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Know your Winston, not fakir

- Britishness ‘elimination’ test shifts focus to values

London, Jan. 28: New Indian immigrants hoping to acquire UK citizenship will have to take a revised citizenship test that will cover questions on subjects as diverse as the Magna Carta, the music of Henry Purcell and the architect Christopher Wren.

The idea is that as many as possible should fail the test so that their applications to settle permanently in the UK can be rejected.

Immigration minister Mark Harper has been honest enough to reveal the real intention behind the 45-minute test: “We have made radical changes to the immigration system and are determined to reduce net migration from the hundreds of thousands into the tens of thousands….”

The home office today brought out a handbook that will help foreign nationals understand the “values and principles at the heart of being British”.

Questions that were favoured by previous Labour governments — how immigrants could claim welfare benefits, for example — have been replaced with ones that will promote the values of Britishness.

The exam will cover events and people “who have contributed to making Britain great”, the home office said.

The questions will assume knowledge of British history from the Stone Age through to the Romans, Norman conquest and the Magna Carta, the nation’s cultural and artistic heritage, its music from Henry Purcell to the Beatles and Andrew Lloyd Webber, people’s love of gardening and the influence of architects such as Christopher Wren and Norman Foster.

Literary masterpieces by William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, Robert Burns and Wilfred Owen and the roles of scientists and politicians from Isaac Newton and Winston Churchill will also come into play.

One assumes that anyone who argues the “great wartime leader” Churchill was an imperialist who called Gandhi “a half naked fakir” and obstructed the cause of Indian independence will be shown the door.

Sporting knowledge, including questions on the London 2012 Olympics, will be included.

The handbook features “an exploration of Britons’ unique sense of humour and satire”, and highlights the natural beauty of the country’s national parks and countryside.

It will probably be a bonus to be familiar with the TV comedy, Yes Minister, and the novels of P.G. Wodehouse.

The minister said: “We’ve stripped out mundane information about water meters, how to find train timetables and using the Internet. The new book rightly focuses on values and principles at the heart of being British. Instead of telling people how to claim benefits, it encourages participation in British life.”

Some critics believe it is unfair to ask foreigners questions that even the Prime Minister flunked, though he imbibed classics at Eton and Oxford. (See chart)

The test will have to be taken by all immigrants coming from outside the European Union. EU nationals, even if members of criminal gangs, are able to wander in without visas because the Treaty of Rome allows for free movement of labour within member states.

Critics say that if the government really wants foreigners to make a success of life in Britain, they should also be questioned about the big issues which define Britishness today — Jimmy Savile and paedophilia, the hunt for weapons of mass destruction and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya; gay civil marriage; phone hacking; why Ed Miliband knifed elder brother David; the Boris Johnson vs David Cameron battle (real or imagined); Celebrity Big Brother and reality television; rising university tuition fees; the double/treble dip recession; the pros and cons of coalition government; the life and times of Prince Harry; MPs’ expenses; England’s Test triumph in India; and last but not least, the careers of Victoria Beckham and Katie Price.