“Are you still harking back,” Norman Tebbit had asked Britain’s Asian population in 1990, “to where you came from or where you are?” This Conservative politician had suggested the infamous “cricket test” that year, to separate the immigrants who support their native countries during a match from those who cheered for England. The cricket test obviously did not work, for more than a decade later, Britain seems to be showing no signs of getting richer or purer. Today’s Tories, though globalized, liberalized and politically corrected, have to think of newer ways of saying Keep Out. So David Cameron’s Home Office has devised an updated “Life in the UK” test for migrants waiting to settle permanently in the United Kingdoms. The emphasis, this time, has shifted from knowledge of the banalities of English life (public transport, credit cards, job interviews) to Britishness (Shakespeare, Newton, Churchill). The vision behind the new test seems to be of an Englishman or woman of mind-numbing predictability, whose ability to adapt seamlessly to the clichés of English life could only result in a society more intolerable than intolerant.
Britons have never recovered from the profound boredom that has descended on them with the loss of Empire. (What could Miss Quested have done with herself without Mr Aziz?) The result of the Tories’ current handling of immigration — keep out students, foreign workers and family members with a combination of mean policies, impossible red-tape and aggressive poiliticking — is likely to be both culturally and economically grim. This version of the test not only adds an element of the ridiculous in its embrace of homogeneity (“an integrated society based on shared values”), but also undermines itself by coming with a handbook that claims to have compiled everything one needs to know about being British in order to pass the test. The message clearly is, back home or back to history.