Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Wednesday 29 July 2015

A lesson from natural history

There is, perhaps, no small irony in French demands for British help in maintaining the fortifications of Calais; it is, after all, only a few centuries since a massed assault on Sangatte paved the way for the conquest of the town and its surrender to the French army, ending over 150 years of English occupation.

The current attempts by 1500 people or more to breach port security were wholly predictable - at least if you remember that you are dealing with animals and that this is, to all intents and purposes, a mass migration similar to the annual movements of caribou or wildebeest.

(At this point, when I expounded the theory over a large gin earlier this evening, the Spouse observed, "It's a jolly good thing you aren't a journalist!". But, however politically incorrect it may be to say so, there's no escaping the fact that they are animals. So am I. So are you. Forgetting this simple fact - or deliberately ignoring it - is at the bottom of a host of problems in education, business, politics and society in general.)

A familiar spectacle from wildlife documentaries, the wildebeest migration, according to one safari company, goes something like this:
'MAY: Wagons roll! The massed herds are on the go, huge columns of up to 40km in length can be seen as the wildebeest funnel up into the central and western Serengeti. 
JUNE: Head for the central and western Serengeti - the herds are there and beginning to get a bit jittery ... trouble is coming. 
JULY: Book early - it is the Big Event: river crossings. The herds have reached the western Serengeti and Grumeti Reserves and are nervously peering at the brown waters of the rivers they have to cross. Why? Five-metre-long crocodiles, that is why. 
AUGUST: The survivors stumble up into the northern Serengeti and begin crossing back into Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. You need a passport to cross; the wildebeest are exempt.'
Substitute the English Channel for the river and border guards for crocodiles and there you have it in a nutshell. The herds build up in number until there are enough to attempt the crossing en masse, thereby ensuring that, even if some are picked off, the majority will get through while the crocodiles are occupied. As Wikipedia has it:
Numerous documentaries feature wildebeest crossing rivers, with many being eaten by crocodiles or drowning in the attempt. While having the appearance of a frenzy, recent research has shown a herd of wildebeest possesses what is known as a "swarm intelligence", whereby the animals systematically explore and overcome the obstacle as one.
Current estimates put the number of would-be immigrants in the Calais region at around 5,000, but, given the estimates of those currently crossing the Mediterranean, this could yet increase dramatically over the summer and, as the French so amply demonstrated in 1588, the Calais region is remarkably short of natural defences and has to rely solely on fortifications to keep out unwanted invaders.

Even without the less-than-helpful antics of the French Trade Unions, this has the makings of a futile and escalating struggle, as would-be immigrants repeatedly threaten the ever longer fences and barriers. The mass onslaught of the past two nights suggests that critical mass has been reached and that 'swarm intelligence' is taking over.

What we do about it, I don't know. Perhaps we may, in the end, be obliged to accept the lesser evil of identity cards and checks in this country in an attempt to identify and deport illegal immigrants; what is certain is that, thanks to the tunnel and, to a lesser degree, mass transportation of goods by ferry, our island status has been irretrievably compromised.

I wish I could be certain that this development did not come as a surprise to those in charge (certainly it looks like I'm not the only one who saw it coming) and that politically correct orthodoxy has not prevented them from foreseeing and anticipating the full potential of the situation. Yes, these people are individuals and human beings, but they are also now part of a collective swarm.

Moving our border checkpoints to Calais at least allows the Border Police to contain the problem on French soil. Now all we can do is hope that the British have learnt a thing or two about dealing with mass incursions since 1558.

Update: Well, how about that? Having written this and headed off for a couple of days R&R, I return to find that the PM has, in my absence, caused a furore by using the word 'Swarm'. Does my blog have readers in higher places than I ever imagined?

Or is the coincidence, in the words of a quote I find myself in danger of overusing but which fits our modern world so well, 'neither accident nor design, but simply unavoidable'?


  1. "AUGUST: The survivors ... begin crossing back ....
    There is no end to the season here, so the survivors never, voluntarily, go back. Perhaps we should cut the grass.

  2. It's not that difficult, physically, though it may be difficult politically: change the law so that nobody gets any benefits in the UK until they've worked and paid UK taxes for some qualifying period - a year maybe? Note - WORKED and paid - no back door credits or other fiddles allowed.

    Unless you've done that - not a penny: starve in the streets, we don't care, or go back where you came from.

    At a stroke we discourage the illegals and ensure that we only get productive people here, who are de facto official and have proper documents ( as you must if you're working legally).

    Of course the EU and the Human Rights judges will prevent this from ever happening.

  3. XX Of course the EU and the Human Rights judges will prevent this from ever happening.XX

    Rubbish! Here you must have worked 12 months within the last 24 to get a single Pfennig. France, Denmark, Holland, Austria, are the same.

    If we can do it, so can you.

    It has nothing to do with the E.U, or the Human rights court.

    It is YOUR "Government" that are not willing.

  4. FrankC, metaphorically speaking, you're absolutely right.

    WY/FT, as I understand it, the Germans et al are quite happy for local rules to apply everywhere - Britain is free to have have a non-contributory system and an assortment of enticing benefits other countries don't offer but we have to let every EU citizen who is here have a share.

    Essentially, we've arrived at a party with two bottles of vintage wine while most of the other guests brought Blue Nun and Lambrini and the host is insisting we pour a glass for everyone.

    The payments to non-EU asylum-seekers etc are similar to those paid in other EU countries but the distinction between EU citizens and others - at least as far as benefit entitlement is concerned - may well be somewhat blurred in the mind of migrants like to one who said:
    "I heard good news about England. They give you a house and some money to spend and live. And then they give them the opportunity to study, to have a good life."


  5. XX but we have to let every EU citizen who is here have a share.XX I was talking off people from E.U countrys.

    So what I said still applies. It is YOUR "Government" that is at fault. NOT the E.U or the court of human rights.

    If I go to Sweden, or Denmark, I STILL have to work 12 months in 24 to gat any money off them.

  6. FT, I agree with you - it's our fault (or rather, that of the last Labour government); the idea of a benevolent state taking vast amounts of tax and handing it back in the form of benefits for all but the very highest earners may have been politically beguiling but, in practical terms, has been a disaster.

    My point is, however, that if the rest of Europe sees us a as a soft touch - like the Eastern Europeans sending home a fortune in local terms thanks to British child benefit and tax credits - that perception is likely to affect how we are seen by the rest of the world, some of whom must be ill-informed enough to believe it will apply to them too.

    We also pay more in child benefits to asylum seekers than comparable countries - hence, presumably, the children being passed over Eurotunnel fences in spite of the fact that they are already in a safe country and should, by the rules, have stopped there.

    That last one worries me - parents (if, indeed they are parents) prepared to put children at such risk may yet use them to slow or stop oncoming trains and lorries or as human shields if there is any threat of serious force.


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