HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By John Hayes
Cohesive societies don’t just happen, they are established on firm foundations, built by time-honoured institutions and accepted traditions which give life to an historical consciousness binding people together. Shaped by the fusing of new ideas and practises from migrants with the established values and customs of existing inhabitants, both newcomers and natives should coalesce around a sense of national belonging and a shared set of values.
Crucial to sharing is communication, and crucial to that is language. So, the Prime Minister’s determination that all those who come to our country should speak English is just plain common sense – those who wish to make their home here and put down roots must learn our language.
In the past, that good judgement was lacking. When immigration from former British colonies changed our nation in the post-War era, we forsook the opportunity to build a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society bound by a common understanding of Britishness, instead choosing the cod doctrine of multiculturalism; a credo which declared that the prevailing national identity had no claim to precedence, and thus that all cultures should co-exist disconnected to the point of isolation.
It meant that newcomers had little incentive or reason to assimilate into their new homeland; some of our communities became divided by religion, race or nationality, with groups of people living entirely separate lives from others in the same locale.
As Trevor Phillips -the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality and himself the son of immigrants- pointed out, quite apart from the fact that this de-facto segregation fosters resentment from the indigenous majority, it also defines people by their ethnic or their religious identities, and holds them prisoner by these same tokens. This pigeon-holes people, putting a limit on their aspirations and a ceiling on where they could go. And, worse still, anyone who questioned such dogma – regardless of its effects on those communities or our society as a whole – was long portrayed as racist or bigoted.
Language is critical to overcoming this entrenched social division; it’s why the Government has already introduced an English language test for new migrants, and is going further still – targeting the hardest to reach, the estimated 22 per cent of Muslim women in the UK who, shockingly, speak little or no English. Breaking down this language barrier is essential to promoting inclusion ahead of division.
Integrating people matters if we are to create a more cohesive society; by ensuring that newcomers speak English, and being more assertive about British culture and values, we will surely find that those here now born overseas will surely join us in taking pride in our great nation.