New monument to UK multiculturalism.

As part of the UK government’s war on all things non-British, including funny foreign lingos, Eastern European plumbers, Mudbloods, and other undesirables, the London borough of Newham, under mayor Sir Robin Wales, has instituted a policy of cutting funding for translation services within his borough (by over 72 percent), while also removing non-English newspapers and periodicals from Newham libraries.  All in a borough where the white Anglo-Saxon resident population stands at just 16.7 percent. This precedes a much-trumpeted initiative by UK Prime Minister David Cameron to “speak English or lose benefits.”

“We have said we will only translate in those cases where it suits us – so child protection cases, paying your council tax, those sorts of things,” the BBC quoted Sir Robin Wales as saying. “We won’t translate otherwise, you have to bring somebody in with you if you want to access anything else.”

Wales’s policy at least is motivated by a desire, however misguided, to foster “greater community cohesion.” However, the UK government’s higher-level move is simply all about a war on the supposed tide of benefit scroungers besieging England’s fair shores.  As quoted by the Daily Mail, one “Tory insider” said: “The vast majority of voters will think this idea is plain common sense. It is unreasonable to expect taxpayers to spend huge sums on translators when people should be learning to read and write English.”

Watch out, speakers of nasty incomprehensible foreign tongues. Cameron and his cronies are on your case.


  1. Oh, the outrage! Is it unreasonable to expect people who want to live and work in your country to take the steps that will allow them to do so effectively — including learning to communicate with 95% of their new fellow-countrymen?

    I’m sure you would be the first to shriek about ‘ghettoisation’ if the UK government withdrew its free English-teaching services from migrant groups. What’s wrong with providing a bit of stick to go with the carrots?

  2. It’s a foolish response to a quite real problem triggered by having a welfare state that pays fairly well to anyone within a nation’s borders. A few years back they caught some refugees trying to slip through the Chunnel from France to the UK. They’d come to France claiming persecution, but their real goal was the more ample welfare money paid out in Britain. That’s what’s at the root of this problem.

    Keep in mind that often these troublesome immigrants do work. But some do so illegally. Crime doesn’t require much cultural or language skills. A year or so ago, I counseled a disabled woman who’d been tossed out of her Seattle apartment building and was having trouble finding a new place. She was so distraught, others were afraid to accept her.

    The manager didn’t have a legitimate reason for throwing her out. But I had no trouble gleaning from her what was going on. Her forced departure meant everyone there was now from a particular Eastern Europe country not known to be law-abiding. Having her around meant their criminal activities might get exposed. Disabled or not, she had to go, even though she was paying the rent.

    What you’re talking about loosely is something more perceptive people have described. List three sets of circumstances:

    1. Political and economic stability

    2. Generous welfare state

    3. Open immigration.

    Having all three is impossible You must pick two of the three and give up on the third.

    * In the distant past, the U.S. had 1 and 3 and that worked quite well. The poor and huddled masses could come, but they had to work and learn to fit in. What welfare programs that existed were often run by earlier immigrants who insisted that the new immigrants not mooch on them.

    * Canada and Switzerland currently has 1 and 2. You’ve got to be rich and/or well-educated to get in. Rich immigrants have a vested interest in social stability and the educated learn a county’s language quickly.

    * Combining 2 and 3. Is a disaster. You lose 1–social and political stability. Yes, certain individuals and certain groups may benefit society immensely. The Koreans that live where I now live are in corporate positions at a nearby Kia factory. But open immigration (3) means you can’t select just them and a welfare state (2) means you attract lots of the wrong sorts of people.

    The highly privileged often don’t see any problem with having all three. Their wealth not only means they can avoid crime, open immigration solves one of their major problems (once called ‘the servant question’). Immigrants who don’t speak the language make cheap housekeepers and landscapers.

    The trouble lies the bottom half of the native population. They suffer from the crime. They suffer from the job competition. They suffer from the burdens those immigrants place on the welfare system including in the UK, the NHS. (The wealthy, of course, don’t need welfare or the NHS.)

    Note though that this isn’t a choose 3 out of 4 choice with #4 being ‘treat these troublesome, welfare consuming immigrants badly.’ That only increases the social and economic instability of #1. Those who get treated badly complain and become an easy, feel-good cause for the well-to-do who benefit either economically (cheap servants) or politically (easily manipulated voters) by this influx.

    So assuming that #1 is desired, the only fix is to choose either a generous welfare state or open immigration. You can’t have both as the UK is trying to do.

    I might add that one of my part-time jobs in Seattle meant I worked with young guys from all over the world. I once asked how two of our fellow workers, one from Thailand and one from Ethiopia, managed to communicate. Both had very marginal skills in their only common language–English. We joked that they somehow managed.

    Work forces people from all sorts of backgrounds together, often easing tensions and forcing people to learn languages. Welfare prevents that an often results in groups living in isolated enclaves where they have no reason to learn a country’s language and culture. They stew, become bitter, and turn to nasty religions or political ideologies. That’s what’s happening in the UK and these bans on foreign words and translators are a fix.

    I might add that’s the real reason why Palestinian leaders are so hostile to that SodaStream factory in the West Bank. It has Jews and Arabs working together in harmony. That they cannot permit. That has to end. And aid groups (i.e. Oxfam) that don’t understand that dynamic are being clueless at best.

    There are well-meaning people who’d do the world a heck of a lot more good if they’d switch to collecting stamps. By refusing to recognize practical realities, they only make matters worse.

    –Michael W. Perry, Across Asia on a Bicycle

  3. Correction. Bans on foreign words, translators etc are NOT a fix.

    I saw the first glimmerings of this problem when I ran around the UK in 1978. Over and over, the English told me that London was no longer English. They meant parts of the city that’d become so heavily Middle-eastern, many signs were in Arabic.

    At the root of this problem are the politicians and bureaucrats who think these clashes can be manipulated to their benefit as they attempt to adjust the problems of #1. They can’t and often make matters worse by meddling, either pandering to the influx or, at the opposite extreme, attempting to be nasty to them.

  4. I think sometimes there are economic realities at play here too. For instance, I remember a story here several years ago where the Chinese community was campaigning to force the banks to provide Chinese-language service on their automated teller machines. Some banks were already doing this, at their own expense, in areas with a large enough population. But they wanted it to be regulation. The answer was that Canada has two official languages, English and French, and it will legislate that official services be provided in those languages, the end. If someone else wants to provide a service in another language, they are of course welcome to do so. And certainly, groups such as the new immigrant service groups do, as part of their mandate, make materials available in other languages. But the government, for official government purposes, does not have to provide service in languages other than English and French. It just is not feasible to expect them to maintain services for every language of the world as a matter of course and the line must be drawn somewhere!

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