In the Sunday Times yesterday, Camilla Cavendish had this to say:
Many of the loudest voices now calling for a halt [to immigration] come from immigrants themselves. It was my Polish friend Urszula who told me the lady on our corner is one of hundreds of Romanian Big Issue sellers who are claiming to be self-employed and so eligible for all benefits. Urszula runs a business; she pays her taxes; she says she did not come here to see England "overwhelmed".
Ah, that good old Polish friend. When the Poles first started coming into this country a few years ago, there was general uproar. On the one hand, they were better builders than the Brits, cheaper and more reliable. Plus they didn't take tea-breaks. The middle classes loved them. On the other, they drove like they were in Poland, they ate weird food, and their numbers were straining the schools and hospitals. The working class didn't like them and the middle class suddenly wasn't all that sure they loved them either. All in all, they weren't really all that welcome.
Now that the new immigrants are from even poorer Romania and Bulgaria, the Poles are all right, and the newcomers are scum. Even the Poles have no truck with the Romanians. A Polish woman we know (not Urszula) used to work as a cleaner at various hotels. "Romanians? They are horrible. Horrible. Do you know what they do?" she said the other day. "They use bleach to clean the cups and plates, and they steal everything. The towels, the toiler paper, the little soap bars, the small shampoos..."
When we asked her why the Romanians did that, she sniffed. "They send everything back home to Romania!"
Meanwhile, why should Cavendish's Polish friend have any particular insight into Big Issue vendors? Why should we believe Urszula anyway? If Cavendish can throw anecdotes such as the one above in support of her thesis, perhaps I can be permitted one as well. I see on a regular basis exactly four Big Issue vendors. One of them is a middle-aged Englishman in a wheelchair. He is polite and wishes passers-by good evening as they head home after work. Another is a polite Eastern European man who bows to people and repeats "Good morning, have a good day" in a sing-song manner as they pass him on their way to work. A third is a quiet Eastern European woman - possibly Albanian, or perhaps Bosnian - who says 'Big Issue, please' in a tired voice. And the fourth is a Englishwoman in a wheelchair, who also smiles at people passing by.
At least Cavendish is consistent. This is her on January 22, 2004 before the big influx of the Poles began:
Instead, the prosperous countries will have to protect their interests by making it harder to claim state benefits — the NHS being particularly vulnerable as one of the few free, universal healthcare systems in Europe. Here, our greatest allies will be the newly legalised Hungarians and Poles who have worked too hard to have a smidgin of sympathy for freeriders from back home.