Socialist Worker

David Blunkett wants to arrange YOUR marriage

Issue No. 1787

Home Secretary David Blunkett unveiled New Labour's latest crackdown on immigration, asylum and British citizenship last week. He won rapturous praise from Tory MPs for attacks on the ability of immigrants to speak English and on British people marrying partners from the Indian subcontinent.

His plans are a continuation of his attempt at the end of last year to blame Asians for the racism that is directed against them. That led British National Party Führer Nick Griffin to say last December that Blunkett 'is using the same thing we've been saying for years, and he's now jumping on the bandwagon'.

The BNP labelled Blunkett 'our favourite politician'. Blunkett says he wants 'to secure a shared sense of belonging and identity'. He spoke of 'strong civic and community foundations to secure integration'. Under his plan:

  • The 60,000 people each year who apply for British citizenship will be forced to take a compulsory English language test.
  • People from overseas will then be tested on their grasp of 'British culture', values and way of life.
  • People will also be compelled to publicly swear a newly drafted loyalty oath before citizenship is granted.
  • It will be harder to settle here with a partner you marry from abroad.

This is New Labour's kneejerk reaction to the riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham last summer.

Blunkett hides behind the claim that 'evidence suggests migrants who are fluent in English are on average 20 percent more likely to be employed than those lacking those skills.' Of course every person from overseas who is unable to speak the language here is placed at a real disadvantage.

But this is not the main cause of higher unemployment and greater poverty among black and Asian people. Nearly all black and Asian young men in Britain speak English well. Yet young Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have the highest unemployment rates. Immigrants from the West Indies in the 1950s and 1960s spoke English fluently. They still ended up in the worst jobs.

And the percentage of immigrants in Britain who speak English is far higher than the percentage of British expats on the Costa del Sol who speak Spanish. Blunkett is using the issue of English as a smokescreen for the institutionalised racism that is the real obstacle to advancement for newcomers to this country.

If he is so concerned about people's ability to communicate, why, as education secretary, did he cut funding to help children whose first language is not English? Further cuts were announced two weeks ago. He is not proposing to give councils and colleges the cash for courses to teach English as a second language to adults.

Far from welcoming people, Blunkett's measures make them less likely to be accepted.

Everyone who doesn't make the grade in the English test or in the assessment of British values is deprived of British citizenship. And New Labour is demanding far more from newcomers than from those who already live here.

Immigrants will be made to swear an oath of allegiance to the queen and the 'principles of British citizenship'. This is at a time when record numbers of people in Britain say they are sick to death of the parasitic monarchy.

A year ago cabinet minister Robin Cook praised the way different cultures in Britain have blended. He said the 'British national dish' is chicken tikka massala. Blunkett has replaced that message with a demand that immigrants are loyal to a Daily Mail vision of 'Britishness', even though it is foreign to most people who live here.

Measures will divide families

Blunkett made a sweeping and ignorant attack on arranged marriages in the Asian community. He ignored the fact that increasing numbers of Asians are marrying across racial lines, and instead tried to link arranged marriages to forced marriages. He said, 'Fraudulent marriages are a growing problem in our immigration system, and forced marriages abuse the rights of women in this country.'

Even Home Office figures suggest there were just 700 cases of suspect marriages that took place to gain the right to settle here last year, and these cases were not proven. Only a small proportion of arranged marriages are with a partner from abroad, and only some of these people are from the Indian subcontinent. There are over 1.8 million people in Britain whose families hail from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh.

But in 2000 just 21,300 partners and dependent relatives entered the country from the Indian subcontinent. There are no figures on the number of Americans, Australians or New Zealanders who move here after marrying a British citizen. Nor is Blunkett concerned about them.

His focus on a small number of people coming from the Indian subcontinent is nothing short of racist. Draconian immigration rules already make it lengthy and difficult to get a partner from overseas to enter and gain the right to settle here. Blunkett now wants to double to two years the length of time a couple need to be married before a partner from abroad can apply to settle here.

For all his talk of protecting vulnerable women, that will put victims of domestic violence at greater risk.

Asyum seekers attacked again

The government is also sticking the boot into asylum seekers. It is increasing numbers of airline liaison officers and immigration officers to stop people entering the country. It is set to impose 'entitlement cards' for all citizens as a stepping stone to getting identity cards.

An even worse new regime of immigration appeals will be introduced. Some 4,000 more secure removal units are being created to lock up asylum seekers who are refused refuge. Jailing asylum seekers will make it easier for the government to carry out the increase in deportations it has planned.

A new immigration hotline will encourage the public to scapegoat people who they suspect are breaking immigration rules. Blunkett talks of creating 'community cohesion', but his measures will build distrust of asylum seekers and people from ethnic minorities.

Facts about immigration

Politicians won't tell you that last year:

  • Just 38,000 people were granted the right to live here after marriage.
  • 40,000 mainly white Australians entered on working holidays for up to two years.
  • Some 300,000 people left Britain, while a total of 200,000 people came to live here, mostly to work.

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Article information

Sat 16 Feb 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1787
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