David Cameron’s announcement that Muslim women should make sure their English improves, or otherwise risk their right to stay in Britain, had all his now familiar hallmarks: clumsy, disingenuous, riddled with unverifiable assumptions, and ripped apart within 24 hours.
The idea that a married women could be deported because of inadequate English, when we cannot even seem to deport hate preachers and the aiders and abetters of terrorism, will rightly strike most of us as laughable.
There was in fact no need for him to home in on just one section of society. For the fact is, the need for us to communicate in one language – something which common sense dictates is necessary for any cohesive society – is a pressing issue, and one which most people take very seriously.
When, last year, Nigel Farage talked about not hearing English spoken on his train journey from central London out to the suburbs, he was viciously pilloried by the liberal, virtue-signalling commentariat.
But of course, most people listening – including me – would have known exactly what he was talking about. And nowhere would his experience have been more recognisable than in the capital.
Without a common language, a society has no glue keeping it together. And that includes great, international cities like London.
Not being able to understand each other at the most basic level increases alienation, distrust and misunderstanding. Think on what that great “progressive”, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt once said:
“Let us say to the immigrant not that we hope he will learn English, but that he has got to learn it. Let the immigrant who does not learn it go back. He has got to consider the interest of the United States or he should not stay here. He must be made to see that his opportunities in this country depend upon his knowing English and observing American standards. The employer cannot be permitted to regard him only as an industrial asset.
“We must in every way possible encourage the immigrant to rise, help him up, give him a chance to help himself. If we try to carry him he may well prove not well worth carrying. We must in turn insist upon his showing the same standard of fealty to this country and to join with us in raising the level of our common American citizenship.”
For years, multiculturalists resisted any attempt at integration through something as basic as learning English. It was almost as though they wanted to keep people separate.
Back in the 80s, the headteacher Ray Honeyford was hounded and forced to resign for suggesting that it might just be helpful to them if his predominantly Asian pupils learned English.
Now of course, this has become a mainstream concern.
We have to start somewhere if we want to break through the division created by these misguided attitudes.
So I believe that all official documents should be in English. Multi-lingual formatting should be scrapped.
Furthermore, translation services in general should be cut, in favour of English lessons. This is an approach which, polling has shown, has great support amongst Londoners.
Sir Robin Wales, the Labour Mayor of Newham, took the step in this direction a few years ago when he cut translation services in an attempt to encourage integration in Britain’s most ethnically diverse borough.
We should adopt a similar but London-wide approach. Only through speaking the language will immigrants hope to gain any sense of the values, nuances and character of the city they’ve joined.
Otherwise it will remain a completely closed book to them, a place simply where they sleep, eat and work.
Peter Whittle is the UK Independence Party’s candidate for London Mayor. He tweets at @PrWhittle