Not Saussure

June 17, 2007

More thoughts on Integration and Cohesion

Filed under: Community, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 12:36 am

Having become engrossed in Second Life (see below), I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read through Our shared future, the report by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion about which I was rather rude the other day.

I have, though, been thinking about why I dislike its approach so much; it is, I fear, yet again another example of our old friend well-intentioned managerialism, at work. The way I look at the question is this; by and large, most people are tolerant by default. That is, in most counties — and Britain, thank God, is certainly one of them — people are really primarily interested in getting on with their own lives in their own way and aren’t particularly bothered one way or the other about other people might be doing so long as it doesn’t adversely affect them too much. We’re all of us members of umpteen overlapping, and at times conflicting, ‘communities’ — the area in which we live, our families, our friends, our colleagues, our partner’s family (oh, dear God… quote from my late wife, shortly before she died — ‘at least I’ll never have to put up with my brother again, and you won’t have to, either, after the funeral’ — a somewhat unchristian remark, but people like Anna’s brother were the reason the word ‘nincompoop’ was invented), other members of social, political or religious organisations to which we may belong . None of them define us; and through our experience of belonging to them, we’re all of us perfectly well able to deal with people we might not particularly like or who seem to us rather odd (my sometime brother in law, for example).

If there’s someone you don’t like, or who doesn’t like you, you either avoid them or, if circumstances — work, in particular — throw you together, most of us learn quite early on how to deal with such situations. And we do because we’re sensible adults who’ve learned how to conduct our lives so we can concentrate on pursuing, in our own ways, those ends that seem important to us, with a minimum of frustration. When conflicts arise, as inevitably they do, they’re normally between individuals, not communities — though they might well be between particular individuals who, for their own motives (usually political and financial) claim to speak ‘on behalf of’ particular communities.

Now, it seems to me that, in this fallen world of ours, conflicts between individuals are inevitable. Sometimes they can be solved by more or less amicable negotiation, but sometimes they can’t and that’s when the civil or criminal law comes into play. But for government to say, ‘conflict is undesirable so we’ll do our best to ensure it never arises’ is not only deluded; it’s downright dangerous. (more…)


June 14, 2007

Our shared (and bureaucratic) future

Filed under: Community, UK — notsaussure @ 4:39 pm

I’ve not yet read the Commission on Integration and Cohesion’s report on Our shared future, which is obviously a substantial piece of work, comprising some 168 pages. What little I have read, however, does not bode well; one can feel few emotions other than profound suspicion, I think, about a document containing the announcement

In this chapter, our recommendations are about:

  • A shared national vision
  • A national shared futures campaign
  • How Local Authorities can better understand their communities and mainstream integration and cohesion
  • A new performance framework Strong leadership and local democracy – including political parties acting responsibly
  • How we can move away from a “one size fits all” approach

and which contains — this I’ve picked out at random — statements like

Our proposal therefore is that we use integration and cohesion policy to generate a working sense of citizenship that is based on a set of rights and responsibilities appropriate for the changing UK of the 21st century, and one that chimes at a national as well as local level.

The document proposes, among many other things, yet another Quango (don’t look so surprised),

a national body to manage the integration of new migrants, sponsored by Communities and Local Government, but independent of Government.

The authors tell us that

we see the priority actions for this body as being:

  • To clarify the objectives of a strategy […]
  • To baseline the evidence: clarifying the current situation and building an evidence base […]
  • To consolidate and take forward the good practice work currently being developed […]
  • To provide guidance on how to work with settled communities in areas experiencing high levels of migration […]
  • To explore whether asking new migrants (from the EU or elsewhere) to attend the local town hall to pick up local welcome packs when they arrive might address some of the data tracking issues outlined in Chapter 7 below. This could mean not only providing the information they need at first point of contact with a local area, but could also introduce local agreements or contracts that cover behaviours, norms etc. [quoted in full]
  • To secure buy-in and joined up policy making from Whitehall and the third sector: acting as a catalyst for policy development, and an independent voice both for new migrants and those settled communities experiencing rapid change. [again,quoted in full]

I don’t think they anywhere actually promise to hold seminars and deliver endless PowerPoint presentations, but I doubt these can be far from the authors’ minds.

I quote the last clauses of bureaucratic prose in full for two reasons. The first is that the BBC were actually able to persuade a spokesman for the Commission to explain a bit about these proposed local agreements or contracts that cover behaviours, norms etc.

The proposed packs are based on work by some councils to explain basic facts about British ways of life to newly-arrived migrants.”The packs might say that we like to queue at the Post Office and the bus stop and we don’t really like spitting in the street,” said a spokesman

I’m not completely sure if this spokesman is a blithering idiot or possessed of Machiavellian cunning. At first I inclined to the former view, chortling as I was about the bathos of his examples, and, indeed, their utter irrelevance; do many people find themselves beset by newly-arrived migrants jumping queues in Post Offices and spitting in the streets? Then I started having fun wondering what happened if you didn’t sign one of these patronising ‘contracts’ and wondering what else might go in them– ‘we don’t really like people chucking their empty coke cans and Macdonalds cartons in the streets or letting their dogs crap all over the pavement, either, but don’t worry … lots of people do it.’

But then I thought, ‘Hang on; he’s smuggling in, under cover of this risible example, the somewhat un-British notion that aliens have to register with the local authorities.’ I was used to having to deal with the OVIR (ОВиР, “Отдел Виз и Регистрации”, “Office of Visas and Registration”) back in Russia, but I’m a bit alarmed to see the idea brought in here, even inadvertently.

The final clause, though, really irritated me. We’re used to, I thought, and many of us are profoundly fed-up with, self-appointed ‘community spokesmen’ or ‘community leaders’. Now, here we have someone proposing ‘a national body […], sponsored by Communities and Local Government, but independent of Government’ that will purport to act as ‘an independent voice both for new migrants and those settled communities experiencing rapid change.’

Errm… am I alone in spotting a bit of a problem with that?


June 10, 2007

The Commission on Integration and Cohesion

Filed under: Community, Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 5:15 pm

I’m a bit confused by this; the Telegraph reports that

Employers will be told to pay for language lessons for immigrant workers who have a poor grasp of English, under proposals to be unveiled this week. […] The Commission on Integration and Cohesion, which was promised by Tony Blair in the wake of the July 7 bombings in 2005, says that moves to prevent immigrants from being marginalised will help to ease racial tensions and fight the appeal of extremist ideologies.As the rate of overseas settlement in Britain runs at its highest ever, the commission will argue that many new immigrants are too poor to afford tuition and should have the costs covered by their employers. That would greatly improve their ability to contribute to society and would bring long-term benefits to cohesion in Britain, its report will suggest.

I find this confusing for two reasons; first, it’s self-evidently mad (not that this means it would not recommend itself to this, or any other, government, of course) and, second, Darra Singh, the Chairman of the Commission, says nothing about it in his article in today’s Observer, though he does discuss, at some length, his proposals for encouraging people to learn English:

Some basic translation is useful and necessary, but we have not always struck the right balance. My Commission on Integration and Cohesion will publish a series of tests public bodies should apply when making decisions about whether to provide translated material. And where savings are made by cutting translation services, they should be reinvested in English lessons – both for newcomers and settled communities. It is a lost opportunity, for individuals and for society, that some people who have lived here for 30 years or more have never acquired the language skills to play a fuller role in local life.

That may well have much to commend it, particularly in Wales, where a surprising number of people even in South Wales (as opposed to traditionally Welsh-speaking rural North Wales) appear to speak only Welsh and consequently need everything translating for them at enormous public expense, but he doesn’t seem to say anything about requiring employers to pay.

It’s a daft idea for two reasons. First, I don’t quite see why anyone would want to hire someone if they didn’t think their language (or any other) skills were adequate for the particular job they had in mind. Well, any private employer, at least; certainly our local hospital — of which I saw rather more than I would have wanted during my late wife’s last years — employed whole armies of absolutely charming ladies from the Philippines as nursing auxiliaries whose English, unfortunately, wasn’t up to communicating with patients at anything other than the most rudimentary level, which meant that complicated requests like ‘please get me a bed pan’ (from the elderly lady in the bed next to my wife’s on one stay in hospital) frequently went unanswered.

But any normal employer would, one rather assumes, try to make sure that his sales staff could understand enough English to serve the customers (though possibly not to write business letters), while being rather less bothered about the standard of English attained by his cleaners, so long as they understood what they were being asked to do.

Quite why an employer should be asked to pay for training he doesn’t think his staff need is a bit beyond me; yes, it would doubtless be nice if they could all drive, too, but is he also to be asked to pay for driving lessons for non-drivers?

Second, this proposal would, almost certainly, run smack into anti-discrimination legislation, and quite right, too. I’m old enough to remember when, shortly the Race Relations Act was passed, employers who wanted to continue to discriminate against recent immigrants started introducing tests in written English for jobs that didn’t obviously require such skills to any great extent (working on a production line, for example). Quite rightly, the Race Relations Board, as it then was, stepped in and the courts rapidly agreed that this sort of indirect discrimination was unlawful; you can only insist on linguistic skills that are relevant to the job.

Well, require employers to pay for language teaching in certain circumstances and, it seems to me, you’ve automatically made those language skills of direct relevance to the job and, in effect, given employers every reason to discriminate against applicants even they don’t want to. If I want to employ someone who seems perfectly well qualified for the job but the government are likely to insist I pay for training I don’t think he needs, then obviously I’m going to look for someone else who definitely won’t need the training because English is his first language.

It’s a barmy idea, and I rather wonder if the Telegraph isn’t rather exaggerating, though possibly not since Mr Singh is clearly well able to come up with pretty bonkers ideas without any help. For example, he’s got the idea that

a new citizenship ceremony – perhaps on students’ completion of their GCSEs – would be one way of more publicly marking their understanding of what it means to be a responsible citizen in modern Britain

Tim Worstall says all that needs to be said:

What really seems to be missed is that (whether it’s at 16 or any other age) the attainment of full citizenship is not some privilege that is handed down to us from on high. Rather, it’s that one is now of an age when one gets to choose who those on high are going to be. It is not the mighty who offer us the privileges of citizenship, it is us who choose who is going to handle those minor matters that cannot be handled privately, whether individually or collectively.The correct ceremony would therefore be for politicians to abase themselves before such gatherings, begging for votes so that they might continue their lives upon the gravy train. The correct response to this from those celebrating would for 40% not to bother to turn up, the remainder to view the vote stealers with the contempt they deserve: precisely the (correct) reaction of all the other adults in the Kingdom.

Mr Singh also favours the idea of compulsory volunteering, which rather suggests he could do with some English lessons, as least with regard to what ‘compulsory’ and ‘voluntary’ might mean. Apparently,

It is to be welcomed that many young people now take part in volunteering and give something back to their local area. The benefits are great – bringing together young people from different backgrounds to work together towards a common goal. I think we need to consider a national community service and we should not be afraid of asking whether this should be compulsory.

Well, yes, it’s certainly to be welcomed that people, of their own initiative, see something that they think needs doing and, quite sensibly, get together to do it themselves rather than ask the government, be it local or national, to do it for them. That Mr Singh thinks that the correct response to this is, in effect, to nationalise such efforts and to make them compulsory rather suggests he hasn’t properly thought it through. But, if we look more closely, we see that the benefits he perceives aren’t anything to do with the actual project being voluntarily undertaken; no, he likes the idea of

bringing together young people from different backgrounds to work together towards a common goal

Well, yes, I’m sure that’s a good idea. Employers do it all the time, do they not? Bring together people of all ages and backgrounds to work together to keep Tescos running profitably or what have you.

Obviously that’s not what he has in mind; I think he imagines, in effect, imposing community punishment orders on all young people, whether or not they’ve bothered to commit a crime first, which would be perfectly in line with government thinking. He might first, though, want to take some advice from people who’ve had experience of such national voluntary compulsory work schemes, though. They used to have them in the old Soviet Union, for example, for girls (boys did military service, obviously).

My interpreter and PA back there, the lovely and talented Inna, did hers at the local hospital in her home town, Kiev; from what she said, it’s a wonder the hospital ever managed to treat any patients, so busy were they trying to cope with finding jobs for — and supervising — dozens of untrained, mutinous and completely unmotivated 18 and 19-year-olds, where the girls couldn’t do too much damage (by accident or design) and wouldn’t get too much under the feet of the staff who were actually being paid to do the jobs properly.

Afterthought:  To be fair to Inna, she said that, in principle, she wouldn’t have minded doing some voluntary work, so long as it was voluntary;  it’s just that, as she said,  if you take a bright and somewhat stroppy 18-year-old who’s primarily interested in clubbing it and getting into university to study modern languages, and then tell her she’s got to spend a day a week at the local hospital helping with the filing and in the laundry (she got to help with the filing because she was one of the bright ones who was going to go on to university, you see), you’re looking for trouble…

January 3, 2007

New Labour, Education and social policy

Filed under: Community, Education, Politics — notsaussure @ 2:45 pm

Via Fabian Tassano’s Mediocracy, two dreadful articles by Ben Rogers of the New Labour think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research. Well, I’ll have to take his word for it on one of them, since it’s vanished behind a pay-per-view and I’m buggered if I’m paying good money to read something that apparently not only thinks that compulsory voting is a good idea but that this is proved by the fact that’s what they do in Belgium.

The other one, however, about schools, is available online and will, I hope, remain so because I’ve just posted the .pdf (until someone tells me to take it down). This is a stinker, and not only for the reasons Fabian so succinctly lists. (more…)

December 18, 2006

EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes

Filed under: Blogroll, Community, press — notsaussure @ 8:11 pm

  Having (most of us) failed to win Weblog Of The Year, we can take some comfort in the news, via Andrew Allison and Tom Paine, that we all of us share Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2006.  I’m already preparing my acceptance speech for what promises to be an interesting awards ceremony.   (Memo to self: get in early booking with Moss Bros.   Perhaps buy shares in company?).

Meanwhile, America’s most reasonable conservative, who was

   planning to make a major statement this week outlining what steps [his] blog is going to take to ensure victory. But then I thought, why rush things? It’s a complicated situation and I’m considering all options, though I am rejecting any strategies that will lead to defeat. I plan to outline a new way forward to ensure victory in the Weblog Awards sometime in January.

is somewhat tetchy about the whole affair; he writes,

Why You and not Me? What have you done that deserves this honor more than I do? I was not expecting to be named Time‘s Person of the Year, but I certainly didn’t think you would get it either. So big deal, you uploaded a few crappy videos to YouTube, updated your rambling and incoherent blog regularly, and harassed a few journalists. Am I supposed to be impressed?

His thoughtful post, besides containing his own nomination for Pronoun of the Year,  contains the interesting news that Blog P. I., an American blog that describes itself as

an ongoing series of investigations into, studies about, and commentaries on uses of the Internet in U.S. politics. While the political blogosphere is the primary focus, Blog P.I.’s interest extends to all corners of the Internet, with an emphasis on user-generated media and what’s often referred to as Web 2.0.

actually predicted this nomination back in October, complete with a photoshopped cover that looks very like the one Time actually used.   


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December 6, 2006

How British are you?

Filed under: Community, Foreigners, UK — notsaussure @ 12:23 am

The Daily Telegraph, reporting this new test about Britishness and the ‘the British way of life’ eschews the ‘Migrants tested on knowledge of benefits’ line of the Mail and the Express (hat tip 5cc).

They, in fact, make the damn thing sound pretty difficult, not least because they neglect to tell readers it’s a multiple choice. Consequently, I was thinking I’d have difficulty with, for example, How many young people are there in the UK? or How many people say they have a religion and how many attend religious services? or, if I were trying to give an answer that wasn’t so vague it was meaningless, How are local services managed, governed and paid for?

And, poorly informed though I doubtless am, I’m probably one of pretty small minority who knows, on the subject of What and when are the main Christian festivals? , when Easter is; that is (roughly — it doesn’t work exactly because Ecclesiastical Full Moons aren’t quite the same as anyone else’s) the first Sunday on or after the first full moon after March 21st. I agree, far simpler to look it up in your diary, isn’t it?

The sample questions given in The Sunday Mirror probably better indicate the level (unless they deliberately chose the easy ones, so as not upset the readers):

What is mistletoe traditionally used for at Christmas?

A Burned as an aromatic fuel B Given to friends as a symbol of generosity C Hung above doorways under which couples are expected to kiss D Used as a spice to make Christmas pudding.


According to the Church of England, heirs to the throne are not allowed to marry whom?

A Anyone who is not of royal blood’ B Anyone who is not a Protestant C Anyone who is under the age of 25 D Anyone who was born outside the UK.

I’m assuming, by the way, that the reference to the Church of England is the Mirror’s mistake rather than the Government’s (clearly the author of the article is no true Brit).

But whatever the standard, how on earth does knowing the answers to these questions make you particularly British? I get through life perfectly happily not knowing the number of young people in the UK, and if I ever did need to know, I know where to look it up. Complaints about the test not including history are misguided, I think; OFSTED, and others, are forever complaining about the poor knowledge of history shown by the however many young people it is, with the result that in 2001,

Three-quarters did not know that D-Day was the start of the Normandy landings in 1944, while a third thought it marked the end of World War II, the BMRB poll of 1,000 young people found.

The findings came as war veterans across the UK prepared to honour comrades who lost their lives.

A third of those polled thought Henry VIII had eight wives, not six, and 80% did not know Queen Victoria’s reign lasted for 64 years.

Six out of 10 did not know St George’s Day was marked on 23 April and a third got it muddled up with the Irish patron saint’s day – St Patrick’s Day – on 17 March.

And 75% of those questioned did not know Richard III ruled in the 15th century.

Surely if HMG sincerely want these immigrants to fit in with the locals, they should be positively discouraging them from showing what’s clearly a very un-British knowledge of the subject. The only people in the Union who take history really seriously are in Northern Ireland, and look where it’s got them, at each other’s throats about who did what at the Battle of the Boyne (won, of course, by the chap who had that benefit of a Papal blessing — the Pope, as a temporal monarch in Italy, was a fervant supporter of William’s claim to the English throne because he saw him as a valuable ally against the French).

And, in any case, we have it on the best authority that there are only two dates in English history anyway.

To my mind, the whole thing’s a gimmick to placate the editors of the tabloids and dimmer MPs; if knowledge of British history or when Easter falls or what the powers of the Welsh Assembly might be are so important to being British, then it would seem to follow we should make passing a test in these matters compulsory for everyone who wants to claim to be a British citizen, no matter where they were born. No passports for would be Club 18-30ers until they’ve passed their citizenship exams! Yeah, that’s got my vote.

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December 4, 2006

Bringing It Home — government in denial (so what’s new?)

Filed under: Community, Politics, UK, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 11:55 pm

Not time to write much today, I fear; very busy at work over the next day or so. Can’t, though, neglect to note the Demos report, Bringing It Home, which argues

Too often, the things we do in the name of ‘security’ alienate the very people we need to engage. David Fromkin’s words from over 30 years ago are just as valid today:

Terrorism is violence used in order to create fear; but it is aimed at creating fear in order that the fear, in turn, will lead somebody else – not the terrorist – to embark on some quite different program of action that will accomplish whatever it is that the terrorist really desires.

In other words, when a terrorist kills, the goal is not murder itself but something else, such as a police crackdown, that will create a rift between government and society that the terrorist can then exploit for revolutionary purpose.4 Bringing it Home shows that the government’s response to terrorism is alienating the very communities it needs to engage, and that their growing sense of grievance, anger and injustice inadvertently legitimises the terrorists’ aims, with or without their active consent

Rachel covers it excellently. I’m hoping to write about it in a bit more detail later in the week, but here are a couple of quotes that caught my attention; criticising the government’s all-too-typical approach to ‘consultation’, they describe how (more…)

December 3, 2006

Home school contracts revisited

Filed under: Community, Education — notsaussure @ 6:15 pm

In a comment to my piece yesterday about Sign Up or We’ll Prosecute You, about a proposal to insist on parents signing home-school contracts before they can discharge their legal obligation to secure education for their children, at least in the state sector, ‘alabastercodify’ writes

I have as great a horror of Blair’s conception of the state/individual relationship as anyone. And NS’s, Nosemonkey’s et al’s dissection of these suggestion’s are compelling.

But I think it is fair to say that perhaps Blair is simply trying, tho in a typically wrongheaded manner, to repair some unintended consequences of the welfare state.

In a welfare state there must be a change in the relationship one has to the state; this is a common feature of rightish thought – the fact that it engenders dependancy and that it infantalises those who are the recipient of state aid which is automatic and divorced from duties – the culture of “I know my rights”.

The fact that for a sizeable minority of parents one finds some unwilling and some unable to make their children attend the schools for which they neither pay nor have to qualify for in any way is surely one symptom. Hence I take it Higham’s note of the fact truancy is rare at private schools.

This is not really to say much beyond commonplaces of course. But I would be fascinated to hear NS’s suggestions instead for dealing with the problem. I do not wish to slur you for one moment as an ivory tower merchant; I simply say that Blair has seen that there really are people who do not concieve of themselves as having real responsibility for their children, and that somehow they must be made to.

For my part I would favour vouchers for things like education, more support for marriage (tho it is v interesting that the murderers of Tom Ap rhys price both had a lot of contact with their fathers and the church -such things are not perhaps the panacea the Mail would have us think they are), and less regressive benefits. But given that most of these measures are unpopular, and that there’s no one on the scene who looks like they could make them so, and given furthermore that the situation is urgent and requires action now, could one say that more immediate, and even draconian, measures should be tried?

He goes on to ask in a subsequent post,

in our welfare state, where the state acts in loco parentis, and a particularly partial and shortsighted parent at that, do we not need some kind of recognisable contract?

Very good questions, and I’m using a post to give myself room to answer them as best I can. (more…)

December 2, 2006

Sharia law and community courts: Joshua Rozenberg misdirects himself

Filed under: Community, Law, UK — notsaussure @ 10:44 am

Normally I have the greatest respect for the Telegraph’s legal editor, Joshua Rozenberg; since he’s a barrister, he’s one of the few Fleet Street reporters on legal affairs who knows what he’s talking about. He also, of course, deserves the Patience of Job award for putting up with his barmy wife Melanie Phillips for more than 30 years.

However, his report earlier this week, Sharia law is spreading as authority wanes, is more worthy of Mad Mel than of Mr Rozenberg; what’s all the stranger is that all he needed to do was accurately to report on a BBC radio programme, Law in Action. The most recent edition (a recording of which is still up on their website for the next few days and which is summarised in an article on the BBC website, rather dramatically called The end of one law for all?) looked at ‘Legal Pluralism in Britain’, with particular reference to the long-established Jewish court, the London Beth Din, and the more recent Muslim sharia councils, both of which deal with very similar civil arbitration between parties who voluntarily agree to submit their dispute to these courts rather than use the civil law, and matrimonial disputes for people who feel the need for a religious as well as a civil dissolution of their marriage. (more…)

November 29, 2006

Government modernisers, or why ‘We’ve ordered a new IT system to solve the problem’ isn’t what you want to hear; Part 1

Filed under: Community, Politics — notsaussure @ 10:09 pm

In the comments to a piece wrote recently about Blair, Managerialism and Michael Oakeshott, I rather rashly said I’d try to develop the connections between Blair’s style of managerialist government and e-government. This looks as if it’s going to turn into a magnum opus, so this is part the first; an account of how business process are automated in commercial environments — how to do it and how not to do it. This is something of which I have some professional knowledge, particularly as it relates to legal and financial services. Later in the week, I’ll attempt to explore the ways government has seized on these developments as a magic solution to the problems of government, suggest why — incompetence in IT procurement apart — government tends to get hold of the wrong of the stick when it looks at computerisation as a solution to its problems, and suggest reasons why Mr Blair and his colleagues are particularly prone to fall into obvious traps whenever they go near IT projects. (more…)

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