Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.
In this issue
- This week: Citizenship
- Virtual Snacks
- Bizarre Searches
- Quotation and joke
With the major shifts in the ethnic makeup of the United Kingdom’s population over the past 60 years, it’s perhaps not surprising that some are worried about social cohesion in Britain. For some time now, politicians across the political spectrum have been grappling with the problem of how to come up with a common definition of what constitutes Britishness – and how to get people to sign up to it.
The far right have made this the core of their political platform. They’d like anyone who’s not native to the United Kingdom to be sent back “where they came from”. But where do you draw the line? There are plenty of Britons of Afro-Caribbean, South Asian and Cantonese descent who were born in the United Kingdom and who hold British citizenship – and who make every bit as full a contribution to the economy and to public life as any other British citizen. If you’re going to send them “back” – even if they’ve never been to the places their ancestors came from – then what about the Jews who fled from Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s, or Tsarist Russia during the pogroms in the 1880s? What about the Irish who came over to build the railways in the 19th century, or the canals in the 18th? What about the Huguenot French who fled religious persecution in the 1500s, or the Normans in 1066, or the Anglo-Saxons in the Dark Ages, or the Celts in pre-Roman times? Shouldn’t we all go back to Africa, where it’s believed human life originated?
“Send them back” is an extreme point of view, but many mainstream politicians have had misgivings about the willingness of immigrants to assimilate to British society and culture. Conservative front-bencher Enoch Powell famously lost his place in the Shadow Cabinet over his “rivers of blood” speech in 1968, warning about the problems he foresaw over immigrants refusing to do just that. More recently, Norman Tebbit – the “Chingford Skinhead” – spoke of his notorious “cricket test” to the Los Angeles Times in these terms: “A large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It’s an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?” Many nationalist members of the United Kingdom’s Celtic constituent countries ridiculed this presumption of support for England, to the point of printing T-shirts with the slogan “I failed the English cricket test”!
Both men’s comments were roundly condemned by many people as racist, although both denied the charge, Powell going so far as to say that he regarded many of the peoples in India as superior to Europeans in many respects. Some have suggested that Tebbit’s test is facile – after all, sporting loyalties are relatively trivial affairs for many – and that a truer test of loyalty would be an “army test”: if it came to a war between your country of heritage and your present home country, which would you fight for? But that has problems of its own, unless you’re going to subscribe to the ultra-nationalistic view of “My country right or wrong”.
Generally a more relaxed view of immigrants’ willingness to assimilate has prevailed over the centuries. After all, the evidence is that after a few generations the originally immigrant families are to all intents and purposes part of British culture. But as international migration becomes easier, and the numbers of people both entering and leaving the UK increase, the fears grow that the common understanding of what it is to be British will be lost. In an attempt to shore it up, the Government now requires those intending to become naturalised British citizens to take a citizenship test, asking them a series of general knowledge questions about British history, current affairs, society and customs. If they pass the test and are otherwise eligible for naturalisation, they swear an oath of allegiance – but since 2004 they have been required to attend a citizenship ceremony and swear their oath in public, rather than in writing before a solicitor or commissioner of oaths.
All this ceremonial stuff seems rather overblown in itself. But there may be more to come. Former Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith (he of the controversy over whether it was legal to invade Iraq in 2003) has suggested in a review commissioned by Prime Minister Gordon Brown on citizenship that school-leavers should attend a similar ceremony, swear allegiance to the Queen and pledge commitment to the United Kingdom. (He’s also proposed a British National Day by 2012, to coincide with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics.) So far his idea seems to have fallen on stony ground, though. The Scottish and Welsh devolved governments have already dismissed the idea, and politicians of all hues have criticised the proposed ceremony as an empty gesture or synthetic patriotism – or even downright un-British.
OK, so Lord Goldsmith wants to promote pride in Britishness and a sense of belonging to a community. But is a ceremony such as he’s proposing going to make teenagers feel any more proud to be British? How would you have felt if you’d had to take part in theatricals like this when you were leaving school?
Do you have anything to say about this topic? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?
Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:
If you want to see what else Lord Goldsmith’s proposing, here’s a link to the full text of his report – all 136 pages of it – on the Department of Justice website (PDF, 665KB).
The Republic campaign group, unsurprisingly, have views on this and on several other aspects of the United Kingdom’s constitutional law. You can read more about them on their website: [Obsolete link deleted]
Something a bit more light-hearted now – a link to ever-excellent stand-up comedian and musician Bill Bailey’s website.
Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:
- dan elephant dan never forgot that elephant or the events of that day.
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Till next time…
Kay & Dave
Editor & Deputy Editor
British Expat Magazine
“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
– Dr Samuel Johnson, essayist and lexicographer (1709-84)
Bernard Levinsky wants to become a British citizen, so he changes his name to Benny Levy and applies for citizenship. After many months of waiting, he’s asked to attend the Register Office, answer some questions and become, at last, a full British citizen.
Benny stands up to face the Registrar. “Mr. Levy,” says the Registrar, “before I can grant you citizenship, I must ask you a few questions to confirm for myself that you really are interested in the UK, its government and its rulers. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” replies Benny.
“All right, who are the UK’s leading political parties?” asks the Registrar.
“I’m a diamond merchant,” replies Benny, “do I have time to worry about political parties?”
“Then who is our current Prime Minister?” asks the Registrar.
“That’s simple,” replies Benny, “doesn’t everyone know the answer?”
“Mr Levy,” says the Registrar, “are you always in a habit of answering questions with another question?”
“Why shouldn’t I?” replies Benny.
The Registrar is now getting angry. “Mr Levy,” he shouts, “are you willing to swear your allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen, Her Heirs and Successors?”
“Your honour,” replies Benny, “do you really want me to swear in front of all these people?”
“Mr Levy,” shouts the Registrar, “please stop answering all my questions with a question. Do you promise to support the Prime Minister and the Government?”
“Isn’t it enough that I support mein Sarah and my three darling kinder?” replies Benny. “You want my blood as well?”