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By Philippe Legrain 5 COMMENTS

What proportion of women with children (of school age) in Britain are in paid
work? Is it: a) half; b) one quarter; c) three quarters; or d) two

Stumped? Try this one. How many children are estimated to be working
in the United Kingdom? Is it: a) 8 million; b) 5 million; c) 1 million;
or d) 2 million?

I challenge Gordon Brown, Jacqui Smith or Liam Byrne
to answer correctly (without prior briefing) either question – or the
many others on which prospective British citizens are tested.
Journalists who attend the prime minister’s televised monthly press
conference should spring questions from the "Life in the UK test" on
him. No doubt, the self-styled definer of all things British could not
pass his own Britishness test. I’d be astonished if many people whose
ancestry here stretches back to 1066 – or even to Cheddar Man – could
answer such questions correctly. And why on earth should a British
citizen be required to know?

The Britishness test is part of a much broader package that the government, in its mad rush to appease the moral panic about immigration stirred up by the likes of the Daily Mail, is implementing
to define and defend Britishness from the onslaught of dastardly
foreigners who actually want – how dare they! – to contribute to this
country and feel that they belong.

While the government’s decision to allow the Poles and other new EU
citizens to come work here freely was brave and right – and is an
important reason why Gordon Brown can boast to have overseen Britain’s
longest-ever economic boom – it has since produced one idiotic,
knee-jerk, xenophobic immigration-policy initiative after another. Take
the proposed
ID cards for foreigners. They are not just discriminatory, but absurd:
if someone claims to be British, and therefore does not (yet) require
ID, how on earth is a relevant official meant to determine whether they
need to show some?

Then, there is the government’s pride and joy: the new skills-based points system,
which is being phased in from the end of this month. This involves
officials from the department deemed "not fit for purpose" by Jacqui
Smith’s predecessor trying to divine how foreigners will contribute to
Britain in future and slams the door on low-skilled migrants from
developing countries: the equivalent of a new 11-plus exam for vetting
immigrants. There goes Britain’s chance of admitting the father of a
future Barack Obama. Surely a Labour government that purports to
believe in opportunity for all should realise that you can’t – and
shouldn’t – determine people’s life chances based on their background.

And now we have "earned citizenship" – another misguided aptitude test. That the proposals were leaked
to the Neanderthal Daily Telegraph tells you everything you need to
know about the government’s intentions. Since only a green paper has
been published, the details of the proposals will doubtless change
considerably. But the government’s thinking is clear.

"Citizenship is not an abstract concept, or just access to a
passport. I believe it is – and must be seen as – founded on shared
values that define the character of our country," Gordon Brown said today.
"I stand for a British way of life where we, the people, are protected
from crime, but in return we obey the law, and where we, the people,
expect and receive services, but in return pay our fair share in taxes
and have the obligation and gain the skills for work where we can."

Now that may superficially seem fine – even banal; after all, who
favours a way of life where people are not protected from crime, don’t
obey the law, don’t work, don’t pay their fair share of taxes and don’t
receive public services in return? But think again: what exactly are
the "shared values" that, Brown claims, distinguish British people from
others? This is not an abstract debate: the government seeks to
prescribe these values. "In the future, the aspiring citizen should
know and subscribe to a clear statement of British values," Brown said.

But if immigrants are to conform to British values, should they
model themselves on Jade Goody or Trevor MacDonald, Melanie Phillips or
Boy George, Margaret Thatcher or George Monbiot? Britain is inescapably
– and wonderfully – diverse, not just thanks to recent immigration, but
because human beings are all different, and because people are freer to
express their differences since the liberating 1960s. This is something
to celebrate, not stifle. Moreover, irrespective of immigration, in our
globalising world of foreign holidays, Facebook and fusion food, the
bonds of nationality are inexorably loosening. Is that so terrible?

Increasingly, we all have multiple, overlapping and increasing
self-defined identities: a British citizen may also identify as a
European, a Christian, of Irish origin, a Londoner, a student, a
trainee doctor, a woman, a mother, a wife, a supporter of gay rights,
an environmentalist and, above all, an individual. And if society is
broad enough to include nuns and transsexuals, Marxists and
libertarians, radical environmentalists and oil executives, surely it
can embrace immigrants, too? After all, we don’t all need to be alike
in order to live together. We just need to respect the basic principles
on which our societies are based, such as freedom within the law,
equality before the law and tolerance of differences.

Contrary to what Brown might think, these are not "British values":
they are liberal ones. They are shared by many non-Britons, and
rejected by some Britons, Islamist bigots, for instance, as well as the
BNP. And while people cannot be forced to believe in them, they can be
required to respect the law: even those who believe that women are not
equal to men must treat them as such.

Now, if integration means anything – and often, when ministers use
the word, they appear to have no clear idea what they mean by it – it
is a two-way street. If people are expected to fit in, they have to be
treated equally and made to feel welcome. Liam Byrne’s stated mantra
is: "Treat everyone the same: just make sure no one’s dodging their
dues." But treat migrants the same is precisely what the new
earned-citizenship proposals do not do.

Byrne recently said
that newcomers should "speak the language, obey the law and pay their
taxes like the rest of us". Certainly, it makes sense for immigrants to
learn English, but why the need to require it? It is astonishing that
the birthplace of the world’s language of choice should display such
linguistic insecurity. And the implication that migrants – whatever
their citizenship status – don’t tend to obey the law or pay their
taxes is pure malice.

Ministers speak as if aspiring British citizens are potential
benefit-cheats and criminals, rather then overwhelmingly decent,
hard-working and law-abiding people who already make – and want to
continue to make – a big contribution to British society. That is
xenophobic prejudice – and hardly conducive to fostering the sense of
Britishness that the government claims to aspire to.

This article also appears on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site here.

Posted 20 Feb 2008 in Blog
  1. adeline says:

    I could not agree more with your views on immigrants. I have been facing discriminations and treated very badly in this country because I did not born here or anywhere in Europe. My fight for a better future for my son is facing higher walls everyday since the regulation changes regularly (they now erased the point for past achievements and instead the money we earned has higher point).
    I think human being should be allowed to migrates like geese and birds. It is a basic human right to find a better life. Though I agree that being a ‘guest’ we immigrants should be very ‘polite’ meaning not committing any criminal or unlawful behaviour. Immigrants should follow the law in their new country and not demanding to change it (for example forced marriage and sharia law). These are just basic manners that our mothers told us, aren’t they?
    As for the Britishness test, it is very ridiculous! English language test is okay, because one should speak the language where he/she lives.
    I look at these tests this way: after a while, all eligible johny foreigners will speak English while most native English people cannot speak other languages (there will be no more oral test for foreign languages in GSCE). All eligible unwanted immigrants will study and earn their ‘britishness’ while the native British people cannot even answer the questions in the test.
    While the native British and European people enjoy the comfort of the benefit system and easier standard in education, the new immigrants will work hard and learn harder. And see the statistic in criminality. Many native British young offenders grew up in household where no adults work, enjoyed benefits all their lives and start offending because there is nothing else to do (or to learn or to challenge them into making their lives better). How pathetic is that?
    Yes, immigrants do add the colour in our worlds and we should embrace this pluralistic society with open mind not with defensive stupidity.
    Ps. I am very tempted to buy your new book “Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them.

  2. Why do you hate the English so much. Why can’t you allow us to survive sovereign in our own homeland? You are a racist and a disgrace to the name of your forefathers – notwithstanding that some of them were French.
    I want to black, no brown, no Slav, no Jew, no Arab to own the future of my people. I want us to live as we elect, and to elect to be free. Your insane desire to void us in the bottomless seas of humanity offers no freedom, for we shall not have the national life … the possession of territory that is the guarantor of survival. We shall be marginalised within five decades, and lost with ten.
    What value, Legrain, do you place above ethnic survival? Whatever it is, you are wrong. But I would like to know how you justify your racism.

  3. Cam says:

    Guessed worker: dig a little deeper and I think you’ll find that “black, brown, Slav, Jew, Arab” blood is running through many an “English” person’s veins.
    Who is this “we” that you talk of? Is it white people? Is that who you believe to be the ‘true’ English people of this country? Or is it someone born and raised in this country? Is it someone with one white “english” parent and one parent who came to this country to work and pay their taxes and became an english citizen too?
    These “english” you talk of – they are the product of hundreds and thousands of years of migration, invasion, inter-marriage – French, Germanic, Scandinavian… and those are just the nationalities we know the most about.
    I am no racist. I am English. I am proud of my country, even when bigots and racists destroy its reputation and use it to their own disgusting ends. I will live in an area with people from India, Iran, Jamaica – all over the world. I will be best friends with people from Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt and Ireland. And you know why? Because these people are *people*. Because they are English too, and narrow-minded, ignorant, scared little people like you are the most un-English people to grace this country with your presence.
    I’ll tell you what I place over ethnic survival, Guessedworker – I place friendship, trust, love and peace above it. Please, think I’m wrong if it makes you feel better, but you are missing out by trying to preserve a “race” that doesn’t exist, by trying to flush out anyone who isn’t “english” enough for you, by trying to preserve an “englishness” that IS NOT actually under threat. So stop scare-mongering!

  4. Robert says:

    It’s not about immigration of people, the worry is about our infrastructure, look I do not care if Jewish people come here polish people Muslims, but if we do not have social housing the pressure is massive. This is no joke in my area in Wales people are building shelters out of rubbish to live in, because social housing is now full, and the private sector are asking for rents which a working person cannot afford, council house rent on my area is now £62 a week, private housing landlords can charge you, £190 £200, when your on the min wage like most are it’s impossible to rent.But a more difficult question was why did Labour close our benefits office and then help open a Polish benefits office, why did Polish people have a polish only NHS dentist, when I waited ten years to find a dentist.Why is money going to minorities when it should be about us all , not about minorities within the UK, people from Poland should be no different then people from Wales and treated the same, otherwise the problems start.I help out being severely disabled wheelchair user in a charity which helps people find housing, find benefits, the office is now mostly used by people from Poland who have come here using an agency who promised them massive jobs with massive pay packets, and when they get here they are told we have no jobs, and they end up on the streets, we send many now to so called bed and breakfast while benefits can be sorted out for them.We did not look out or know what to do with a massive influx which ended up coming to area’s of the country with high unemployment.Blame anyone blame the Tories and Labour and New Labour for not having the guts to spend on social housing,

  5. Who is this “we” that you talk of? Is it white people? Is that who you believe to be the ‘true’ English people of this country?
    We English know who we are. Perhaps you don’t. As for the rest:-
    friendship, trust, love and peace
    You are not the issue, Phillipe. Your life is not the issue. Your tastes, your friends … these are not the issue. Race-replacement immigration is GENOCIDE. That is the issue. Get your head out of your arse and think about our people.
    Peoples are not friends but competitors.
    Peoples trust their own kind, not outsiders.
    Peoples love their own kind, not outsiders.
    Peoples value continuity above peace, and will willingly break the said peace to secure it. That is why we are heading for a terrible disaster for which you, my friend, bear your share of responsibility.
    These “english” you talk of – they are the product of hundreds and thousands of years of migration, invasion, inter-marriage – French, Germanic, Scandinavian
    Well, the French were mostly Norman French. There were 50,000 Huguenots who were assimilable. There were 50,000 Jews who were not. But that is not a reason to negify our genepool, with all the costs to our European IQ and Eureopean civilisational order which that implies.
    Because they are English too
    No they are not. If you went and lived in China, you would not become Chinese. The English are a genetically distinct European people. Google “gene map Europe”.
    trying to preserve an “englishness” that IS NOT actually under threat.
    We shall have to take our homeland back within the next two to three decades. The alternative is not thinkable. You can always live in “Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt and Ireland”, if they will have you.

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