The price of love? £25,700 a year, according to Theresa May

Those who marry non-EU nationals will need to earn £25,700 a year if they want their partners to join them in Britain. Is it fair that only the well-off can marry who they want?

There comes a time in any government's life where you reach a level of unpopularity such that you may as well dust off all of the half-arsed, mean-spirited policies you've ever dreamed up, and just throw them all out there. The point where your opponents are so tired and hoarse from trying to decry all your laughably objectionable new rules that they simply collapse into a defeated heap, while you roll your latest nasty ideas tank onto their collective lawn.

Yesterday we got to read about Theresa May's charming new ruse, the one about effectively stopping British citizens from marrying their foreign partners and living here, unless they have a good enough job. Ordinarily this might seem a little harsh, but I suppose if you can get away with selling off chunks of the NHS, you can get away with this.

I should probably declare a partial interest here; several years ago I was engaged to be married to someone who lived in Croatia. A foreigner! The relationship broke down in the end, but for a long time we intended to live together, and to do that we would have had to get married, as was the style at the time. I think it was at around this point when I started to get especially angry at whatever immigration clampdown the press was clamouring for. There was something about knowing that, one day, the person I intended to marry would become part of a statistic splashed across the front page of the Express to show quite how close our collective handcart was coming to Hell, that made me feel a little upset. Funny, that.

In the end, the relationship didn't work out, but on reflection I think it was probably better for said breakdown to be the result of my own enormous and continual failings as a human being, rather than because the Home Secretary has declared me too poor to be embarking on such romantic folly.

I understand that there's an imperative for governments to be seen to be Doing Something about immigration, but they seem to be forever finding increasingly ham-fisted and downright mean ways of doing it. Whatever the intention behind the policy, the end result of it is that it sets a minimum income requirement on marriage and makes it difficult for poorer couples to get married. This from a government who like the idea of marriage so much they would marry it, if that were at all possible.

Presumably the person in government whose job it is to screen potential policies for signs of unswerving evil has been made redundant, or is simply so overworked by this point that they can only read bits of each policy through the gaps in their fingers as they cradle their head in their hands, sobbing. If I were that person, I might gently suggest to the Tories that, if they want to look less like the wealthy, privileged 'arrogant posh boys' of common legend, they might want to think twice about floating a policy idea that effectively restricts love to people earning over £25,700 a year. Then again, if I were that person I'd probably be earning over £25,700 a year and in a position to stop caring about people poorer than me.

But hey, that's the free market, right? If you can't afford to fall in love with a foreigner, why not simply exercise your economic freedom and swap them for a more affordable partner, one who lives in the same country as you? Perhaps someone who knows the words to several Beautiful South songs, thinks the Eurovision is a massive fix, and has curiously forthright opinions about the 'correct' term to use for a small sandwich roll. It's really just simple economics! These are tough times which we've inherited from thirteen years of the previous government and difficult choices have to be made.

Perhaps if you'd just worked a little harder or got into a grammar school, you might have been able to marry that foreigner! Apply yourselves!

Here come the brides: well, not if Theresa May has her way. Photo: Getty Images

Jonathan Headington tweets: @ropestoinfinity

Getty
Show Hide image

It's easy to see where Berlin is being rebuilt – just hit the streets

My week, from walking the streets of Berlin to class snobbery and the right kind of gentrification.

Brick by brick, block by block, the people are rebuilding the city once called Faust’s Metropolis. To see it clearly, put your boots on. One of the most bracing walks starts by the Gethsemane Church, which served as a haven for dissenters in the last days of the GDR and takes you down ­towards the Hackescher Markt.

Here, in what is still the eastern half of a divided city that wears its division more lightly, is a Berlin experience both old and new. In three decades of frequent visits, it has been fascinating to note how much this part of town has changed. Even a decade ago these streets were rundown. With crumbling buildings showing bulletholes, it wasn’t hard to imagine what the place looked like in 1945. Now there are lilacs, blues, and yellows. Cafés, bars and restaurants abound, serving the young professionals attracted to the city by cheap rents and a renewed sense of community.

 

Breaking the fourth wall

Looking north along Schliemannstraße, you’ll find a delightful vista of well-tended balconies. It’s a pleasant place to live, notwithstanding the gaggle of grotesques who gather round the corner in the square. On Kastanienallee, which forms the second leg of the walk, an old city feels young. It’s a kind of gentrification but the right kind. There’s more to eat, to drink, to buy, for all.

Berlin, where Bertolt Brecht staged his unwatchable plays, was supposed to have been transformed by a proletarian revolution. Instead, it has been restored to health by a very middle-class one. Germany has always had a well-educated middle class, and the nation’s restoration would have impossible without such people. The irony is delicious – not that irony buttered many parsnips for “dirty Bertie”.

 

The new snobbery

The British Museum’s survey of German history “Memories of a Nation” is being presented at the Martin-Gropius-Bau as “The British View”. Germans, natürlich, are curious to see how we observe them. But how do they see us?

A German friend recently in England  said that the images that struck him most forcibly were the tins of food and cheap booze people piled up in supermarkets, and the number of teenage girls pushing prams. Perhaps Neil MacGregor, the former director of the British Museum who will shortly take up a similar role here at the new Humboldt Forum, may turn his attention to a “German View” of the United Kingdom.

There’s no shortage of material. In Schlawinchen, a bar that typifies Kreuzberg’s hobohemia, a college-educated English girl was trying to explain northern England to an American she had just met. Speaking in an ugly modern Mancunian voice that can only be acquired through years of practice (sugar pronounced as “sug-oar”), she refer­red to Durham and York as “middle class, you know, posh”, because those cities had magnificent cathedrals.

When it comes to inverted snobbery, no nation can match us. To be middle class in Germany is an indication of civic value. In modern England, it can mark you as a leper.

 

Culture vultures

The Humboldt Forum, taking shape by the banks of the Spree, reconsecrates the former site of the GDR’s Palace of the Republic. When it opens in 2018 it will be a “living exhibition”, dedicated to all the cultures of the world. Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and explorer, was the brother of Wilhelm, the diplomat and philosopher, whose name lives on in the nearby university.

In Potsdamerplatz there are plans to build a modern art museum, crammed in between the Neue Nationalgalerie and the Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic. Meanwhile, the overhaul of the Deutsche Staatsoper, where Daniel Barenboim is music director for life, is likely to be completed, fingers crossed, next autumn.

Culture everywhere! Or perhaps that should be Kultur, which has a slightly different meaning in Germany. They take these things more seriously, and there is no hint of bogus populism. In London, plans for a new concert hall have been shelved. Sir Peter Hall’s words remain true: “England is a philistine country that loves the arts.”

 

European neighbours

When Germans speak of freedom, wrote A J P Taylor, a historian who seems to have fallen from favour, they mean the freedom to be German. No longer. When modern Germans speak of freedom, they observe it through the filter of the European Union.

But nation states are shaped by different forces. “We are educated to be obedient,” a Berlin friend who spent a year at an English school once told me. “You are educated to be independent.” To turn around Taylor’s dictum: when the English speak of freedom,
they mean the freedom to be English.

No matter what you may have heard, the Germans have always admired our independence of spirit. We shall, however, always see “Europe” in different ways. Europe, good: we can all agree on that. The European Union, not so good. It doesn’t mean we have to fall out, and the Germans are good friends to have.

 

Hook, line and sinker

There are fine walks to be had in the west, too. In Charlottenburg, the Kensington of Berlin, the mood is gentler, yet you can still feel the city humming. Here, there are some classic places to eat and drink – the Literaturhauscafé for breakfast and, for dinner, Marjellchen, a treasure trove of east Prussian forest delights. Anything that can be shot and put in a pot!

For a real Berlin experience, though, head at nightfall for Zwiebelfisch, the great tavern on Savignyplatz, and watch the trains glide by on the other side of Kantstraße. Hartmut Volmerhaus, a most amusing host, has been the guvnor here for more than 30 years and there are no signs that his race is run. The “Fisch” at twilight: there’s nowhere better to feel the pulse of this remarkable city. 

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage