Nicky Morgan is Chair of the Treasury Select Committee, a former Education Secretary, and MP for Loughborough.
I wrote in my last column about how the Conservative Party fringe at our recent conference was full of new ideas being put forward by many talented MPs, councillors and party members. I hope these ideas are being followed up, because we clearly need them.
The truth is that we do need to change how the public see us and the perception they have about our values, and we do need to demonstrate how we truly deliver, to coin a phrase, a country that works for everyone. Anyone who has any doubts about that only needs to read Lord Ashcroft’s latest analysis, set out in The Lost Majority.
The Government’s upcoming response to Dame Louise Casey’s review, which is expected to set out plans for a new integration strategy, is a chance to show the best of Conservative values.
Britain is known for showing great compassion to those who need our help most, from the Jewish children of the Kindertransport to the more recent and very welcome decision by a Conservative Prime Minister and Home Secretary to welcome families whose lives have been destroyed by conflict in Syria.
Effective integration is about giving people the opportunity to contribute to their communities and participate fully in our society.
We have a chance now, as the Party in Government, to put our values into practice by putting creating opportunity at the centre of a new integration strategy.
After successive reports and reviews of integration, including the Casey review, have stressed the importance of speaking English, this cannot be ignored when planning how we bring together diverse communities.
As I’ve seen in my Loughborough constituency, a shared language prevents communities becoming alienated. It allows friendships and understanding to develop between people of different cultures and backgrounds.
Being able to speak English also empowers women. It cannot be right in the 21st Century that there are still women in our towns and cities who are entirely reliant on their husbands or children to make them understood on a visit to the doctor or in any other setting. And this puts up a huge impediment to their integration in our country.
Of course, it must be a two-way street and we need migrant communities to be willing to participate. There cannot be too much translation or other barriers for people to learn English.
But as I understand from recent conversations with the charity Refugee Action, refugees are desperate to learn and incredibly frustrated by the lack of opportunities available, due to long waiting lists and a lack a local provision. New research by the charity, based on a survey of providers of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) courses, shows some refugees are waiting up to three years to learn English. Women are particularly affected by years of underfunding of English language lessons, with 77 per cent of ESOL providers unable to provide enough childcare.
Investing in English language courses will unlock people’s potential to work, volunteer, socialise with their neighbours and make a full and active contribution to our society. And, as highlighted above, it reduces isolation among women, enables them to find their own voice and engage with local services.
From conversations on the doorstep, I know many people feel Britain is at its most divided. I think there’s a common craving for a more positive outlook; for creating more opportunity and for communities coming together around shared values. This is fertile ground for the Conservative Party, we’ve always been the party of opportunity and empowering people to make a success of their lives, whatever their background.