British Politics

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 365–388 | Cite as

British citizen or other? Reflections on New Labour's reforms to the UK citizenship process

  • Sherilyn MacGregorEmail author
  • Gavin Bailey
Original Article


The reforms to the citizenship process under New Labour were part of a policy of reinvigorating citizenship as a tool for fostering community cohesion. By requiring newcomers to learn English, take a test and attend a ceremony, the Government aimed to help them to integrate better into British life, thereby reducing problems allegedly caused by growing diversity in large multicultural cities. Several years since the introduction of these reforms, and in the wake of yet more changes by the Coalition government, it is important to reflect critically on their impacts. To do so, this article presents the results of a study which sought the opinions of non-EU immigrants and others with direct experience of the new citizenship process. The research found that, contrary to New Labour's promotion of British citizenship as a common bond, the process serves to reinforce ‘otherness’ and to encourage an instrumental approach to ‘getting nationality’. It is argued that, in modelling the process on those that operate uncontroversially in North America, New Labour forgot the most important ingredients: public support for multiculturalism and respect for newcomers.


citizenship immigration integration cohesion New Labour 



Our research was funded by a British Academy small grant. We would like to acknowledge the valuable contributions of Andrew Dobson, Philip Catney and all those who participated in the interviews and focus groups. Extra special thanks are due to the teaching staff at Stoke College and the Community Partnership Learning centre in Shelton for their help in recruiting participants. Thanks also to the three peer reviewers and editors of British Politics for their helpful feedback and input into the final version of the article.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy, Keele UniversityKeeleUK
  2. 2.Research Institute for Social Sciences, Keele UniversityKeeleUK

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