Cristina Odone - on bigoted country folk

Rural Britain, frustrated, embittered and ignorant, truly hates foreigners

Ken Clarke said David Blunkett's plan to build centres for asylum-seekers in rural areas will not go down well with the inhabitants of remote villages and distant hamlets. Indeed, he predicts rows, protests and even violence as the native sons and daughters rise as one to keep the dusky foreigners from their doorstep.

Ken is right in his description of the reception that country folk are preparing for asylum-seekers - or dirty, thieving foreigners, as they are known in the heartland. That's because no one comes second to rural Britons in terms of prejudices and bigotry. The last foreigners to be welcome outside of the metropolis were the Yanks during the Second World War - and even they had to buy goodwill with cigarettes and stockings.

Otherwise, the attitude of British country folk towards immigrants has been one of utter contempt. Unlike rural communities in, say, Italy, Ireland or Scandinavia, who for generations fled famine and poverty by going abroad to America, the rural Briton never suffered such hardships at home (unless they were nonconformists or papists, who fled never to return). The rest stayed put, and gave successive generations a legacy of stagnant isolation, rather than mind-expanding adventure. The only foreigners they knew - and treated as pariahs - were Gypsies, whose encampments were routinely destroyed by arson. The only language they knew was English - and a few grunts and groans with which to entice sheep back into their pen.

Thus isolated by geography and work (if you farm, you don't attend too many conferences or conventions or other chinwags that might bring you into contact with other nationalities), the rural Briton was allowed to fester in his homogeneous homestead. Bigotry took root, prejudices multiplied: the Frogs were all slimy, the wops untrustworthy, the krauts evil. Poverty has further ingrained this Little Englander mentality: while their urban compatriots buy a charter flight to exotic destinations or even hop on to a cheap airline for a weekend on the Continent, the people of rural Britannia have to worry about the leaking roof above the barn or the plummeting price of cattle, rather than the price of a ticket to a place in the sun.

Frustrated, embittered and ignorant about "others", the folk of rural Britain will prove a terrible welcoming committee. Pity the poor asylum-seeker who ends up in their midst.

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