The countryside is a no-go area for black Britons

Does Prince Charles really not wonder that there might be a coded message behind all these 'way of life' complaints?

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown
Monday 23 September 2002 00:00

I was on the Nicky Campbell programme on Radio 5 Live last week, discussing the countryside demo, a march that seemed to me to be about just about everything. These people seem to be marching about a very long and unrelated list of grievances: the hounding of foxes, dying post offices, rural wretchedness of a vague kind, petrol prices, city tourists, demands for unlimited sympathy and subsidies for rich and needy farmers, banks, house prices, milk maids, fear of crime, fear of annihilation, the right to life and liberty and maybe somewhere in the back of the march, is some group defending the doilly, part of a way of life in danger of extinction unless the Government provides rescue funds for it.

Hundreds of thousands of true sons and daughters of this great nation stormed into London to sound off about how deprived they are and how they feel victims of prejudice so bad that, according to the Prince of Wales, they are even worse off than blacks and gays. How intolerable! My heart breaks at the thought of those poor, flushed apple cheeks of country Brits as they watch us blacks and those queers overtaking them in the gallop to privilege.

If the reports are to be believed, Prince Charles has written a letter to the Prime Minister making just this point. The heir to the throne apparently also claims in his note that the Government is "destroying the countryside". This is ridiculous, even for a spoilt man prone to strange utterings. First, what is he doing participating directly in politics? It is one thing for his mistress to let her views be known, but for Charles to intervene in this way shows monumental arrogance and ignorance of the unspoken things the march also represents.

Has he given the slightest thought to why it is that the countryside remains such a no-go area for most people of colour? Hundreds of thousands of black and Asian Britons have farming in their blood, and are the descendants of tillers, but have you ever seen a black or Asian farmer or farm worker? Does Charles really not wonder that there might be a coded message is behind all these "way of life" complaints? You don't see any black or Asian people on these marches (if anyone did spot the Devon Council for Racial Equality banner or the Jamaican Fox-Hunting Society do correct me), and often extreme nationalist groups are in there with their repulsive ambitions to claim back Britain for whites.

Now sure, all demos have their crazies. During anti-racist demos you always find yourself with some strange companions, campaigners fighting for yak farmers or whatnot, but the Prince didn't bother to make careful distinctions. He should have. There is an important difference between the real problems – the needs of some farmers enslaved by supermarket giants, the wages of farm workers, environmental protection – and campaigners who want to exclude outsiders.

That is what they mean when they go on about their "way of life". Now Charles, Prince of Equal Opportunities, gives these exclusionists succour. Oh I hear you yelping all right. You will accuse me of tainting good people by calling them racist. To name racism these days is considered a far worse crime than to act in ways that directly or indirectly discriminate against black and Asian citizens. But I say this again, may we not speculate that the march is in truth making a stand for the kind of country this was before all us darkies arrived? Could it be that the number of Countryside Alliance supporters has swollen because the Tory Party seems in danger of abandoning this agenda, what with all this talk of learning to embrace gays and blacks and Asians into the party? John Major flirted with this, being a Brixton boy, and then succumbed to old Tory fantasies of village greens and warm beer. Now, although Iain Duncan Smith turned up on the march, he is also aggressively promoting tolerance in his party, even appointing an Asian vice-chairman. And the green wellies don't like it one bit.

On the Radio 5 programme, I was challenged to justify my views. Are those who object to my thinking absolutely sure that the Countryside Alliance really would like multiracial Britain to invade its pure little village? Would they welcome a beautiful temple or mosque to stand with the small church spires if a substantial number of us did manage to sneak in by cheating estate agents? No stupid, that is precisely what would destroy their way of life. They already have all those other townies buying up the barns that they sell to them at exorbitant prices and food inspectors interfering with what they feed their pigs and cows. Yes, they can handle one Mr Patel in the paper shop, a Mr Khan running the local Taj, maybe a doctor or two, Mr Chou with his Chinese takeaway, but more than that you are talking cultural genocide, can you not understand that? Otherwise, keep them in Birmingham (or Manchester, Liverpool, London, Bradford), as they said in one report on rural racism.

One officer at a rural Race Equality Council wrote to me recently saying most people are in heavy denial: "We know racism is there, but we only hear what we want to hear in the countryside. We shoot the messenger or we ignore the evidence." Challenging Racism in the Rural Idyll, a study published by the Citizens' Advice Bureau, even found that researchers faced abuse during interviews. Major racial incidents have come to light in Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown come to the aid of an Asian waiter who was attacked and then faced months of harassment and threats), Norfolk and rural Wales, and a number of enchanting localities with wonderful trees and bluebells have NF, Combat 18 and BNP cells. And as a few more black and Asian Britons move out of the cities, the resistance to their presence gets worse. Most shameful of all have been the recent outbursts over asylum centres in countryside locations. We have seen howling mobs who wanted to scare off human beings who have risked everything to find some place of safety, some place where they can have half a chance. Yes, city people may resent them too but you don't see us gathering en masse to hound them out.

Sadly the organisations that are pushing for ramblers and wildlife and ecologoical issues, such as Friends of the Earth, are no better at making sure they open their doors to Britons who are not white. BEN, the Black Environment Network, does stoic work in the face of such problems. They prefer to use goodwill. I think a much more demanding approach may now be needed. With the Countryside Alliance wielding such influence, the environment groups and the National Trust and all those others have got to wake up to the new danger symbolised by this march.

I don't accept any group in this country has the right to demand that their cultures should be protected from pollution, not Rastas, not Orthodox Jews, not the mullahs of mayhem. However, people of all backgrounds, including the English, must have the freedom to be who they are and to take pride in this without being labelled barbaric or racist. I say this in an essay in Reclaiming Britishness, the book that also features Blunkett's controversial arguments for learning English. But that is very different from demanding that the British public must pay for and forever put up with the disagreeable demands and dubious values that so many country people feel wedded to. Down with you I say, and stay out of our mixed cities.

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