Barry Gibson: Politician’s bap tweet ruffles the feathers
FINGERS on buzzers, here’s your starter for 10.
Which Yorkshire politician said this on Twitter two days ago: “Just had worst coffee & bacon bap in London at Victoria Station. Why can’t Camden Food Co employ English staff?”
You might have gone for Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley and spokesman for the Campaign Against Political Correctness.
Or you may have plumped for UKIP’s top man in Yorkshire, Godfrey Bloom, whose contributions to international diplomacy include being thrown out of the European Parliament in 2010 for likening a senior German politician to Hitler.
You might even have guessed that the disgruntled commuter in question was the BNP’s Yorkshire Euro-MP Andrew Brons.
Wrong, wrong and wrong again.
As you may have noticed on page 5, the disgruntled bacon buttie buyer was none other than Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, lifelong member of the Labour Party, those well-known commandos of the PC brigade.
It was strange to see a man of the left making a statement which appeared to belong at the opposite end of the political spectrum.
I have no reason to doubt Mr Sheerman’s assertion that his breakfast on Monday was awful, or that it was prepared for him by a foreigner. But I do wonder why he thinks these two facts are related.
Does Mr Sheerman believe that all native-born English are culinary masterminds? I can point him to a few greasy spoon cafes in his own constituency which suggest otherwise.
After other Twitter users challenged Mr Sheerman’s remarks, he replied: “My last word on this. I am not a xenophobe I am an MP and I represent the good folk of Huddersfield not Gdansk!”
Again, I’m not sure what to make of this statement. For a start – as Mr Sheerman knows very well – this fine town has a long-standing association with Poland which pre-dates that country’s entry into the European Union and the immigration that followed.
A fair number of his constituents have grandparents who hailed from Gdansk or Warsaw or Poznan.
If only from a simple electoral mathematics point of view, the MP for Huddersfield is probably the last Member of Parliament who should be saying anything even vaguely anti-Polish.
I’m not entirely sure what was going through Mr Sheerman’s head on Monday (maybe that bacon bap was just REALLY bad) but it’s the reaction of other Twitter users to his outbursts that I found more interesting.
One replied to the MP’s original tweet by noting that Camden Food Company may base its hiring policy on the idea that English workers are “less reliable, won’t work for the pay, don’t apply”.
Another Twitterer asked Mr Sheerman: “Do you think lots of English people applied & they turned them all down?”
Both tweets are based on the widely held assumption that foreign workers are superior to English ones.
The BBC did a documentary about this a few years ago which included footage of industrious Poles picking butternut squash in an East Anglian field while the idle local youths of the nearby town leered at the camera and moaned about the foreigners taking their jobs.
The large-scale immigration from central and eastern Europe in the last 10 years has led to the belief that hard-working foreigners are filling the roles which the English are too feckless, too unskilled or too unreliable to do themselves.
And, it must be said, that there is something to this. Mr Sheerman’s detractors have a point when they assert that foreigners make better employees.
English workers must now compete in a common market with several hundred million other potential job-seekers, many of them products of societies and education systems which taught them to value hard graft and academic achievement.
Rather than moan about the lack of English staff at his train station coffee shop, perhaps Mr Sheerman should focus on improving the schools in this country so that local young people develop the “soft skills” of personal responsibility, time-keeping and team-working which employers want.
Having said all that, there is something about the “foreigners good, English bad” mentality which I find unfair.
I am yet to see anyone make the obvious point that judging native and immigrant job-seekers is not comparing like with like.
What is actually being considered here are all English people on one side versus a tiny proportion of the Polish or Czech or Hungarian population on the other.
The English sample, because it is so large, includes a great spectrum of potential employees from the workhorse to the show pony.
But the foreign side of the equation is mostly made up of thoroughbreds as it includes only those who showed the initiative and energy to emigrate here in the first place.
There are very few lazy Polish people in this country. But I bet there are a fair few bone-idle types back home.
They’re sitting at home on their Polish sofa drinking Polish beer and watching Polish Jeremy Kyle while their Polish mother makes them their Polish lunch.
Work-shy of Warsaw isn’t unblocking your toilet on a Sunday evening or picking your butternut squash on a wet Wednesday afternoon.
And he certainly isn’t serving Barry Sheerman his bacon buttie in Victoria Station on a Monday morning.