Brits and Xenophobia

If this study is accurate, then we in Britain don’t really need to be too worried about the  xenophobes in our midst. Apparantly we feel more positive towards immigrants – if only marginally – than most other European countries. That might be another reason for reversing Brexit, without now needing to fear the hostile reaction it would provoke. Here it is:

Actually I’ve always been sceptical of the impression that has been around for years that Brits are peculiarly hostile to foreigners. I don’t know much about other countries historically (apart from a little about Sweden), but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that xenophobia and racism were – and are – at least as common there as in Britain. A number of factors have combined to single the British out in this regard. One is their – literal – insularity. But that has never stopped Brits from travelling abroad more than most peoples, and not usually in search of imperial conquests; or literally millions of foreign Europeans coming to visit, work or settle in Britain over the past 200 years, for all kinds of reasons. The people mainly responsible for spreading the libel were British  novelists, like Dickens, Thackeray and Lever, who found that they could make great comic fun out of portraying their own countrymen (and women) as arrogant isolationists and racists abroad. This was rarely countered – there’s not much amusement to be gained from Brits behaving well  abroad – and the idea has, to my knowledge, never been tested by social historians since; properly tested, that is, in a way that would establish the extent of xenophobia in British life. Of course you can always find scattered examples.

At one time I was planning a new book about this aspect of British society, with the title Cosmopolis. It even made it to the stage of a synopsis and some sample chapters, and an acceptance (in principle) by a publisher. But then age and infirmity caught up with me, and I gave the project up. I’m still hoping that Bloomsbury Press will give me the go-ahead for a collection of essays on aspects of this theme, mostly published previously: a kind of European companion volume to my Empire Ways (2017); but I haven’t heard from them yet. Cross your fingers.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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2 Responses to Brits and Xenophobia

  1. “The YouGov–Cambridge Globalism survey found that 28% of Britons believed the benefits of immigration outweighed the costs …. [whereas] 37% of Britons feel the costs of immigration outweigh the benefits – lower than in any other big European country apart from Poland.”

    Yes, the UK is better than most European nations on this question; however, by my reckoning 37% is still a lot more than 28%, and the former figure is about equal to the overall percentage of Brits who voted to exit the EU in the referendum. In other words, 37% constitutes a very potent political mass, given that only 72.2% of the population who were eligible actually cast a ballot.

    From what I can gather, the survey chose not to particularise the preferences of those it surveyed in regard to the sources of migration. For example, the survey would have been much more informative – and explosive – in regard to the question of racism if it had asked separate questions about the benefits of immigration from: (1) the northern European countries and the English-speaking former colonies; as distinct from immigration from (2) Eastern Europe; (3) the Middle East; and finally (4) South Asia.

    The nations of Europe have a shocking history of dealing with ‘out-groups’, especially in the inter-war years. The post-war era of relative prosperity and the ideological divisions of the Cold War suppressed ethno-racial conflicts, which re-emerged as prosperity waned and the Soviet Bloc dissolved. That the UK is somewhat more liberal than these countries does not preclude it from having a significant problem.

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  2. Tony says:

    I agree that the natural lassitude and lethargy of the British makes it difficult for rabble rousers to stir up xenophobia. There have been sporadic outbreaks in the past, but generally xenophobia consists of mutterings in the pub and among family relations, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be expressed through the ballot box. The US has a more extensive history of xenophobia and nativism which currently seems to growing helped by the Alt Right and Trump.

    Liked by 1 person

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