WAS this Britain? Every group of people I passed was speaking Russian. The shops were full of black bread, pickled cucumbers and vodka, the faces were Slavic. The advertisements in the windows were in the Cyrillic script I had come to know so well when I lived, many years before, in Moscow. Yet here I was in the shadow of a lovely English Gothic church tower, half-way to dear old Skegness, surrounded by fields of English turnips, leeks and sugar beet, under an English heaven. This was Boston, Lincolnshire, which I had first seen three decades ago as a somnolent, slightly shabby market town where a kindly traffic warden had found me a parking space, saying: ‘We can always find room for a foreigner.’ In those days, a visitor from London was about as foreign as it got in Boston.
Now they were talking Portuguese in the pubs, Polish in the cafes, Latvian and Estonian on the buses.
If I had fallen into the river and called out ‘Help!’, I couldn’t even have been sure that anyone would have understood.
Somehow this transformation was more of a shock, more disturbing and perplexing, than any of the other migration-driven changes I had seen.
And that tended to be the attitude of the older residents – not anger, hatred or hostility, we are not like that – but bafflement that such a huge thing could have erupted into their peaceful lives, without anyone warning or asking them.
We had all got used to London being different, long ago.
The former mill towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire, with their huge new mosques and veiled women, were a place apart.
If it could come here, into Deep England, then it would come to everywhere.
It really is not much good the Prime Minister turning round now and saying to the people of Boston ‘this must stop’.
Even if anyone believed he can or will do anything (and his various schemes are as firmly based as Theresa May’s promises to get rid of Abu Qatada), the event has happened.
The greatest mass migration in our history has taken place.
The newcomers are lawfully here.
They have the jobs, live in the houses, use the NHS.
Their children are in the schools.
Come to that, they are paying tax.
Our leaders only had to go to Boston, any time in the past five years, and they would have known.
But all our leading politicians were afraid of knowing the truth.
If they knew, they would at least have to pretend to act.
And the truth was, they liked things as they were.
And it was at least partly my own fault.
When I was a Revolutionary Marxist, we were all in favour of as much immigration as possible.
It wasn’t because we liked immigrants, but because we didn’t like Britain. We saw immigrants – from anywhere – as allies against the staid, settled, conservative society that our country still was at the end of the Sixties.
Also, we liked to feel oh, so superior to the bewildered people – usually in the poorest parts of Britain – who found their neighbourhoods suddenly transformed into supposedly ‘vibrant communities’.
If they dared to express the mildest objections, we called them bigots.
Revolutionary students didn’t come from such ‘vibrant’ areas (we came, as far as I could tell, mostly from Surrey and the nicer parts of London).
We might live in ‘vibrant’ places for a few (usually squalid) years, amid unmown lawns and overflowing dustbins.
But we did so as irresponsible, childless transients – not as homeowners, or as parents of school-age children, or as old people hoping for a bit of serenity at the ends of their lives.
When we graduated and began to earn serious money, we generally headed for expensive London enclaves and became extremely choosy about where our children went to school, a choice we happily denied the urban poor, the ones we sneered at as ‘racists’.
What did we know, or care, of the great silent revolution which even then was beginning to transform the lives of the British poor?
To us, it meant patriotism and tradition could always be derided as ‘racist’.
And it also meant cheap servants for the rich new middle-class, for the first time since 1939, as well as cheap restaurants and – later on – cheap builders and plumbers working off the books.
It wasn’t our wages that were depressed, or our work that was priced out of the market. Immigrants didn’t do the sort of jobs we did.
They were no threat to us.
The only threat might have come from the aggrieved British people, but we could always stifle their protests by suggesting that they were modern-day fascists.
I have learned since what a spiteful, self-righteous, snobbish and arrogant person I was (and most of my revolutionary comrades were, too).
I have seen places that I knew and felt at home in, changed completely in a few short years.
I have imagined what it might be like to have grown old while stranded in shabby, narrow streets where my neighbours spoke a different language and I gradually found myself becoming a lonely, shaky voiced stranger in a world I once knew, but which no longer knew me.
I have felt deeply, hopelessly sorry that I did and said nothing in defence of those whose lives were turned upside down, without their ever being asked, and who were warned very clearly that, if they complained, they would be despised outcasts.
And I have spent a great deal of time in the parts of Britain where the revolutionary unintelligentsia don’t go.
Such people seldom, if ever, visit their own country.
Their orbits are in fashionable London zones, and holiday destinations.
They are better acquainted with the Apennines of Italy than with the Pennines of their own country.
But, unlike me, most of the Sixties generation still hold the views I used to hold and – with the recent, honourable exception of David Goodhart, the Left-wing journalist turned Think Tank boss who recognises he was wrong – they will not change.
The worst part of this is the deep, deep hypocrisy of it.
Even back in my Trotskyist days I had begun to notice that many of the migrants from Asia were in fact not our allies.
They were deeply, unshakably religious.
They were socially conservative.
Their attitudes towards girls and women were, in many cases, close to medieval.
Many of them were horribly hostile to Jews, in a way which we would have condemned fiercely if anyone else had expressed it, but which we somehow managed to forgive and forget in their case.
We have recently seen this in the distressing and embarrassing episode of Lord Ahmed’s outburst against a phantom Jewish conspiracy.
But I recall ten years ago, in a Muslim bookshop in the backstreets of Burnley, seeing on open display a modern edition of Henry Ford’s revolting anti-Jewish diatribe The International Jew, long ago disowned by Ford himself.
It is unthinkable that any mainstream shop in any High Street could sell this toxic tripe.
Many of these new arrivals, though we revolutionaries welcomed them, knew and cared nothing of the great liberal causes we all supported. Or they were hostile to them.
Many on the Left still lie to themselves about this. George Galloway, the most Left-wing MP in Parliament, owes his seat to the support of conservative Muslims.
Yet he voted in favour of same-sex marriage.
It would be interesting to be at any meetings where Mr Galloway discusses this with his constituents.
Of course, all political parties are compromises, but there is a big difference between splitting the difference and flatly ignoring a profound clash of principles.
This sort of cynicism has been at the heart of the deal.
Immigrants have been used by those who wanted to transform the country.
They have taken the parts of them they liked, and made much of them.
They have ignored the parts they did not like.
Mr Galloway likes the Muslims’ opposition to the Iraq War and their scorn for New Labour (and good luck to him). But he does not like their views on sexual morality.
The same is true of many others.
One of the most striking characteristics of the majority of migrants from the Caribbean is their strong, unashamed Christian faith, and their love of disciplined education.
Yet the arrival of many such people in London was never used as a reason to say our society should become more Christian, or our schools should be better-ordered.
At that time, the revolutionary liberals were hoping to wave goodbye to the Church, and were busy driving discipline out of the state schools. So nobody ever said ‘Let us adapt our society to the demands of these newcomers’.
They had the wrong sort of demands.
Instead, the authorities made much of the behaviour of a minority of such migrants, often much disliked by their fellow Afro-Caribbeans – men who took and sold illegal drugs and who were not prepared to respect British law.
If proper policing of such people could be classified as ‘racist’, then the drug laws as a whole could be weakened, and the police placed under liberal control.
This is why the so-called ‘Brixton Riots’ of April 1981 were used as a lever to weaken the police and undermine the drug laws, rather than as a reason to restore proper law and peace to that part of London.
Something very similar happened with the Macpherson Report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Few noticed that the report openly urged that people from different ethnic groups should be policed in different ways – and actually condemned ‘colour-blind’ policing.
In whose interests was this?
And wasn’t this attitude, that different types of behaviour could be expected from different ethnic groups, racially prejudiced?
But what did that matter, if it suited the revolutionary liberal agenda of purging the police of old-fashioned conservative types?
The same forces destroyed Ray Honeyford, a Bradford headmaster who – long before it was fashionable – tried to stand up against political correctness in schools. He was driven from his job and of course condemned as a ‘racist’.
Yet it would have been very much in the interests of integration and real equality in Bradford if his warnings had been heeded and acted upon.
As it is, as any observant visitor finds, Bradford’s Muslim citizens and its non-Muslim citizens live in two separate solitudes, barely in contact with each other. Much of the Islamic community is profoundly out of step with modern Britain.
Once again, revolutionary liberals had formed a cynical alliance to destroy conservative opposition.
Their greatest ally has always been the British Tory politician Enoch Powell who, in a stupid and cynical speech in 1968, packed with alarmist language and sprinkled with derogatory expressions and inflammatory rumour, defined debate on the subject of immigration for 40 years.
Thanks to him, and his undoubted attempt to mobilise racial hostility, the revolutionary liberals have ever afterwards found it easy to accuse any opponent of being a Powellite.
Absurdly, even when Britain’s frontiers were demolished by the Blair Government and hundreds of thousands of white-skinned Europeans came here to work, it was still possible to smear any doubters as ‘racists’.
It couldn’t have been more obvious that ‘race’ wasn’t the problem.
The thing that made these new residents different was culture – language, customs, attitudes, sense of humour.
Rather than them adapting to our way of life, we were adapting to theirs.
This wasn’t integration.
It was a revolution.
Yet nobody – especially their elected representatives – would listen to them, because they were assumed to be Powellite bigots, motivated by some sort of unreasoning hatred.
I now believe that the unreasoning hatred comes almost entirely from the liberal Left.
Of course, there are still people who harbour stupid racial prejudices.
But most of those concerned about immigration are completely innocent of such feelings.
The screaming, spitting intolerance comes from a pampered elite who are ashamed of their own country, despise patriotism in others and feel none themselves. They long for a horrible borderless Utopia in which love of country has vanished, nannies are cheap and other people’s wages are low. What a pity it is that there seems to be no way of turning these people out of their positions of power and influence.
For if there is to be any hope of harmony in these islands, then it can only come through a great effort to bring us all together, once again, in a shared love for this, the most beautiful and blessed plot of earth on the planet.