All entries for Wednesday 13 December 2006

December 13, 2006

Speak English, Get Married, Vote

Follow-up to Brits Abroad from Hollyzone

Anyone see the report on the BBC last night/this morning about the cost of translations for British residents who don’t speak English? It came on the same day as criticism and critiques of the Tories latest study which seems to suggest that marriage is the cure for poverty. How can these two issues possibly be related? How can they possibly be related to my post from a couple of days ago? All three issues individually are not really earth shattering, neither all that new (the Tories and marriage), all that unexpected (lots of Brits abroad), or that surprising in context (the cost of translation). But all three are political issues and got me thinking – why are certain issues viewed as belonging to certain political ideologies?

For the most part marriage and language are seen as the intellectual obsessions, and therefore property, of the Right. Marriage is rather obviously construed as a part of the Right’s emphasis on traditional family values, whilst the emphasis on the learning of English by immigrants is portrayed as a Rightist desire to assert the traditional culture and possibly get rid of/deter some of those immigrants who might come by blocking them on language grounds. The Guardian article by Polly Toynbee, linked to above, contains amongst its comments one person who writes “Why is the left so anti-marriage?”. Admittedly this person clearly hasn’t read the article properly (it’s not anti-marriage at all) but the view they articulate is not all that uncommon. Marriage is a rightwing issue.

But none of these things should be party politics. Or rather, they should not be associated with party politics. Just because the Left is more willing to try and help single parents does not mean it opposes marriage. Most leftists would be happy to admit that they believe a family with two parents is the best way to raise children, albeit the Left is less likely to be so insistent on the parents being different genders. Somehow the public mind has concluded that because the Left is willing to help rather than demonise single parents that it is some way celebrating them. I don’t believe there is any emotional valuation here. Helping someone who must raise a child alone is not an act of judging them, it’s an act of basic human decency along leftwing principles, i.e. helping those members of the community who need help using the state. Those who believe the Left is anti-marriage must have blinkers on.

Then there’s the study on the cost (£100m+) of translation for non-English speakers in Britain. The rights and wrongs of this are more complicated than they seem but the fact that people are not learning English because they don’t have to is undeniable. The 10 o’clock News had a couple of examples last night, and all concerned felt that the translations were preventing people from learning the language. Now I support a mandatory English test for immigrants into this country. I support it for the same reason I feel annoyed by Brits who go to live abroad and refuse to learn the local language. It’s been partially hijacked as a political issue, but knowing the language of the country you live in shouldn’t be. It’s a matter of necessity, it increases access to services, it helps with interacting with the community. Most Welsh speakers, despite living in a country which is (rightly) geared to accommodate speakers of its traditional language, still learn English so they can get by in the rest of the UK.

Portraying certain issue as being particularly “Left” or “Right” is nto always helpful and can cloud common sense when some things should be obvious. Whilst it takes some intellectual contortions to show, for instance, that capitalists should abhor private schools (ask me about this some time), the effectivness of marriage and the need to know the local language are surely no-brainers. Let’s reclaim these issues and take them away from the petty politicos who will probably only break them anyway.


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