SRtRC talks to Jeremy Hardy about immigration, the media and more
"The idea that you just blame people that cross a national border with their family and say ‘right I’m going to start a new life somewhere else’, that’s ridiculous. It’s imagining a world that’s impossible, a world in which nobody ever moves."
Jeremy Hardy is a comedian and supporter of Show Racism the Red Card’s ‘Stand Up Against Racism’ project. Alongside his stand-up performances, he often appears on Television and Radio including his show ‘Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation’, ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ and ‘The Unbelievable Truth’.
SRtRC took the opportunity to speak to Jeremy about immigration, myth-busting, the media and politics.
The big issue in the media at the moment is immigration and SRtRC education teams are experiencing in the classroom, as a result of such a large volume of negative coverage, negative perceptions of immigration and migrants. What is your view on the way sections of the media are blaming migrants for social problems, low wages and high house prices and everything else in between?
“Well, it seems to be worse than ever it was. I mean there was a time; maybe thirty years ago, when stigmatising immigrants almost became unacceptable because the voices challenging racism were so strong. But it almost seems like now the media has got a free rein to suggest that immigrants are responsible for a whole range of problems and there’s really not much evidence for that, the figures don’t stack up – that immigrants are ‘bringing wages down’ or particularly ‘causing problems in the NHS or housing’. It seems to be that the media just churns this stuff out without any inhibition at all.”
Have you come across that phenomenon, that people are looking to blame someone at the moment?
“I think that people have said ‘this isn’t about race, this is about numbers’, because I suppose when I was growing up most of the migrants who were coming here were from the new Commonwealth, they were from the Caribbean, and from Africa and the Indian sub-continent, it was very much about racism and people felt very clear that you were on one side or the other.
“Whereas now people are saying ‘well it’s not about race, a lot of migrants are white, they’re Eastern European, it’s just about the numbers.’ But then having said it’s not about race, they then throw all the usual slurs against people – they try and associate people with crime and with bringing wages down. And the rise of UKIP, I mean there’s a much more ‘respectable’ constituency of people who are airing these prejudices.”
You mentioned the rise of UKIP there, what are your views on that particular political party and why they have been so successful?
“I think it’s a failure of the other main parties, there’s complete disenchantment with the other three. So it’s weird, UKIP seem to be able to pick up a vote from anybody because they project themselves as being the anti-party-party, as not part of the establishment and of course, they are. They’re a very right-wing, very well heeled party, well funded party, they’re really an adjunct to the Conservative party and they have been able to portray themselves as anarchic clown figures who are outside the normal paradigm, they attract people who are generally fed-up.
“Labour would pull back a lot of its old traditional voters if they would have a much more radical manifesto, that was much more focussed on the needs of the less well off and repairing some of the damage to public services that’s been done over the last 30 years.
“I think Labour could pull all those people back, because people often only start blaming migrants or minorities when they feel they are neglected or that no-one’s looking out for them. When you have a situation like the GLC in London in the Eighties, which was massively popular, it was doing all sorts of quite radical things, but because it was keeping fares down and it was focussed on making sure people were OK and people were secure, people didn’t sort of begrudge them doing all the kind of stuff at that time that was quite wild, which was like Gay and Lesbian rights, or talking to Sinn Fein about a peace process, people didn’t mind that. But when people feel neglected and they feel that no-one’s looking out for them then they’re off kilter and they start lashing out in all directions.”
One of the features of the recent European elections was that in London the UKIP vote was very low, why do you think that was?
“Well it’s a mixture of things, London is very diverse and people from migrant backgrounds still tend to look to Labour as being a party who looks out for the less privileged. So the majority of Black and Asian voters and people from other migrant backgrounds would still be voting Labour.
“But also I suppose, London is a creative hub and it pulls in people who tend to be more progressive minded, people who work in the creative industries and things like that. It’s not an industrial centre, it hasn’t got a Labour movement like say Sheffield would have, or Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, it hasn’t got that so much anymore but it’s still got the fabric of the old left here. There’s still an infrastructure that tends to lean to the left or the liberal left.”
SRtRC is starting work on a new film about immigration, what do you think are the things that we should focus on in that film in terms of challenging racist attitudes?
“People can think an immigrant is just somebody who used to live somewhere else, I mean London is full of people who aren’t from London, but a lot of them are from other parts of the UK. People come from all over Britain and also Ireland and mainland Europe and America and all sorts of nations, come to London because it’s a world city and people have always moved around.
“It’s like East Anglia, you don’t think of East Anglia as being very mixed, but then people came from the Netherlands to teach them how to drain the land hundreds of years ago. So there’s always been movement of people and there always will be.
“There’s as many British people working in the EU as there are EU nationals working in Britain. The idea that everyone’s just got to stay put is ridiculous. The Kent coal mines brought a lot of people down from the North East to work in the pits in Kent and there’s still little villages in Kent that have got a weird sort of accent, that’s part north of England and part rural Kent.
“People have always moved around the place and the idea that it’s OK to move around your own Country but you’re not allowed to cross a border is just ridiculous. Obviously if there’s a problem in an area which is very densely populated and people are moving there, then there are things that need to be addressed in terms of housing and in terms of health services.
"There are places like the Lake District which are over burdened with people buying second homes and then leaving, not doing anything with them, Cornwall has the same problem and people aren’t saying ‘oh there are these terrible people from other parts of England that are moving there and buying’, that argument isn’t being directed in to some sort of government policy to stop people moving around or buying houses.
“I mean you could arguably say that those should be matters of policy, that people are buying homes and leaving them more or less empty. A large part of London is owned now by foreign oligarchs and people who just buy properties and leave them empty, you could say that there should be rules about that. The idea that you just blame people that cross a national border with their family and say ‘right I’m going to start a new life somewhere else’, that’s ridiculous. It’s imagining a world that’s impossible, a world in which nobody ever moves. People have always moved for thousands of years, it might be an old point, but we all started in Africa and then we spread out. You can’t reach the end of history where everyone just stays put!”
What kind of world would we live in if we had UKIP in every Country? Is that the kind of world you would want to live in?
“With UKIP, what they really are is a respectable far-right, not a neo-fascist organisation, but a very right-wing party that probably has more in common with other right-wing parties around the world than it does with the mass of people here.
“In the same way that the British National Party isn’t particularly British, it’s linked up with all the other European and American fascist parties, so what they’re really about is getting rid of everything that’s humane and decent and creating some dystopian world of their own.
“But I don’t see that happening, I don’t think you’ll get a mass shift to the very far-right in the world because there’s all sorts of little blips. You know, you’ve got different responses. You’ve got responses from the left to the crisis, as well as responses on the right, so you’ve got people challenging the status quo from all sorts of directions. Some of them are coming up with more humane and compassionate solutions and some of them are coming up with more unpleasant or brutal solutions as they would see it.”
You mentioned the BNP, what do you put their decline down to over the last few years?
“Well it’s partly sustained opposition, that people keep saying that these people are Nazis or those who aren’t actually Nazis have joined a party with a very distinct nazi history. People know that it’s a party of thugs; they know that it’s violent, they know that people have been attacked because of the BNP.
“Also the rise of UKIP has siphoned off people that want to make a protest vote but actually are worried that the BNP are violent neo-fascists, so they see Nigel Farage gets on the telly and he seems quite amiable and cheery and doesn’t look like he would hurt anybody, so people feel more secure in making that protest vote.
“These things are quite complex, part of the BNP’s appeal which was quite clever, it decided to follow the national socialist route, because it got to the point where they decided they could actually reach out to old Labour voters by talking about things other than race. They started saying, ‘we’ll take the railways back’, supporting the miners’ strike – retrospectively obviously, but it started making left-wing noises which resonated with people because it couldn’t make progress being fascistic and racist. Hopefully people have seen through that now and realise that it’s not a left party, it’s not a socialist party, it’s a Nazi party.
“It’s only saying these things, these positive sounding things, to garner support. Because fascism is always very cynical, it goes whichever way it looks like it will make the most progress. If it looks like it’s going to make more progress with lower middle class or upper class people, it’ll say things that appeal to those people, it just morphs.
What do you think the challenges are for anti-racists over the next year?
“I think the big challenge is to realise that people aren’t racist, but are worried about immigration. Partly because they’re told that they’re worried. If the media keeps telling you 'you’re worried', you start to think ‘maybe I should be?'
"That’s the thing about scares, it puts it in the air, the idea that immigration is a problem. People who are most worried about immigration and more likely to vote UKIP for example are often in areas where they don’t see anybody, it’s not even that vivid.
“The most white areas of London are where you’d find the BNP support and there’s very little, but it’s in the areas where there are no minority people that people feel most threatened. Because people who have daily meetings and things with people who have different cultures find it harder to maintain that prejudice.
“I think we have to put forward alternatives and say, if you’re worried about not being able to get your child a place in school it’s because there aren’t enough places, it’s not specifically the fault of people who have come from somewhere else, or whose ancestors came from somewhere else. If you can’t get a council house it’s because there aren’t any, it’s not because of something you saw on the telly where there’s half a dozen migrants staying in one flat. I do think we’ve got to inject the sympathy among people and say look at some of the people who’ve got to live and work here, look at the conditions, because there are people with gang-masters, there are groups of Roma who are staying in horrible conditions because they’ve been tricked and fooled and they’re doing very badly paid work.
“And you say alright, we must have solidarity with those people, we must stand together with everyone who is mistreated and it should be about trying to rebuild a trade union movement, the idea of solidarity among people to try and keep wages up and to make sure that there’s a council house building programme. If all the people who are first generation immigrants suddenly left the country it wouldn’t suddenly free a load of stuff up for other people, it would just create chaos, chaos in the NHS, chaos in Care homes, industries would shut down, that wouldn’t be the answer.
Can I ask you before you go what you are up to at the moment?
"I’ve got to write a radio series, I’m doing a radio series in the Autumn and I’ve just finished all my gigs and I’ve got to get my head down and start writing that.”
Jeremy Hardy is touring later in 2014, click here for ticket and venue details.