Actually I don’t live in Cambridge but the recently joined parish of Histon and Impington just north of it and separated from it by the dreaded A14. However it’s only a 10 minute drive to the centre, you can cycle it in 20 and there is a bus service so I get the best of both world’s: village life and access to a great city.
Cambridge is not a city in the normal sense. It’s a big town attached to a world-class university and that’s what defines it. Unlike Oxford there’s no local heavy industry so the university is its dominant employer. And because of the reputation of the university it attracts people from other countries: to study, to do research and to fill jobs. It’s an incredibly diverse community.
This diversity is exemplified in many ways. The number 2 language from the recent census is Chinese, not because of some high concentration of Chinese restaurants but because of the number of Chinese who are a part of the university. There are stories of schools with children from scores of countries. Orchard Park Community School in my patch is typical. All over the city you hear multiple languages spoken, not by tourists but by locals. And if you go to Addenbrookes, Cambridge’s world class hospital, it’s like visiting the United Nations.
And everyone has their own experiences which exemplify the way that Cambridge attracts good people from other countries who come, contribute and adapt but at the same time retain elements of their own cultures. My latest was the taxi driver who took me home on Friday evening. He was (and still is) a Bangladeshi computer sciences graduate who found himself sidelined by the trend to PC apps and away from the skills he’d learnt. As he catches up with the technology he’s driving a taxi and playing cricket for Cambridge St Giles.
This week we had two events which exemplify Cambridge’s delight in its diversity and its perhaps confused approach to those who might criticise it.
First up was Marine le Pen, president of the Front National (FN) in France. The FN has a strong position in French politics, it is the 3rd party nationally, but we’d compare it more to the BNP here than to any of our major parties. Certainly its messages relating to immigrants and minorities are similar. Ms le Pen was invited to speak at the Cambridge Union and when she turned up so did about 200 protesters. Click here for the Cambridge News article.
Problem is that although the protesters were right to protest against what she might say they were wrong to protest against her right to say it. We have some fairly effective laws which govern that and generally we find out that the ‘oxygen of publicity’ soon makes the far right appear as irrational, intolerant and unnecessary as it is.
After that came the English Defence League (EDL) with a march on Saturday to protest against the building of a mosque in the city. This was also covered well by the Cambridge News (click here). This time the forces of the right managed to bus in only about 40 people whereas the local United Against Fascism campaigners claimed several hundred, including the local MP, for a parallel march.
The people of the EDL don’t need the oxygen of publicity; they generate their own and we can be thankful that they look and behave as unpleasantly as they do. Imagine how dangerous they’d be if they engaged in civilised discourse?
The EDL is of course allowed to do what it does because that’s what we do. Just like allowing Ms le Pen to speak we allow the EDL to march. But as they do they cost us lots of money, look at the big and effective police presence on Saturday in Cambridge, they close down town centres where they march and deprive traders of business, and they can be, but thankfully not this time, the catalyst for riotous behaviour.
Cambridge is a good place to live. Tremendously diverse and that’s good. And tolerant too. Let’s just hope that this tolerance doesn’t result in too many Ms le Pen speeches and EDL marches testing it more than once in a while so that its reponse can be approriate.