ne major thing immigrants and young people have in
common is that, when something's going wrong and politicians
need someone to blame, they tend to end up in the firing line.
Now, one way or another, both groups are about to be on the
receiving end of lessons in how to play a full part in 'new
A few months ago we had a big hoo-hah when the government's
proposed changes to immigration and asylum policy suggested
that foreign nationals applying for British citizenship would
be forced, not only to demonstrate their language skills but
also to received lessons in 'Britishness'. Then, if they got
through this nonsense without dying of laughter, they would
then be treated to a ridiculous US style naturalisation party.
After much furore, during which David Blunkett managed to
offend several minority groups by making fatuous statements
about arranged marriages and genital mutilation, it turned
out that, while they might still get a party, immigrants probably
won't be subjected to lectures on the nature of 'Britishness'
after all. The main reason for this being that no one, least
of all new Labour, has any idea what 'Britishness' means.
A possible solution to this problem could be another one
of David Blunkett's big ideas, 'Citizenship' lessons in schools.
This was pioneered when Blunkett was Education Secretary and
it's finally hitting the national curriculum this September.
There will be a half GCSE in 'Citizenship Studies' and everyone
who takes it will either turn out a successful or failed young
There's a danger of getting stuck in the mindset that, because
new Labour is wrong about most things, they are automatically
wrong about everything. But teaching young people about citizenship
is a broadly sensible idea. The problem is that, if I had
children and I wanted them to be taught about what it means
to be a good citizen, I don't think I'd want Estelle Morris
and her Blairite chums to do it. This applies to most other
subjects as well but citizenship is a subject with a political
It's been suggested that citizenship lessons are crumbs chucked
under the table at those bleeding hearts liberal types who've
been writing long reports on the subject for obscure campaigning
organisations. This is partly true but they're also some flesh
on new Labour's decidedly boney masterplan to tackle voter
Young people are the least interested in voting of all and
the idea is that if you give them lessons in how politics
works, then they'll more likely to vote. The problem is that,
contrary to popular misconceptions, most young people in this
country are some way ahead of your average government minister
on the old arse from elbow question. Therefore it follows
that, if citizenship gets taught properly and they really
do find out how the political process works, they'll be less
likely to vote that ever, and even less to join a mainstream
The problem goes deeper than the fact that young people aren't
interested in politics. In fact, young people who do understand
what new Labour are all about will often be even less likely
to get out of bed to put their tick in the box. I recently
had a conversation with Waltham Forest's representative in
the UK Youth Parliament. She wondered, quite reasonably, why
Tony Blair's plans to civilise the world with 'the Daisycutter'
had not made it to his 2001 election manifesto.
Are the almost 50% of the population who chose not to bother
voting last year bad citizens or, as the progress of new Labour
in this parliament suggests, just fairly shrewd judges of
the rubbish on offer.
Can it really be a coincidence that Britain and America,
two countries where voters basically have a straight choice
between two lots of slimy right-wingers dancing to the tunes
of big corporations, a large number of voters are choosing
to vote for nobody.
It seems bizarre that while it's important for schoolkids
and immigrants to know what it means to be a citizen the rest
of us are left to work it for ourselves. Especially in the
context of the fact that none of these people are amongst
the 40%+ of the electorate who chose not to vote in 2001.