Most of the questions we ask of immigrants seem to be about the welfare system.
Now, I like a quiz as much as the next man, especially if that next man happens to be British. We can’t help ourselves. Tap a few question cards on a table, clear your throat and you have half the population lolling their tongues at you like expectant labradors.
So imagine my joy on Thursday night when I watched a Channel 4 programme called Make Bradford British. As part of an experiment they asked a group of born-and-bred Bradfordians to sit the British Citizenship Test, the one introduced by Gordon Brown in 2005. A staggering 90 per cent of them failed it. (This compares rather unfavourably with the rate among immigrants, some two-thirds of whom – between 100,000 and 200,000 a year – pass it.)
I was intrigued because the programme made the test look laughably easy. They showed a Caucasian woman struggling over a question about which country celebrates Hogmanay. She couldn’t even pronounce it, confusing it with monogamy. So I went online to take the sample test, assuming I would score 100 per cent. Reader, I failed it.
These things are relative, of course. I usually get about half of the questions on University Challenge right, but struggle with the first four jokey questions on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which always seem to be about football and soap operas.
But the British Citizenship Test is bizarre. There are no questions on history and the few on British culture are babyish. (Example: where is the Geordie dialect spoken?) Most seemed to be about the welfare system and, unless you are on Jobseeker’s Allowance, you will probably struggle to answer them.
Here’s one. Jobcentre Plus is run by which of the following: the Home Office, local authorities, the Ministry of Employment, or the Department of Work and Pensions? Or how about this: adults who have been unemployed for six months are usually required to join New Deal if they wish to continue receiving benefit. True or false? Um, well, it sounds true… And how long does a father have to work before he is entitled to paternity leave? Er…
Where were the questions about Henry VIII? Or Shakespeare? Or Elgar? Finally, I came to a history question: in what year were British women given the right to divorce their husbands? Give up? I did.
And so it went on, with questions about who can claim free prescriptions, the inner workings of the European Union, multiculturalism, and sexual harassment law. It was like being stuck in a lift with Harriet Harman.
I know, I know, if the questions were about British history, I imagine a high percentage of British citizens would still fail, thanks to Anthony Crosland’s policy of doing away with grammar schools. But the questions do seem to miss the point about Britishness. Couldn’t they include one about British values, such as tolerance, habeas corpus, and letting your neighbour ride your horse?
Or how about one on why it’s frowned upon to queue jump? Or what the correct response is if someone bumps into you (do you say “Sorry”, “Terribly sorry” or “My fault”)? Or true or false: when you meet someone you know in the street, you are expected to talk to them very briefly about the weather?
And there ought to be a question that tests whether you have a British sense of irony. What can bring the whole country to a standstill? a) an industrial strike b) a terrorist attack c) a light fall of snow.