Back in the less enlightened days of the 1970s, those of limited intellectual horizons who lived in cities like Bradford set great store by intimidating south Asian men who exhibited the effrontery to converse in Urdu or Hindi, telling them in no uncertain terms that they should “Speak English”, a rule that did not apply when the same morons went for their holidays in Spain or France.
There is no compulsion in law for anyone who lives in the UK to speak English – otherwise many in Wales, and a number in North-West Scotland, as well as those from other EU member states – might have a problem. Likewise, the authorities in Spain tolerate enclaves of migrants who do not speak one of that country’s four languages, something not confined to Brits.
Sadly, in yet another ill-advised attempt to out-UKIP Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, it seems Young Dave is trying to cause us to regress to those dark days by proposing that, to access any part of the social security system, everyone must “Speak English”. In this highly dubious propaganda exercise he has the willing support of Simon Walters of the Mail On Sunday, who has had the wheeze elevated to front page lead.
“Speak English or lose benefits: Cameron to stop payouts to immigrants who use taxpayer-funded translators” readers are told. And, as the man said, there’s more: “In a radical bid to slash Britain’s benefits bill, the Prime Minister intends to stop printing welfare paperwork in foreign languages and prevent claimants using taxpayer-funded translators at benefits offices”.
At least it is conceded that this “would also hit British residents who cannot speak English”. That is one reason it ain’t going to happen, although the MoS blames Corporal Clegg instead, because this fits with the Northcliffe House agenda. And you can tell this is a deliberate editorial decision by Geordie Greig, as the editorial leads on it, plus there is a pundit on board to reinforce the story.
That pundit is James Forsyth, telling “Tories talk directly to their heartland with 'Speak English' rule”, which is straightforward bullshit: this talks not to any heartland, but to plain and unvarnished bigotry. Then Mail on Sunday comment opines “Encouraging our neighbours to learn our language is not a punishment, but a positive benefit”. Cutting off benefits, though, is a punishment.
Fortunately, the roll-call of those in support shows that this is likely to be a non-starter: “The plans were been drawn up by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith ... Former Tory Cabinet Minister Liam Fox also gave the scheme the thumbs-up”. So, after the requisite period of kicking the story around to blame the Lib Dems, lawyers, “do-gooders” and the EU, that will be that.
But it’s most revealing to see just how desperate the Tories are right now.