Christina Patterson: What we can learn from the Sikh in the BNP

For ethnic harmony, you can go the route of a Tito or a Saddam Hussein

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So, the BNP is about to welcome a Mr Rajinder Singh. And, quite frankly, it's a bit of a shock. Members of the party that wants to put the "great" back in Great Britain are meant to look as though they've spent their lives in bunkers, safely locked away from sunlight, or people who've been in sunlight. Ideally, they should look as though they live on internet porn and chips.

But times change and in any case there's that joke called the Human Rights Commission, who couldn't organise a piss-up at the Dog and Duck, but who think you should let any Tom, Dick or Hari join your party even if they're the wrong fahking colour, and you can't be arsed with the hassle, you really can't. And so you're going to "adapt and survive" and let Mr Singh in. OK, so he's a darkie, and he wears a funny turban that makes him look like a poof, but his heart's in the right place. You know his heart's in the right place because he hates Muslims, too.

Singh, it turns out, hates Muslims because they killed his father in India during Partition. Yes, that's 62 years ago and yes, it was probably one Muslim, but Singh is a man of principle. He admires the BNP because they "do not wish to let anyone else oust them from the land of their ancestors" and, putting aside the issue of his own contamination of the land of their ancestors, he would, he says, be "honoured" to join. They have, a touch cautiously, returned the compliment. "He is perhaps," said a BNP spokesman this week, "the kind of immigrant you want if you are going to have them."

Well, if you are "going to have them", what kind of immigrant do you want? Do you want a quiet one, who perhaps struggles with their English and leaves public debate to the "indigenous" people who speak the lingo and know what they're talking about? Or do you want one who speaks it quite well and keeps mouthing off about their "rights"? Do you want one who works, one, in fact, who has nicked a British job from a British worker? Or do you want one sponging off the system who hasn't?

It's tricky stuff. It really is tricky stuff. And if Nick Griffin's brilliantly petulant performance on Question Time failed to lead to the surge in BNP membership that hysterical commentators had predicted, the issues his party addresses remain real. We're all mongrels now, and if we're not we soon will be, but mongrels are no more of a guarantee of societal stability than all-white, all-black or all-brown.

Some Sikhs hate some Muslims. Some Muslims hate some Jews. Some Jamaicans hate some Nigerians. Since that moment when God grabbed a rib, gave it breasts, chucked it next to an apple tree and said he must be going, tribes have fought with other tribes. Where I live, for what it's worth, the Muslims are pretty polite, the Eastern Europeans are a bit brusque and the Hasidic Jews are rather rude. Worst of all are the combat-wearing Caucasian middle classes, charging down the street with pushchairs like Challengers, in search of organic broccoli and gluten-free muffins.

I love it, of course. I've lived in London for more than 20 years and I'd hate to live anywhere now that wasn't ethnically mixed. But an "ethnic mix" is not the same as ethnic harmony. For harmony, you can go the traditional route of a Tito or a Saddam Hussein (both hugely effective at stopping different ethnic groups from slaughtering each other) or you can go the complicated route of trying to reduce the differentials in the standard of living between different ethnic groups, and trying to reduce the resentment of people who pay taxes endlessly forking out for people who don't.

This isn't helped if you have GP surgeries, like mine, in which a large number of the patients (according to the practice's own impeccably liberal nurse) are, in effect, health tourists. Nor is it helped by British politicians, and red-tops, pandering to the prejudices of Little Englanders with talk of "British jobs for British workers" and the need, in matters relating to immigration, to get "tough".

It isn't helped either by outraged tales of refugees or asylum-seekers who have been refused "life-saving" (and extremely expensive) treatment on the NHS. It's heart-breaking to see another human being not enjoy the full benefits of the culture that you were lucky enough to be born into, and they weren't. But governments can't operate purely on compassion. They can't simply decide that anyone resourceful enough to make it into this country can reap all the benefits. There are a lot of resourceful people in the world, and a lot of resourceful people traffickers willing to smuggle them in, but budgets are limited, taxes are limited – and compassion's limited too.

I would like to live in a country that treats asylum-seekers well (and doesn't strap them down on planes or shove them in prisons full of sadists) and one where the costs, and benefits, of immigration are carefully measured, and publicly discussed, and where there's an acknowledgement, on right and left, that this stuff is difficult, but that everything worth having in life is difficult, and if you're going to do it, you'd better do it well. And that an ethnically mixed society that worked, that really worked, could be the one thing that really does make Britain great.

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