A Polish reporter checks out sentiment in the heart of UKIP country after the anti-immigration party's success in recent European elections.
BOSTON (UK) — Laura, a member of the UK Independence Party from Southampton, makes her point with a touch of irony: "We should be protected like aborigines ...”
Like me, Laura had come to Boston, Lincolnshire, on the east coast of England, for the party’s recent congress. We just got off the train, unsure where to go. It has been pouring rain since this morning and all the “aborigines” are in the Jolly Crispin Pub, finishing off their first beer.
When I suggest asking for direction, Laura laughs: “Go ahead. I am curious if anybody speaks English here.”
In her native Southampton, Laura lives in between an Indian and a Polish neighborhood. And while she got used to the first one, the second remains a tough nut to crack if for no other reason than she cannot communicate with its inhabitants. She also feels constrained to constantly mute her frustrations: “Imagine that your neighbor slips his garbage into your can”, says Laura, “If he is English, you can at least go and call his or her names. If you deal with an immigrant, God forbid, you can be accused of racism!”
Political correctness is surely not the leitmotiv of the congress. We are entertained by a comic poking fun at immigrants from the new member-countries of the European Union: “At the Olympics, Poles got the golden medal, the silver one, the brown one, the lead one, the copper one and everything else that they could get their hands on!"
The victory of the UKIP in the recent European elections was a sensation for British politics, and Boston was their greatest field of glory. In the city where every fourth inhabitant is an immigrant, (the ratio in the whole country is one to eight), they got 52% of the ballots.
When Bob McAuley moved in to Boston, in 1995, the little town with a population around 50,000 was “very British.” Wherever he went, he saw familiar faces. Evenings were quiet, and any would-be troublemaker would be easily identified.
In 2004, Britain opened its borders and people from the new EU began to populate the town. The native inhabitants complained that the new residents parked in forbidden places, drank on the streets, took away student places in local schools and opened stores with unpronounceable names.
Seven years later, the town now includes 7,000 immigrants from Eastern Europe and makes headlines in the British press as “Little Poland.” Those who do not understand the origin of the nickname are advised to stroll down West Street — unofficially referred to as East Street. On their way they will pass “Baltic Goods,” a Polish bakery, a Polish restaurant, a shop with Polish beer and vodka, “Transfers to Poland” and “Polish Meat”.
Bob tolerated all of it with patience and dignity, until the day an explosion ignited in an illegal bottling plant run by Lithuanians. The tragedy took five lives and pushed him to call for the first demonstration against immigration. In 2013, he was elected to the town council as a member of the UKIP.
Nobody knows how many immigrants now live in the town. The official number is 9,000, but Mike Gilbert, a conservative member of the town council, mentions 14,000. He also quotes some additional data: “70% of antisocial behaviors registered by police is committed by immigrants.” The most common issues are drinking or urinating in public spaces and disturbing the peace.
When approached, the British inhabitants are very careful with their gripes. “When my sister wanted to register her child to school, she was told there were no places left," said one local. "I have nothing against immigrants, but why can't the government take care of the British children as well?”
The resident says that the day before, he saw three men, drunk and urinating, who appeared to be foreigners. "I have nothing against the hard working immigrants but could the others not be sent back?”
Another great source of contempt against immigrants is well illustrated by the electoral flyer of the UKIP: “There are 26 million people in Europe looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?"
British companies are not very willing to talk about immigrants. A human resources specialist from a big factory in the city of Newark says that half of the employees are Polish and she would be happy to see it at 100%. “A Pole starts his work on Monday at 7.30 a.m. and finishes on Friday at 5.30 p.m.,”, she says. “If I hire an Englishman, he will go on sick leave the next day.”
Longtime resident Bob McAuley makes clear that he doesn't fault the immigrants themselves. "If I had a wife and children to feed, I would have come here too.” The blame, instead, lies with European Union and British politicians. “They opened the borders and now there are too many applicants for every new job position posted. That only means that conditions will get worse for all workers."