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Morrissey: Oh god not again!

1:19 pm - December 1st 2007

by Clairwil    

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I see my hero Morrissey is in a spot of bother with the NME again, this time for failing to hold views that they find acceptable on the subject of immigration. The last time some of you may recall he was in hot water for being racist, not that he actually did anything racist unless you count waving a union flag at a concert as racist. Which I accept that some folk do for reasons that are utterly beyond me.

I remember it well because I was in my final years of school at the time and I incurred the wrath of the folk with Anti-Nazi League stickers on their schoolbags for being an unrepentant fan. They of course were easily dealt with by asking them how in a school with a population that was 60% Asian they had managed to avoid making one single Asian friend or acquaintance. But that was fifteen years ago. More recently I found myself in the remarkable and unique position of receiving death threats and abusive emails of a mainly graphically sexual and sexist nature after this appeared on Indymedia whilst also receiving threatening emails from folk claiming to be affiliated with the BNP for some snide remark or another. Mind you it’s nice that both the racists and anti-racists have something to unite them even if it his just their violent urges towards women.

Moving on to today, the NME are, as I say, on their high horse about racism. As in the past they are opposing racism by continuing to cover black/Asian music in a completely tokenistic way if at all and getting hysterical if anyone fails to show total obedience to the party line.

Having read the interview I felt Morrissey came across as a bit muddled and vague on the issue though not half as muddled as the NME who appear only to have been clear in their aim to draw attention to the ailing rag that ceased to be even remotely relevant over a decade ago and prior to that had been in a slow decline since the late 70’s.

The editor states that he is not accusing Morrissey of being a racist but then goes on to do so by implication by refusing his offer of support of the ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’ campaign they are currently in a flutter about. I must say I was rather disappointed by Morrissey’s offer to involve himself in the campaign, I cannot bear pop stars in campaign mode. If his remarks are not considered racist then why are they unwelcome on an anti-racist platform?

When Morrissey agrees that immigration can enrich the existing culture of a country they are pleased but any suggestion that it changes the culture is frowned upon. How on earth can a culture be enriched without it changing? No change will ever be welcomed by everyone. Preferring the way things were in the past does not mean one is going to stark lobbing bricks through the windows of Chinese takeaways.

What I find most odd of all and have for a number of years now is why it matters if a musician is racist. If I were to write a letter to the NME demanding that they do not feature Pete Doherty in their paper because his open drug use is a bad influence on young people I’d be pilloried. I’d be told that young folk are not stupid and can make up their own minds on drugs. Similarly if I argued that rap should be banned for promoting a culture of violence I’d be compared to Mary Whitehouse and laughed at for the rest of my life. So why then does it matter what anyone’s views are on race or immigration surely these clever young pups who make their own minds about drugs and don’t copy everything they see on TV or in print will not be influenced. In any case I though our rock and pop stars were supposed to outrage conventional morality or does that just extend to the umpteenth sight of tired old tits and lurid depictions of mock violence. So much for artistic freedom.

As an aside I did love the interviewing journalists shocked shriek of ‘…you sound like a Tory!’ in response to some of Morrissey’s remarks. Oh yes because sounding like a Tory is so much worse than sounding like a Labour voter. Is there any real difference other than a bit of tribal feeling left over from when it did matter? I appreciate that English readers may have a different perspective on this but from my Scottish perspective and in the context of Scottish politics I have a lot more respect and time for a Tory voter than any Labour voter. Up here Labour is the bloated, corrupt, uncaring, self-serving establishment, I have no doubt the Tories would be equally useless in office but I find their voters have at least put some thought into their beliefs. The herd mentality of the Scottish Labour voter has given us Councillor Terry Kelly and too many like him.

Anyway to return to the hoo hah round this interview. I bring you the following remarks from The Guardian website;

‘WarwickLad – “Any chance that someone can let us know what English culture is”

I think it’s getting drunk on pissy lager, wearing a pair of skiddy union jack boxers on your head, and chanting a chorus of “here we go” ad nauseum.’

Who knew England didn’t have a culture? Far be it from me a mere Scot to attempt to define it, lest I be accused of oppressing you all with my big tartan jackboot but I shall list the first ten things that occur to me as I think of English culture. Shakespeare, Chaucer, Kipling, PG Wodehouse, cricket, odd pagan traditions -maypoles and the like, soaps, Carry On films, saucy postcards and public schools. Hardly an exhaustive list but that’s what I managed off the top of my head. I could have gone on or put some thought into it and come up with better.

In my experience immigrants are very curious about their host culture. I attended a Burns Supper with a gaggle of asylum seekers a while back who absolutely loved it. The evening was spent doing all the usual Burns stuff and quite spontaneously led to an interesting and enjoyable exchange of folk tales, myths and customs. Everyone in that room was proud of their own culture and curious about the others present. No one had to be given training or pretend they didn’t have a culture for the evening to run smoothly. Why should immigrants who arrive in England be told that there is no host culture beyond drunken, violent football fans? Would it not be healthier and more welcoming to give them a grand tour of English culture rather than deny it’s existence? How can immigrants be expected to integrate if they are told that there is no culture to integrate with? What a choice to offer people become cultureless or ghettoised.

In any case what did the English ever do to deserve being told they have no culture to be proud of? All the British Isles participated in the Empire so if that’s the crime then the punishment isn’t being very fairly distributed. No nation on earth has a stainless record. Germany is allowed a culture even after the Holocaust and rightly so, Turkey has a culture despite the atrocities it committed against the Armenians, again rightly so and one day Saudi Arabia might allow itself a full and open culture even after it’s oppression of an entire gender and disgraceful treatment of Shi’ite Muslims. We’d all quite rightly be up in arms if some oppressed people in far off lands were being told they didn’t have a culture. Of course in England no one is being jailed, tortured or put to death for saying that it does have a culture and that at least I would have though is something to be proud of.

Shutting down debate and denial of culture are more likely to lead to the sort of resentment that fuels racism than leaving people to express their views and acknowledge their culture. After all the expression of racist and bigoted sentiments amongst immigrants appears to be tolerated so why a few harmless remarks about immigration should be cause for alarm is a mystery to me.

This is a guest post. Clairwil blogs here and here.

Also: See the original writer Tim Jonze’s explanation on CIF.

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Reader comments

It’s probably because the NME has always had it in for certain musicians who have offended it at some point in the past, being a petty and self-righteous bunch of twats. I say that as someone who read the magazine for ten years, and there’s nobody more scathing than a lapsed fan.

That said, Morrissey is an arse, and I think he knew exactly what he was doing. He wasn’t asked about immigration at all, according to the journo…

… the question was, “Will you come back to live in England?”. He knew full well the NME would jump on anything he said that could be interpreted as racist in any way, and he couldn’t resist it.

Being neither a fan of Morrissey nor the NME, the whole thing smells like a manufactured controversy to get them both into the proper press. Moz’s law suit is going to be one of those Galloway/Telegraph things where you hope both of them will lose.

The NME not liking Morrissey/Smiths? Are you insane?

The NME did name the Smiths (wrongly) the most influential band of all time as far as I remember. They also seem to froth at the mouth at the prospect of every new rubbish Morrissey album as well.

Irrelevant magazine, irrelevant singer.

Sorry but this writing is starstruck pish. I have every Smith CD ever made and a handful of Mozza’s too and was on the verge of buying tickets to see him at Sunderland but having read his latest quotes I won’t be.

As for:

“What I find most odd of all and have for a number of years now is why it matters if a musician is racist”

It matters if anyone is racist. Especially those in the position to influence.

I don’t think Morrisey came across as “muddled and vague”, no he sounded like a racist plain and simple.

As for the NME being on their “high horse” about racism. Is that a bad thing? Shouldn’t we all be somewhat angry about racisim.

So far I have read a lot of good stuff on Liberal Conspiracy. This is not one of them. Just badly argued apologies for a racist.

Flying Rodent,
I too am a recovering NME reader, something I put down to the fact that there wasn’t much better available at the time.

I am rather fond of Morrissey but he can be a fool at times. The way immigration came up is a little odd and I think you might be right. Anyone who has ever glanced at a copy of the NME when it’s off on one should know it’s not the place for a reasoned debate on anything let alone anything controversial.

I very much doubt this will come to court although for old times sake if it did I’d rather like to see the NME lose. Not that I’ll be losing much sleep either way. Let’s face Morrissey is rich enough to afford the legal fees.


Well ‘ourman’ I can see I shall have to try harder to meet your high standards.

I agree that it matters that people are racist but I don’t understand why it should generate any more alarm that a musician is racist. Nor do I see what relevance it has to their music.

I very much doubt that anyone will become racist because they think Morrissey is. However if you accept that is true then I think we have to look at the influence all art has. If people really are so easily influenced then lets take action against music which glorifies violence, the abuse of women, drug taking and other illegal acts. Who’d have though those right wing Christians were right all along?

I do think Morrissey came across as muddled on vague. He did not offer any coherent argument against immigration beyond that the country has changed. I’d like to know what he specifically feels has changed, why this is a bad thing, what he believes should be done to counteract this change and so on. He didn’t mention any racial group or single one out as having negatively changed the country. From his comments I thought he was talking about all immigration which includes many white immigrants. For a comment to be racist it does have to mention race does it not?

I don’t think the NME being on it’s high horse about racism is a good thing. Yes every decent, thinking person should be angry about racism and seek to counteract it in a positive way. I don’t regard the NME as being part of any constructive opposition to racism. Every few years it bangs on about it then goes quiet. It does not feature black music in any meaningful way, let alone Asian music. Somewhat odd when when considers the enormous influence of black musicians on popular music.

Finally you state that my piece is ‘starstruck’ would you care to point out where? Other than a slightly tongue in cheek use of the word hero in the opening paragraph I can’t see anything to back this up. You state that it is badly argued but fail to offer any superior argument against it. Instead picking out one or two parts and supplying us with some entirely useless and uninteresting information about your concert going plans and record collection. No one likes being talked down to but I’m happy to bite my tongue when faced with decent criticism as opposed to killer lines like ‘starstruck pish’. I have no doubt you have a mighty intellect but I’m afraid it’s not in evidence in your lazy response.

Clairwill, I don’t really think that Morrisey is a racist, he’s more just got his own private image of what England used to be and is expressing regret over the changes that time brings. But I’m quite perplexed by your characterisation of examining or critiqueing public figures on their attitudes towards various issues as being ‘getting on a high horse’, in and of itself. Would you have felt the same about Buju Banton, when various people and publications came out and called him to account for his violent advocacy of homophobia? Good luck to the NME, and anyone else, who see fit to stand up for what they believe. In an atmosphere in which the mainstream media and newspapers of the Right that sell in the tens of millions peddle demonisation of ethnic minorities, immigrants and gays, I fail to see why anyone could object to any publication that at least offers a counter weight to all that hysteria and stigmatisation or offers a different perspective.

I gave up reading the NME 7 years ago, and I hate with a passion what it has become these days. But they do have a point. Morrissey’s always been a grumpy sod with a romanticised version of, well, everything really.

It’s really no surprise that as he’s fast approaching 50 (hell, he was doing this in his early 30s), he’d start romanticising about a mythologised land of his youth where communities were homogeneous and life was simple. He moans in the NME article about the pace of social change in the UK – marking himself as being a grumpy old man annoyed that things aren’t what they used to be.

Really, he might not be racist in the sense that he discriminates on basis of skin colour, but ethnicity is a social construct and includes such factors as culture, and religion as well as biology. And on those terms, someone who moans about the loss of a homogeneous culture which was always diverse, contrary to his memory, is deceiving himself when he says “the price [of immigration into the UK] is enormous”. No it’s not, especially when the person moaning about the loss of British identity spent most of his twenties railing against fox hunters, Royalty, the Conservative Party and reactionary trends in general.

Morrissey may not be racist, but he has become reactionary and that is what annoys the NME’s writers more than anything. It’s what annoys me too. And it’s what should annoy anyone of a liberal persuasion, including Clairwil.

Ah! Racist spotting………….

Apparently fellow LA resident John Lydon recently stated that there were ‘Too many foreigners in Britain’

They could get together and take a show on the road; ‘Send ‘Em All Back’ with ‘Johnny & Mozzer’

I jest…….. =D

To me, It sounds like the sort of curmudgeonly middle aged sulk many people lapse into, especially when they’ve been out of their home nation for a long time. They respond to changes within it with shock or despondency because ‘it’s not the same as it used to be’ and use it as a justification for not coming back.

There is a small irony in that they are both sons of the Irish Diaspora, though as has been stated more lucidly elsewhere, this is never a guarantee that someone will have any truck with any new wave of immigrants.

Thank you for commenting. Before I answer it might be useful if I clarify a couple of things. The above was written last night on my own personal blog, I was contacted by Sunny who asked if he could use it here. So it’s not intended to represent a liberal viewpoint in particular just my own which I find increasingly hard to define since I took the huff with ‘the comrades’ and find myself increasingly irritated by certain dishonest positions widely adopted by liberals.

I also want to be clear that I’m not defending his comments but rather attacking the disproportionate response and the way it has been hyped up by the NME. What I would like to do is understand where he is coming from. The interviewer seems to have been too starstruck /incompetent to ask for even the most basic clarification. As the NME note themselves at the end of the interview they are left none the wiser. All through the immigration part of the interview I think to myself for God’s sake man spit it out. What strikes me as odd is the way the interviewer just accepts his assertion that anyone can get into England when it’s such an easy argument to refute. The interviewer followed up his first conversation with a telephone call for which he should have prepared if he wished to offer an effective challenge to Morrissey’s statements. He failed to do so -either his beliefs go no further than parroted dogma or he was seeking to leave enough ambiguity to allow the current hoo hah to blow up.

Morrissey has always mourned the loss of the past and has been doing so since he was in early twenties. As you say it’s a bit rich for him to complain about the decline of British culture when he’s spent so long attacking some of it’s more iconic aspects. Whether he accepts it or not to me he’s always seemed more in love with a short period of northern English culture rather than British cultures as a whole. That period was of course the beginning of a pretty exciting time regional accents on prime time TV (Coronation Street etc), films and plays being produced that depicted life in the type of area Morrissey grew up in, which also coincides with the rise of British pop music. It’s easy to see why he would feel nostalgic for it. The loss of aspects on that culture can more properly be blamed on the public appetite for American movies etc. Arguably American culture has had a greater impact on UK culture than our immigrant populations.

As you say the UK population has always been more diverse than is currently acknowledged and has of course usually been accompanied by some level of hysteria after which people and aspects of their culture have been absorbed into the national identity. Indeed it is amusing to think that so many ‘British’ traditions came from immigrants and are now defended as being as authentically British as fish and chips (Jewish).

The NME writers may well be annoyed by his reactionary views but that is not how it comes across to me. In refusing his offer of support for their current anti-racism campaign their is an implied accusation of racism. To his credit Morrissey has in the past worked with Asian musicians and expresses an interest in music outwith the whiter than white Brit/American NME frame of reference.

You might well think I should be annoyed by his comments but I’m afraid I can’t get much beyond baffled and perplexed. Pop stars say all sorts of things and in listening to them we should remember that the are the most spoiled and cosseted people on earth, surrounded by yes men. Hence why I speak for myself, utterly reject the notion that any pop star could ever speak for me and care not a jot what they think about anything.

Pah! Ill Man

You snuck in as I was addressing our Patrick.

‘Apparently fellow LA resident John Lydon recently stated that there were ‘Too many foreigners in Britain.

There is a small irony in that they are both sons of the Irish Diaspora, though as has been stated more lucidly elsewhere, this is never a guarantee that someone will have any truck with any new wave of immigrants.’

Spot on the most racist person I know is my mother who is of course the grand-daughter of guess what Irish immigrants. Who herself was spat at and attacked for attending Catholic school but seems to think the borders should have been sealed after her family swanned in -under false names for some reason now lost in the mists of time. It never occurs to her that at the very time her grandparents appeared on the scene, fear was stalking Protestant Scotland at this influx of Catholics with their awful intolerant religion and desire to take over. I expect that just like mummy talking about Muslims today in those days Prods would get cross and say things like ‘they’ve even got the cheek to demand their own schools’!

My apologies for the spelling above. I just re-read (too late) and wish to enter a plea of red wine in my defence. I trust you are all clever enough to decipher my ramblings.

Further to the updates above and in the interests of balance here is the Morrissey camp’s version

Sorry guys, but I recall the NME of old, and unless it’s changed radically in the last five years it’s still a reactionary bag of sensationalist shit.

I remember their smear-job on the singer out of Kula Shaker, who they depicted as some kind of Nazi. As it turned out, he was just a posh twat who wasn’t very clever at all, and thought that his gap-year in India made him some kind of spiritualist.

I especially remember when they announced that he had recorded vocals on the Prodigy album The Fat of the Land – the song was called Narayan, a typical bit of wannabe-Indian guff, but the NME felt compelled to dispel the idea that the song was called Nu-Aryan.

By the time the NME were finished with him, their readers believed he slept in swastika boxer shorts.

That doesn’t mean that Moz isn’t a tosser – he is, and he’ll have to answer for that in every interview he does for the next five years. I just don’t think he’s a Nazi.

Jesus! I’d forgotten about the Kula Shaker controversy. I was always quite amused by the way they made so much of the singer’s posh background as if the average NME hack wasn’t a posturing Home Counties mummy’s boy.

Apologies to Paul at 5. I totally missed your comment. My description of the NME being on it’s high horse is because it’s doing just that. As a paper it has virtually no interest in in any music or culture that isn’t white British or American. Indeed it’s coverage of black music tends to be limited to controversies over clowns like Buju Banton. I don’t find the NME’s input into any debate useful. You often hear racists continually pick up on the negative aspects of a culture, whilst ignoring anything good about that culture. Why do the ‘anti-racist’ NME do this with black culture? Doesn’t continually portraying black musicians in a negative whenever they deign to acknowledge their existence at all fuel racist assumptions? Indeed I’ve often wondered if their was an element of projection in their readiness to see racism in other people.

In terms of racism they can work themselves into a fury over the twattish outbursts of a pop star, yet they make no serious attempt to counteract the ignorance that fuels a great deal of his racism. They could have followed the Morrissey interview with a few facts about the immigration process -numbers coming in, the hoops immigrants need to jump through and so on. Instead they’ve offered us nothing more than a few words telling us that Morrissey is wrong because they say so. Nobody who agreed with his remarks would change their mind because of anything they’ve said or done following the interview because they weren’t provided with any facts or serious argument against his views. All we really know is that the NME don’t like them -big deal.

I gave up reading the NME years ago but it’s always been the same. They get themselves worked up about an issue sexism, homophobia, racism etc. Inform us all it’s very bad without really informing us why. Then ignore it it for another five years. The people who agree with them continue to do so and those that don’t carry on as before. I’m at a total loss as to what use this is to anyone and alarmed by the notion that anyone is getting their political education from the NME of all things.

You may say good luck to anyone who stands up for what they believe, I dispute that the NME staff have done that. All they’ve done is create a sensation around a few daft remarks and judging by some of the remarks I’ve read on various forums online contributed to the impression that liberals are attempting to suppress the ‘truth’ about immigration, which won’t in turn fuel racism and undermine serious opposition to it at all will it?

15. Anarcharnate

You haven’t read What’s Left by Nick Cohen recently, have you Clairwil?
Although i’ve never been much of a fan of NME, its treatment of (the admittedly equally news hungry and opportunistic) Morrissey is undeniably sleazy and overly self regarding. Why tackle genuine problems when one can wrestle with a straw man (or dog)?

I haven’t read ‘What’s Left’ is it any good? Do you think I should?

You’re spot on about the current hoo hah.

Excellent , sensible (and brave) post. Come back soon!

18. Margin4 Error

I have to admit that i’m more metal hammer than nme, but i found this an interesting read and have a question.

We forgive musicians almost all foibles, be they racism, homophobia. cocaine, violence, etc. And we do so because music can be judged independently of the musician.

So what happens when that isn’t possible? What happens when the foibles are inherrent in the music.

The Sex Pistols and the Clash actively fought to make punk an anarchist rather than racist music movement because their dissafected and impoverished fanbase were looking for answers. So were they then to come out in support of state, monarchy and an all white nation it would be widely condemned by their fans.

Likewise the Smiths’ bland brand was tied inextricably to opposition to all that was tory in the 80s, and to that slightly bored listlessness that was so common among art college students. So can their fans really ignore that the brand has been sullied by sentiments shared, if not exclusively, by David Cameron?

19. douglas clark


I agree with what Mike Power had to say.

Interesting take on it over at Harry’s Place:

You have to scroll down to Irish Blood, English Heart.

I think Morrisey was, or at least sang about, pining for a semi mythical England that may or may not have existed for about 18 months in the North of England sometime between 1945 and 1965. A retreat into nostalgia is not uncommon in popular culture during times of radical change – as the 1980s were, especially in the North – and it’s not hard to see how that can lead to reminiscences for a time when society was perceived to be more homogenous. As the main purveyors of jangly guitar music in the 1980s , the NME were bound to adopt him as an honorary son, in the same way as they practicallly canonised Joe Strummer during the Clash’s Sandinista/London calling phases, and Paul Weller post the Jam. They do have a bit of a sixth form approach though – all ists and isms are wrong, irrespective of context – meaning anyone who is prepared to play with prejudices – and Morrisey wasn’t the first, David Bowie and Eric Clapton attracted similar controversies in the preceding decades – was going to be both a potential embarasement, and a source of increased sales for both artist and publication.

Maybe Morrisey is standing up for Englishness precisely because he is the son of Irish immigrants.

It takes an “outsider” to really see whats going on. perhaps?

Also, if “Englishness” as an idea is being supressed as being “racist” , then what do the immigrants integrate into in the first place?

It’s a conundrum that I really can’t get my head around – the Americans have no problem with the idea of being “American”, and their melting pot approach seems to be working far far better than our fractured “multi-cultural” society.

For if you subscribe to the multi-cult idea , then you end up with no society – just ghettoes of different cultures. And I don’t see any benefit in that.

i’ll just throw something into the mix, and it occurred to me when i visited the “love music, hate racism” site.

maybe youngsters nowadays ARENT racist. but thanks to this “love music hate racism” thing”, they actually find out ABOUT racism…. and what it is. and maybe they might go

“hmm… maybe i should check out this racism stuff…”

its just that there comes a point where the message is so in your face that it becomes counter-productive. just a thought that i’d throw out there.

my own opinion – i think the usage of the word “hate” is emotive , to the point of being fascist. i dont see a lot of love on that site – i see a lot of hatred. and thats not good for anyones psyche.

Mike Power,
You are too kind!

Margin4 Error,
You may have a point regarding some of The Smiths fan base but I for one never liked them for the politics.

The Harry’s Place post is spot on. The Rik from The Young Ones bit is hilarious and true.

Matt Munro,
Ah if only they’d paid attention in sixth form. So much bad writing could have been avoided. Still it’s all good for sales.

John Trenchard,
It’s a weird one. Surely our best hope of an integrated society is one where everyone has a strong connection to the host culture. I can’t see the problem. As for Love Music Hate Racism and similar campaigns before it, again you have a point. In any case I doubt the benefits of sloganeering.

A group of Mr Clairwil’s friends attended a Rock Against Racism concert in the late 70’s. At that time in Scotland alcohol could not be legally purchased on a Sunday. Undeterred they march along to an Asian owned off-licence ‘because they’ll serve anyone anytime’. Only to be refused drink. Imagine the shopkeepers surprise as he was racially abused and threatened by one of the group festooned from head to toe in ‘Rock Against Racism’ badges. It’s all very well a cause being fashionable but what happens when it ceases to be on trend?

This debate really sums up the lefties. In Britain today there is no democracy. There’s no freedom of speech. Unless its for foreigners.

Morrissey is totally correct: Britain has lost its identity, the things that made it a great country to live in; its great traditions. In came the foreigners across the channel. They didn’t settle in mainland Europe in places like France and Germany because they all want to come here. It’s because we’re a soft touch. They get put first in the queue for housing – before British taxpayers. In addition, their mosques and other buildings are springing up like forests, eroding our culture and way of life. The immigrants are not integrating. We are getting drier summers, 2007 apart, and as such will experience severe droughts in the future. That is inevitable. With migrants expected to double our population by 2080 and make British the ethnic minority this is very worrying. Water supplies will run out. More houses will be built on flood plains. Scores of houses will be flooded.

In Afghanistan, which is a multicultural country, there are about fifty different nationalities. This is a prime example of what you get when you mix different cultures and beliefs. War. We should have learned from this after Tony Blair’s illegal war in Iraq which has killed thousands of men. Don’t be fooled by the “benefits of Europe” scam. Eighty percent of our laws are now made up by people in Brussels. They haven’t got our interests at heart. They don’t care that eighty percent of cashpoint thefts in Britain are now carried out by Romanian gangs, nor that Romanian gypsies are flocking here which has led to a surge in pickpocketing in London. Bring on the revolution.

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