Wednesday 5 August 2009

On failing the citizenship test

Well, I failed the citizenship test.

Not by too much - I got 71% on the 30 questions.

Not good enough though. The passmark is 75%.

So what do I do now?

My brother, who twittered a similar result, is fortunate to be making a timely departure for Canada later this month.

As it is reported that six in seven current Brits fail the test means it would cause some serious disruption if new immigrants and would-be citizens were not being held to a much higher standard than any of us current denizens. [NB: the headline on that report has the finding the wrong way around if you read on].

Even if that's not quite cricket, so to speak.

(On which point, could Phil Woolas please clarify as to whether booing Ricky Ponting should lose or gain you citizenship points? The former, I would hope).

Clearly, this is not a citizenship test.

It is a general knowledge paper for civil service entrance, apparently organised by the Driving Licence Authority. Even getting it rewritten by somebody who has ever been to a pub or seen a TV general knowledge programme could mitigate the sheer uselessness of it.

Next Left readers would rightly expect me to know the exact number of MPs in the House of Commons. And, after a quick bit of rough mental arithmetic, I managed to get the precise percentage of the British Muslim population, having only the population figure in people terms in my head.

But I am afraid guessed wrong as to whether there are currently 13, 14, 15 or 16 million under 18s in Britain, and whether schools are obliged by law to open 180, 190 or 200 days each year. And though I can easily list 19th and 20th century Prime Ministers off the top of my head to liven up parties (not many invites, strangely), I picked the wrong year for the divorce law reform which enabled women to divorce their husbands wrong

I don't think those were the oddest questions either, though issues about specific policy delivery and advice agencies were home turf for me.

Of course, would-be citizens who need to swot up on the book can get through it, and then forget all about.

But the silliness is frustrating because it brings an important idea into disrepute.

I think the idea of citizenship education, and induction ceremonies are positive. And I am not opposed to the principle of some sensible test as part of a citizenship process. But this bonkers insistence on swotting up specific knowledge that very few current citizens simply undermines the legitimate case for a proper focus on the content of our citizenship, our history and the ties that bind our society together - for current and new citizens aside.

So, once again, a healthy British scepticism and mockery of authority will prevail. And fair play to it too. Orwell was right that this may be an underrated safeguard against authoritarianism.

But we could easily have done better than this.

One slightly regrettable aspect of British culture is that we have developed the expression "too clever by half". (Or is that the English? Discuss). So I fear too that suspicion might more reasonably fall on the one in seven of you who can pass it.

So go ahead clever clogs, make my day. See how you get on.

But no gloating please.

And, if you do pass, congratulations - and try not to worry too much about a late night knock on the door.


Janus said...

Wonder what the test would look like if passing was a condition of any ministerial office...

Unknown said...

Sunder - I got the same score as you - I expect a knock on the door in the middle of the night anytime soon.

More seriously, a test sounds reasonable enough in theory, but in practice the questions come across as sensible, arcane and bureaucratic in equal measure. A structured system of feedback on the test would help to weed out the more irrelevant and silly sorts of questions over time.

Newmania said...

We are agreed that HMS Pinafore style exercises in bureaucracy help no-one. The majority do not care ‘who’ , just ‘how many’. They want a cap to numbers . With Labour’s record this childish game will rightly be viewed as an empy gesture.
The open Primary at Totnes and more to follow, puts pressure even on lefties, to select candidates who represent the views of real voters .Parachuting progressives ,soi disant onto working class constituencies may be curtailed .Fabianistas will wonder how to go on to piggy backing trendy nostrums onto working class economic interest and politics will separate along predictable lines ;those who approve of torrential immigration versus those who live with it

Oddly socialists often appeal to a sense of mutual responsibility , a “we” , whilst simultaneously destroying it .If this is , as they would prefer , simply a patch of land anyone is welcome to ,then... how can “we” decide anything .

We are in some sense a people and the country is in a messy way admittedly a 'home'. Until the anti Nationalists can understrand this without alluding to teutonic blood and soil with its implications , they will not enagage with the real people of this country

HD said...

Tip of the hat for noting our inaccurate headline. I've updated the post.

Bearded Socialist said...

Blatant fail. Guess i'll have to go back to being Other.

Decent idea, stupid questions not at all relevent to UK life. No mention of liking tea, beer or banging a cricket ball into the middle of a lifeless pitch in order to out-macho the batsman

Richard said...

79% for me, though it should have been higher (on one question, I was told I was wrong when I wasn't).

I agree with the points you make. But the aspect of the Government's proposals which I think is most outrageous is the suggestion that migrants might lose points for taking part in protests - that is, for exercising their democratic rights in a perfectly legal and peaceful manner.

It is shocking that a party is supposed to be social democratic can come up with such unpleasant authoritarian and rightwing ideas. Those who take this sort of policy seriously ought to feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves - they have certainly brought shame to the party and to the movement.

I am absolutely astounded that Woolas (who seems to be among the most reactionary ministers - unless it's just what every minister becomes when they get the migration brief) thinks applicants should gain points by joining political parties. How on earth is this going to go down with the public at a time when the parties are widely seen as discredited? Moreover, given that Woolas wants to penalise the holders of vigorous anti-war views, there would need to be a register of Government-endorsed parties: presumably an Islamist party wouldn't qualify; what about Sinn Fein, Republican Sinn Fein, Respect? It's absolutely ludicrous.

The Fabians who founded the party would surely be disappointed to see the low levels of intelligence that inform Labour policy-making a century on.

Anonymous said...

Failed it.