Grant Woodward: You can’t feel British if you don’t speak the language

David Cameron's insistence on learning English should apply to all, not just Muslim women. Photo: Oli Scarff/PA Wire
David Cameron's insistence on learning English should apply to all, not just Muslim women. Photo: Oli Scarff/PA Wire
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Anyone moving here should want to embrace everything about it, including the language.

DAVID Cameron was out of order to target Muslim women over the need to learn English on his visit to Leeds this week.

But only because it’s something that should apply to everyone who comes to Britain from foreign shores.

Language is often the greatest barrier to integration.

It perpetuates ghettos. It breeds distrust, resentment and leads to a lack of understanding.

Then there is the huge barrier it presents in terms of achievement.

After all, what are your chances of forging a successful life in another country if you don’t even know the language?

Not speaking English invariably means you either get a poorly-paid menial job which doesn’t require you to understand much beyond the basics, or no job at all.

Apart from that, your only real option is a life of crime.

And it’s a two-way street. If I moved abroad I would make it my first mission to enrol in language classes.

Until I could get by in my new native tongue, I wouldn’t expect to be able to make a new life for myself there or consider myself a part of its society.

Not so long ago, friends of mine decided to live the dream by moving to Spain. But after six months in Barcelona they were back in West Yorkshire.

While his wife got a decent job in marketing because she was fluent in the language before she arrived, my mate, who was a fully qualified solicitor, struggled with the classes.

Unable to find him suitable work, they returned home.

Were they disappointed? Of course. But what they definitely didn’t do was accuse the country of unfairly discriminating against them.

Nor did they begrudge paying for Spanish lessons out of their own pockets.

The mistake David Cameron is making is that he’s trying to have his cake and eat it.

On the one hand, there is no question that English lessons can be a genuine force for good for some Muslim women.

It will give them a voice they might not otherwise have and allow them to enjoy a level of independence that, in some cases, has been denied them.

At the same time, however, he’s trying to pander to those who want to see a Tory government get tough with extremists.

So far as I can make out, non-English speaking Muslim women are not the ones we really need to be worried about on that front.

Really, this has more to do with the idea that we need to foster a far greater sense of belonging among immigrants of all nationalities who settle in Britain.

They will get far more out of this country – and we will get far more from them – if they truly embrace living here.

And yes, that means learning the language and incorporating our way of life with their own traditions from back home.

Much has been made this week of the fact that funding for free English lessons was axed before being reintroduced by David Cameron.

But to me, that’s too much of an excuse. If you move overseas you should be willing to work hard to learn the language – and not expect your newly adopted country to foot the bill while you do it.

Then there is the issue of the high number of children starting school in Britain who can’t speak English, a large percentage of them from the EU.

Getting them up to speed swallows a huge amount of resource and teachers’ time.

Parents should start taking greater responsibility for giving their children the tools they need to thrive in the country they have brought them to.

In fact, surely this should be a greater priority for the Government than targeting Muslim women on the pretext of tackling extremism.

It would be unfair to say David Cameron is wrong to target the issue of people failing to learn English, but he is guilty of failing to cast the net wide enough.

Fresh betrayal of Leeds over flooding

IT was telling that Downing Street kept the YEP in the dark about David Cameron’s visit to Leeds this week.

Usually when the PM’s coming to town your email basket’s bulging with press releases from Number 10, desperate to score positive coverage for his latest grand announcement.

Surely this radio silence had nothing to do with the fear that we’d ask some uncomfortable questions about flood defence funding, did it?

Yesterday gave us our answer, with Environment Minister Liz Truss admitting that the city she once called home has no chance of cash for defences for another six years.

She said that such budgets are set in stone and can’t be altered. So much then for David Cameron’s tweet on December 28 as swathes of the city were underwater.

“I’ll ensure that like Cumbria and Lancashire, Yorkshire will get more of the protection needed to deal with floods,” he said.

Those words now feel particularly hollow, although Cameron wisely stopped short of promising to give us the same help as the South, which was handed £300m to protect the Thames Valley. Clearly Britain’s third biggest city isn’t worth worrying about for the best part of a decade.

As for former Roundhay School pupil Liz Truss’s suggestion that local councils could fit the bill as they grapple with crippling cuts, maths was clearly never her strong point.

Trump and Palin a scary prospect

LIKE it or not, we’re still America’s closest ally so we should probably pay more attention to the US presidential race than we are.

Certainly the sight of Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska cheerleading for Republican hopeful Donald Trump should make us sit up and take notice if we haven’t already.

This is the woman, you may remember, who said the news was sad so she didn’t watch it and thought the US was allies with North Korea.

Even Trump looked embarrassed during her excruciating endorsement speech the other day.

Anywhere else in the world, such support from a political liability like Palin would be the kiss of death.

Across the pond, it’s said to have boosted Trump’s chances of winning the race to become the Republican Party’s candidate in the upcoming presidential vote.

God bless America, God help the rest of the world.