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You Only Live Twice – Cool Britannia to Cold Brexit: The United Kingdom, 1999-2019. Part Two: Identity, Immigration & Islam.   Leave a comment

 

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British Identity at the Beginning of the New Millennium:

As Simon Schama pointed out in 2002, it was a fact that even though only half of the British-Caribbean population and a third of the British-Asian population were born in Britain, they continued to constitute only a small proportion of the total population. It was also true that any honest reckoning of the post-imperial account needed to take account of the appeal of separatist fundamentalism in Muslim communities. At the end of the last century, an opinion poll found that fifty per cent of British-born Caribbean men and twenty per cent of British-born Asian men had, or once had, white partners. In 2000, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown found that, when polled, eighty-eight per cent of white Britons between the ages of eighteen and thirty had no objection to inter-racial marriage; eighty-four per cent of West Indians and East Asians and fifty per cent of those from Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds felt the same way. Schama commented:

The colouring of Britain exposes the disintegrationalist argument for the pallid, defensive thing that it is. British history has not just been some sort of brutal mistake or conspiracy that has meant the steamrollering of Englishness over subject nations. It has been the shaking loose of peoples from their roots. A Jewish intellectual expressing impatience with the harping on ‘roots’ once told me that “trees have roots; Jews have legs”. The same could be said of Britons who have shared the fate of empire, whether in Bombay or Bolton, who have encountered each other in streets, front rooms, kitchens and bedrooms.

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Britain, the European Union, NATO & the Commonwealth, 2000

Until the Summer of 2001, this ‘integrationist’ view of British history and contemporary society was the broadly accepted orthodoxy among intellectuals and politicians, if not more popularly. At that point, however, partly as a result of riots in the north of England involving ethnic minorities, including young Muslim men, and partly because of events in New York and Washington, the existence of parallel communities began to be discussed more widely and the concept of ‘multiculturalism’ began to become subject to fundamental criticism on both the right and left of the political spectrum. In the ‘noughties’, the dissenters from the multicultural consensus began to be found everywhere along the continuum. In the eighties and nineties, there were critics who warned that the emphasis on mutual tolerance and equality between cultures ran the risk of encouraging separate development, rather than fostering a deeper sense of mutual understanding through interaction and integration between cultures. The ‘live and let live’ outlook which dominated ‘race relations’ quangos in the 1960s and ’70s had already begun to be replaced by a more active interculturalism, particularly in communities where that outlook had proven to be ineffective in countering the internecine conflicts of the 1980s. Good examples of this development can be found in the ‘Education for Mutual Understanding’ and ‘Inter-Cultural’ Educational projects in Northern Ireland and the North and West Midlands of England in which this author was involved and has written about elsewhere on this site.

Politicians also began to break with the multicultural consensus, and their views began to have an impact because while commentators on the right were expected to have ‘nativist’ if not ‘racist’ tendencies in the ‘Powellite’ tradition, those from the left could generally be seen as having less easily assailable motives.

Flickr - boellstiftung - Trevor Phillips.jpgTrevor Phillips (pictured left), whom I had known as the first black President of the National Union of Students in 1979 before, in 2003, he became the Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, opened up territory in discussion and debate that others had not dared to ‘trespass’ into. His realisation that the race-relations ‘industry’ was part of the problem, and that partly as a result of talking up diversity the country was ‘sleepwalking to segregation’ was an insight that others began to share.

Simon Schama also argued that Britain should not have to choose between its own multi-cultural, global identity and its place in Europe. Interestingly, he put the blame for this pressure at least partly on the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, suggesting that…

 … the increasing compulsion to make the choice that General de Gaulle imposed on us between our European and our extra-European identity seems to order an impoverishment of our culture. It is precisely the the roving, unstable, complicated, migratory character of our history that ought to be seen as a gift for Europe. It is a past, after all, that uniquely in European history combines a passion for social justice with a tenacious attachment to bloody-minded liberty, a past designed to subvert, not reinforce, the streamlined authority of global bureaucracies and corporations. Our place at the European table ought to make room for that peculiarity or we should not bother showing up for dinner. What, after all, is the alternative? To surrender that ungainly, eccentric thing, British history, with all its warts and disfigurements, to the economic beauty parlour that is Brussels will mean a loss. But properly smartened up, we will of course be fully entitled to the gold-card benefits of the inward-looking club… Nor should Britain rush towards a re-branded future that presupposes the shame-faced repudiation of the past. For our history is not the captivity of our future; it is, in fact, the condition of our maturity.  

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‘Globalisation’

Fourteen years later, this was exactly the choice facing the British people, though now it was not De Gaulle or even the Brussels ‘Eurocrats’ who were asking the question, but the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his ‘Brexiteer’ Conservatives in his cabinet and on the back benches. The people themselves had not asked to be asked, but when they answered at the 2016 Referendum, they decided, by a very narrow majority, that they preferred the vision (some would say ‘unicorn’) of a ‘global’ Britain to the ‘gold-card benefits’ available at the European table it was already sitting at. Their ‘tenacious attachment’ to ‘bloody-minded liberty’ led to them expressing their desire to detach themselves from the European Union, though it is still not clear whether they want to remain semi-detached or move to a detached property at the very end of the street which as yet has not yet been planned, let alone built. All we have is a glossy prospectus which may or may not be delivered or even deliverable.

An internet poster from the 2016 Referendum Campaign

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Looking back to 2002, the same year in which Simon Schama published his BBC series book, The Fate of Empire, the latest census for England and Wales was published. Enumerated and compiled the previous year, it showed the extent to which the countries had changed in the decade since the last census was taken. Douglas Murray, in the first chapter of his recent book, The Strange Death of Europe, first published in 2017, challenges us to imagine ourselves back in 2002 speculating about what England and Wales might look like in the 2011 Census. Imagine, he asks us, that someone in our company had projected:

“White Britons will become a minority in their own capital city by the end of this decade and the Muslim population will double in the next ten years.”

How would we have reacted in 2002? Would we have used words like ‘alarmist’, ‘scaremongering’, ‘racist’, ‘Islamophobic’? In 2002, a Times journalist made far less startling statements about likely future immigration, which were denounced by David Blunkett, then Home Secretary (using parliamentary privilege) as bordering on fascism. Yet, however much abuse they received for saying or writing it, anyone offering this analysis would have been proved absolutely right at the end of 2012, when the 2011 Census was published. It proved that only 44.9 per cent of London residents identified themselves as ‘white British’. It also revealed far more significant changes, showing that the number of people living in England and Wales who had been born ‘overseas’ had risen by nearly three million since 2001. In addition, nearly three million people in England and Wales were living in households where not one adult spoke English or Welsh as their main language.

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These were very major ethnic and linguistic changes, but there were equally striking findings of changing religious beliefs. The Census statistics showed that adherence to every faith except Christianity was on the rise. Since the previous census, the number of people identifying themselves as Christian had declined from seventy-two per cent to fifty-nine. The number of Christians in England and Wales dropped by more than four million, from thirty-seven million to thirty-three. While the Churches witnessed this collapse in their members and attendees, mass migration assisted a near doubling of worshippers of Islam. Between 2001 and 2011 the number of Muslims in England and Wales rose from 1.5 million to 2.7 million. While these were the official figures, it is possible that they are an underestimate, because many newly-arrived immigrants might not have filled in the forms at the beginning of April 2011 when the Census was taken, not yet having a registered permanent residence. The two local authorities whose populations were growing fastest in England, by twenty per cent in the previous ten years, were Tower Hamlets and Newham in London, and these were also among the areas with the largest non-response to the census, with around one in five households failing to return the forms.

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Yet the results of the census clearly revealed that mass migration was in the process of altering England completely. In twenty-three of London’s thirty-three boroughs (see map above) ‘white Britons’ were now in a minority. A spokesman for the Office of National Statistics regarded this demonstrating ‘diversity’, which it certainly did, but by no means all commentators regarded this as something positive or even neutral. When politicians of all the main parties addressed the census results they greeted them in positive terms. This had been the ‘orthodox’ political view since in 2007 the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, had spoken with pride about the fact that thirty-five per cent of the people working in London had been born in a foreign country. For years a sense of excitement and optimism about these changes in London and the wider country seemed the only appropriate tone to strike. This was bolstered by the sense that what had happened in the first decade of the twenty-first century was simply a continuation of what had worked well for Britain in the previous three decades. This soon turned out to be a politically-correct pretence, though what was new in this decade was not so much growth in immigration from Commonwealth countries and the Middle East, or from wartorn former Yugoslavia, but the impact of white European migrants from the new EU countries, under the terms of the accession treaties and the ‘freedom of movement’ regulations of the single market. As I noted in the previous article, the British government could have delayed the implementation of these provisions but chose not to.

Questions about the Quality & Quantity of Migration:

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Besides the linguistic and cultural factors already dealt with, there were important economic differences between the earlier and the more recent migrations of Eastern Europeans. After 2004, young, educated Polish, Czech and Hungarian people had moved to Britain to earn money to earn money to send home or to take home with them in order to acquire good homes, marry and have children in their rapidly developing countries. And for Britain, as the host country, the economic growth of the 2000s was fuelled by the influx of energetic and talented people who, in the process, were also denying their own country their skills for a period. But the UK government had seriously underestimated the number of these workers who wanted to come to Britain. Ministers suggested that the number arriving would be around 26,000 over the first two years. This turned out to be wildly wrong, and in 2006 a Home Office minister was forced to admit that since EU expansion in 2004, 427,000 people from Poland and seven other new EU nations had applied to work in Britain. If the self-employed were included, he added, then the number might be as high as 600,000. There were also at least an additional 36,000 spouses and children who had arrived, and 27,000 child benefit applications had been received. These were very large numbers indeed, even if most of these turned out to be temporary migrants.

It has to be remembered, of course, that inward migration was partially offset by the outflow of around sixty thousand British people each year, mainly permanent emigrants to Australia, the United States, France and Spain. By the winter of 2006-07, one policy institute reckoned that there were 5.5 million British people living permanently overseas, nearly ten per cent of Britons, or more than the population of Scotland. In addition, another half a million were living abroad for a significant part of the year. Aside from Europe, the Middle East and Asia were seeing rising ‘colonies’ of expatriate British. A worrying proportion of them were graduates; Britain was believed to be losing one in six of its graduates to emigration. Many others were retired or better-off people looking for a life in the sun, just as many of the newcomers to Britain were young, ambitious and keen to work. Government ministers tended to emphasise these benign effects of immigration, but their critics looked around and asked where all the extra people would go, where they would live, and where their children would go to school, not to mention where the extra hospital beds, road space and local services would come from, and how these would be paid for.

Members of the campaign group Citizens UK hold a ‘refugees welcome’ event outside Lunar House in Croydon. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA

A secondary issue to that of ‘numbers’ was the system for asylum seekers. In 2000, there were thirty thousand failed asylum seekers in the United Kingdom, a third of those who had applied in 1999, when only 7,645 had been removed from the country. It was decided that it was impossible to remove more, and that to try to do so would prove divisive politically and financially costly. Added to this was the extent of illegal immigration, which had caught the ‘eye’ of the British public. There were already criminal gangs of Albanians, Kosovars and Albanians, operating from outside the EU, who were undermining the legal migration streams from Central-Eastern Europe in the eyes of many. The social service bill for these ‘illegal’ migrants became a serious burden for the Department of Social Security. Towns like Slough protested to the national government about the extra cost in housing, education and other services.

In addition, there was the sheer scale of the migration and the inability of the Home Office’s immigration and nationality department to regulate what was happening, to prevent illegal migrants from entering Britain, to spot those abusing the asylum system in order to settle in Britain and the failure to apprehend and deport people. Large articulated lorries filled with migrants, who had paid over their life savings to be taken to Britain, rumbled through the Channel Tunnel and the ferry ports. A Red Cross camp at Sangatte, near the French entrance to the ‘Chunnel’ (the photo below shows the Folkestone entrance), was blamed by Britain for exacerbating the problem. By the end of 2002, an estimated 67,000 had passed through the camp to Britain. The then Home Secretary, David Blunkett finally agreed on a deal with the French to close the camp down, but by then many African, Asian and Balkan migrants, believing the British immigration and benefits systems to be easier than those of other EU countries, had simply moved across the continent and waited patiently for their chance to board a lorry to Britain.

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Successive Home Secretaries from Blunkett to Reid tried to deal with the trade, the latter confessing that his department was “not fit for purpose”. He promised to clear a backlog of 280,000 failed asylum claims, whose seekers were still in the country after five years. The historic Home Office was split up, creating a separate immigration and nationality service. Meanwhile, many illegal immigrants had succeeded in bypassing the asylum system entirely. In July 2005, the Home Office produced its own estimate of the number of these had been four years earlier. It reckoned that this was between 310,000 and 570,000, or up to one per cent of the total population. A year later, unofficial estimates pushed this number up to 800,000. The truth was that no-one really knew, but official figures showed the number applying for asylum were now falling, with the former Yugoslavia returning to relative peace.  Thousands of refugees were also being returned to Iraq, though the signs were already apparent that further wars in the Middle East and the impact of global warming on sub-Saharan Africa would soon send more disparate groups across the continents.

Britain’s Toxic Politics of Immigration:

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To begin with, the arrival of workers from the ten countries who joined the EU in 2004 was a different issue, though it involved an influx of roughly the same size. By the government’s own figures, annual net inward migration had reached 185,000 and had averaged 166,000 over the previous seven years. This was significantly more than the average net inflow of fifty thousand New Commonwealth immigrants which Enoch Powell (pictured above) had referred to as ‘literally mad’ in his 1968 Rivers of Blood speech, though he had been criticising the immigration of East African Asians, of course. But although Powell’s speech was partly about race, colour and identity, it was also about numbers of immigrants and the practical concerns of his Wolverhampton constituents in finding hospital and school places in an overstretched public sector. It seems not unreasonable, and not at all racist, to suggest that it is a duty of central government to predict and provide for the number of newcomers it permits to settle in the country. In 2006, the Projections based on many different assumptions suggested that the UK population would grow by more than seven million by 2031. Of that, eighty per cent would be due to immigration. The organisation, Migration Watch UK, set up to campaign for tighter immigration controls, said this was equivalent to requiring the building of a new town the size of Cambridge each year, or five new cities the size of Birmingham over the predicted quarter century.

But such characterisations were surely caricatures of the situation since many of these new Eastern European migrants did not intend to settle permanently in the UK and could be expected to return to their countries of origin in due course. However, the massive underestimations of the scale of the inward migration were, of course, predictable to anybody with any knowledge of the history of post-war migration, replete with vast underestimates of the numbers expected. But it did also demonstrate that immigration control was simply not a priority for New Labour, especially in its early manifestations. It gave the impression that it regarded all immigration control, and even discussion of it, as inherently ‘racist’ (even the restriction of white European migration), which made any internal or external opposition hard to voice. The public response to the massive upsurge in immigration and to the swift transformation of parts of Britain it had not really reached before, was exceptionally tolerant. There were no significant or sustained outbreaks of racist abuse or violence before 2016, and the only racist political party, the British National Party (BNP) was subsequently destroyed, especially in London.

Official portrait of Dame Margaret Hodge crop 2.jpgIn April 2006, Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking since 1996 (pictured right), commented in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph that eight out of ten white working-class voters in her constituency might be tempted to vote for the British National Party (BNP) in the local elections on 4 May 2006 because “no one else is listening to them” about their concerns over unemployment, high house prices and the housing of asylum seekers in the area. She said the Labour Party must promote…

“… very, very strongly the benefits of the new, rich multi-racial society which is part of this part of London for me”.

There was widespread media coverage of her remarks, and Hodge was strongly criticised for giving the BNP publicity. The BNP went on to gain 11 seats in the local election out of a total of 51, making them the second largest party on the local council. It was reported that Labour activists accused Hodge of generating hundreds of extra votes for the BNP and that local members began to privately discuss the possibility of a move to deselect her. The GMB wrote to Hodge in May 2006, demanding her resignation. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, later accused Hodge of “magnifying the propaganda of the BNP” after she said that British residents should get priority in council house allocations. In November 2009, the Leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, announced that he intended to contest Barking at the 2010 general election. In spite of the unions’ position, Hodge was returned as Member for Barking in 2010, doubling her majority to over 16,000, whilst Griffin came third behind the Conservatives. The BNP lost all of its seats on Barking and Dagenham Council. Following the same general election in 2010, which saw New Labour defeated under Gordon Brown’s leadership.

Opinion polls and the simple, anecdotal evidence of living in the country showed that most people continued to feel zero personal animosity towards immigrants or people of different ethnic backgrounds. But poll after poll did show that a majority were deeply worried about what ‘all this’ migration meant for the country and its future. But even the mildest attempts to put these issues on the political agenda, such as the concerns raised by Margaret Hodge (and the 2005 Conservative election campaign poster suggesting ‘limits’ on immigration) were often met with condemnation by the ruling political class, with the result that there was still no serious public discussion of them. Perhaps successive governments of all hues had spent decades putting off any real debate on immigration because they suspected that the public disagreed with them and that it was a matter they had lost control over anyway.

Perhaps it was because of this lack of control that the principal reaction to the developing reality began to be to turn on those who expressed any concern about it, even when they reflected the views of the general public. This was done through charges of ‘racism’ and ‘bigotry’, such as the accidental ‘caught-on-mike’ remark made by Gordon Brown while getting into his car in the 2010 election campaign, when confronted by one of his own Labour councillors in a northern English town about the sheer numbers of migrants. It is said to have represented a major turning point in the campaign. A series of deflecting tactics became a replacement for action in the wake of the 2011 census, including the demand that the public should ‘just get over it’, which came back to haunt David Cameron’s ministers in the wake of the 2016 Referendum. In his Daily Telegraph column of December 2012, titled Let’s not dwell on immigration but sow the seeds of integration, Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, responded to the census results by writing…

We need to stop moaning about the dam-burst. It’s happened. There is nothing we can now do except make the process of absorption as eupeptic as possible … 

The Mayor, who as an MP and member of David Cameron’s front-bench team later became a key leader of the ‘Leave’ campaign and an ardent Brexiteer, may well have been right in making this statement, saying what any practical politician in charge of a multi-cultural metropolis would have to say. But there is something cold about the tone of his remark, not least the absence of any sense that there were other people out there in the capital city not willing simply to ‘get over it’, who disliked the alteration of their society and never asked for it. It did not seem to have occurred to Johnson that there were those who might be nursing a sense of righteous indignation that about the fact that for years all the main parties had taken decisions that were so at variance with the opinions of their electors, or that there was something profoundly disenfranchising about such decisions, especially when addressed to a majority of the voting public.

In the same month as Johnson’s admonition, a poll by YouGov found two-thirds of the British public believed that immigration over the previous decade had been ‘a bad thing for Britain’. Only eleven per cent thought it had been ‘a good thing’. This included majorities among voters for every one of the three main parties. Poll after poll conducted over the next five years showed the same result. As well as routinely prioritising immigration as their top concern, a majority of voters in Britain regularly described immigration as having a negative impact on their public services and housing through overcrowding, as well as harming the nation’s identity. By 2012 the leaders of every one of the major parties in Britain had conceded that immigration was too high, but even whilst doing so all had also insisted that the public should ‘get over it’. None had any clear or successful policy on how to change course. Public opinion surveys suggest that a failure to do anything about immigration even while talking about it is one of the key areas of the breakdown in trust between the electorate and their political representatives.

At the same time, the coalition government of 2010-15 was fearful of the attribution of base motives if it got ‘tough on immigrants’. The Conservative leadership was trying to reposition itself as more socially ‘liberal’ under David Cameron. Nevertheless, at the election, they had promised to cut immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands per year, but they never succeeded in getting near that target. To show that she meant ‘business’, however, in 2013, Theresa May’s Home Office organised a number of vans with advertising hoardings to drive around six London boroughs where many illegal immigrants and asylum seekers lived. The posters on the hoardings read, In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest, followed by a government helpline number. The posters became politically toxic immediately. The Labour Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, described them as “divisive and disgraceful” and the campaign group Liberty branded them “racist and illegal”.

After some months it was revealed that the pilot scheme had successfully persuaded only eleven illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily. Theresa May admitted that the scheme had been a mistake and too “blunt”. Indeed, it was a ‘stunt’ designed to reassure the ‘native’ population that their government was getting tough, and it was not repeated, but the overall ‘hostile environment’ policy it was part of continued into the next majority Conservative government, leading to the illegal deportation of hundreds of ‘Windrush generation’ migrants from the Caribbean who had settled in Britain before 1968 and therefore lacked passports and papers identifying them as British subjects. The Tories repeated their promise on immigration more recently, in both David Cameron’s majority government of 2015 and Theresa May’s minority one of 2017, but are still failing to get levels down to tens of thousands. In fact, under Cameron, net immigration reached a record level of 330,000 per year, numbers which would fill a city the size of Coventry.

The movement of people, even before the European migration crisis of 2015, was of an entirely different quantity, quality and consistency from anything that the British Isles had experienced before, even in the postwar period. Yet the ‘nation of immigrants’ myth continued to be used to cover over the vast changes in recent years to pretend that history can be used to provide precedents for what has happened since the turn of the millennium. The 2011 Census could have provided an opportunity to address the recent transformation of British society but like other opportunities in the second half of the twentieth century to discuss immigration, it was missed. If the fact that ‘white Britons’ now comprised a minority of the London population was seen as a demonstration of ‘diversity’ then the census had shown that some London boroughs were already lacking in ‘diversity’, not because there weren’t enough people of immigrant origin but because there weren’t enough ‘white Britons’ still around to make those boroughs diverse.

Brexit – The Death of Diversity:

Since the 2011 Census, net migration into Britain has continued to be far in excess of three hundred thousand per year. The rising population of the United Kingdom is now almost entirely due to inward migration, and to higher birthrates among the predominantly young migrant population. In 2014 women who were born overseas accounted for twenty-seven per cent of all live births in England and Wales, and a third of all newborn babies had at least one overseas-born parent, a figure that had doubled since the 1990s. However, since the 2016 Brexit vote, statistics have shown that many recent migrants to Britain from the EU have been returning to their home countries so that it is difficult to know, as yet, how many of these children will grow up in Britain, or for how long. On the basis of current population trends, and without any further rise in net inward migration, the most modest estimate by the ONS of the future British population is that it will rise from its current level of sixty-five million to seventy million within a decade, seventy-seven million by 2050 and to more than eighty million by 2060. But if the post-2011 levels were to continue, the UK population would go above eighty million as early as 2040 and to ninety million by 2060. In this context, Douglas Murray asks the following rhetoric questions of the leaders of the mainstream political parties:

All these years on, despite the name-calling and the insults and the ignoring of their concerns, were your derided average white voters not correct when they said that they were losing their country? Irrespective of whether you think that they should have thought this, let alone whether they should have said this, said it differently or accepted the change more readily, it should at some stage cause people to pause and reflect that the voices almost everybody wanted to demonise and dismiss were in the final analysis the voices whose predictions were nearest to being right.

An Ipsos poll published in July 2016 surveyed public attitudes towards immigration across Europe. It revealed just how few people thought that immigration has had a beneficial impact on their societies. To the question, Would you say that immigration has generally had a positive or negative impact on your country? very low percentages of people in each country thought that it had had a positive effect. Britain had a comparatively positive attitude, with thirty-six per cent of people saying that they thought it had had a very or fairly positive impact. Meanwhile, on twenty-four per cent of Swedes felt the same way and just eighteen per cent of Germans. In Italy, France and Belgium only ten to eleven per cent of the population thought that it had made even a fairly positive impact on their countries. Despite the Referendum result, the British result may well have been higher because Britain had not experienced the same level of immigration from outside the EU as had happened in the inter-continental migration crisis of the previous summer.

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Indeed, the issue of immigration as it affected the 2016 Referendum in Britain was largely about the numbers of Eastern European migrants arriving in the country, rather than about illegal immigrants from outside the EU, or asylum seekers. Inevitably, all three issues became confused in the public mind, something that UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) used to good effect in its campaigning posters. The original version of the poster above, featuring UKIP leader Nigel Farage, caused considerable controversy by using pictures from the 2015 Crisis in Central-Eastern Europe to suggest that Europe was at ‘Breaking Point’ and that once in the EU, refugees and migrants would be able to enter Britain and settle there. This was untrue, as the UK is not in the ‘Schengen’ area. Campaigners against ‘Brexit’ pointed out the facts of the situation in the adapted internet poster. In addition, during the campaign, Eastern European leaders, including the Poles and the Hungarians, complained about the misrepresentation of their citizens as ‘immigrants’ like many of those who had recently crossed the EU’s Balkan borders in order to get to Germany or Sweden. As far as they were concerned, they were temporary internal migrants within the EU’s arrangements for ‘freedom of movement’ between member states. Naturally, because this was largely a one-way movement in numeric terms, this distinction was lost on many voters, however, as ‘immigration’ became the dominant factor in their backing of Brexit by a margin of 52% to 48%.

In Britain, the issue of Calais remained the foremost one in discussion in the autumn of 2016. The British government announced that it was going to have to build a further security wall near to the large migrant camp there. The one-kilometre wall was designed to further protect the entry point to Britain, and specifically to prevent migrants from trying to climb onto passing lorries on their way to the UK. Given that there were fewer than 6,500 people in the camp most of the time, a solution to Calais always seemed straightforward. All that was needed, argued activists and politicians, was a one-time generous offer and the camp could be cleared. But the reality was that once the camp was cleared it would simply be filled again. For 6,500 was an average day’s migration to Italy alone.

Blue: Schengen Area Green: Countries with open borders Ochre: Legally obliged to join

In the meantime, while the British and French governments argued over who was responsible for the situation at Calais, both day and night migrants threw missiles at cars, trucks and lorries heading to Britain in the hope that the vehicles would stop and they could climb aboard as stowaways for the journey across the Channel. The migrants who ended up in Calais had already broken all the EU’s rules on asylum in order to get there. They had not applied for asylum in their first country of entry, Greece, nor even in Hungary. Instead, they had pushed on through the national borders of the ‘Schengen’ free passage area (see map above right) until they reached the north of France. If they were cold, poor or just worse off, they were seen as having the right to come into a Europe which could no longer be bothered to turn anyone away.

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Migrants/ Asylum Seekers arriving on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos.

The Disintegration of Multiculturalism, ‘Parallel Development’ & the Populist Reaction in Britain:

After the 9/11 attacks on the USA, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the 7/7 London bombings, there was no bigger cultural challenge to the British sense of proportion and fairness than the threat of ‘militant Islam’. There were plenty of angry young Muslim men prepared to listen to fanatical ‘imams’ and to act on their narrow-minded and bloodthirsty interpretations of ‘Jihad’. Their views, at odds with those of the well-established South Asian Muslim communities referred to above, were those of the ultra-conservative ‘Wahhabi’ Arabs and Iranian mullahs who insisted, for example, on women being fully veiled. But some English politicians, like Norman Tebbit, felt justified in asking whether Muslim communities throughout Britain really wanted to fully integrate. Would they, in Tebbit’s notorious ‘test’, support the English Cricket team when it played against Pakistan?

Britain did not have as high a proportion of Muslims as France, and not many, outside London and parts of the South East, of Arab and North African origin. But the large urban centres of the Home Counties, the English Midlands and the North of England had third generation Muslim communities of hundreds of thousands. They felt like they were being watched in a new way and were perhaps right to feel more than a little uneasy. In the old industrial towns on either side of the Pennines and in areas of West London there were such strong concentrations of Muslims that the word ‘ghetto’ was being used by ministers and civil servants, not just, as in the seventies and eighties, by rightwing organisations and politicians. White working-class people had long been moving, quietly, to more semi-rural commuter towns in the Home Counties and on the South Coast.

But those involved in this ‘white flight’, as it became known, were a minority if polling was an accurate guide. Only a quarter of Britons said that they would prefer to live in white-only areas. Yet even this measure of ‘multiculturalism’, defined as ‘live and let live’, was being questioned. How much should the new Britons ‘integrate’ or ‘assimilate’, and how much was the retention of traditions a matter of their rights to a distinctive cultural identity? After all, Britain had a long heritage of allowing newcomers to integrate on their own terms, retaining and contributing elements of their own culture. Speaking in December 2006, Blair cited forced marriages, the importation of ‘sharia’ law and the ban on women entering certain mosques as being on the wrong side of this line. In the same speech he used new, harder language. He claimed that, after the London bombings, …

“… for the first time in a generation there is an unease, an anxiety, even at points a resentment that outr very openness, our willingness to welcome difference, our pride in being home to many cultures, is being used against us … Our tolerance is what makes is part of what makes Britain, Britain. So conform to it; or don’t come here. We don’t want the hate-mongers … If you come here lawfully, we welcome you. If you are permitted to stay here permanently, you become an equal member of our community and become one of us.”

His speech was not just about security and the struggle against terrorism. He was defining the duty to integrate. Britain’s strong economic growth over the previous two decades, despite its weaker manufacturing base, was partly the product of its long tradition of hospitality. The question now was whether the country was becoming so overcrowded that this tradition of tolerance was finally eroding. England, in particular, had the highest population density of any major country in the Western world. It would require wisdom and frankness from politicians together with watchfulness and efficiency from Whitehall to keep the ship on an even keel. Without these qualities and trust from the people, how can we hope for meaningful reconciliation between Muslim, Christian, Jew and Humanist?; between newcomers, sojourners, old-timers and exiles?; between white Europeans, black Africans, South Asians and West Indians?

Map showing the location of Rotherham in South Yorkshire

In January 2011, a gang of nine Muslim men, seven of Pakistani heritage and two from North Africa, were convicted and sentenced at the Old Bailey in London for the sex trafficking of children between the ages of eleven and fifteen. One of the victims sold into a form of modern-day slavery was a girl of eleven who was branded with the initial of her ‘owner’ and abuser: ‘M’ for Mohammed. The court heard that he had branded her to make her his property and to ensure others knew about it. This did not happen in a Saudi or Pakistani backwater, nor even in one of the northern English towns that so much of the country had forgotten about until similar crimes involving Pakistani heritage men were brought to light. This happened in Oxfordshire between 2004 and 2012. Nobody could argue that gang rape and child abuse are the preserve of immigrants, but these court cases and the official investigations into particular types of child-rape gangs, especially in the case of Rotherham, have identified specific cultural attitudes towards women, especially non-Muslim women, that are similar to those held by men in parts of Pakistan. These have sometimes been extended into intolerant attitudes toward other religions, ethnic groups and sexual minorities. They are cultural attitudes which are anathema to the teachings of the Qu’ran and mainstream Imams, but fears of being accused of ‘racism’ for pointing out such factual connections had been at least partly responsible for these cases taking years to come to light.

British Muslims and members of the British-Pakistani community condemned both the abuse and that it had been covered up. Nazir Afzal (pictured right), Chief Crown Prosecutor of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for North West England from 2011–2015, himself a Muslim, made the decision in 2011 to prosecute the Rochdale child sex abuse ring after the CPS had turned the case down. Responding to the Jay report, he argued that the abuse had no basis in Islam:

“Islam says that alcohol, drugs, rape and abuse are all forbidden, yet these men were surrounded by all of these things. … It is not the abusers’ race that defines them. It is their attitude toward women that defines them.” 

Below left: The front page of The Times, 24 September 2012.

Even then, however, in the Oxfordshire case, the gangs were described as ‘Asian’ by the media, rather than as men of Pakistani and Arabic origin. In addition, the fact that their victims were chosen because they were not Muslim was rarely mentioned in court or dwelt upon by the press. But despite sections of the media beginning focus on Pakistani men preying on young white girls, a 2013 report by the UK Muslim Women’s Network found that British Asian girls were also being abused across the country in situations that mirrored the abuse in Rotherham. The unfunded small-scale report found 35 cases of young Muslim girls of Pakistani-heritage being raped and passed around for sex by multiple men. In the report, one local Pakistani women’s group described how Pakistani-heritage girls were targeted by taxi drivers and on occasion by older men lying in wait outside school gates at dinner times and after school. They also cited cases in Rotherham where Pakistani landlords had befriended Pakistani women and girls on their own for purposes of sex, then passed on their name to other men who had then contacted them for sex. The Jay Report, published in 2014, acknowledged that the 2013 report of abuse of Asian girls was ‘virtually identical’ to the abuse that occurred in Rotherham, and also acknowledged that British Asian girls were unlikely to report their abuse due to the repercussions on their family. Asian girls were ‘too afraid to go to the law’ and were being blackmailed into having sex with different men while others were forced at knife-point to perform sexual acts on men. Support workers described how one teenage girl had been gang-raped at a party:

“When she got there, there was no party, there were no other female members present. What she found was that there were five adults, their ages ranging between their mid-twenties going on to the late-forties and the five men systematically, routinely, raped her. And the young man who was supposed to be her boyfriend stood back and watched”.

Groups would photograph the abuse and threaten to publish it to their fathers, brothers, and in the mosques, if their victims went to the police.

In June 2013, the polling company ComRes carried out a poll for BBC Radio 1 asking a thousand young British people about their attitudes towards the world’s major religions. The results were released three months later and showed that of those polled, twenty-seven per cent said that they did not trust Muslims (compared with 15% saying the same of Jews, 13% of Buddhists, and 12% of Christians). More significantly, perhaps, forty-four per cent said that they thought Muslims did not share the same views or values as the rest of the population. The BBC and other media in Britain then set to work to try to discover how Britain could address the fact that so many young people thought this way. Part of the answer may have had something to do with the timing of the poll, the fieldwork being carried out between 7-17 June. It had only been a few weeks before this that Drummer Lee Rigby, a young soldier on leave from Afghanistan, had been hit by a car in broad daylight outside an army barracks in South London, dragged into the middle of the road and hacked to death with machetes. The two murderers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, were Muslims of African origin who were carrying letters claiming justification for killing “Allah’s enemies”. It’s therefore reasonable to suppose that, rather than making assumptions about a religious minority without any evidence, those who were asked their opinions connected Muslims with a difference in basic values because they had been very recently associated with an act of extreme violence on the streets of London.

Unfortunately, attempts to provide a more balanced view and to separate these acts of terrorism from Islam have been dwarfed by the growing public perception of a problem which will not simply go away through the repetition of ‘mantras’. The internet has provided multiple and diverse sources of information, but the simple passage of the various events related above, and the many others available examples, have meant that the public have been able to make their own judgements about Islam, and they are certainly not as favourable as they were at the start of the current century. By 2015, one poll showed that only thirty per cent of the general public in Britain think that the values of Islam are ‘compatible’ with the values of British society. The passage of terrorist events on the streets of Europe continued through 2016 and 2017. On 22 March 2017, a 52-year-old British born convert to Islam, Khalid Masood, ploughed his car across Westminster Bridge, killing two tourists, one American and the other Romanian, and two British nationals. Dozens more were injured as they scattered, some falling into the River Thames below. Crashing into the railings at the side of Parliament, Masood then ran out of the hired vehicle and through the gates of the palace, where he stabbed the duty policeman, PC Keith Palmer, who died a few minutes later. Masood was then shot dead by armed police, his last phone messages revealing that he believed he was “waging jihad.” Two weeks later, at an inter-faith ‘Service of Hope’ at Westminster Abbey, its Dean, the Very Reverend John Hall, spoke for a nation he described as ‘bewildered’:

What could possibly motivate a man to hire a car and take it from Birmingham to Brighton to London, and then drive it fast at people he had never met, couldn’t possibly know, against whom he had no personal grudge, no reason to hate them and then run at the gates of the Palace of Westminster to cause another death? It seems that we shall never know.

Then on 22 May thousands of young women and girls were leaving a concert by the US pop singer Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena. Waiting for them as they streamed out was Salman Abedi, a twenty-two-year-old British-born man, whose Libyan parents had arrived in the UK in the early nineties after fleeing from the Gadaffi régime. In the underground foyer, Abedi detonated a bomb he was carrying which was packed with nuts, bolts and other shrapnel. Twenty-two people, children and parents who had arrived to pick them up, were killed instantly. Hundreds more were injured, many of them suffering life-changing wounds. Then, in what began to seem like a remorseless series of events, on 3 June three men drove a van into pedestrians crossing London Bridge. They leapt out of it and began slashing at the throats of pedestrians, appearing to be targeting women in particular. They then ran through Borough Market area shouting “this is for Allah”. Eight people were murdered and many more seriously injured before armed police shot the three men dead. Two of the three, all of whom were aged twenty to thirty, were born in Morocco. The oldest of them, Rachid Redouane, had entered Britain using a false name, claiming to be a Libyan and was actually five years older than he had pretended. He had been refused asylum and absconded. Khurram Butt had been born in Pakistan and had arrived in the UK as a ‘child refugee’ in 1998, his family having moved to the UK to claim asylum from ‘political oppression’, although Pakistan was not on the UNHCR list.

On the evening of 19 June, at end of the Muslim sabbath, in what appeared to be a ‘reprisal’, a forty-seven-year-old father or four from Cardiff drove a van into crowds of worshippers outside Finsbury Park mosque who were crossing the road to go to the nearby Muslim Welfare House. One man, who had collapsed on the road and was being given emergency aid, was run over and died at the scene. Almost a dozen more were injured. Up to this point, all the Islamist terror attacks, from 7/7/2005 onwards, had been planned and carried out by ‘home-grown’ terrorists. Even the asylum seekers involved in the June attack in London had been in the country since well before the 2015 migration crisis. But in mid-September, an eighteen-year-old Iraqi who arrived in the UK illegally in 2015, and had been living with British foster parents ever since, left a crudely-manufactured bomb on the London Underground District line during the rush hour when the carriages were also crowded with schoolchildren. The detonator exploded but failed to ignite the home-made device itself, leading to flash burns to the dozens of people in the carriage. A more serious blast would have led to those dozens being taken away in body bags, and many more injured in the stampede which would have followed at the station exit with its steep steps. As it was, the passengers remained calm during their evacuation, but the subsequent emphasis on the ubiquitous Blitz slogan ‘Keep Calm and Carry On!’

Conclusion: Brexit at its ‘Best’.

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Of course, it would have been difficult to predict and prevent these attacks, either by erecting physical barriers or by identifying individuals who might be at risk from ‘radicalisation’, much of which takes place online. Most of the attackers had been born and radicalised in the UK, so no reinforcements at the borders, either in Calais or Kent would have kept them from enacting their atrocities. But the need for secure borders is not simple a symbolic or psychological reinforcement for the British people if it is combined with a workable and efficient asylum policy. We are repeatedly told that one of the two main reasons for the 2016 referendum decision for Britain to leave the EU was in order to take back control of its borders and immigration policy, though it was never demonstrated how exactly it had lost control of these, or at least how its EU membership had made it lose control over them.

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There are already signs that, as much due to the fall in the value of the pound since Brexit as to Brexit itself, many Eastern European migrants are returning to their home countries, but the vast majority of them had already declared that they did not intend to settle permanently in the UK. The fact that so many came from 2004 onwards was entirely down to the decision of the British government not to delay or derogate the operation of the accession treaties. But the reality remains that, even if they were to be replaced by other European ‘immigrants’ in future, the UK would still need to control, as ever, the immigration of people from outside the EU, including asylum seekers, and that returning failed or bogus applicants would become more difficult. So, too, would the sharing of intelligence information about the potential threats of terrorists attempting to enter Britain as bogus refugees. Other than these considerations, the home-grown threat from Islamist terrorists is likely to be unaffected by Brexit one way or another, and can only be dealt with by anti-radicalisation strategies, especially through education and more active inter-cultural community relations aimed at full integration, not ‘parallel’ development.

‘Populism’

Since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the election of Donald Trump, it seems that journalists just cannot get enough of Populism. In 1998, the Guardian published about three hundred articles that contained the term. In 2015, it was used in about a thousand articles, and one year later this number had doubled to almost two thousand. Populist parties across Europe have tripled their vote in Europe over the past twenty years and more than a quarter of Europeans voted populist in their last elections. So, in deciding to leave the EU, the British are, ironically, becoming more like their continental cousins in supporting populist causes and parties. In a recent article in The Guardian Weekly, (30 November 2018), Fintan O’Toole, a columnist for The Irish Times, points out that for many pro-Brexit journalists and politicians Brexit takes the form of a populist ‘Britain alone’ crusade (see the picture and text below) which has been endemic in Britain’s political discourse about Europe since it joined ‘the common market’ in 1973:

Europe’s role in this weird psychodrama is entirely pre-scripted. It doesn’t greatly matter what the European Union is or what it is doing – its function in the plot is to be a more insiduous form of nazism. This is important to grasp, because one of the key arguments in mainstream pro-Brexit political and journalistic discourse would be that Britain had to leave because the Europe it had joined was not the Europe it found itself part of in 2016…

… The idea of Europe as a soft-Nazi superstate was vividly present in 1975, even when the still-emerging EU had a much weaker, less evolved and less intrusive form…

Yet what brings these disparate modes together is the lure of self-pity, the weird need to dream England into a state of awful oppression… Hostility to the EU thus opens the way to a bizarre logic in which a Nazi invasion would have been, relatively speaking, welcome…

It was a masochistic rhetoric that would return in full force as the Brexit negotiations failed to produce the promised miracles.

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Certainly, the rejection of Mrs May’s deal in the House of Commons by large numbers of ‘Brexiteer’ MPs from her own Conservative Party was largely, by their own admission, because they felt they could not trust the assurances given by the Presidents of the Council and Commission of the European Union who were, some MPs stated, trying to trick them into accepting provisions which would tie the UK indefinitely to EU regulations. It is undoubtedly true that the British people mostly don’t want to spend any more time arguing about Brexit. But when ‘leavers’ and ‘remainers’ are united only in disliking Mrs May’s solution, that offers no way forward. The Brexiteers can only offer a “managed no deal” as an alternative, which means just strapping on seat belts as your car heads for the cliff edge. Brexit has turned out to be an economic and political disaster already, fuelling, not healing the divisions in British society which have opened up over the last twenty years, and have widened into a chasm in the last six years since the triumph of the London Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. The extent of this folly has grown clearer with each turn of the page. But the ending is not fully written.

Sources (for both parts):

The Guardian Weekly,  30 November 2018. London.

Douglas Murray (2018), The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. London: Bloomsbury.

Simon Schama (2002), A History of Britain III: 1776-2000, The Fate of Empire. London: BBC Worldwide.

Andrew Marr (2009), A History of Modern Britain. London: Pan Macmillan.

John Morrill (ed.), (2001), The Penguin Atlas of British and Irish History. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

 

Posted January 16, 2019 by TeamBritanniaHu in Affluence, Africa, Arabs, Assimilation, asylum seekers, Australia, Balkan Crises, BBC, Brexit, Britain, British history, Britons, Brussels, Caribbean, Cartoons, Christian Faith, Christianity, Church, Colonisation, Commonwealth, Compromise, decolonisation, democracy, Demography, devolution, Discourse Analysis, Education, Empire, English Language, Europe, European Economic Community, European Union, Factories, Germany, History, Home Counties, Humanitarianism, Hungary, Immigration, India, Integration, Iraq, Ireland, Jews, Journalism, Labour Party, liberalism, Midlands, Migration, multiculturalism, multilingualism, Mythology, New Labour, Population, populism, Reconciliation, Refugees, Respectability, Satire, Second World War, terror, terrorism, United Kingdom, United Nations, West Midlands, World War Two, xenophobia

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A Hungarian Traveller in Jacobean England: Márton Csombor of Szepes   Leave a comment

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Márton Csombor’s Europica Varietas was first published in Hungarian in 1620, but has only recently been translated into English, in 2014, by Bernard Adams, who has also written an introduction. Wendy Bracewell has written a preface. Csombor’s  book, republished in English by Corvina Books, was first printed in Kassa (Kosice, pictured above) as the first travel account published in Hungarian, but is part of the growing genre of European travel writing of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He shows us Europe as seen through Hungarian eyes, but it is more than a simple travelogue of place-names and sights. His preface laments the paucity in Hungary of books about the laws, customs, dress and doings of  foreign countries, so that he fills in these details for each successive country visited. Only then does he recount the personal incidents of his journeys and sojourns in each country. He therefore follows a method, one which follows the advice of many contemporary manuals advising travellers how best to systematize the various things seen and heard on their journeys. His Protestantism led him to venerate the beauty of Canterbury, though his visit there was accidental (he confused Cantuaria/ Canterbury with Cantabrigia/ Cambridge and so substituted a visit to the cathedral for a visit to the famous university), and though it lacked any gold or silver decoration.

Born in 1595 in the small town of Szepes, now in southern Slovakia, Csombor was born to a bourgeois tradesman or craftsman about whom we know little. He went to school in Késmark in 1607, having very likely been sent there to learn German. Between 1609 and 1611 he returned to live in Szepes, from where he went on the series of journeys that marked his short life (he died of the plague in 1622, aged only 27). On his first trip, he was accompanied to Transylvania by his tutor, Márton Sámsondi. He then went to school in Nagybánya, where he studied Poetics, Logic, Greek and Theology until 1613. On leaving, he took a trip to Máramaros in Transylvania and on his return to Szepes began to plan other journeys to foreign countries. These were delayed, however, while he completed his secondary studies, and in 1615 he took a post as a schoolmaster in Tekibánya in order to earn a few forints for his travelling plans. In 1616 he set off to study at a gimnázium in Gdansk, Poland (Prussia at that time). He spent over a month walking the seven hundred miles to Gdansk, hitching lifts in carts, thus establishing a trend which he would use in later travels. He arrived there in June 1616 and stayed until 1618, concluding his studies in Philosophy and Theology. From there he set off on his tour of Europe, arriving back in early August 1618, then taking up the post of schoolmaster back in Kassa in February 1619, just as the Thirty Years War was beginning and the anti-Habsburg policies of Gábor Bethlen were beginning to be felt throughout the region. The Bohemian and Moravian estates had rebelled against the Austrians, and Bethlen joined them in the autumn of 1619. Elected Prince of Hungary on 21 September by the Parliament meeting at Kassa, Bethlen fought a successful campaign in Upper and Western Hungary. It was during this time that Csombor wrote his account of his travels of 1618, which he published in 1620. The freshness and immediacy of his writing, in Hungarian, contributed much more to the popularity of the book than the previous material derived from his predecessors could have done

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Above: Gábor Bethlen

His book forms an intriguing mixture of travel diary, personal reaction and reminiscence as he passes in swift succession, due to a rapidly shrinking purse, through a series of European towns and countrysides, meeting a wide variety of people and viewing much of lasting interest. It is not autobiographical in purpose; his clear object is to inform and entertain his reader with an account of cherished experiences. Due to that degree of objectivity, it is certainly of great use to historians. From Gdansk, he went by sea to Denmark, then to Holland and Zealand, and from there to England via the Thames, into London. The people of England, he commented early on in his chapter on ‘Anglia’, guard their lineage jealously, and when one speaks with them they trace their descent, be it never so humble, back to a noble or royal generation. The second topic of conversation, predictably to a modern reader, was the weather, and here he also drew a predictable response:

Those that live there say that England is much better and more moderate of climate than Gaul; there is neither such great cold nor such great heat there. It has wheat, rye and barley aplenty, only the ploughlands are all enclosed, from which it appears that it is costly because the people are many that require it, and there is other fruit too in abundance. It has livestock of many kinds, but chiefly many sheep, from the wool of which all kinds of fine cloths are made… they have a plentiful fleece which differs little from white silk. It is said that their sheep have such fine wool because they graze on the herb known as rosemary, which by nature has a sweet and moderate temperament, which matter I believe because on the meat of the sheep, when it has been butchered, a pleasing and delightful scent is to be detected.

He found all kinds of metal being mined and manufactured. Only the King’s coinage was accepted in trade, never any foreign currency, though silver and gold was taken in exchange, only by weight. English coinage was pure silver and gold, and could not be taken out of the country, but was exchanged at the ports into the money of the intended country of destination. Chalk, white marble and alabaster were to be found nowhere as fine as in England. In addition, jet-stone was used for eternally burning candles, which could only be extinguished with oil. There was also a legend that the powder from the stone could be mixed with wine to provide testimony of a maiden’s virginity. If they were virgins, it did not disagree with them, but if they were not, it made them vomit immediately.

There were no wolves in England at this time, though there may have been some in Hibernia (Ireland). Csombor had read in the Annales Civitatum Angliae that one reason given for this was that…

… as in this country the greatest profit comes from the keeping of sheep, in time gone by, since the citizens suffered great loss by wolves, a certain decree went forth from the common government that should a town, as an act of grace and mercy, reprieve a man sentenced to death for his crimes, he would be obliged to produce to the town council within a twelvemonth twelve wolves’ heads for his liberty, which being a frequent happening all the breed of wolves has disappeared from among them, and as (Britain) is on all sides surrounded by the sea there is no way that they can arise.

The date of the extermination of the wolf in England is thought to be around 1500; in Scotland and Wales perhaps as late as the eighteenth century, when the last Welsh wolf was killed, according to tradition, at Bleddfa in Powys. The story of the twelve wolves’ heads as the price of a reprieve connects with the legends of Robin Hood, who was said to have been made a Wolfshead (‘outlaw’) for killing a Norman knight, possibly his step-father, in a fight, hence his exile to the forest. The wolf was also a totemic symbol for the Anglo-Saxons. A fellow-traveller in Delft summed this up in a rhyme referring also to the growth of separatist puritans in England, wolves in England are nowhere to be found, but wolf-like heretics now there abound!  The longest day was said to be nineteen hours, but in summer the nights were so bright that craftsmen could work almost as well as by daylight, since the sun did not sink entirely below the horizon. 

The language was, he wrote, a mixture of the languages of Hibernia, Gallia and Germany. Their pronunciation, to his Hungarian ears, was very bad, since they pronounced every ‘u’ as ‘ü’ (in other words, without phonetics). Since he knew no English before he arrived on the island, his observations are those of an elementary learner, perhaps trying to match up written with spoken forms. Neither did he get as far north as Northumberland and Durham, let alone Scotland or Ireland, so would not have heard other dialects of English or Scots.

Observing the speakers of these odd combinations of vowels and consonants, he found them a handsome people of moderate physique. He thought the women folk were especially beautiful, clear and pale of complexion, tall, kind to foreigners, whom they greet with a kiss, both in the street and indoors, and a curtsy. It was evident, he wrote, that they were Anglae angelae, having so angelic an appearance. The male dress was similar to that of the Gauls, but they also wore wide-brimmed black hats. The women had many kinds of dress,  some wearing  high-crowned hats, plaiting their hair above their ears on both sides some wearing just kerchiefs. They widened their skirts with hoops and all agreed in having passed fourteen but not forty. He also commented on how they displayed their breasts very finely if they consider that they can stand forth in white and shapely form, into the cleavage whereof they hang a costly cross or ‘Agnus Dei’, as they call it. Both men and women rode horses, and the ‘girls’ were so good at racing that they could often out-race their husbands in the fields.

In terms of religion, true English people were of the Helvetian denomination, but bishops, organs, white robes in church and other such paraphernalia were preserved. The two great archdiocese, then as now, were Canterbury and York. In addition, there were 19 bishoprics and 50 chief towns. There were just the two universities, Cambridge and Oxford. In London, he was amazed above all at the people’s ignorance of Latin. In his autobiography, Miklós Bethlen also complained of this during his 1664 visit, though in his case with special reference to the professors at Oxford, whom one might have expected, even at that time, to have had a better command of what was still, for Hungarians, along with German, the international language of letters. Csombor was being rather too optimistic, nearly a decade after the mass printing of the King James Bible in English, to expect the craftsmen, shopkeepers and artisans of London to know anything of a language which people of their sort had largely abandoned at least a century before:

… I went along three whole streets among merchants, furriers, tailors etc. and nowhere found a single person that could speak to me in Latin, but after a long time I came upon an Italian on whom I expended the little Italian that I know, and who directed me to the common master of the Italians, saying that there was there a young Hungarian gentleman, at which I was highly delighted and sought him most assiduously, but although he called himself a Hungarian, he could not speak a word of Hungarian to me because he was a Czech, and had only wished to give himself a good name in coming from a distant land a therefore had called himself Hungarian.

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He found lodgings at The Fox and Hounds, by the Great Bridge (probably destroyed in the Great Fire, or possibly The Fox Hall Inn), and went out to look at London’s widest streets, probably including Cornhill. There he observed fine paved roads adorned with big houses and countless channels of running water. Water-sellers could be seen contending for this and taking it in wooden buckets from street to street. The buildings were very tall, made of stone, and their were also pillars bearing the coat of arms of Cornhill, decorated with beautiful images, but he soon found that many of the other streets were extremely narrow and not troubled by the light of the sun. He estimated the circumference of the city as being no more than about four and a half miles. He described London Bridge as the third wonder of the land of England, with eighteen arches… a veritable town in itself, with a church on it and countless merchants’ shops. He was drinking at a fountain near to the Tower of London when a Frenchman, thinking that I was of his nation, reproached me most severely; he held it a disgrace that in the eyes of those that lived there that one of his race should drink water, but on learning my country, he embraced me and begged my pardon, and left me honourably. 

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Entering via a small gate into the City of London, he next encountered a crowd of Saracen girls whom armed robbers had just brought from Ethiopia, and as they were selling them they had dressed them in very fine clothes. He made no further comment on this practice of slavery, being more concerned with describing a huge crayfish, or lobster, presumably more unknown than the slave trade in Hungary. Heading west, through Bishopsgate, with the King’s arms on the outside, and a church to the left on the inside, he saw magnificent grassed gardens where the fine London cloth is dried. Given that the stone wall around the gardens was half a mile in circumference, Csombor was amazed by the amount of cloth that was to be seen within it. He passed through a lower cemetary enclosed for the parish by the City of London just a few years before, in 1615, very near the Aldgate, another of the eight gates into the City. Going on up that street he came to the old Basilica, on the tower of which, before the hour was struck, the statues of two men dragged out a bell,…

… and I was reliably informed that both are cast in pure silver, and neither of them is smaller than me.

Neither the Basilica nor the two figures are mentioned by other contemporary commentators, but it may be St Botolph’s Church, Aldgate, the foundation of which goes back to the Priory dedicated by Matilda of Scotland, daughter of St Margaret (born in Hungary), and wife of Henry I, in 1115, though the origins of the site may go back even further to Saxon times. It was one of four medieval churches, each built by one of the gates to the City and dedicated to the seventh century Saxon saint. The original church was destroyed by the Great Fire, and the current church was built in two phases in the early and mid-eighteenth centuries. Csombor then walked on to St Paul’s Cathedral,

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… divided into three aisles, its paving-stones… inordinately large, and the sanctuary, in which there are many tombs of white, red and black marble and alabaster, is twelve steps above the nave; the sanctuary is opened only at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, but looking in at a window I could see the effigy of a bishop carved in black marble; after the natural corruption of his bones they were dug up and placed above him (with) this verse:

Disce mori mundo, vivere disce Deo

(Learn to die to the world and to live to God)

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Next to the entrance to the Cathedral was a school, and behind that were streets where only booksellers lived, spread over a wide area, bigger than the Hungarian towns he knew. It took him two and a half hours to walk from Tower Hill to Westminster, so this must have included the time visiting the sights he described. He also visited Westminster Abbey which, because of its fine tombs, he agreed was worthily counted one of the three wonders of England. From there, he made his way through various courtyards and gardens to the King’s palace, without being stopped, and tried to glimpse King James,…

… but learnt from his servants that he… had not left his house for fourteen days, nor would he admit any on account of his great business. These palaces are enclosed on all sides by pleasure gardens, and apart from these walks and gardens have been planted with countless linden trees, so many that other than Italy, I believe, no country may boast more of its city, and any that has seen the king of England’s gardens, the people of his court and his palaces in this city will consider as nothing the graceless peasants of Germany…

Go look on London, you whom Fate had made a wanderer,

You who wish to see the land of England.

Seeing London you will see all that glitters under the English King;

this city is esteemed by the good.

Here are piety, calm safety and true love,

and here the faith is seated in a high place.

Csombor found English fruit, especially cherries, very expensive in London, especially compared with Hungary. He was told that the people of England were of such a disposition that when they see some new thing they will buy it at a high price, some for their lovers, some for their husbands, others for their good friends, some simply to hang it on their ears and keep it there until it becomes plentiful, merely as an ornament.

For him, the population of London was so great that he found it crowded every day. In addition to visitors, it was estimated that there were 300,000 people living there. He was clearly staggered by the amount of food entering the City, so that he could say with confidence that there was not a week in which a hundred and fifty oxen and a thousand sheep were not slaughtered there, not counting the numbers of birds and fish.

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Csombor gained entry with the schoolmaster at the Cathedral school, to the sanctuary of St Paul’s, where he saw the tombs of Seba, King of the East Saxons, erected in 677 (it was the kings of Essex who first founded the diocese of St Paul’s), that of King Aethelred I (871). He marvelled greatly at the sight of the extremely beautiful tombs of many bishops, because the carved effigy of each was so lifelike… nature could not find fault with their features. 

He was impressed by the custom by which each ship coming up the Thames fired all its cannon for the king’s pleasure, which could happen as many as two hundred times each day.

On leaving London, Csombor made for Canterbury, and found himself having to ascend Shooter’s Hill, but he soon met up with a pleasant Walloon as a travelling companion who nevertheless, after three or four miles, called for a horse and left Csombor. From the top of the hill, he could see far and wide, as it were a little province, over the City of London. There was a large beacon at the top, at which the City had stationed men so that they could send news of any danger to the towns and villages nearby. From there Csombor could observe a large part of southern England. Descending from the hill, he ate beside a spring and carved the following into a nearby tree, in Latin:

As he gazed on the countryside of England, Márton Csombor here ate and drank from this sweet spring.

He went on unaccompanied, passing Gravesend, and was in the forest beyond the town when he suddenly met with a great Saracen with an axe. He had never seen…

… a blacker man in my life, before or since, and he addressed me in English… but I could make no reply, but said nonetheless that I was making my way to Cantaurium; I was much afraid of his axe, but God granted that he parted from me with great civility having pointed out the way.

He then came to Rochester, a little town like a large French village, but half as big. By this time, the castle was already in ruins. He had seen stone bridges both large and small, but this was more beautiful than any, because its whole length had been decorated with painted ironwork and the arms of the King and country. Here he also saw four big galleys and and fourteen of the King’s ships, finer than those which he had seen in Prussia, Denmark, Frisia, Holland or Zealand; every one had ports for twenty-four guns. He went into an inn, not for a drink, but to have something to eat, and for the sake of appearances he asked for a beer. The barmaid came over to him, as if to pity him in his tiredness and long absence from home, and began to squeeze his hand, caress his head, and kiss him frequently, to which, as a Hungarian, he felt unaccustomed. Realising what she intended, he roused his tired limbs and set off again. Evening drew on, and after going a distance further, he slept at a good inn called The Two Monkeys. 

Setting out from Rocheser the next day, he covered the thirty miles to Canterbury in good time. However, unbelievably for modern Europeans, he had mistaken Canterbury for Cambridge, and, not being able to see it from a distance, was surprised to find its buildings quite poor, except, of course, the Cathedral. When he entered the Cathedral gate, he met James Lambe, the archdeacon, as he thought, though Lambe was in fact the vicar of nearby Holy Cross, Westgate. He asked him, in Latin, for the whereabouts of the grave of the Cambridge divine, Whittaker, and Lambe, who had just graduated from King’s College, Cambridge replied that he had mistaken Cambridge for Canterbury. Seeing that Csombor regretted his wasted journey, the priest told him not to worry, since here he would see the first wonder of England. Taking him by the hand, he took him to an inn, where both he and I became very merry on English beer. Lambe then sent for the key to the Cathedral in which, in papist times, the body of St Thomas of Cantuarium had been venerated, opened it, and took Csombor everywhere inside. The Hungarian felt that a more beautiful building no-one ever saw, for which reason it is reckoned as one of the three wonders of England. He went on:

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Never in my life would I have believed that so beautiful a church could be without gold or silver (for the golden vessels and vestments have all been removed thence) in this world. It has two exceedingly big towers outside; inside it is very high, and on the vaulting are all the coats of arms of the lords of the land; there are countless aisles in it, supported by some hundreds of black marble columns, many picturesque chapels and high and low flights of steps. There are two sanctuaries; the first, in which the everyday prayers and singing take place, is 22 steps above the nave, and there are the episcopal and the archiepiscopal seats; the lectern is very big, of pure Venetian brass, on which a great eagle holds the book on its spread wings; the second sanctuary is somewhat higher than the first, and in it lies the body of St Thomas. On all the columns in the nave there are books, exceedingly old, and among them, to show the eternal blindness of the papists, the Gospel of Nicodemus too is kept, in which there are as many falsehoods as words. There is no plain glass in the windows, but they are decorated with pictures of scenes from the New and Old Testaments; it is an amazing thing that among so many hundreds of columns every corner of the church is so light. A large chapter keeps the church nowadays too, and almost as in papist time they sing the psalms in antiphonal manner, and man, young and old alike, put on the monastic cowl and sing in monkish fashion.

Around the church on all sides are the palaces of the archbishop, bishop and canons, and a fine school, but principally a cloister, a wonderfully dark and serpentine building, in a word everywhere that one looks in this place one sees huge traces of antiquity. The town is not very big, nor beautiful, nevertheless it is flat, has many ruinous gardens, fine gates and a decent town hall; bread and wine are expensive there, and the beer is good and tolerable in price.

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Having seen all these things, Lambe and Csombor returned to the priest’s house where from three to six o’ clock they kept the company of the beer glasses. His host sought to detain him, but Csombor’s purse was becoming very thin, partly due to the cost of everything compared to Hungary, and partly due to the ‘exchange rate’ he was given for his gold forints, which were worth no more than 160 pennies each, about two-thirds of a pound. Taking leave of James Lambe, he set off for the coast; in the evening he came to a dense forest, and as he could no longer see his way ahead, he lay down under a thorn-bush. He was awoken by two peasants gathering wood who directed him to a nearby inn, but, as it was so late at night to disturb the innkeeper, and he had very little English, he decided to stay in the forest, surrounded by the song of nightingales and the doleful cries of owls.

Next morning he rose early and reached Dover at seven. It had two bastions, both overlooking the sea, with four cannon on each, and a strong castle on the hilltop almost like that of Szepes, its walls extending to the seashore. Here, and in the other coastal towns of England, the sailors would not take anyone on board without credentials. He therefore went to the Commissioner of the Passage (an official appointed by the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports to issue licenses to travel abroad) who mistook him for a Walloon and therefore questioned him in French. When he replied in Latin, the Commissioner continued in German, questioning him as to where he was from and what his religion was. Csombor said that he was a Protestant from the city of Frankfurt ad Oderan in Germany, and was therefore given a pass for the Normandy port of Dieppe. From Dieppe, he went on to Paris and then through Germany to the Czech lands and Silesia, returning to Kassa via Krakow. He arrived home in August 1618, having set off in April. He was then ordained in the Calvinist Church and became Schoolmaster in Kassa in 1619. His little book appeared in 1621, but Csombor died in an epidemic of plague the following year.

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