Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Daily Mail accepts we're British after all!

This morning's Daily Mail publishes my letter criticising their lapse into extremism, in arguing that the descendants of immigrants are not British in a news report last week. The gist of the explanation I was given, in a friendly phone call from the letters' editor yesterday, was that an error in editing had managed to confuse two different thoughts (the impact of immigration across generations; and the separate issue of British citizenship), and so they felt that they should run the letter as a way to correct the point. One tiny step towards a progressive consensus?

Well, perhaps not entirely. The willingness to take a critical letter is welcome; and it was an embarassing mistake for a newspaper which doubtless thinks that it wants to champion integration. Now, we seem to have come full cycle in a week with Phil Woolas' comments to me yesterday about the story - in which he criticised the ONS for stoking a "toxic debate", and which were published on Next Left and over on Liberal Conspiracy - are on page 2 of this morning's Daily Mail, in exactly the same 'immigration lead' placement as the 'foreign-born' story a week ago. (And its now being reported on Today as I blog this).

Anyway, here for the record, is the letter as published in the Daily Mail. And my thanks to the many people who helped to highlight this around the blogosphere last week.

Immigrants or British

I was disappointed to read a report suggesting that it’s a mistake to consider the children or grandchildren of immigrants as British (Mail) and that we should rather be classified as ’second or third generation immigrants’.

I hope that your proposed reclassification as ‘not British’ of Princes Charles, William and Harry, second and third generation descendants of foreign-born Phillip, won’t distress them too much.

But it does seem ungrateful to Winston Churchill, voted ‘greatest Briton’, to strip him of that status because he had an American mother.

Citizenship and nationality can’t be reduced to place of birth or ethnic origin. My parents came to this country in the Sixties from Ireland and India. They worked for the NHS for decades and became naturalised British citizens.

Having been born as a British citizen in 1974, anyone would understand why I would find it offensive that I should be regarded as a foreigner, an immigrant and not truly British. I’m astonished to think that such a description might even apply to my children, born here in 2006 and 2007.

Such a message can only make the important task of integration more difficult. It is an extremist idea that being British is a matter of ethnic origin and that integration of immigrants and their descendants is impossible.

Care must be taken when describing generations. It has been said that you can be a ’second generation Briton’ but calling you a ’second generation immigrant’ would mean that you had left the country your parents came to.

SUNDER KATWALA, general secretary, Fabian Society, London SW1

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