrition,torture,imprisonment,unemployment,disease and even people smugglers.
hard to imagine such horrors in the 21st century.
Gareth publishes a thoughtful plea and what happens?
It would appear Northampton,a town I love and a community whose quiet Midland pragmatism I have enjoyed has become a snakepit of Katy Hopkins clones.
Hundreds of vile comments have appeared on Facebook and the Chronicle & Echo website threatening gareth and his family.Filthy depraved racists and their ilk have embarked on a crusade of vilification and hatred that has gone beyond anything I have seen or experienced in over 40 years of local politics.
I am sure that much of this is orchestrated by far right groups like 'Britain First', and appropriate name,one that they share with Father Coughlin's  notorious fascist outfit 'America First' in the 1930's.

The great Woody Guthrie in a song said of them:
"They say America First but they mean America Last!"

What this bunch do is to denigrate this town's once proud record of being a haven for people fleeing persecution from all over the world.In my time on the Borough Council we were always able,in our small provincial way to offer support to people in distress.I can immediately call to mind the Chilean refugees after Pinochet's coup in 1973, the Vietnamese Boat People and the Bosnian people fleeing that horrible civil war.there were of course in that period others too.
The common factor that united them all was that they lost everything, that they were desperate and that they all contributed massively to the host community.
Some of the older people were able to return to their home when the crisis was over, I vividly recall a wonderful elderly Chilean couple,Don Cisternas and his wife Mina.Don Cisternas 'crime' had been to be a member of the Communist Party and his 'activity' was to be chairman of his village tractor fund!
For that they were forced to flee in old age half way across the world to a land where they didn't speak a word of English,with no family,no possessions,nothing.
We made them welcome as best we could but the other Chilean families were so kind and generous to the elderly couple and treated them with great respect and allowed them to function as creative senior citizens whilst they were here.
All the other families re-built their lives as best they could, worked in a variety of jobs, paid their taxes and played a part in the wider community.Their children went to school here,and many went on to university and now have key roles in a variety of professions.
What was true of the Chilean community was true of all the other refugee groups.They were not and are not 'scroungers' or 'benefit cheats' or whatever other epithets the mindless Sun readers think appropriate!

I think what shocked me most was not the crass ignorance of Gareth's critics, or the massive hypocrisy they displayed-imagine this, they are all so compassionate about homeless people and overcrowded families and low paid workers-all the groups that they have been vilifying as -oh let me guess 'scroungers' and ' benefit cheats' for so long.
Suddenly compassion is for 'British people' only but do I detect in that only a certain sort of  'British person'= you know -white!

These people remind me of the description the late great Phil Ochs offered in his song about the disgraceful racist government,judiciary and white supremacists of Mississippi in the 1960's

"Mississippi find some other country to be part of."
That's how I feel about some Northamptonians!