Does Eric Pickles’ integration speech last week foretell an emphasis on a new patriotism?
Communities secretary Eric Pickles gave his first speech on integration last week, at an event hosted by the think-tanks British Future and Policy Exchange. Arguing that language was the cornerstone of Conservative integration strategy, he vowed to tackle the ‘statist’ policies which, he said, had effectively held people back from learning English. Up to £140 million a year is spent by the public sector on translating documents into foreign languages, Pickles claimed. And ‘instead of millions lost in translation services, next year [the government will be] ploughing millions into an English language service’. On the same day that the speech was delivered, he announced the launch of a competition in which businesses, charities and groups can bid to deliver English language lessons. These will be whittled down to four deliverers, which will eventually share £6 million between them.
According to Pickles, this is about ‘remov[ing] the bureaucracy’ and ‘us[ing] people power so people can do things for themselves’. ‘We all miss out, our country is the poorer’, he said, when people cannot speak the language, deftly sidestepping the fact that he is part of the same government that attempted to force massive cuts on English for Speakers of Other languages (ESOL) provision. This is about letting ‘localism loose’, Pickles maintained, but this is a localism which sees no contradiction between making money available for four key organisations to deliver language programmes while local community-based language classes up and down the country are collapsing as a result of local authority cuts.
Pickles’ conception of integration parallels the coalition’s welfare reforms, relying as it does on a mythology that welfare rewards idleness. The insinuation is that translation services are for the feckless, and its provision acts as a disincentive to learn the language. Praising the ‘success’ of Britain’s immigrants of old – ‘from the Jews of the East End to Leicester’s Ugandans’ – he said that it was ‘Their ambition … Their determination … To come to the party … To grab success … To pick up a dictionary rather than relying on a translator … That made them a vital part of the British family.’ The implication is that by tearing down the ‘old Whitehall walls’, and putting integration services in the hands of social enterprises, the ‘good’ immigrants, the entrepreneurs, the go-getters, the immigrants with values will benefit.
And how else to instill these values? That remains to be seen, but ironically, despite all the talk of localism, the signs are that these will be centrally framed. For Pickles, they reside in a patriotic fervour which will be built upon the ground which was laid last year. ‘No-one in this country will ever forget 2012’, he explains. ‘Jubilee jamborees, street parties, music marathons.The special magic Olympian and Paralympian gold rush.’ Last year was the year that the voiceless found their voice, he says. It was the year that ‘demonstrated why we can celebrate the common threads that unite us’; the year ‘we seized the union flag from extremists and thugs’.
Integration, judging by Pickles’ speech, is to be aligned to the construction of a new sense of the ‘British family’. This is a definition of integration which will champion faith communities and defend ‘British liberties of freedom of religion’, he says, especially at a time when ‘Christians are under attack for their beliefs in different parts of the world.’ The armed forces are some of the standard bearers for the values which Pickles wants instilled, as ‘Few people have a greater sense of responsibility than our brave armed forces and it’s been another of my priorities to build that sense of responsibility – particularly amongst our young people.’ Meanwhile, projects which bring people together – ideally, it seems, those prompting jingoism – are held as the key to uniting communities. ‘The Jubilee Hour’, for example, ‘offered a perfect demonstration of integration in action. Millions gave up 60 minutes, to mark 60 years worth of service by Her Majesty. Just like our Majesty, they often went above and beyond.’
‘Integration. Integration. Integration’ will be the mantra of 2013, Pickles says. It is a year when patriotism will be firmly back on the agenda.
Read an IRR News story: ‘Learn the language – how?‘
Read an IRR News story: ‘Small victory for ESOL learners‘