In a week when the Government presented its new points system for skilled migrant workers, with nudges and winks about saving "British jobs for British people", you might be forgiven for thinking that stemming the flow of arrivals is all that ministers think about. And, in the week after catastrophic local elections, perhaps they believe this is the message voters want to hear.
Away from the cameras, though, something else is going on, something that is, in its way, more heartening. In city halls across the country, foreign nationals are formally becoming citizens, receiving certificates that entitle them to the rights, and commit them to the duties, of belonging. I know this because my husband, a US passport-holder long resident in this country, recently took the plunge into dual nationality.
The time was 4pm on a Monday; the place the wood-panelled, hemispherical council chamber of Westminster Council House. And the people were a variegated group of around 25, representing almost as many nationalities. Each could bring two guests.
I had expected something bigger, grander, less intimate. In fact, from the tea and orange squash beforehand, through to paying for an official photo, the proceedings had the amateurish solemnity of a small school speech day, with a dash of pantomime thrown in. The solemnity entailed swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen, and standing – we had a hymn sheet, but no one sang – for the national anthem at the end.
The pantomime was supplied by the deputy mayor in a fur-trimmed scarlet robe and three-cornered hat. She offered warm words of welcome, stern advice about tolerance, and presented the certificates one by one, posing for a photo with each one. Our new citizens were by turns casual, demonstrably grateful and utterly delighted. As though, with their certificate and their engraved glass from the City of Westminster, they were receiving something almost without price – which in some ways they were. Attendance is now the only route to a vote and a passport.
This is one way in which becoming a citizen is more demanding of the applicant than it used to be. Time was when you sent off the voluminous paperwork, a large cheque – but nothing like as large as now – and waited. For the fortunate, an envelope would one day drop through the letter box, informing the recipient that he or she was now British.
Now, before you can even apply, there's the test, and a large blue Home Office book Life in the UK, to mug up on before you go to a test centre to answer multiple-choice questions. No exceptions are made for long-time residents (or Americans!). Sample questions include the order of British saints' days; the approximate ethnic breakdown of the population; the number for the emergency services. The test must have done wonders for the economy, as it has spawned a whole industry of support services and literature – The British Citizenship Test for Dummies and the like.
Are the new requirements worth the trouble, either for the authorities or the new citizen? After all, you could say that just receiving a letter through the post was a very discreet, very British way of doing citizenship. I don't think it is out of place, though, to ask – and give – a little more. I doubt that a ceremony, or even a test, will add much to community cohesion. But even in this age of global mobility, changing, or adding, a nationality is still a serious step. Everyone should have at least a photo for the family archive.
Livingstone's legacy is worth celebrating
How quickly he has become a non-person. But I wish Ken Livingstone could have been with me last weekend as I walked, in the gloriously warm bank holiday weather, from Hungerford bridge to Lambeth bridge along the Thames path.
The broad walkway thronged with people of all ages and colours. There were bikers and skateboarders and small children on shiny scooters, and hundreds upon hundreds of pedestrians. There was a slow food market under awnings beside the smartly refurbished Royal Festival Hall. There were Italian and French and Japanese and Chinese restaurants, their outside tables completely occupied in mid-afternoon.
There were half a dozen living statues in blue and gold. There was an escape artist, a jazz trio, a huge green psychedelic iguana on a bicycle, and a queue, but not an unmanageable one, for the London Eye. All the benches were occupied, not by winos or layabouts, but by elderly walkers or families relishing ice creams. And all this was going on against the most famous and familiar backdrop in the world, the Houses of Parliament and the tower of Big Ben. No wonder they were smiling; no wonder they were taking each other's photographs; no wonder they were stopping to admire the view.
The only eyesore was the litter. But I knew this was not Ken's fault. It's a security precaution and beyond the jurisdiction of the mayor. But the point has surely been reached where the daily piles of litter are an even greater threat – to health, let alone security – than the bins were deemed to be.
Rubbish apart, Mr Livingstone, I think you would have marvelled, as I did, at all the enjoyment your spending had helped to facilitate. To paraphrase what was said of another celebrated Londoner, to see your legacy, you had only to look around you.
Jenna the wild child grows up
God, some say, is a Republican, and this is a marriage made in Republican heaven. The Bushes' "bad" twin, Jenna, now 26, will be wed today to Henry Hager, son of a well-to-do party luminary and an aspiring politician himself.
You remember Jenna, of course. She was the one caught drinking underage and using a forged ID. She was also the one who stuck her tongue out at photographers and regularly gave her security detail the slip.
You didn't hear about her for a while. Then suddenly she turned good. She went off to Latin America, befriended an Aids sufferer, wrote a book (Ana's Story), and became a minor celebrity.
You could almost feel the senior Bushes' relief when they announced her engagement. Radiating a new seriousness, there she was again, pictured beside her beau – a veritable Laura Bush for the new century.
Today's wedding, at the family ranch at Crawford, has been billed as a small gathering and low-key. But remember what George Bush once said about swaggering and walking. The state of Texas doesn't do small or low-key. Locals are bracing themselves for their single stop light to be overpowered by the traffic.
What a fuss Chelsea and Man U supporters are making about their Moscow jaunt. If air tickets are now running at more than £1,000, why aren't they chartering their own planes? Now that the Russians regard a match ticket as a visa, the red tape melts away. The hotel shortage is being addressed by cruise ships berthed in the Moscow river. So the only real difficulty left, as I see it, is the £10 beer.
Well, I have good news for the fans on the beer front. You will pay £10 plus only if you insist on patronising expensive business hotels. Cans of all kinds of beers can be bought at the mini-supermarkets and kiosks in any Moscow street. They should cost about 50p a time, and they are on display, so you don't even need to speak Russian to buy one. The same stalls will also sell you a take-away – Russian sausages, pancakes, baked potatoes, or even a Chinese dish – for the equivalent of a couple of pounds. For around £5 (including a beer or vodka), try the buffet at the multiplicity of Russian cafés. And if Russia's 18-year-old school leavers can celebrate their freedom – as they do – by drinking beer out of bottles on Red Square, I reckon football fans probably won't get sent to Siberia for doing so either.
Deborah Orr is awayReuse content