I know that Antony Higginbotham is a human being because I saw the look of shock and fear on his face as he realised, on election night in December 2019, that he had won his seat as MP for our town. He knows exactly how it feels to have his life uprooted and move to a new place, with a new job, and a totally new lifestyle. He knew that it was something he wanted, but the reality of his future dawned on him.
This is the same look I had on my own face each time I started a new school because I’d had to move to follow my dad’s Air Force career. It’s the same look I see on the faces of the two-year-olds I care for as they move through nursery, on my friends’ faces as they send their children to a new school, or they themselves start a new job. Most strikingly, it is the look I see on the faces of men, women, and children as they board a precarious rubber dinghy which they hope will bring them to a new, safer life, miles from their home.
To be absolutely clear, these events we experience in our lives are nothing compared to the horrors those seeking asylum face. But every one of us, at some point in our life, has been a refugee, searching for kindness in strangers to help make a bad situation a little easier. So why do we allow politicians to tell us that we should only offer this kindness to a certain ‘type’ of people? They claim ‘they’ – those seeking refuge from war, famine, and the threat of death – are coming to steal our jobs, and that we should deny them their human right to seek safety. They are asking us to hate ourselves, our friends and our neighbours.
Mr Higginbotham is absolutely correct in his anger at the illegal activities of people smugglers – those who demand a £3000 payment for a potentially fatal journey across the English Channel. But he fails to show any understanding of the desperation which must lead someone to seek out the help of these traffickers. Surely he would resort to such an extreme measure if it were the only way to protect his family? We must move on from attacking those looking for our help, to actually tackling the issues which lead to that point, and those who seek to profit from it.
We are living in a time where our communities face unprecedented danger from a virus pandemic, yet the neighbourly spirit we saw rise up in response is now being buried by the usual unfounded fear of ‘the other’. Why is this? Who benefits from our fear? And why does our new MP seek to ally himself with those who would have us turn away desperate people in need? Antony Higginbotham may wrap himself in Nigel Farage’s Union Jack and perhaps he draws some comfort from it. But I know that deep down he knows what it’s like to be an outsider. What our town needs now is politicians who aren’t afraid to be human beings.
Councillor Sarah Hall