One night last week I was watching a Channel Four news piece from the Donald Trump inauguration in
. There was much
that seemed familiar. The Trump acolytes had the same look and feel of many of those who
took to the streets a month ago to celebrate Brexit. They were old and white
and angry and overweight and most of time mad as a bag of frogs. Ohio
Sure they were a little more crazy than their counterparts on this side of the pond, but that’s
When it comes to doing crazy they are in a league of their own. Ever since
Brexit we have shuddered at the steep rise in racist abuse and hate crime. But
at least our hate tends to mean slagging off the lad behind the counter of the
corner shop for being a nasty, smelly Paki. At least we don’t shoot him through
the head. Well. Not yet. America
The news piece was taking a ten minute dig into the lives of the people who see voting Trump as a ticket to a future of milk and honey. Not surprisingly this involved a journey to the heart of trailer park
All the usual iconic images of 21st Century post industrial misery
rolled across the screen. Rusted up steel mills in the process of being
re-absorbed into nature. Boarded up shop fronts. Soulless fast food joints.
Miserable faces. Lots and lots of seriously fat people. America
And then we were whisked away to the fields of
where gangs of Mexicans were picking the fruit under a blazing sun. California
And three things struck me.
Number one was the sight of so many very, very fat black people. This was something which came as a pretty major culture shock when I was in
a few years ago. Think
about it. How often do you ever see a fat black person on our side of the pond?
Not often. Most of our younger generation of Black Britons look like they are
ready to throw on an pair of boxing trunks and fight for a light heavyweight
title. When we were in America Brooklyn the average
weight of the local gang bangers was north of eighteen stones.
Then there were all the disability scooters. I recalled an article in the run up to Brexit from the doomed streets of the
. The reporter was
chasing up and down the blighted post industrial areas of Welsh
Valleys to try
and get a handle on the reasons why the forgotten people in the forgotten towns
were so hell bent on blaming foreigners for all of their ills. The reporter
picked up on the fact that town centres which were home to lots of disability
scooters tended to be the town centres where xenophobia was at its
Finally was the extraordinary comparison between the xenophobes in the trailer parks and the Mexicans in the fields. The ones who were doing all of the hating and gearing up to vote for the Donald seemed to be in dreadful physical shape. The Mexicans on the other hand were as lean as whippets and had the look of Roberto Duran in his prime.
The comparison was of the night and day variety.
Back in the trailer park the message was the same as the one that was to be heard from Rotherham to Walsall to
Clacton in the run up to Brexit.
I’m not a racist, but….
There are too many of them....
They are taking all the jobs…
There is no work for us…
They are dragging down wages….
Which of course nicely sets up the Trump/Farage solution.
Built a wall and lock the gates.
Get shut of all these nasty immigrants and there will be great jobs for all and everyone will have a 50 inch 3D tele and three weeks in the Canary Isles.
Then I remembered another Channel Four piece from a ceramics factory in the Brexit heartland of Stoke. First we heard from a few of the middle aged white female workers who were throwing and glazing pots.
Too many of them. They’re taking all the work and filling up the hospitals and schools and getting all the houses and being paid £500 a week by the social…….
All the same old same old.
Next came an interview with the guy who owned the factory. He had the
accect of someone who was clearly born and bred Stoke. He explained how he had
tried everything he could think of to recruit local Stoke people to follow in
the footsteps of their ancestors to become pot throwers.
No chance. Nothing worked. Why? He had no idea. So what was he supposed to do? Close the doors and give up? Without the East Europeans he would have had to shut down years ago. He had no explanation. He merely told it as it was.
It is a story we here over and over again from those who run factories or farms. They can’t recruit local people to do the job. So they load up on Lithuanians and Poles. What the hell else are they going to do?
And then it hit me that there as more to the pictures from
The Trump brigade from the trailer park were in no kind of shape to even think
of doing what the Mexicans were doing. Twelve house straight bent almost double
picking fruit? No chance. They wouldn’t make the mid morning break. How long
would it take for them to get themselves into the same kind of shape as the
Mexicans? Months and months at best. More probably never. America
For decades those at the very bottom of the pile in
have lived the most unhealthy lives imaginable. Most of the blame for this has
to be shouldered by the food industry which has found a million different ways to
mask vast amounts of reconstituted fat with sugar and fancy packaging. When all
is said and done, 24 frozen sausages in a box for 99p just can’t be right. Throw
in all the cheap booze and all the nasty pound shop recreational drugs and it is hardly
surprising so many people are in such permanently lousy nick. America
A hundred and fifty years ago the poor were hammered by TB and dysentery and rickets. Now it is obesity and anxiety and depression and addiction.
So what happens if there are no Mexicans or Poles to come in and do the jobs which require ten hours straight of hard physical graft? The jobs just won’t get done. And these jobs are kind of important, especially when it comes to food production.
Nobody likes to own up to this dismal fact, most of all politicians. It is so easy to peddle the Farage/Trump line. Get the foreigners out and everything will be hunky dory. The problem is that such infantile logic is complete and utter gough. We see this every single day at First Base as we hand out food parcels. Fair enough our clients are unable to get themselves anything to eat, but they don’t look like the victims of a Sub Saharan famine. The majority are in lousy shape, physically and mentally. Most are being propped up by different breeds of happy pills from their GP and their local dealer. They have very little energy or self confidence. Give them a job starting at half past seven tomorrow morning and they wouldn’t last until noon.
I’m not getting preachy here. Back in 2003 when the Foot and Mouth crisis was all over Dumfries and
Galloway I got myself onto one of the clean up teams as
part of my research for my book ‘The Cull’. I was in my early forties and
carrying way to much timber and it was the first time I had done manual work
for years. The job entailed twelve hours a day with a power washer and it all
but wrote me off. I did if for six weeks. It felt like six years.
Despite being overweight I have always been reasonably fit. My diet is OK. I am well enough used to getting up early. Fair enough, I smoke like a chimney. Despite all this, that six weeks all but killed me.
Was it that hard? Not really. Not when compared to pulling potatoes or standing on a packing line. I remembered the time when we had a mill in
Back then the main thing Robert and Harold did to decide if a likely lad was
really a likely lad was to check out their hands. Anyone with rough calloused
hands had a chance of getting a start. Anyone with hands like mine was told thanks
but no thanks. I told them they were Dickensian. They told me I was naïve. I
have no doubt if the mill was still running today Robert and Harold would
have selected a workforce made up entirely of lads from Lancaster Poznan
or . Vilnius
The problem is for thirty years we have swept millions of poor people under the carpet and pretended they aren’t actually there. We have signed them off sick and given them just about enough money to shop in Farmfoods and drown their sorrows with Frosty Jacks and to plane off the sharp edges with street valium at a£1 a pill. Many are barely literate and most are in woeful physical nick. It sounds awful, but it is dismally true. There is no point being in denial and signing up for the Trump/Farage Walt Disney view of the world. The reality is a bleak one. We simply do not produce people who are capable of doing the nuts and bolts jobs which keep the show on the road. Well. Not nearly enough of them. To make up the shortfall we import fit, ambitious young people who have lived lives which make them more than capapble to doing twelve hours worth of hard graft.
To make thinks worse, we have told our young people a pack of lies. We have conned 50% of them into getting themselves into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt to earn a university degree barely worth the paper it is written on. We don’t have an economy remotely capable of giving 50% of young people well paid graduate jobs. Maybe 20%? Maybe. And is it really so surprising the ones who have worked so hard for their piece of expensive paper are not overly keen on picking spuds for minimum wage?
The fact that not a single front line politician seems willing to own up to this grim set of facts speaks volumes. Of course people need to do their best to talk the country up. I get that. It’s part of the job description. But constantly indulging in complete denial does none of us any favours. Even if we started now to better prepare the generations to come, it would take years and years before we might be remotely capable of managing without importing huge numbers of immigrants to make sure everything doesn’t go to hell in a handcart.
We should count ourselves lucky there are so many immigrants willing to come and do all the work we can’t manage ourselves.
Instead the towns where mobility scooters fill the pavements will continue to hate foreigners and to live in the Trump/Farage dream world.