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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 December 2007, 13:09 GMT
UK 'not a nation of Alf Garnetts'
Alf Garnett
Warren Mitchell starred as Alf Garnett
The British people have a "profound sense of fairness" and are not a nation of Alf Garnetts, immigration minister Liam Byrne has said.

But he said people also expected new arrivals to learn English, pay taxes and obey the law.

Mr Byrne made the comments in a speech on British values, which he said would form the heart of immigration reforms.

Alf Garnett - a parody of a bigoted, ranting Little Englander - featured in BBC sitcom Till Death Us Do Part.

The series was hugely popular in the 1960s and early 1970s, with Garnett played by actor Warren Mitchell.

The government has said it wants to strengthen Britain's sense of identity and spark a national debate about what it means to be British.

'Sophisticated views'

But in a speech to think-tank Demos, Mr Byrne said Labour had to seize the high ground or risk losing the argument to the right as, he claimed, had happened in the US and France.

A cup of tea, pubs, cider, the BBC, queuing, proper chocolate, fish and chips, darts, fashion, the seasons and countryside, walks and clubbing
Liam Byrne's list of 'little things' that are quintessentially British

He said he had spent two months listening to the views of British residents on the values they want new arrivals to sign up to.

"What emerges from the debate I've listened to is British reason at its finest.

"Sophisticated, intelligent views and a profound sense of fairness and tolerance for a Britain in which we live and let live and actually try a bit harder to be a bit more welcoming, and a bit less shy about saying hello.

"We are not a nation of Alf Garnetts. But the deal we put on the table is not unconditional. On the contrary.

"The rules are unambiguous - speak the language, obey the law and make sure you are paying your taxes like the rest of us. It is a very tough-minded fairness."


Mr Byrne said the views of British citizens would help inform a draft immigration bill next year.

"You get a sense of what people hold dear by asking about what we would miss if they left.

"The NHS is mentioned over and over again. So is the monarchy.

"So are our values of tolerance and fairness, of a healthy disrespect for authority yet a keen sense of order.

"And so are the little things that sometimes mean everything; a cup of tea, pubs, cider, the BBC, queuing, proper chocolate, fish and chips, darts, fashion, the seasons and countryside, walks and clubbing."

British values

On Wednesday, the government said it was considering an English language test for foreigners who want to marry a British person and come to the UK.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she also wanted to ban people with unspent criminal convictions from gaining citizenship.

But Mr Byrne said overhauling the rules "about who we let in" was only part of the picture on immigration and more attention had to be paid to the "journey a newcomer might make once they are here".

"The journey for many newcomers will be to go home. Record numbers left Britain this year - half, in fact of the emigrants from Britain were foreign nationals," said Mr Byrne.

"But in the system for those of us who stay, our values must sit at the heart of a new programme of reform."

The following comments reflect a balance of the views received.

Liam Byrne is wrong, Britain IS a nation of bigots - otherwise we wouldn't have such draconian immigration laws.
Jo, Kent

Typical nonsense. I personally do not know a single immigrant who one wouldn't expect to obey the law, expect to pay tax or recognise the value of being able to speak the language. the very fact that the minister thinks foreigners need to "learn" these basic values indicates to me that along with about 45-50 million others Britain is indeed precisely a nation of little Alf Garnetts except that he actually had the nerve to say what he thought, not something you can always say about your average Brit.

What is it to be British? Historically, it's a nation that has invaded other countries and forced the British lifestyle upon them and enslaved the natives of those countries. Now well to me any sense of national pride is a euphemism for racism.
Big Dada, Bristol

"A cup of tea, pubs, cider, the BBC, queuing, proper chocolate, fish and chips, darts, fashion, the seasons and countryside, walks and clubbing". Is this how we represent ourselves? Really? Fish and chips, darts and pubs? I'm not sure Liam Byrne speaks for all of us, or even the majority. It worries me to think that in today's world that these are the targets of a reform.

We are not Alf Garnets anymore. But immigrants need to know that if they are expecting to come to this country - not to enforce their own rules or values onto the majority, they pay their way and INTEGRATE with the local communities they move into. It's a very sad thing when you walk in certain areas (e.g. Southall, South Harrow and West Reading to mention only a few) and are made to feel an outsider IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY.
Anon, UK

I agree with Liam Byrne. We have lots of immigrants in Canada and I welcome them if they learn our language, pay taxes and obey the law. We can learn a lot from other cultures. Most learn English but I have seen some who came here when they were young, been here years and they still can't converse with anyone. I may sound bigoted but they should go back to where they came from. When in Rome do as the Romans do.
Anne Griffin, Toronto, Canada

I wonder who he asked and where in the UK the minister travelled. It sounds very much like an English sample rather than one that represents all four constituent countries of the UK.
Alistair Cook, Brynsadler, Rhondda-Cynon-Taf

Unbelievable some of the comments on here. Nations all over the world have fair immigration policies that include points based systems and a basic criteria for entry. Why not the British! Immigration is a good thing but it cannot be totally uncontrolled. If you want to see resentment then that's the way to go. And please stop harping on about the Empire. If this country was so bad then why the mass influx to the UK and all the benefits that gives. Guess we're not so bad now eh!
, Telford

I agree, we are NOT a nation of Alf Garnetts. Those coming to Great Britain must make much more of an effort to fit in and become British rather than ghettoising themselves.
Dave, Newbury, Berks

We may be "Bigots", but it's funny how the immigrants faced with staying in their own countries or living in Britain, seem to choose Britain, is it because after all the Brits are a fair and tolerant nation in fact a bunch of soft old teddy bears.
Norman Russell, Brentwood England

The question "what is it to be British" is fundamentally problematic. Does it make someone not British or less British if they don't like those "little quintessentially British" things? If I didn't like tea (as it happens I do) would I become unBritish? I think that is absurd.
Ben Singleton, Lancaster

I think Mr Byrne has missed a crucial point, how can he know for sure whether we are a nation of Alf Garnetts because the increase in immigration has never been discussed with the British people, either Labour lost control or unlocked the door without anyone noticing.
Bruce Mcaaw, Grantham

We have lost our country under this Government - it is not ours anymore. I fear for my children and the ludicrous demands of politicians and do-gooders imposing minority rights out of all reasonable and sensible proportions. Liam Byrne succinctly shows why with his condescending caricature of what some Civil Servant believes is English. We have a Cabinet and Prime Minister of Scots, and the BBC champions Black Music. If any white English person wonders why they are immediately branded as being racist. In the end it is our Country, or it was. I now work only to be able to leave it.
Mark, Ipswich, England

Proper chocolate?? Since when have the British made proper chocolate? And isn't fish and chips Jewish in origin?
Mav the Middle Class Chav, Sevenoaks

The chocolate is just as good in other places, there is a proliferation of "British" and "Irish" pubs all over the world, healthcare in 20 or so countries beats the NHS. When people think of fashion Italy and France tend to be named before the UK, you can get the BBC all over the world on satellite TV, queuing and the seasons I'm not really sure how to react to!!! It seems to me that Mr Byrne has found the most insipid and pointless things to harp on about and I don't know about England but as a Scot living in Spain I definitely DON'T miss the seasons! The only things I miss about Britain are my family and friends.
Susan, Madrid, formerly Edinburgh

Big Dada - the natives of all the nations that the UK "enslaved" don't seem to have a problem wanting to live here - that's why we have the debate about immigration - get it ? We expect and accept every other nation to have national pride - French, Irish, Indian etc - why not here ? could it be that we've got people who don't like the idea of national pride for the British living in Britain ?
Colin, Brighton

I think the minister is right, we are a fair minded people, but it has not taken the pc and rightwing factions long to deride the minister. Why is it that as soon as any one champions Britishness our colonial past is thrown up in our faces? Yes, we have a past; very few European nations do not. Is Italy castigated for the Roman Empire, of course not, nor are the countries at the centre of all other empires. We are not a nation of bigots but a nation who want its people to mix with each other and hold a common purpose, for that you need a common language and common set of values. On a technical note we are all subjects not citizens, unless we became a republic (if only that were true) during the night.
Barry , Hornchurch UK

It is all a bit more complex that Mr Byrne would have us believe. A person who comes to a new country is not a native and never can be one. Maybe their children or children's children will be, but that is not certain either. The government really needs to show some thought leadership on this question.

Its nice to see the BBC publish a broad range of views for us to mull over! What a load of leftwing PC tosh. Most Britons are proud of their heritage, good and bad. People coming to this country should accept us for what we are and do their best to fit in. Britons in return will treat them with respect, because there is a majority of people in Briton who respect others and their cultures, but also have a great respect for their own people and culture; and don't want to see it eroded by minority lefty propaganda touted by what was once a great British institution!
Geoff, Midlands

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