Was it just the woman on the tram, or is Britain afraid of foreigners?
The appalled reaction to the racism of the woman on the Croydon tram (presumably today’s equivalent of the Clapham omnibus) suggests that such attitudes are no longer accepted in Britain. But then that reaction was expressed first and most prominently on Twitter, which is hardly representative of wider society.
Indeed it’s barely 18 months since the Mail on Sunday printed one of the most xenophobic headlines of recent years: “His wife is Spanish, his mother Dutch, his father half-Russian and his spin doctor German. Is there ANYTHING British about Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg?”.
The calculation was that voters wouldn’t support a leader who was tainted with foreignness. After all, this is the land where memories of the war are so prominent that a German leader’s speech to the Bundestag makes our national headlines when it taps into our fears of bellicose foreign enemies.
But two recent YouGov polls suggest that most Brits are far less suspicious of foreigners than the Mail on Sunday’s headline writers would have us believe.
A poll for Demos did find lower levels of trust for foreigners than for Brits, but overall very little outright distrust:
So while there’s more agnosticism about foreigners’ trustworthiness compared with Brits’, only 1 in 50 feel strongly that they are generally not trustworthy.
And when we look at attitudes to people in specific countries, there are very few grounds for lazy assumptions that Brits still detest Germans. In fact, more people think Germans are very trustworthy than think the same about our special transatlantic friends. Even suspicion of French people is the view of a minority:
An interesting aspect of this is that it can’t simply be explained as a matter of older and more xenophobic people being increasingly replaced by younger liberals. The proportion of people born before 1952 who say they find Germans trustworthy is higher than the proportion born after 1986 who say the same (though more younger people say that Germans are very trustworthy):
The woman on the Croydon tram can no doubt still find some who share her views. But the numbers who think that foreigners are less trustworthy is now so small, that even the British tradition of nervously eyeing the Germans may be not as popular as it once was.