Magazine article The Spectator

Backbone of England

Magazine article The Spectator

Backbone of England

Article excerpt

ZAD PADDA has a proposal which will make Toyah Willcox throw up her hands in horror. He thinks it would be a good idea to build an asylum centre for 700 people in the village of Throckmorton in Worcestershire, as long as those people are allowed to work on the land. Miss Willcox, once a well-known punk performer, has emerged as the most prominent opponent of the centre that the government plans to build in this picturesque stretch of England. Her parents already live in a cottage she bought there for them when she moved them out of Birmingham; her own house is only five miles away and she cannot imagine the asylum seekers would `want to settle and make friends here' or would be of any value to the rural economy: 'I can't see them ploughing the land - they want to get to the cities.'

Miss Willcox is out of date; so is most of the British press and so is the government, which has completely failed to get across the truth that the nation already depends on foreign labour. Large parts of our economy would collapse, and we would be greatly impoverished, were we not managing to recruit huge numbers of workers from abroad. It follows that we should take pride, or at least a modest pleasure, in our ability to attract able and energetic people to our shores, especially since within a generation most of them become British. Yet this amazing success is reported as if it were a crisis, a desperate failure, a breakdown of law and order, a disaster for those of us who already live here. As Miss Willcox assured the Daily Telegraph, `This is a small country - it's all happening illegally,' while Tony Blair has let it be known that he will use the Royal Navy to help defend us against the boatloads of illegal immigrants who want to overrun us.

Mr Blair thinks of himself as a modern man of international outlook, while dear Miss Willcox insists that she is `not some terrible racist Nimby', but both of them retreat, at the first sign of difficulty, into a petty-minded fortress mentality. They would never dream of saying `Wogs keep out', nor would they allow such a vulgar expression to contaminate their minds, but that is the message they convey - in Mr Blair's case quite deliberately, for he and his colleagues have in recent weeks set out to demonstrate that racist bigots can feel perfectly at home voting Labour.

Mr Padda does not express himself anything like as vehemently as that. As he puts it: 'I don't want to be controversial.' Perhaps the best way to explain what he means, and to show why he has an overwhelmingly strong though unfashionable case, is to recount his family's recent history. His grandfather, a Sikh, fought under British command against the Japanese during the second world war. Mr Padda's father, Makhan Singh, came to Birmingham in the 1960s from the Punjab and worked in the city's foundries, which closed at the end of the 1970s, after which he went into the fields round Evesham and picked spring onions for a living. It was noticed how well he worked he was a fine figure of a man, who could lift two crates where others could manage only one -- and he was invited into the pack house, where the onions were prepared for the supermarkets. Sam Gladwyn, who was big in spring onions, then asked Mr Singh, as he was known, to bring along some more workers from Birmingham.

Mr Singh rapidly became a gangmaster: a provider of labour to farmers, in this case drawn from immigrant circles in Birmingham. According to Mr Padda, `Sam Gladwyn made sure my Dad did everything very, very correctly.' The result is that Mr Padda, born in Birmingham in 1975, now employs 300 men, drawn not just from the Punjab but from countries such as Yemen and Iraq, between 30 and 35 of whom, as he observed with pride, are university graduates. They work in the horticulture business round Evesham, where there is nothing like enough local labour to pick fruit, or to check it for quality, pack it, label it and, indeed, to manage other workers. …

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