Saturday, 18 May 2013

 Reflections on the day. The Protest In The Park came and went, enthusiastically supported by our brethren from Lincolnshire. I am told there were more policemen, reporters and onlookers than there were protesters. It was peaceful. It was pointless. I'm not sure if there were any official UKIP representatives there, but there were certainly a handful of 'the usual suspects'. Yes, people are entitled to feel irritated, baffled, resentful and uncomfortable at the sheer scale of migration from Eastern Europe into our little East Anglian towns. But it is entirely legal. It is entirely understandable that people from the broken remnants of the Soviet Union would leap at the chance to travel to a country where there is plenty of opportunities for unskilled workers, a universal and largely free health service, and an education system which may be flawed, but still gives opportunities to children prepared to work hard.
Standing in a Wisbech park, un-noticed and un-cared for by the real people in power, and sounding off against 'the migrant hordes' is as big a waste of time as I can think of. It may have given certain people the idea that they are moving things forward, or setting down a marker. Be not fooled. No-one important could care less. The great mistakes were made years ago, when the politicians danced dreamily into a Euro Heaven of their own making. The divisions in the Conservative Party today show just how complex and intractable the problem is.
The Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Portuguese and Hungarians are here. And they are probably here to stay. Even if the Conservatives have a 'Road To Damascus' moment, and give us a referendum on leaving the EU before 2017, it can't be made retrospective. So, what's the best way forward? The only possible answer is one word. Engagement. We Brits need to accept where we are and how it stands. Look for the positives. Make an effort. Be the first to start up a conversation with your foreign neighbour. Make sure you chat to the Lithuanian mum waiting for her kiddie at the school gates. Try some of the foreign shops. Unlike the home-grown variety, they certainly seem to be doing well in out town centre.
But this is not a one-way street. If you have emigrated to this country because it is a better place for you and your family, then you have responsibilities. Not responsibilities imposed by law, because this is Britain. It is not Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia, or China. Respect our customs. Value our freedoms. Register to vote, and be part of our democratic system. But first, second third and last - make an effort to learn our language. Don't rely on the fact that there are enough of your compatriots in your street, outside your childrens' school, or at work who speak your language. Most people in Wisbech don't speak your language. It is not easy, as an adult, to learn a complex foreign language, but there is help available. There are free classes for you in the town, at times to fit in with your family schedule. This is your biggest challenge - don't duck out of it.
This sounds like a sermon. But there is hope. While the words of division and conflict were wafting over the green acres of Wisbech Park, there was something else going on. Something vibrant, happy, energetic and positive. At the Rosmini Centre, there was an International Children's Festival. There was music, there was laughter. There was a balloon launch, a bouncy castle and Sumo wrestlers. I don't do slogans, but "hope not hate" seems pretty good, really. I can't think of a time when I was more proud to be part of the Wisbech Community.
Follow @wisbechevenmore