Archive | May, 2011

Is Sir Robin channelling St George, or or turning into a Tory?

19 May

This is something I posted a few days ago on the e-Democracy web site:

The BBC is reporting that Newham libraries are to remove all foreign language publications, quoting the Mayor as saying the move will “encourage people to speak & learn English.”

The decision has, predictably, comes in for some criticism from members of communities that will be affected by the move. But the Mayor rejects this, saying, “English language is something that we’re pushing very strongly.

“Two things about the English language: You need it to get a job; secondly it brings a community together.

“Public money should be spent encouraging people to speak and learn English. Whenever I raise that with my residents they all agree with that.”

Leaving aside for a moment Sir Robin’s self-aggrandising description of Newham people as “my residents,” this is an interesting position, and much more in tune with current Conservative thinking, which rejects multiculturalism as a failure, than the view taken by the left since at least the 1960s.

In a speech earlier this year in Munich David Cameron said, “We have allowed the weakening of our collective identity. Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.” He added that we need to make sure that “immigrants speak the language of their new home.”

I wonder if this apparent conversion to Tory thinking is a just an excuse for a bit of mean-spirited penny-pinching, trimming into the prevailing political wind, or whether the Mayor genuinely believes it. If so, will he follow up by axing the translation services that put the borough’s myriad communications into a variety of community languages, on the basis that if people want to transact with government they should do it in English? It would be controversial, but would have the merit of consistency.

There is some small irony in a Scottish mayor presiding over a London borough with an ethnically diverse population positioning himself as a champion of Englishness. It would be fascinating to know what other councillors think of all this, and whether they were consulted before Sir Robin decided on this latest campaign.