David Cameron has done the impossible. He has turned me, for one day, into a Guardianista feminist. You read that right.
The truth is that you do not have to be feminist to understand that Cameron’s latest wheeze is absolutely bonkers. According to Nice but Dim, he would have us believe that if an already put upon Muslim woman ‘from the village’ in Pakistan is in the UK on a five-year spousal visa and after two and a half years some bureaucrat declares she has not learned English to a sufficient standard, she is going to be put on a plane ‘home’ without her kids.
Who in their right mind thinks this is even legally, never mind socially, possible? It is not. It is laughable to think this is going to happen, even if we wanted it to, which I don’t.
I have no doubt there are many women living lives of submission in insular Muslim communities. So tell me again, how if they are already largely confined to the home are they supposed to get to these English classes in the first place?
Is the Old Bill going to come around and forcibly march her down to the class? How do we think the husband – oppressor, if Cameron is to be believed – is going to react to this?
On this bonkers scheme, it is the women who are most oppressed who are most likely to be ‘sent home’ or deported or turfed out, or whatever the term is. They are the least likely to be able to attend the classes and improve their English in the first place. Because life is not tough enough for them already.
There are so many questions: How much will it cost? £20 million. Who will give the classes? Third sector, no doubt. Who gives the test? What is the standard? Is it in just understanding spoken English or do they have to be reading and writing? Note, if you will, that one in five pupils leave school without reaching even basic levels of literacy and numeracy.
And what about the kids? Most of these women will also be mothers to young children born here. Are the children going into the cargo hold of the plane also?
Or do we plan on separating these no doubt young children from their mothers and just popping mummy on the plane by herself? Well, Cameron loves separating mothers from young children, so perhaps this is the plan. Obviously, the overbearing husband gets to stay.
As Guardian high priestess Deborah Orr says, “What’s more, Cameron’s rhetoric doesn’t just upset Muslim women. It’s a bit anti-woman in general. It’s annoying, hearing women declared “economically inactive” because they run homes and bring up children. Working at bringing up a family, rather than earning money, is a valid choice, whether you can speak English or not. This too makes it sound like a problem with women rather than a problem with misogyny.” There – I have just quoted Deborah Orr. I never thought I would see the day.
In sum, I have no problem with the classes in and of themselves. I do have a problem with the punishment, first because it is wrong to separate mothers from their children in this way, but even if you don’t care about this aspect, this scheme is unenforceable. It is manipulative, headline-grabbing garbage.
The much tougher question, that will never be answered by Cameron, is why is the UK issuing spousal visas to men who oppress their wives in the first place? Cameron could toughen up the initial English language requirement, before the spouse arrives. He could propose restricting benefits for two years after arrival. Or he could just abolish the non-EU spousal scheme completely.
But don’t expect these solutions anytime soon.