Daily Mail praises Lib Dem councillor’s day job policy against non-English speakers

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.

This is clearly an action Cllr. Kumarsiri is taking in his day job as a postmaster, rather than in his capacity as an elected representative of the party on Gedling Borough Council. Yet I think it is of interest to Lib Dem Voice readers, as an issue in itself and one that the public will find it hard to separate from his role as a local politician.

For what it’s worth, I’m with the “local do-gooders” rather than Kumarasiri and The Mail. Refusing service to people who cannot speak English is mean-spirited, intolerant and counter-productive. It is important to assist immigrants in learning English, which will allow them to participate fully in the economic, political and social life of their community. A shared language is also crucial to an integrated and engaged local community. Yet I am sure you will help far more people access help in learning English as a second language by serving them at a Post Office counter than turning them away. I am amazed if the Post Office’s regulations allow individual branches to deny some people access to their services. As local Post Offices become hubs for access to government services, it is even more important that all members of a community can use them. Why not provide leaflets on local classes in English, instead of banning people?

All of that aside, I’d have thought post offices could do with all the customers they can get. I’m very much in favour of keeping them in business, as well as treating immigrants with courtesy and respect.

Update: The Liberal Democrats have asked us to note that Mr. Kumarasiri is not a member of the party and is currently suspended from the Lib Dem group on his council.

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  • I wonder how many of the Mail’s Spanish-based readership (and there are many, for the paper is printed there) use Spanish in their local post office?

  • Simon Courtenage 19th Mar '09 - 6:48am

    Hardly a good advert for the party and for tolerance and inclusiveness? I can’t help thinking that if Mr. Kumarsiri had been Mr. Smith, then the Daily Mail wouldn’t have touched this because it would have appeared overtly racist – but having someone whose family have a recent immigrant history discriminating against other imigrants on grounds of language makes its right-wing anti-immigrant agenda appear more palatable. Disgusting imo.

    If we, the established Britons, want new arrivals to “fit in”, then we need to be warmer, more embracing and more open – not the other way round.

  • Lorna Spenceley 19th Mar '09 - 7:21am

    But for all this talk of embracing and openness I remain concerned that there are residents of the UK – some here for some years – who cannot speak English, and remain ‘strangers in a strange land’, alienated from the local community, from local decision-making, and often victims of bewildering officialdom because they don’t have the language resources to understand what is going on or to seek help. This isn’t just a point about people coming to these shores; if I were to move to Spain (which I don’t intend to), I’d expect to learn Spanish and conduct everyday business in the language – out of ‘courtesy and respect’ for the country I’d chosen to adopt as my home.

  • My father is an immigrant from a non-English speaking country, and fully supports this man.

  • Simon Courtenage 19th Mar '09 - 8:49am

    Good for you, Lorna, but people fail to learn languages when they move to another country for many and complex reasons. Language is intrinsically tied to identity and to culture, so learning a new language – even for simple utilitarian purposes – is often difficult. Take, for example, immmigrants from a paternalistic culture where women are not given education. Would you freeze them out when they may be prevented from getting the language education you think they need so they can deal with you?

  • ““Refusing service to people who cannot speak English is mean-spirited, intolerant and counter-productive.”

    Errr, no it isn’t. It’s perfectly acceptable for any business or shop anywhere in this country to base their work entirely around the English language. ”

    What about tourists?

  • I wonder what the Mail’s attitude would be if this was postmaster Jones of Llanllechid post office refusing to serve customers who couldn’t speak Welsh ????

    And note to our Tory friend – English isn’t Britain’s only language …….

    And p.p.s. don’t believe everything you read in the Mail !!!

  • Yes, the Post Office is legally entitled to serve people in English only (English and Welsh in Wales). I’m not sure we have the whole story here. I’m guessing this postmaster gets a lot of people at his PO who use him as a free translation service, frustrating for him and his other customers – and costing him money.

    He isn’t paid to be a translator, he is a sub-postmaster. Sub-postmasters are agents of the Post Office not employees, having to translate slows everything down. I think he is being cruel to be kind; in the long run people need to have English if they are to succeed in the UK. If people went to a PO where the sub-postmaster was only an English speaker, what would they do.

  • Cllr. Kumarsari has the rights of this I’m afraid. If you read this properly, it’s obvious that people are exploiting the fact that he and other public servants in their area speak their native language; he is using that language to tell them they should be learning English. Because they live here. Often for some time. In other words some of Cllr. Kumarsari’s are making no effort to learn English and are not seeking fair treatment, but PREFERENTIAL treatment.

    The foreign post office argument is ridiculous. Tourists cannot reasonable be expected to learn all the languages of the countries they visit and I suspect Cllr. Kumarsari would help a foreign tourist seeking the asistance we should all rightly extend to a visitor if they had difficulty speaking English.

    And before someone says do I get that treatment in a foreign post office, I’ve no idea as I speak French, Spanish, etc., fluently and a number of others at a level which would allow me to carry out any normal transactions. And I’m not even an immigrant…

  • Cer i’r uffern ‘Letter from Tory’, roedd y Cymry yma cyn i’r Saeson gyrraedd.
    The English are the blydi immigrants they should learn OUR language!!!

  • To be fair, Richard Huzzey is indeed misrepresenting Mr Kumarasiri’s policy.

    According to the Daily Mail article, he’s not saying he won’t serve people who “don’t speak English”; he’s saying he won’t serve people who “won’t learn English”. That is quite different.

  • We are doing a piece on the BBC World Service about this story under the question ‘Should you be forced to speak the local language?’ Is anyone interested in contributing? It is for World Have Your Say, a radio show which deals with global events and invites contributions from all over the world. If you’re interested please contact me on [email protected] or (0044) 207 557 0635. Thanks.

  • “I am amazed if the Post Office’s regulations allow individual branches to deny some people access to their services.”

    Seconded. If it is allowed by the regulations it shouldn’t be. The Post Office isn’t like parcel force; it’s supposed to be a municipal service available to all like the health service or the police. Whatever we think of this chap’s attempt at incentivising the learning of English, he isn’t in the right line of work to indulge it.

  • Richard Huzzey 19th Mar '09 - 2:17pm

    Wow, there’s some impressive misrepresentation of my comments in this thread.

    “Letters From A Tory” and his friends would imply that I expect everybody to learn every language in the world in case a customer wishes to be served in it. Or that I’m expecting Mr. Kumarasiri to provide an translation extra service on top of his normal post office duties because he can speak the first language of some of his customers. Yet the Mail story suggests that he’s not applying this only to people from the Sri Lankan community, but people from all backgrounds. Even so, quite how you discriminate between people “who don’t speak English” and those “who won’t learn English” in practice is a challenge!

    If you can’t understand a customer’s request, that’s one thing. But as many of us with poor language skills know from our embarrassing experiences abroad, we can gesticulate our desire for a stamp.

    I’d have thought promoting local language classes and mentoring schemes was a far more successful way of promoting English than refusing service. This seems to be divisive and aggressive, rather than encouraging.

    The idea that everyone should learn English before travelling to Britain is a nice ideal, but unconnected to the circumstances and opportunities available to almost all immigrants.

    My comments did not misrepresent the Daily Mail report.

  • Richard

    Of course you misrepresented the report.

    You wrote, “Mr. Kumarasiri will not serve people who don’t speak English …” and went on to criticise him for “Refusing service to people who cannot speak English”.

    That isn’t what the report says. It says he is refusing to serve those who “who won’t learn English”. If you are going to criticise people publicly, you should take the trouble to be accurate in what you say.

  • I am starting to get VERY concerned about the number of times I read on these pages that members have been suspended or expelled.

    Somebody please reassure me that I am a member of the LIBERAL Democrats.

  • According to the Sun he runs a website

    Which is peddling sub-BNP nonsense like this:
    “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.”

    A search on “Union Jack Flag” on Google produces over 4000 hits

  • Mr Kumarasiri has now “left his job” at the post office:

  • Richard Huzzey 21st Mar '09 - 7:21pm

    Thanks for the link, Anonymous one.

    Oddly, the BBC appear to summarise his policy with the same phrase I used and which you considered misrepresentation. As I said above, I don’t see the distinction unless he has full biographical knowledge of every customer, and whether they had opportunities to learn English and refused them.

  • Richard

    You really don’t see the distinction between someone who “can’t speak English” and someone who “won’t learn English”?

    Truly astonishing.

  • I think that all people that chose to live in this Country should be expected learn the language. If I relocated to any foreign country I would not expect to be provided with an interpreter as is demanded in this county, nor would I expect leaflets etc to be printed in my language. These facilities cost the tax payer an enormous amount of money and we should not be made to pay for those who wish to relocate to our Country. I fully support Mr Kumarasiri in his stance and I am disgusted by the attitude of the Liberal Democratic Party.

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