15th April 2010
By Graham Reid & JR Max Wheel
15th April 2010
By Graham Reid & JR Max Wheel
JR Max Wheel
25 February 2010. 9.30h
Every now and then television produces a documentary that strikes a real chord- Evan Davis’s “The Day the Immigrants Left” (BBC1) was one of those (rare) moments even if it ended with a jarring note of political correctness. The storyline was that migrant workers in the small market town of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire had not only embedded themselves economically, but were more productive, reliable and better motivated than the home-grown product. The latter, mainly unemployed, were revealed as lazy, poorly-educated and whingeing, blaming the migrants for taking their jobs. Conclusion: from a few days experiment of trialling the Brits conclusively demonstrated that they were not up to snuff, failing to turn up, slow and generally lacking drive.
Wisbech is predominantly agricultural, both labour intensive market gardening and big prairie style farming with a number of major companies, including Premier Foods, Del Monte, Ralston Purina to name a few, plus major food packers for Britain’s supermarkets.
There is a back story here though and a major missed opportunity by the BBC and that is the dependency culture problem.
The author knows this area well; it is about as far from the well-heeled streets of Cambridge, with its cosmopolitan population: indeed many citizens of Cambridge rarely, if ever, go beyond its confines, so you might well argue that so far as the citizens of Wisbech (and other small Cambridgeshire market towns) that this super science hub might as well be on the moon.
There are some real victims here. Wisbech in recent years, something of a rural backwater has had to cope with mass immigration from Poland, Portugal, Lithuania, and Latvia. Portuguese, Polish, and Russian are regularly heard on the streets. It is asking a lot for a relatively isolated town to accept such a radical change which has occurred mainly over a period of less than 5 years. That migrants are determined, hard-working, and driven is hardly news: what was also revealed is that the local community has been utterly failed, in terms of education, health, and opportunity. The town contains some of the most socially deprived wards in the county. It has a history of outbreaks of violence, clashes between Roma people and locals, settling of scores by a 12 bore, it was nicknamed the “Wild East.” At root is a culture of welfare dependency, as unskilled agricultural jobs initially shrank and packaging plants invested in higher tech machinery. Being relatively (for the UK) remote, incomers can easily and understandably be regarded as a threat and not only to jobs but housing and other “rights.” The Government’s mangled immigration policy has done little to prepare the town for such a culture shock, nor until very recently begun to address local needs. The result is a disaffected generation of young people, often growing up in workless households.
This is not the stand-ups usual rural East Anglian joke –“ Hey, gimme six” a more than passing reference to a rural past which included both inter-breeding, even incest. This is a failure on multiple levels. This needs to be peeled back in exactly the same way as the immigration issue. Only one MP, pace the good work done by Iain Duncan-Smith, has been consistent on the travesty that is the UK tax and benefit culture and that is Frank Field; he was memorably side-lined by Tony Blair in favour of the spiteful, self-righteous Harriet Harman, QC, MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader. This is the real background here and it should not be ducked, as it is the other side of the coin. The Immigration Minister when later asked about the issues could only bluster about Government initiatives, like New Deal (for young adults). I have seen them in action, they do not work, they are designed typically top down and God forbid that you should look for a job whilst on benefits because the latter will vanish, should you work more than 16 hours a week or as a couple, 30 hours/ week. This is stupidity and waste on an epic scale.
Finally Cambridgeshire rural folk are neither stupid nor unfriendly. Thomas Clarkson, the great anti slavery campaigner was a native of Wisbech, an irony not explored by the programme. So was Octavia Hill, a founder of the National Trust, and Lillian Ream the well-known 20th.C photographer.
Time for a serious re-think otherwise the successful agri-business will collapse, leaving the town even worse off!