I knew one girl of mixed-race who lived in the next street. She was adopted. That seemed a reasonable enough explanation. I considered the Sikh man who sold trinkets on the market an exotic creature, never an object of ridicule or contempt. Now I find myself having to tell my two not to say anything outrageous about the turbaned doctor who walks past our house to work at the local hospital.
My children’s opinions wouldn’t register in the latest British Social Attitudes survey, but they shouldn’t be discounted. They represent the failure – and the future – of multicultural Britain. I suspect that if they had been questioned, they would have joined the third of British people who admit to having racist attitudes. The poll found that 30 per cent of us describe ourselves as either “very” or “a little” prejudiced against people of other races.
How could this be? My own children? They have been brought up never to judge anyone. Their father, who went to university in ethnically-diverse Birmingham and worked for the BBC World Service, has drilled into them that they should first look to the person, not to the colour of their skin.
I remember when we took my son Jack and his friend to a park in Sheffield a few years ago. His friend started making rude comments about a group of Somali boys playing football. A tense half hour followed in which we had a discussion about how everybody has the right to play in a park, no matter what country they might have been born in.
My daughter, who is only eight, has much to say about the recent arrival of Eastern European children at her primary school. She’s sussed the agenda in her politically-correct reading books and questions why the characters have “foreign” names. Her words are innocent and her opinions half-formed, but I have to remind her to always to treat people as she would wish to be treated herself.
And me? Like many people, I suspect, I’m developing a complex attitude towards people of other races characterised by judgement calls which are constantly being reassessed. I’ve got friends whose grandparents were born in the Caribbean or South-East Asia. I rarely give their racial heritage a thought. I just know them as who they are, and that’s that. Yet, when I shop in town or drive through streets I played in as a child, I feel a growing tug of resentment that the recent influx of Romanian immigrants is changing the face of a place I know so well.
I understand entirely the elderly couple asked by a TV reporter why they were switching their vote from Labour to Ukip. “We liked the old Rochdale,” they replied. When I look around my town, I wonder what it will look like in 10 or 15 years.
Sometimes, I am ashamed of the conclusions I draw. Then I shake myself and resolve to be less impatient when the supermarket queue is held up because the person attempting to pay doesn’t speak a word of English.
I save most of my resentment for politicians, though. We know that much of what they tell us is lies dressed up with spin. We’ve learnt to accept that promises on taxes and the NHS are not worth the oxygen they waste. We’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that whoever we vote for, the political establishment will always feather its own nest first. What I can’t forgive them for, though, is the way that they have pushed the agenda of multiculturalism at us for years without realising how much the world itself has changed. This culture of denial from the metropolitan elite has ridden roughshod over the opinions and experiences of ordinary people. And now the mainstream parties are paying the price.
Outspoken Labour MP Frank Field made an excellent point in an interview on Radio 4. Talking about the rise of Ukip, he explained that things were different when we had a European Union made up of countries with roughly similar standards of living. When countries which suffered poverty and internal ethnic tensions were invited to join, the whole balance shifted on its axis. When people from these nations were given free passage to the UK, the effect has been a cataclysmic ripple of resentment which manifests itself in that supermarket queue. That’s not to mention the refugees and asylum seekers and lost souls from Africa and beyond who turn up in search of sanctuary and a better life.
Since 1997 four million people have come to Britain, the equivalent of a city the size of Birmingham. You can’t allow that to happen and still play by the old rules of multiculturalism. It simply doesn’t work. My daughter knows that. My son knows that. You and me know that. It’s time for politicians to admit it too.