Repairing community relations

July 7, 2016 8:25 PM

Councillors from both the Liberal Democrats and Labour have expressed their concerns about the state of community relations, and what can be done to repair them, following the flare up in tensions as a result of the UK vote to leave the EU.

Councillor David Faulkner proposed that : "Council deplores the hostile and misleading anti-immigration narrative that the Leave side of the EU Referendum campaign propagated and the way in which it has poisoned political discourse. Council believes that the damage to community relations will be lasting and the encouragement to the far right a serious concern. Newcastle is both a City of Sanctuary which welcomes asylum-seekers and refugees, and is a city in need of the skills that migrant labour bring.

Council resolves: To convene a gathering of all organisations and individuals of goodwill within the city to give public endorsement of this position and to establish a set of practical actions that will give effect to it."

In the debate, Councillor Pauline Allen said :

Like many people in this country I have spent hours researching my family history. And I've found that usually people are intrigued when they find that they have ancestors who have come from another country, for example many of us watched the episode of 'Who Do You Think You Are' where Boris Johnson was interested to find out about his Turkish ancestors. Some of these ancestors were fleeing persecution and found Britain to be a safe haven, for others the reason for relocating may have resulted from an urge to travel, or yes it may have even been financial. But Britain has benefitted greatly over the years from this migration and we need to remember this fact.

Personally I have a son who has lived and worked in Spain and is now living happily in Ireland. Like many EU migrants he didn't move for financial reasons. People are naturally curious about other countries and like to travel and see something of life in other parts of the world. And along the way they contribute both financially and intellectually to the country they have moved to.

Until recently we welcomed people from other EU countries, indeed invited them to come here to fulfil certain roles; in the NHS, in our Universities, and in many of our companies that needed their skills. But now we have some people living in our country who say they no longer feel as welcome as they did, and as one person said, now they now feel that 'you don't know what people are thinking about you' and this is unsettling. So unless we take action we could face losing the skills and expertise of many of these people. I know that some people are now turning down jobs in this country, and others are turning down the opportunity to study in our Universities because they feel threatened by some of the comments being bandied about. And we do need the skills and expertise of people such as University lecturers and researchers but some of them now don't know what sort of reception to expect in a country where politicians stand up and say 'We want our country back' as if it has been stolen or invaded.

The implications of these concerns is that this country could lose people who contribute vast amounts to our society. In the areas of research and development it is essential that we work with other EU countries and it is also essential that we continue to co-ordinate our academic qualifications with the rest of Europe to allow our academic institutions to compete in a global market. The Bologna Agreement (a single market for education) was brought about so that educational qualifications throughout the EU could be recognised in each member country. Without this agreement continuing we will fail to attract students and academics to this country and we'll lose out globally not just in Europe.

Although I was horrified by the tone and content of many speeches made during the referendum campaign I have since been heartened by comments made by those people who recognise that we live in a small island that is part of a small fragile planet and that we all need to work together with tolerance and respect. And we all need to remind people that migrant workers can bring skills and expertise that we need in our city and our country.

Councillor Robin Ashby said in support of the motion : I draw attention to a report published this morning by Faith Matters, which says that in the last year - before the latest upsurge - there'd been an over 300% increase in street based anti-Muslim incidents especially, but not limited to, London, the West Midlands and the North West.

The online world is, it says, a driver which is resulting in a typical perpetrator being a teenager rather than people up into their 30s. And perhaps 40% of online cases involve far-right sympathisers.

It's clear from the anecdotes we are all hearing about that the Brexit vote is bringing out the worst in some people. In some ways it's open season on anybody with a different name, a different accent, or a different skin colour. Xenophobia has been stoked up for political ends. It's this sort of denigration of "the other" that was at the heart of the Nazi capture of Germany, when vitriol and violence against the individual culminated in genocide.

Somehow the pursuit of political gain - and I'm delighted to see that several of the leaders are getting their comeuppance - has legitimised the idea that because people voted narrowly to leave the EU, now any immigrant who hasn't left the country is fair game for insults or violence.

I call to mind that my late business partner was a refugee from expansionist Germany, who served this country flying with the RAF, and after his return to his native Czechoslovakia fled the Soviet takeover to come to settle, work, and build a business here in Newcastle. He never lost his accent. From time to time a young Geordie would ask him "how long have you been here?" To which his answer was - longer than you!

We have immigrants here from other parts of the country, like me, and immigrants from other countries who help to build a better Newcastle. In the 800th year of our mayorality, let's broadcast the message to everybody that most of us in the city today are descended from immigrants of some sort.