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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  1. Andrew McFarland

    I agree with both your points here Hol, but would just like to say that a lot of the Right wing view that the Left is anti-marriage (in this country at least) seems to be caused by the current Government, and most notably Gordon Brown. Since 1997 they have, through a system of taxes and tax credits, essentially made it cheaper both to live and especially to raise a child outside of marriage than in it.

    13 Dec 2006, 15:10

  2. Is it cheaper overall, considering that single parents have a single income (plus a small amount from the CSA if it’s managed to do its job properly), or just more government benefits in total for single parents? I’m not sure how evenly those tax benefits are distributed, especially after seeing a programme on Channel 4 (which I really wish I could remember the name of, think it was called something like Pramface) which made life as a single mum look horrifically tough.

    13 Dec 2006, 16:57

  3. Marriage is a right wing issue? Since when did marriage, which is a religious ceremony, have anything to do with left/right politics? Right-wingers do tend to be more pro-marriage than the left in my experience though I guess; perhaps there too is a trend for those of the right to be more religious than the left. Do you have any data on this?

    14 Dec 2006, 12:58

  4. It probably is a religious motivation which makes the Right associate with marriage, but the Left have just as many solid relationships. I guess the difference must come from the perception that the Left are not so vehemently pro-marriage as a religious thing and therefore are less bothered about the civil marriage as well resulting in more cohabiting parents who are not married but still stay together and have balanced, happy sprogs.

    15 Dec 2006, 11:17

  5. resulting in more cohabiting parents who are not married but still stay together and have balanced, happy sprogs

    ...several times more of whom (as a proportion) will split up within 5 years than their married counterparts. What conclusions one draws from that I’m not quite sure. It’s one of the easiest statistics to make say whatever you want it to.

    15 Dec 2006, 11:42

  6. Sam Hancock

    Surely it stems from the amount of emphasis given to marriage by people on the right, be it the single-mother bashing done by the tory cabinet in the early 90s or Cameron’s own flirtation with tax breaks for newly-weds. And not simply the attention but more so the way in which it is almost regarded as a cure for some of society’s ills- cf.the response to the recent spate of gun crime.

    Perhaps it’s also because lefties generally take a more rounded sociological view of such issues. Viewing gun crime, for example, as a result of poor youth services and the like, whilst many on the right would prefer to see them simply as a result of the breakdown of the nuclear family and indeed declining marriage rates.

    A Thatcherite reading of the situation might take the simplistic way out (since at a crude level for them society does not exist) and argue that poor parenting is responsible for such issues.

    Surely some issues will perennially be regarded as ‘left’ or ‘right’ wing, since there will always be a bias to such issues for the two factions. Social justice, for example, is rarely linked to the right in the popular mindset since left wing governments emphasise and indeed pursue it.

    01 Apr 2007, 23:45


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