While government ministers past and present lament immigrants’ “failure” to learn English and speak it at home, some half a million people have been told that their access to free English language courses is to be ended.
Yet very few of those government supporters thought the issue important enough to attend a debate on the question in parliament on Friday of last week.
As the public gallery of the Commons filled up with young students who are to be robbed of their education, just three MPs were in the chamber.
One was Respect MP George Galloway who had brought the matter to parliament’s attention. One was Yvette Cooper, the government minister charged with replying to him, and the last was Meg Hillier, the private secretary to government minister Ruth Kelly – who was, of course, unable to attend.
Galloway found himself speaking to the gallery rather than the uninterested government representatives.
He said, “Minister after minister has beaten a path to east London to lecture local people on the concept of Britishness, the need for integration and the dangers of ghettoisation.
“What is the price of the alienation, anger and frustration produced by the ghettoisation of people who cannot, despite their best efforts, learn the language of the country in which they now live?
“In my constituency many people studying at admirable colleges such as Tower Hamlets college will no longer be able to afford the [Esol] classes after September. They will have to drop out.”
Meg Hillier yawned as she shuffled her papers and Yvette Cooper struggled to respond before the debate was brought to an abrupt end. The students, however, learnt a valuable lesson in “democracy”.
London demonstration against the Esol cuts, Satuday 28 April.
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