I've been writing about the Poles off and on for a couple of years - ever since I realised who the student-looking chaps in the farmers portakabin down the road were. Nice chaps working on the farms, anaemic blondes staffing the Lidl tills - they're all over the place. Stories like this and this are popping up too.
The Sunday Times reckons some 350,000 in eighteen months. Blunkett's Home Office estimated some 13,000.
Coleman believes the only comparable migration was that of French Protestants, known as Huguenots, after the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685 ended their right to practise their faith at home.
An estimated 50,000 fled to Britain in the 17th century, adding about 1% to the country’s 5m population. The current Polish intake, although far greater in numbers, is a lower proportion.
Professor John Salt, of the migration research unit at University College London, agrees with Coleman’s view. “What we are seeing now . . . is something unprecedented,” he said.
Some Brits have welcomed these new migrants with open arms. The Telegraph's Tom Utley loves Marek and Anna - so pleasant and so affordable.
When a member of the English educated classes finds a polite, hard-working immigrant, it's the done thing to make a noise about it, like the inner-city teacher lauding Ghanaians ("the most polite and respectful society I know").
I'm a little more leery of what's happening. Firstly, many Poles are coming here to stay. They're bringing wives and kids. In the nearby market town a Polish deli has opened. Great news for a Catholic primary a tad short of the faithful (our first Polish kids start next term) - on a national scale, great news for Catholic educators, otherwise looking at vast areas, once the Irish immigrant hearts of our great cities, which are full of Catholic schools with 90% Muslim pupils.
I'm trying to take a long view on this. The fact that these new Brits are polite and hard-working, do not do crack or firearms, nor are they likely to blow up Tube trains, is a function of the culture they have arrived with. It tells us nothing about what their first and second generation descendents will be like after twenty years exposure to the cultural vacuum of the UK.
Before the borders were effectively opened in 1997 there had been three great waves of 20th century immigration into the UK - West Indians from the Caribbean, Pakistanis/Bangladeshis from what was then East and West Pakistan, Hindus and Sikhs from India and the Punjab.
All of these groups on arrival were intensely respectable and law-abiding. The Windrush generation were as good a bunch of people as you'd find anywhere, and their education in the 1940s/50s Caribbean was as British as anything taught over here. But they were coming to a Mother Country that had just stopped believing in itself, armed with a culture which turned out to have no value in its original home. Something happened to many of their children between 1957 and 1981 - and it wasn't good. You can see the cultural descendents of Windrush in the immaculately dressed families heading for Wandsworth churches on a Sunday - but you can also see street crime, shootings, a gigantic bastardy rate - what Robert Whelan called a warrior culture on the streets.
Likewise the parents and grandparents of those who torched Manningham, "protesting against the BNP" by attempting, 600-strong, the mass murder of 22 elderly white Labour Club members, were a law-abiding bunch who came here expecting to become Brits. I've posted on this previously.
The first generation of immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh came here as "immigrants". They came expecting and wanting to integrate to some extent into the existing community. The collection of photographs taken of the first generation by the photographic studio in Manningham Lane illustrates this. The first week’s wages went on a Burtons suit and the men proudly displayed watches, pens and radios, mostly supplied by the photographer.
Two great migrations - two serious sets of problems twenty years down the line. What's the secret of the Sikhs and Hindus, whose migration was around the same time as the Muslims yet after twenty or thirty years here still aren't setting fire to other people or their property, but instead are becoming richer and better educated ? Is it that they, of all immigrant groups, have effortlessly translated themselves into the middle class ?
I'm really not sure - I'll have to ask Sunny. Family values will account for some of it - but Muslims have those too. My gut feel is that the Hindu community are perhaps the most economically valuable, and also the most portable. Were things to go terribly pearshaped here we might well find their marketable skills and capital heading elsewhere.
Some of the new immigrants since the borders were opened - Kosovans, Albanians, Somalis - came from countries with an existing culture of violence. Poland has been at peace, whether it wanted it or not, for sixty years.
Under Communism, the Catholic Church became the soul of Poland and centre of resistance to Soviet occupation. To be a Polish Catholic was to be a Polish patriot.
Then the Wall - and the Soviet Empire - fell. I don't know what that's done to church attendance back home, but there are about 300 Poles, mostly under 30, living within a four-mile radius of our church. You can count the Polish attendees at Mass on the fingers of one hand.
These people - and more their children - will not have the faith or the memory of oppression which sustained their parents and grandparents. They will have TV, a UK State schooling, cultural vacuum, and the Welfare State. It may well be that their children won't fancy a Portakabin and a fiver an hour. It's a bit early to celebrate the Poles - about 25 years early.
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