Monday, 7 September 2009

Points for citizens

Some weeks ago the British government came with a new scheme which, at first glance, I found worrying.

It seems that we might soon have a system of points for foreign residents. Get enough points, and you can win that supreme prize, the envy of the world, British citizenship. Lose points, and access to the promised land recedes.

The strange thing is that the point count is only for people seeking citizenship.

It’s like adoption. We go to extraordinary lengths to make sure that people are suitable to become parents by adoption. But if they want to become parents by the usual self-indulgence, no-one bats an eyelid. I suppose the thinking is ‘you want a kid, you feckless parasite? Make one yourself, but we’re not giving you one.’

When I was left in sole charge of my then eighteen-month old son – my wife being in hospital with our one-day old – I fed him bananas and cream, topped with Smarties. He was stuck with me by an accident of birth that enabled me to get away with such deplorable behaviour. But can you imagine an adoption agency’s outrage? They’d regard me as a pernicious influence, likely to traumatise the poor child. And it’s true that he can’t cook to this day.

At the time, of course, he didn’t complain. On the contrary, I think he was impressed by what a gastronome Daddy was.

Now the same kind of thinking applies to citizenship. If we’re going to count points for naturalisation candidates, perhaps we should do it for those who have citizenship by accident of birth too. So your passport would become like your driving licence: get too many strikes against you, and you lose it.

This was the aspect that I at first found worrying. Because the points are going to be awarded for such good traits as learning to speak English, and deducted for such bad traits as protesting against British troops. I can imagine that this would just be the thin end of the wedge. Next we’d be penalised for being British while thinking there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We might lose points for wondering whether the private sector really did always do things better than the public. We might be putting our passport at risk if we were ever outlandish enough to believe that the Metropolitan Police were a bunch of blundering bullies for roughing up people in, or simply on the edges of, protests in London, on one notable occasion leaving one them dead (of course, this is not a view of the Police that I would like anyone to think I share).

All this made me a bit anxious about the points-for-passports scheme. But then I realised that it could become a force for major social improvement. You just need to get the criteria right. For example, you could lose points for:

  • thinking that the right place for emptying a car ashtray is in the gutter as you wait at a set of traffic lights
  • describing any institution in Britain (the health service, the system of justice, the armed forces) as ‘the envy of the world’
  • believing that what really matters in any news item about an air crash is the number of Britons suspected to have been on board
  • regarding it as amusing to have far too much to drink one night and telling all your colleagues about it the next day
  • believing that anything published in the Daily Mail or any newspaper owned by the Murdoch group is true before getting it verified by at least two independent sources
  • complaining loudly and bitterly about immigrants to Britain while eating a curry
  • proclaiming that the role in this country of the Church of England, the Royal Family or the House of Lords adds value to the life of ordinary citizens
  • thinking that there’s anything ‘special’ about the relationship between Britain and the United States
  • believing that foreigners are charmed by our cheerful temperament and endearing sense of humour when we get drunk in their bars and throw up on their streets
  • regarding the behaviour of the French, the Germans, the Italians or the Spanish as arrogant and selfish, while Britons are models of tolerance and civilisation
  • thinking that the best form of dress for a winter’s night is a short skirt, a thin blouse and plenty of exposed midriff, preferably spilling over a waist band
  • failing to see that toffs at play, such as Ascot race goers with their amusing hats or Henley regatta spectators with their smart blazers, are anything other than bumptious, self-satisfied snobs
  • not realising that despite having plenty of practice, England supporters in any sport are lousy losers, and because they’ve had so little experience of it, ghastly winners
Perhaps if these were the criteria for deciding who gets to keep their citizenship, we might turn the country into a much more civilised place.

1 comment:

Awoogamuffin said...

And they should also be tested on their English - do they know there you're from their your? or what about their, there and they're? extra points deducted for should of etc.