Spit in the face of this patronising proposal!
The government wants to educate immigrants about the ‘British way of life’: don’t spit in public; don’t feel people up; don’t forget to put out your rubbish...
Here’s a message from the government to all immigrants: In Britain, we don’t spit in the street, we don’t play loud music, we queue, and our children go to school. Before going fishing, we apply for a license. We don’t litter and bins are always put out for collection on the correct day. We respect the law, we don’t drink and drive, and we don’t touch other people without permission.
The UK communities secretary, Hazel Blears, has recommended that local councils impart these gems of wisdom to foreigners in an immigrants’ welcome pack. It will explain British customs and social rules, and suggest how immigrants can contribute to the economy and avoid community tensions. ‘It is only right that we expect migrants to play by our rules. In return we have a role in explaining just what those rules are’, Blears said (1).
It will be an expensive lesson. Yesterday, Blears announced a £50 million fund to help local authorities dish out what reads like a summer camp list of dos and don’ts for new immigrants, and to help councils manage ‘population change’. The new government guidance for public funding stresses that local councils should invest in projects aimed at the whole community rather than single ethnic groups. The key is to promote community cohesion and to counteract divisiveness. To this end, the government is also introducing ‘conflict resolution’ teams, presumably to help ease community tensions and quell the ethnic riots that feature in so many politicians’ febrile imaginations.
The ‘immigrant pack’ proposals are a response to a report published last year by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion, following a 10-month review into the effects of ‘population changes’. What this actually means is that the government has launched yet another commission to conduct yet another review and to produce yet another report littered with the same old New Labour buzzwords and reiterating the same old pet obsessions of the political elite (including the importance of citizenship lessons and English classes for immigrants - heard those ones before?).
If anything is likely to cause ‘community tension’, surely it is this constant barrage of new (and not so new) government initiatives designed to educate the apparently alien beings who arrive on our shores in the etiquette and speech codes of modern Britain. The ongoing obsession with how to integrate immigrants sends two clear messages: first, that immigrants are weird; second, that British leaders have no real idea what Britain stands for, except for not spitting in the street and not feeling people up on the Tube.
In a sense, the proposed information pack makes a perfect introduction to the UK - it epitomises the patronising politics of behaviour that has seeped into all levels of British public life. The ridiculous rules and customs outlined in the proposed packs show that, for all the big talk about imparting ‘British values’ to newcomers, all that politicians can come up with are things like respecting rubbish collection schedules and not playing loud music. It doesn’t exactly exude confidence and pride in British culture. Don’t Brits have any greater traditions than queuing and applying for fishing licenses?
Indeed, foreigners might usefully remind Brits of some of the joys of spontaneous behaviour that have become so alien in the UK, where we are getting used to having our everyday interactions mediated and regulated by the authorities. Activities such as paying impromtu visits to your neighbours or talking to a stranger’s children, or having a local party that might involve playing loud music, are now looked upon as potentially harmful, if not as full-blown public order problems. If immigrants really do act differently, and really are rule-breakers, then we might be better off encouraging them to behave as they see fit rather than forcing them to digest the government’s patronising packs.
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For all the stress on counteracting stereotypical depictions and maltreatment of minorities, Blears and the rest seem to have a pretty sordid view of foreigners. What kind of message are they conveying about immigrants’ personal habits and characters? The list of rules implicitly portrays them as dirty, noisy, groping lawbreakers who know no better than to steal the fish out of Britain’s lakes and put their children to work rather than send them to school. Maybe they’ll even eat our swans.
The Commission on Integration and Cohesion’s report argued that a high number of immigrants can cause ‘suspicion and distrust’. PC policymakers frequently point out that immigrants shouldn’t be scapegoated and blamed for social ills. How strange, then, that rather than implementing some pretty obvious solutions to practical everyday problems such as littering, politicians are more willing to portray these issues as a consequence of foreigners’ inability to adjust to the ‘British way of life’.
There’s nothing wrong with local councils providing immigrants with useful information, such as how to access public services or where to go for English classes. And such information apparently will be included in the welcome packs. Yet the proposed list of bizarre rules treats foreigners like dummies in need of a guiding hand to everyday life. ‘There are laws in Britain and people are required to obey them’, the pack says. Who’d have thought it?
Of course immigrants should obey the law, just like everyone else. However, like everyone else, they also have the right to protest against injustices and overbearing government initiatives. So, to all immigrants who face the prospect of getting this drab welcome pack shoved into their hands as they arrive, I say: Let us spit in the face of this patronising proposal!
Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor at spiked.
(1) Migrants’ advice packs proposed, BBC News, 4 February 2008