Xenophobia Comes In Many Forms

Like many of you on this morning of Friday 24th June, 2016, I feel shocked, angry and ashamed. 52% of our nation voted to leave the European Union, the greatest peace and economic cooperation project our continent has seen.

I also feel uncertain about what the future will hold for the UK. An independent Scotland now seems probable, political unrest in Northern Ireland closer, instability in Europe on the cards, Tory and Labour parties are in disarray, and who knows what sort of political leadership we shall be subject to?

Xenophobia played a significant role in this referendum campaign, and not just in the form of blatant racism you might come across in the pub or on the streets. Older people of my acquaintance who wanted to leave the EU are not racists or xenophobes in the worst sense; nevertheless they betray in their conversation a deep-seated paranoia and fear of foreigners. They think that the EU is a German-led conspiracy, they say the EU is undemocratic (while not mentioning that, in many ways, the UK governmental system is less so), they often talk of "Brussels", where Brussels is short-hand for "faceless bureaucrats" who do things to us without our permission.

They talk of "them" and "us". If they do see us as members of a club, they believe that the others are all against us. They see themselves as victims. In particular, they still seem to harbour some post Second World War angst about German desire to dominate the continent.

They talk of taking back control over our destiny as if we had lost that ability. Ironically, the fact that we had a referendum at all disproves the claim.

All this is ultimately another type of xenophobia. It may not be out-and-out racism, but it is still fear of foreigners and it is clearly deep-seated in the British (or should I say more especially Welsh and English) psyche. How depressing that with improved education, frequent travel and greater cultural diversity that many of us, mainly the over 60s, cannot escape this way of thinking.

We shall now see the consequences, which remain uncertain. Perhaps the sensible, progressive political centre can eventually reassert itself. In the meantime, as the financial markets have demonstrated this morning, we are in for a very bumpy and damaging ride.