Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 6th July 2016

Next year is the seventieth anniversary Crawley New Town. The town motto ‘I grow and I rejoice’ and the acorns on the town’s crest—symbolising future growth—bear testament to the post-war optimism that we could build a better future for all.

Of course, the thing about New Towns is that, barring few exceptions, residents’ ancestral roots don’t run deep. Even ‘Old Crawley’ was in large part nineteenth century development following the roll out of rail across the South East, a revolution in transport enabling migration from London and beyond in the same way Gatwick now enables travel from further afield.

The very construction of the New Town was made possible by international migration, with vast numbers of construction workers travelling across the Irish Sea to lay the literal foundations of the town.

We’ve all originated from somewhere else and that should be a source of strength, not weakness. Crawley is a place of opportunity, where we can all grow together. Residents of every culture have enjoyed the Celtic and Irish Festival, the Crawley Mela and Black History Month. It didn’t matter where the parents, grandparents or great-grandparents of the kids I went to school with came from, we all learned the same and our cultures and identities evolved from the contact.

It’s tragic to hear of the increase in xenophobia following last month’s referendum. At the core of the British Enlightenment which enabled the UK’s period of global economic and political dominance was an understanding that people aren’t defined by their ancestry and that every human being has inalienable rights. It is why persecuted intellectuals fled to the UK, lending their skills to the country and turning us into the powerhouse of the nineteenth century. Intolerance is a cause, not a consequence, of economic failure and fascism may be many things, but there is nothing whatsoever British about the belief or those who practice it.

While Crawley so far seems immune from the rise in hate crime, a source of pride, we must remain ever watchful for those who forget that difference is a source of our nation’s strength.

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