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'Who did your grandfather fight for in World War II?'

It is nearly 25 years since the former Conservative party chairman Norman Tebbit proposed what came to be known as the 'Tebbit Test' for immigrants from India and elsewhere in south Asia: which side do they cheer when their country of origin plays cricket against England?

world Updated: Nov 29, 2014 23:40 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar

It is nearly 25 years since the former Conservative party chairman Norman Tebbit proposed what came to be known as the 'Tebbit Test' for immigrants from India and elsewhere in south Asia: which side do they cheer when their country of origin plays cricket against England?

The Tory grandee, now 83, surfaced on television on Friday night, hours after Prime Minister David Cameron's major speech on immigration, to say that he had devised a new test, this time for migrants from the European Union, currently the focus of much public debate here.

Simply put, the test means that if India play cricket against England, immigrants with origins in India should support England and not India, to show their loyalty to England. Similarly, immigrants of Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka origin living here should support England.

It is a different matter that in practice, whether the Indian team wins or loses on England soil, hundreds of thousands of raucous British citizens of Indian origin spontaneously and happily fail the test.

Tebbit told BBC while discussing the growing public ennui over large numbers of EU migrants moving to Britain: "One test I would use is to ask them on which side their fathers or grandfathers or whatever fought in the Second World War".

He added: "And you'll find that the Poles and the Czechs and the Slovaks were all on the right side. And so that's a pretty good test isn't it. Perhaps we'll even manage to teach them to play cricket gradually over the years."

Several current EU member-states were part of the Allied forces during the Second World War, while others were ranged on the opposing Axis side. All citizens of EU member-states have the right to move, work and live in other member-states.

It was in April 1990 that the 'Los Angeles Times' interviewed Tebbit, who questioned the loyalties of Asian immigrants to the United Kingdom.

Using the example of cricket, he declared: "A large proportion of Britain's Asian population fail to pass the cricket test. Which side do they cheer for? It's an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?"

Tebbit's comments caused much furore as Asian leaders declared them hurtful and disgraceful. Labour MP Jeff Rooker called for Tebbit to be prosecuted for inciting racial hatred, while Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown wanted Margaret Thatcher to condemn the remarks.

Tebbit was not really censured by the Conservative party for his comments, but his test has since become a benchmark to talk - even if light-heartedly - about race and identity politics in multicultural Britain. Those towards the left-of-centre see it as just another version of the 'nasty party' and put it on the same footing as Enoch Powell's infamous 'rivers of blood' speech in 1968.

In 2012, when Spain won the European Football championship, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg admitted his children would fail the Tebbit test, because their mother Miriam is Spanish: "I'm not sure if my children who were wearing their Spanish football kit, given to them by Miriam, would have passed the Norman Tebbit cricket test".