By: MIKE JOHNSON
Mike Johnson is a freelance journalist who worked in the Algarve for more than 20 years. He now lives in Plymouth in the UK and comments on world topics which fascinate him.
WHEN YOU ask the average English person what really bugs them, it is not that the trains don’t run on time, it’s not that they can’t get their kids into the school they want or that they can’t get to see their doctor for five days as he’s fully booked.
They are not even worrying about transport, education and the National Health Service. It’s mainly about safety on the streets and immigration.
Where I live, in the south west of England, the largest employer is the local Plymouth Devonport dockyard, which services the ships and submarines of the Royal Navy.
Due to proposed government defence cuts, there are real fears that it will be closed down and the work transferred to Scottish dockyards.
So the possibility of unemployment looms large. A growing surge in the immigrant population in the region is seen as a threat and is causing considerable unease.
Here, you will also find groups of youngsters roaming the streets by day and piling into the city centre clubland and disco area at night. Recently released crime figures are frightening.
Violent crimes, committed by children under the age of 18, rose by more than a third between 2003 and 2006.
Knife crime among children between the ages of 10 and 17 has soared, so much so that schools are now installing metal detectors to stop kids carrying knives into school.
However, it’s on the streets that people have more cause to worry.
There, teenagers carry knives because they are afraid of being attacked by gangs of youths who, bored out of their minds, turn to delinquency.
There is no protection from adults as they, wary of a number of recent incidents, are reluctant to intervene.
A man was kicked and punched to death when he remonstrated with a group of yobs who had gathered outside his house.
Another suffered a similar attack when he refused to buy cigarettes for three teenagers.
Much of the violence is stimulated by alcohol, and the availability of cheap high-octane cider and beers in supermarkets is specifically being blamed.
I was horrified to discover that my 17-year-old granddaughter was drinking cheap vodka, bought from a local supermarket for the same price as a packet of cigarettes.
I found out after she had been taken to the Accident and Emergency department of the local hospital, having passed out after binge drinking with a group of friends.
This is the result of living in a culture where mass drunkenness, which often leads to crime, is the norm.
It is unrealistic to expect the police to be able to sort out these problems.
They are too busy tied up in red tape and desk work, and they will soon be preoccupied with checking the identity cards of immigrants, which is a new anti-terrorism measure being introduced later this year.
We should remember that it was Tony Blair and his home secretaries who were responsible for creating these laws, which result in anyone with a dark skin walking our streets to be regarded with suspicion.
It is somewhat ironic that, at this time, the BBC has been running a series of television programmes under the generic heading “White”.
They examine the perception that the English white working class is under threat.Its cameras visited Bradford, which has the most concentrated Asian Muslim population in the country, and Barking in East London, which might best be described as “ethnically multicultural”.
The series draws parallels with the racist mentality of the 1960s and, in particular, Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech.
It was made in 1968, at the height of the massive wave of Asian immigration, and Powell’s actual words were: “As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding – like the Romans, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood”.
The immigrants struck a dangerous chord with many white Britons.
Dockers and meat packers staged marches and rallies in support, with speeches invoking the spirit of Dunkirk, and placards proclaiming racist slogans such as “Enoch called a spade a spade”.
There was a backlash against the speech, of course, which eventually led to English multiculturalism, as embraced by the Blair government.
It was the unlikely figure of the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who stirred up similar feelings in the breasts of white Englishmen earlier this year.
In a speech called “Civil and Religious Law in England”, Dr Williams appeared to suggest that certain elements of Islamic Sharia law should be adopted by Britain.
Whether he meant them to, or not, his comments stirred up a hornet’s nest.
A large part of the population was already concerned about the perceived erosion of English culture and traditions by what it saw as a potential “take-over” by an ever increasing Muslim sector.
Even if this is not actually being endorsed by the government, it was certainly doing nothing to discourage it.
Aided by jingoistic headlines in the tabloid press, we could now visualise women being stoned in public, or thieves having their hands cut off. Of course, the archbishop had meant nothing so radical.
He later explained that he had been referring to certain aspects of marital law, particularly in relation to divorce but the genie was out of the bottle.
He was attacked by all three major political parties, fellow Christians, Jews and, indeed, some Muslims.
Even though he survived a tricky meeting of the ruling Synod of the Anglican Church some days later, critics within the church marvelled that a man of such intelligence could misjudge the public mood so badly.
As one commentator put it: “The archbishop may look to the past for comfort. In March, 1556, one of his predecessors, Thomas Cranmer, was burnt at the stake for expressing unpopular views”.
Dr Williams may well have reflected that being ‘put to the fire’ by the media is not as bad as the real thing.