This week we were afforded a terrifying glimpse into the real Britain – the one that lurks menacingly on council estates, in northern cities and across the poorer London boroughs, and which normally rears its head in the safer confines of The Jeremy Kyle Show. “Britain is nothing now. Britain is fuck all. My Britain is fuck all,” bellowed Emma West, 34, of Croydon at the start of a foul-mouthed racist rant directed at her fellow passengers on a London tram. Unhappily for her, a black woman sitting opposite recorded much of the outburst: West has since been charged with a racially-aggravated public order offence and will appear in court on Tuesday. Now, forgive me for being opportunistic, but I think I might take the opportunity here to explain why this incident speaks volumes about the country in which we live.
It goes without saying that West’s toxic outpouring was reprehensible, and that she deserved to be silenced. But that, I think, is all she deserved. Because, while there’s no doubt that West was obnoxious, it’s worth considering the environment that produced her – and the millions of people in Britain who feel resentment at being unable to find a job – and to ponder what might make a young mother feel so angry that she would direct abusive language like this to strangers in the presence of her own child. (And don’t say alcohol: there’s no evidence she was drunk when the video was filmed.)
First, let’s consider some numbers. Over the past year, while the number of UK-born workers in the British economy has plummeted, 500 foreigners a day landed jobs in Britain. And as unemployment hit a 17-year high earlier this month, we were told that the number of foreign-born employees has leapt by 181,000 in the past year. There is a stubborn 5 million long-term unemployed in this country who, despite the new jobs being created, are failing to find employment. Many of these people are feckless, work-shy layabouts. Most of them, surely, are not. The majority of them, however, are unavoidably white and working class.
The conditions for their frustrations are easy enough to identify. The backdrop to this human catastrophe is poor education: the quality of teaching in most state schools is abominable, and getting worse. It has not given people in low-income communities the intellectual tools, the social skills or the aspirational will to achieve better and to provide for their families. Pride in such areas is low. Many young British adults – and let’s use Ms West’s definition of British for a moment: the white working class – are totally unemployable. An example of that ignorance was on display in the video circulating online: Ms West, struggling with her geography, is heard to say, “Go back to Sib – err – Nicaragua” to a black woman.
The present-day scandal is the welfare system. Employers’ organisations report the same problems with British workers time and again: not only are they poorly qualified, compared with their eastern European or Subcontinental peers (and I don’t mean they don’t have certificates: our discredited and hopeless education system dishes out pieces of paper to kids for little more than writing their own name properly these days), they’re lazy and unreliable too. Poles, to pick an example at random, get up earlier, work harder and do their jobs better. They can be relied upon because they have families to support, and, for them, feckless insouciance about their contribution to society is still a shameful taboo.
Successive generations of white working class families have been reared on a welfare system that rewards them for staying out of work. That is simply inhumane: it robs them of their dignity and of their potential. I don’t mean to dehumanise these people into miserable wretches with no control over their own lives, however badly they have been failed by the state, because plenty rise from humble beginnings to achieve greatness, and all must take personal responsibility for their actions. (Actions like screeching “You ain’t English!” on a crowded public tram to someone with just as much “right to be here” as the speaker.) But it’s inevitable that when you mix the four toxic ingredients of mass immigration, poor education, largesse from the state and a globalised workforce in which unskilled workers at the bottom of the pile become economically useless, you end up with Emma West.
“Are you British? Are you British? You ain’t British. Fuck off. You ain’t British; you’re black,” yelled West to one of her black fellow passengers. Depressing, isn’t it. Not the racism so much as the sheer, comical ignorance of it. And yet, despite her language and her ignorance, West does not belong in the very worst, most fetid depths of the underclass. Not even close. She at least has a job, as she tells her fellow passengers in that video. Presumably she was either on the way to or the way from it when she had her meltdown. But she is a product of a lazy and entitled white working class culture that, when it sees harder-working and better-motivated people from other backgrounds doing well, seeks not to emulate them or even beat them but instead to deride and resent.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that the person who had to remind West of her manners was an older black woman. The problem with modern Britain isn’t the immigrants, it’s people like her: angry white men and women with paltry professional opportunities who cannot express their rage in any other way. Labour politicians should hang their heads in shame for allowing such an unsustainable number of immigrants into the country, who now fill jobs that Britons are unwilling to consider because they are disincentivised by the lavish benefits that same Government handed out simply to secure votes. Because this is what they have created.
It is imperative that they be held to account for this betrayal because it is perfectly plausible that Labour might worm their way back into power at the next election. David Cameron is a horrific failure as Tory leader: he has foolishly chosen the middle ground as the area in which to do battle politically, at a time when properly Right-wing governments are being elected all over Europe. He is opportunistic and his beliefs, insofar as they can be discerned at all, are chimeric and fatuous. The electorate knows this and will punish him at the ballot box in the next election as they did in the last.
And I don’t know about you, but that prospect – of an even more disenfranchised, feral underclass, with all the racial and class hatred that it is guaranteed to engender – fills me with greater dread even than the thought of being trapped in a tram for half an hour with the likes of Emma West.