It isn’t often I’m surprised these days. But just occasionally, every now and then, it suddenly hits me.
This evening I was watching as I often do “This Week” hosted by Andrew Neil, ex-editor of the Sunday Times, with regular participants ex-MP Michael Portillo and current MP Diane Abbott. The guest I found most interesting was surprisingly Katie Melua, a singer whose CD I coincidentally bought recently without knowing anything more about her (I’d heard her played on one of the ad-free, talk free, Swiss radio stations, either Radio Swiss Jazz or Radio Swiss Pop and so bought the CD online there and then).
No, this isn’t some fan mail about some sexy, good looking young singer who’s on a roll, after all, This Week is a politics show – and a good one for the most part. Although of course, she is all of the above too.
What was particularly interesting was what Miss Melua had to say. She’s a very bright girl with some very good ideas. Well, she’s a Doctor’s daughter. She also happens to be Georgian, an immigrant of 15 years into the UK which she arrived in at the age of 8. Her English is now perfect, and she has just taken on British Citizenship, which she is clearly very proud of. Her praise of Britain was great to listen to. If only more Britons spoke like that about their country!
The discussion was on immigration, Britishness, and integration. Katie said there was not enough teaching of or resources for, the teaching of English to older and younger new immigrants but perhaps too much political correctness in England when she arrived compared to her home country Georgia – or even to her first British home in Northern Ireland during the troubles where she had to learn Irish dancing and how to play the tin whistle, a complete contrast to England where nothing specifically British or English was required of her; Diane Abbot said the British tend to be most British when they are showing everyone how little British they actually are; Michael Portillo said in the fifties Britons were last proud to be British, while Andrew Neil in turn egged them on, or over-egged things as the flow demanded.
Then it hit me: none of these commentators, talking about Britishness, were actually English! Well, not completely. Katie Melua is a first generation immigrant from Eastern Europe. Diane Abbott’s parents came from Jamaica. Michael Portillo is half Spanish. And Andrew Neil is a Scot!
Now I’ve seen it all. Britain clearly is a most cosmopolitan society. And do you know what? It’s a lot richer because of that. The discussion was interesting, well-argued, stimulating and well researched. People with real experiences and relevant ideas came together without any particular cross to bear or chip on their shoulders, and although the discussion was short, it was very satisfying to listen to.
Well done the “This Week” team. Now I really have seen it all…