David Cameron has announced that £20 million will be available to enable Muslim women to learn English. “If the 22% of Muslim women who currently don’t speak English embark on these lessons,” the PM didn’t say, “they will stop trying to kill us all. Of course I am not saying there is a causal link between not knowing the lingo and joining ISIS, but there might be.”
This is the same David Cameron who not long ago presided over the decision to withdraw all funding for Esol (English for speakers of other languages) courses, something he even managed to acknowledge in his usual sleek presentation. But don’t worry: the new level of funding, which will represent a small fraction of what has previously been cut, will be “targeted”. To whom will it be targeted, I wonder, and if the money wasn’t targeted before, what were they doing with it? Knocking on the doors of Muslim woman, perhaps, armed with brown envelopes and saying, “Here, have this and learn some English. No questions asked. Otherwise you’ll have to go back to Islamabad and you wouldn’t want that, would you?”
Excuse me for being so cynical but this is also the same David Cameron who is currently presiding over the most draconian cuts to local authority funding ever, including those wretched libraries, which have the damaging effect of encouraging people to read.
Now I am not against encouraging anyone to speak English. I was told that when my mother came to live in England from the Netherlands in the 1950s, her English was somewhat rudimentary. Remarkably, she managed to expand her vocabulary to the extend that she sounded more English than Steve MacClaren (see you tube for his ‘Dutch’ interview: it’s very funny). But if she hadn’t learned to speak English quickly enough, under Cameron’s early proposals she might have found herself deported to the Netherlands and I might not even be here.
I don’t actually disagree with the idea that immigrants to England should learn how to speak English and my experience is that most people do. There is definitely an issue with a large minority of Asian women because of the medieval culture in which many of them live. That can’t go on and it isn’t acceptable, but it is how we do it that matters.
This, yet again, seems to be Cameron trying to rescue his future legacy, which currently consists of looking after those at the top and letting everyone else go to hell. It is yet another announcement amid a rash of announcements that suggest Cameron wants to have some social legacy too, especially following his pre general election obsession with the mythical ‘Broken Britain’.
Good luck to him and all that and let’s hope everyone who comes to the country gets the opportunity and encouragement to speak English. But let’s separate the headlines from the reality. The headlines suggest a brand new initiative backed by hard cash, the reality is a relatively small amount of money to paper over the cracks that have appeared since the very same man’s government slashed spending in the first place.
The suggestion is that Cameron’s heart is in the right place. I’m just wondering if he wants to be remembered as someone who had a single redeeming feature, because right now he doesn’t have one.