That must break some sort of record for the number of inverted commas in a title...
Earlier this week, Richard Huzzey on LibDem Voice covered this story and there were some interesting comments posted against it:
The Daily Mail rarely devotes its columns to the praise of Liberal Democrat councillors. Deva Kumarasiri is an exception. The newspaper approvingly reports on a policy he has introduced in the Post Office he manages: Mr. Kumarasiri will not serve people who don’t speak English because, he believes, they ought to learn it, as he has since emigrating to Britain 17 years ago. The paper says,
If his customers can’t be bothered to learn English, he tells them, they must go away and learn it before he serves them.
His bold stand against non-integration has sent a shudder of political correctness down whatever spine the post office has these days, and infuriated some local do-gooders who accused him of inciting division among the community.
A cursory examination of the Sundays would lead the unsuspecting reader to conclude that Mr Kumarasiri has been "sacked" and "banned" from the LibDems for his stance.
However, if you carefully read through the story you will see that Mr Kumarasiri was not a member of the Liberal Democrats, because he failed to pay his membership subscription since it became due 18 months ago.
Tony Gillam, leader of Gedling Liberal Democrats, said Kumarasiri’s opinions meant he could no longer be a member of the party.
Cllr Gillam said: “Deva is not a Liberal Democrat councillor. The views expressed go well beyond what we can accommodate.”
He added that it had not been necessary to officially expel Kumarasiri as he had not paid any subscriptions for 18 months.
(Deva Kumarasiri is now forming his own party called "Britishness Forever". You can see that party website here. It's an absolute hoot.). Also, he has not been sacked from his job as a post office cashier. One report said that the owner of the shop which contains the post office where Mr Kumarasiri worked has asked for him to be removed. The same report said that the Post Office has obliged and Mr Kumarasiri will now work at another Post Office, the location of which is a closely guarded secret. One report suggested that Mr Kumarasiri's new Post Office is in a "more white" area. The BBC reports, slightly differently:
He claimed he was threatened and said Muslim leaders in the community started a petition against him, so he moved at his own request.
It turns out that the fellow "banned" five customers:
I didn’t impose a complete ban. I told people to learn some English or come back with an interpreter. They come back with the right attitude now. It is just common sense.
‘If these people are coming into our country they should practise our language and culture. As far as I am concerned, if you can’t be British you should go home.
‘This is our country – let’s work together to save it because the Government doesn’t have the backbone to solve the problem.’
There are some reasons to have some sympathy for Mr Kumarasiri. One report suggested that he only refused to serve people who refused to learn English, rather than simply not speaking it. Another report suggested that some in the local community were effectively using Mr Kumarasiri as a free translation service.
And if, day after day, you are having to take time over certain customers while a queue builds up, one can understand the frustration. It would seem that Mr K works in one of these places which has a single counter so there isn't the luxury of several cashiers to serve the customers while one cashier takes a bit longer than normal over one customer.
Of course, the implied, almost unthinking, assumption behind all this is that there are hordes of recent immigrants who have come to this country to "sponge" and who refuse to learn English. The truth is, as usual, more disparate. I can't claim to have day-to-day experience of a multi-lingual community. However, it struck me when I was canvassing in Southall that many people, especially those under 65 years old, spoke absolutely excellent English. Those who perhaps didn't have as high a standard of spoken English tended to be of an older generation. However, most of them did try very hard to speak English when I called at their door.
What drives me a bit potty about Mr Kumarasiri is that he has literally wrapped himself in the Union Jack. I kid you not. He reportedly flies the Union Jack outside his home. In the News of the World today he is pictured literally wrapped in a Union Jack. There's nothing wrong with that. I just always find it a bit "tacky" when people go overboard on British patriotism. However, we should no doubt be proud that Mr Kumarasiri has done this.
It appears that a point has been missed in all this. Besides the fact that, from my experience, you can go anywhere else in the world and be served in a post office despite not having command of the local language, surely the main word which sums up Britishness is "tolerance". Surely we should treat people with respect and tolerance and if they are struggling to learn our language we should try to understand them, if necessary with sign language or pointing. After all, most Post Office transactions are not vastly complex.
If Mr Kumarasiri is guilty of anything it is that he is a little jarring and over-bearing with the presentation of his views. I certainly don't think that he deserves summary "banning" from the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, I suspect that this has not properly happened, anyway. For this to be enacted, Mr K would have to apply to unlapse his membership by proffering a subscription fee to the party. The party would then have to consider that application and there would have to be appeal processes if needed. It doesn't all happen on the strength of one council leader saying something to a reporter.
I suspect that Deva Kumarasiri does not actually want to be in the Liberal Democrats, anyway. If he has been a "Liberal Democrat councillor" for 18 months and hasn't paid his LibDem party membership subscription then that says it all, doesn't it? And one can't really be surprised if he didn't feel compelled to pay his subscription recently. (And he must have been preparing the launch of his Britishness Forever party for a very long time, given the professional sheen of its website. It seems quite extraordinary that he has only become an independent councillor recently, given the huge preparation which forming your own party in such a way requires.) After all, he can't have found many other members of our party who wrap themselves in the Union Jack, literally, at the drop of the hat and fly it in their front garden and on their car, as he does. That is not to say that all members of the Liberal Democrats are, in my experience, very patriotic. It is just not the flag-waving type of patriotism.
This whole episode saddens me. Deva Kumarasiri seems a feisty fellow. I just think he is somewhat misguided.
P.S. Wouldn't be a good idea if Deva learnt how to write English properly, if he is going to lecture others on the language? Just take this from his website:
We need Members
In order to make archive our goals, we would like to have members who could support us in many ways.
My old English teacher would be turning in his grave. And this article on the website is priceless:
Hoist the Union Jack
Have you ever noticed that unlike few years back, it has been very difficult for us to find a Union Jack to purchase? This clearly signifies the attitude we have towards the Britishness which we should be shamed of being a British. Therefore, BRITISH FOREVER appeals from all those who admire our British values to have our Union flag flying in front of their houses or at business premises and be an example to our children. Without your support and encouragement our future generation will never be able to understand the significance of Britishness unless you start from your door step. Flying the Union Jack from today and show our true Britishness.
Can I exercise my centuries old traditional British right to free speech and say "Bollocks"? A simple Google search comes back bursting with Union Jack-wrapping opportunities.