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  • Published in Opinion

Could you really credit the new guidelines for citizenship? You get points for canvassing for a political party (no conflict of interest there!) but you can be penalised for demonstrating against British troops.

Points are deducted for failure to integrate or 'an active disregard of UK values'.

This has widely been spun as penalising those like the tiny group of protesters in Luton who demonstrated against a parade of troops. That demonstration has become one of the most reported and publicised of any local demo, an almost too convenient example of 'extremists' against 'our way of life.'

While few would agree with some of the sentiments expressed on that demo, protesting against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan does not represent 'active disregard for UK values'. You could argue the opposite: since public opinion, according to all polls, wants a rapid withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan, then anti war demos more represent 'UK values' than the vociferous pro war lobby of military and politicians.

There is something very disconcerting and even scary about this points system. Who decides which values are acceptable or not? And where do you draw the line? The government ministers say they don't want protests against British troops, but who decides which anti war demo is against troops, and which against the government? At what point do all anti war demos become guilty of 'disregard for UK values'?

What about other issues? For example, where cleaners have had to demonstrate against exploitative employers; or demonstrations against the deportation of immigrants?

The truth is that there is almost total subjectivity on this question. What those proposing these tightening of immigration rules are arguing for is cultural and political homogeneity. You can come here as long as you don't protest or question the government (or its loyal opposition) too much.

This assumes a chasm between indigenous British citizens and those who migrate here - politically, culturally and socially. It takes for granted that those from abroad have to 'integrate' in other words change in order to become more like us. It also takes for granted that British people share the same values - they don't. They are comprised of monarchists and republicans, atheists and deeply religious people, racists and anti racists - and none of the above.

Government ministers who have presided over complicity in torture, the expenses scandal and the lengthening of the period of imprisonment without trial are great supporters of the supposed British values of liberty, honesty and fair play. But these values are not applied to many of its citizens, and are even more nebulous for those who come to this country as immigrants or refugees.

British people have always had to fight for their rights: the Chartists and early trade unionists against vicious employers; demonstrators against the police and government restrictions on their right to protest; women and working class men to get the vote.

Those fights and many more still continue, involving both people who were born here and those who have come to Britain from other parts of the world. One of the fights we all have an interest in is opposing these citizenship laws, whose not so hidden aim is to divide people on the basis of race or nation. Upholding the long tradition of protest in Britain is the best way to do so.

Lindsey German's blog

Lindsey German

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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