This article was first published in the Salisbury Review magazine and has been reproduced here with their kind permission.
I had a Kenyan lodger. ‘Look’, I said excitedly, ‘a Kenyan has just won a gold medal in the Olympics.’ She turned to me with disdain and said, ‘Wrong tribe’.
I will never forget it: the hatred, the contempt, the fact that this Gold Medal Olympian was not even considered a member of her own country. That disdain can turn to extreme violence, as seen with the Kikuyu massacres in Kenya and the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda.
Nepal, which I know well, having lived there for many years, has about 123 different linguistic and ethnic groups. That is 123 different languages in a population of 30 million. These groups are all indigenous, often separated by high mountain ranges, and display a dazzling array of not only languages, but religions, facial features, customs and traditions. On top of this, you can add caste and socio-economic class differences within groups and you have thousands of little sub-groups, many of whom will never intermarry.
Whilst Nepal’s different ethnic groups have been reasonably tolerant of each other, there has been at times extreme political violence and constant low-level communal violence. The worst example recently was when a group who are culturally Indian, but politically Nepalese, blockaded all the fuel entering the country. For two months there was no petrol or cooking oil in the capital city. Groups manned roadblocks and brought business to a halt. Black market fuel reached astronomical prices. One small group brought a country to its knees for political purposes.
Nepal has what is known as a ‘diluted proportional representation system’, a bit of first past the post and a bit of proportional representation. All 123 linguistic and ethnic groups put up their own candidates. Most people vote ethnically. Sherpas vote for the Sherpa candidate in the Sherpa region. Rais vote for the Rai candidate and so on. Even when there are coalitions of larger parties such as the National Congress, it is almost inevitable that a Sherpa candidate will beat a Rai candidate in a Sherpa region. Many ethnic groups have the same surname as their group – for example all Sherpas have the surname Sherpa – so it is very easy to identify who you are voting for on a ballot paper. (As an aside, most western newspapers get this wrong and think Sherpa is a job description: it is not. It is a surname with a capital S.)
But what is most important is that Nepal has never had a stable government. It seems to have had no government at all for months or years on end and at least 16,000 people have died from political violence during the early 2000s. An attempt to make a constitution took years and years, with more violence. Reuters said:
‘The final months of the constitution drafting was marred by violent protests by ethnic Madhesis and Tharus against arbitrary federal demarcation and citizenship provisions in the southern part of the country. Nepal’s first constitution delivered by the people’s elected body had pushed the country into further instability and violence.’
Nepal is a beautiful country, but it is practically ungovernable. Ungovernable countries cannot easily develop. Decisions are not made, corruption becomes rampant, political deadlock is the norm and nothing gets done. I have always thought that Nepal is exactly what you do not want demographically for a country.
Until the 1950s Britain was blessed, as Japan still is, with not being demographically like Nepal. With a few minor regional variations, the majority of people spoke English as a first language, were White Caucasian, would have ticked the box as being Christian and they all rubbed along pretty well – except of course in Northern Ireland, where sub-sects of Christianity had created years of sectarian violence.
When we apply for candidature of the EU next year and pay the fine or application fee, the huge electoral constituencies of our MEPs will be perfect for proportional representation.
Now Britain is exactly like Nepal or perhaps worse. About 308,000 people live in the London borough of Newham, which is approximately one-hundreth the size of Nepal. According to the Newham Recorder, they speak more than 100 languages. I saw a Newham council billboard near Stratford advertising the fact that there were more than 300 languages in the borough, as though it were some sort of an advantage.
Likewise in the nearby borough of Tower Hamlets, the official census notes:
In Tower Hamlets, residents were represented in 90 of the different language groups. However, as the ONS classification does not identify all languages separately, the total number of languages spoken in the borough is likely to be higher.
In the UK as a whole, there are certainly more than 300 ‘official’ languages that the government puts on its tick-box lists. If your first language is the Sherpa language, I presume you are forced to tick Nepalese, even though the languages do not have a word in common and have completely different derivations and entirely unrelated scripts: Sherpa is related to Tibetan and Nepali is derived from Sanskrit. A quick look at the surnames of Gurkhas in the British Army will show you some of the first languages spoken: Rai, Gurung, Sherpa, Lama, Magar, Tharu, Limbu. When one considers the realities of one small country like Nepal with 123 languages, the actual number of languages spoken in the UK will be astonishing.
There are estimated to be 6,500 languages in the world. Given that Britain has taken immigrants from every conceivable area of the world, it cannot be an overestimation to say we have people speaking more than 1,000 languages in the UK, but who knows? Like a lot of things relating to the people now living here, we often officially know very little. Maybe there are 6,500 languages.
This brings us to the question of government and voting. We do not have proportional representation in the UK and this has been extremely hard on small parties such as UKIP and the Liberal Democrats. But just imagine if we did have proportional representation now. What would happen? The first thing would be the founding of hundreds of new parties representing the main ethnic and political groups of Britain. There would be the obvious ones like the Polish party, the Pakistani party, the Indian party, but there would probably be lots of groups you would never have expected. How about the Nepali party? In 2008 there were more than 70,000 Nepalese in Britain and that number will be much higher now. That is the population of one constituency so there would be one Nepali Member of Parliament. This will be especially so when next year, having paid a re-entry fee, we apply to rejoin the EU and once again adopt its enormous constituencies.
There would be many Polish MPs representing their million people and an extraordinary number of Muslim MPs. The Dutch system shows us what can happen with large Muslim populations and proportional representation. A party called Denk has returned two members of parliament. Amongst its utterings are a denial of the Armenian genocide, various violently anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements and, according to Breitbart, Denk have suggested that the native Dutch should ‘get out’ if they don’t want to be a minority in their own homeland.
It is normal for ethnic groups to vote ethnically. We should not be surprised by this. If British people were allowed to vote in Chinese elections (which they are not), they would also probably band together and all vote for one British person to represent them. We also should not be surprised if our country becomes ungovernable, with or without proportional representation. Just the number of languages alone and the continuous, unrelenting mass immigration will ensure that.
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