I have to admit that when I hear the word ‘integration’ coming from politicians nowadays, it makes me want to reach for my revolver. By integration, I don’t mean the term that British Home Secretary Roy Jenkins famously defined back in 1966 when he said:
‘ Integration is perhaps a loose word. I do not regard it as meaning the loss, by immigrants, of their own characteristics and culture. I do not think we need in this country a “melting pot”, which will turn everybody out in a common mould, as one would a series of carbon copies of someone”s misplaced version of the stereotyped Englishness. I define integration, therefore, not as a flattening process of assimilation but as equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance.”
Wise and sensible words, but they couldn’t be further removed from the arrogant and condescending demands emanating from our government and so many others, to the effect that immigrants must integrate with ‘us’ or leave the country.
Such demands are often accompanied by accusations that certain groups of immigrants are deliberately refusing to integrate and that their refusal to do so is a sign of cultural hostility or incompatibility. Take the issue of learning English. Anyone who has ever lived in another country knows that it’s sensible and even essential to learn the language of the country you are living in. Without that ability, a whole range of everyday activities and interactions become difficult or even impossible, and you are never going to be able to fully engage with the society you are living in.
As a former language learner and a language teacher, both inside and outside the UK, I know that learning a language takes time, patience and – for most of us anyway – a certain amount of instruction that you will usually have to receive when you aren’t working.
It makes sense therefore, for an immigrant-receiving country to provide such instruction and facilitate the language learning process for the mutual benefit of new arrivals, and the country they have come to live in. But that kind of thinking is entirely alien to the purse-lipped buffoons that the British public has chosen – for reasons known only to itself – to place in government.
For Lord Snooty and His Pals, it isn’t a question of helping immigrants to learn English; they want to make them learn it and punish and exclude them when they don’t.
His Lordship has been banging on for some time now that immigrants must learn English or leave – a demand that always carries the implicit suggestion that these nefarious intruders are willfully spurning the language that gave us Shakespeare and Tennyson and the locals who speak it, all of whom are just waiting with open arms to integrate them and join in choral recitations of Hamlet’s soliloquy or simply a good rousing version of Kumbaya.
Of course making these demands is far more useful politically than actually helping migrants to learn English. Last year the government cut £45 million from ESOL Plus Mandation (English for speakers of other languages), thereby denying some 16,000 adult learners across the country the opportunity to learn English.
But now this week, in a display of gimlet-eyed idiocy that is egregious even by his own standards, His Lordship has suggested that immigrants will be tested on their English after two and a half years, and that those who haven’t attained the required level of fluency ‘ …can”t guarantee they will be able to stay, because under our rules you have to be able to speak a basic level of English to come into the country as a husband or wife. We made that change already, and we are now going to toughen that up, so halfway through the five-year spousal settlement there will be another opportunity to make sure your English is improving. You can”t guarantee you can stay if you are not improving your language.’
These new demands appear to be aimed primarily at Muslim women. Plucking statistics out of a hat with his usual deft sleight-of-hand, Cameron says than 38,000 Muslim women can’t speak English and 190,000 have only limited skills in the language. His Lordship thinks that this could be because ‘some of these people have come from quite patriarchal societies and perhaps the menfolk haven”t wanted them to speak English.’
So Lord Snooty – in full on white savior mode – has come up with the brilliant idea of threatening to deport women who don’t speak English in order to save them from their backward husbands! Don’t say that isn’t neatly done.
But if you thought that was clever, that was only His Lordship’s first trick. In addition to prying Muslim women out of their backwardness, he has also discovered that not learning English may constitute a terrorist threat. Ever the deep thinker His Lordship recognizes that there is no ‘causal link’ between ‘radicalization and language skills.’
Nevertheless he has concluded that ‘ If you”re not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find therefore you have challenges understanding what your identity is and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message coming from Daesh.’
Now that, my friends, is joined-up thinking in action. In Lord Snooty’s world, to prevent radicalization and promote integration and save women from patriarchal enslavement, you make them learn English and threaten them with removal if they don’t. And all this is to be financed with a £20 million grant to fund ESOL classes for women, even though it’s still only half of the £45 million the government cut from ESOL last year, and a fraction of the £160 million cuts in ESOL funding overall since 2008.
It’s all for a good cause though, because His Lordship insists that
‘We will never truly build One Nation unless we are more assertive about our liberal values, more clear about the expectations we place on those who come to live here and build our country together, and are more creative and generous in the work we do to break down barriers.’
Just to repeat: this concept of integration is nothing to do with what Roy Jenkins’s use of the term. There is no ‘mutual tolerance’ here, let alone creativity and generosity. There is only an aggressive policy of assimilation which stigmatises immigrants in general and certain groups of immigrants in particular, as ungrateful and dangerous interlopers, who in Jenkins’s phrase must be ‘flattened out’
And what Cameron has done, with a stunning combination of ineptitude and sheer viciousness, is turn a perfectly sensible idea – that immigrants should be encouraged and helped to learn English – into yet another piece of red meat to feed the ‘concerns’ of those who would really prefer that there weren’t any foreigners in the country at all.