A Jeremiad on UK Visas

The view from the panel

Last Monday night I spoke on behalf of English PEN alongside Tony Benn at a meeting a Goldsmiths College Student Union, on the problem of the UK’s new points-based visa system.  The system has caused hundreds of writers and artists to be refused entry to the UK, even for short-term visits such as a one-off gig or book launch.  Academics and university support staff are particularly concerned with how the system affects relationships with their students:  The system places new monitoring requirements on professors to log attendance at individual lectures and inform the UK Border Agency of any ‘suspicious behaviour’.

It was clear that, at Goldsmiths at least, neither staff nor students support the new measures.  The general mood is that staff should boycott any extra tasks that the UKBA demands they perform.  Many were frustrated that such a boycott is not already in operation.  However, co-ordinating such action – which really amounts to a simple work-to-rule action, because there is nothing about surveillance of students in any staff contract – nevertheless requires organisation and a sense of momentum.

From the floor, we heard the story of a student who has been harassed and harried at every turn in her bid to stay and study at the college.  She has spend over £2,600 in legal costs and ‘fees’ for processing various immigration applications.  The university cannot give her much help, since they do not want to “act as solicitors”, and she even had to represent herself and an immigration tribunal.  The ‘helpline’ she has been given to assist with her problems costs £1.20 per minute to call… and she is frequently put on hold whenver she calls.

Belle Ribeiro, the NUS Black Students officer, said that in general, international students do not get enough support when they come to study in the UK, despite contributing a huge amount in fees.  The new rules that insist that foreign student carry an ID card will mean that BME students are likely to be disproportionately hassled to identify and justify themselves.  And when ID card fraud inevitably occurs, it will be the overseas students who suffer.

My own speech was a jeremiad (hat-tip James Fallows for that word) on how this country was sending itself into a horrible cultural decline.  The approximate text, corrected for grammar and general semantic sense, is reproduced below.   You can check it against an recording.  The Rt. Hon. Tony Benn was also on the panel:  I’ve put an MP3 of his remarks online too. Continue reading “A Jeremiad on UK Visas”

Cameron's Speech

I thought it was better delivered than the Prime Minister’s, although that was to be expected.  The rhetoric flowed more easily too, and several of the passages could resonate with undecideds, despite being deceptions:

For Labour there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in.

This looks like nonsense to me:  Labour politicians know that neighbourhoods and communities and families are important – they are where much of the state intervention is directly targeted, and the place where state agencies deliver the rest.  Regardless, the Big State meme will take hold, especially with ‘Brown-the-Control-Freak’ at the helm.

The passage where he attributes “there’s no such thing as society” to the current Government was a brave gamble, but one that I suspect will fail.  In reminding the voters of one of Thatcher’s most offensive quips, he also plants the idea that the current societal problems are the result of her destructive policies.  It is tightrope rhetoric.

However, it was here that he lost me:

This attitude, this whole health and safety, human rights act culture, has infected every part of our life. If you’re a police officer you now cannot pursue an armed criminal without first filling out a risk assessment form. Teachers can’t put a plaster on a child’s grazed knee without calling a first aid officer.

Health and Safety Culture is surely inspired by Litigation Culture.  When a child comes home with a plaster on its knee, angry parents are going to ask, not unreasonably, for a full account.  Likewise, who would not want a police-officer to consult with his superiors, before accosting someone who may be armed?  I’ve listened to several exchanges on police frequencies, where officers were considering approaching such suspects.  It takes time, but its safe and sensible.

Such legislation, however inconvenient, is inspired by an actual concern for the Health and Safety of our children, and our police officers, &ct.  I seriously doubt the Conservatives would change these laws substantially.   Its a populist platitude.

Oh yeah, and attacking the Human Rights Act is a deal breaker for this blogger.

The Dalry Road Question

Originally posted on The Sharpener, reposted here to avoid link-rot.  Comments still available to view via archive.org.

Apropos of nothing, a thought about Scottish Independence:

In the event of independence for Scotland (presumably following a ‘yes’ vote in a referendum, in the wake of an SNP victory in the Scottish Parliamentary elections), what would be the criteria for citizenship of the new country?

Now, I am registered to vote in Scotland (I even own a flat in Edinburgh, off Dalry Road). I would presumably become a citizen of the Independent Republic of Scotland, if it came into existence. However, I am at present a citizen of the United Kingdom, a country that will persist (albeit in a leaner form) should Scotland choose Independence. In that event, will I be stripped of that UK citizenship? Any mechanism to do so would, I think, be an odd an illiberal thing. In any case, having been born in London to British parents, I would be an unassailable candidate for dual citizenship, even if I did have to actively apply for it.

I imagine the reverse case would be true for the Scottish diaspora elsewhere in the world. They are citizens of other countries, but would be eligible for Scottish citizenship too. Personally, I don’t have a problem with a high proportion of the population having dual citizenship (I am, after all, a dangerous multiculturalist). But surely such a situation would be undesirable for the Nationalists. Gaining independence from the English, only to see hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people applying for dual citizenship, would seem to be a hollow victory.

What are the lessons from other partitions and secessions? The Scottish Nationalists claim to be ‘different’ from the English, and yet there are no clashes of religion, ethnicity, or language. Therefore the choice over which side of the border to stand is less obvious. And the reasons for drawing a border in the first place are less clear.

Encounters with souvenir sellers: scene I

Anaradhapura: A serene and shaded park conceals the ruins of a vast ancient city, which was a centre for Buddhist learning and civilisation, a thousand years ago. For centuries the city lay hidden beneath the jungle, but the foundation walls peek above the grassy banks, like milk-teeth breaking through a baby’s gum. We see stores for rice, plenty of areas for meditation and prayer, and some swimming pools in which monks would bathe.

We lean on some modern iron railings to view a moonstone. These are semi-circular floor sculptures, which lie at the entrance to temples – a kind of door mat for the soul. Our guide tells us that this is one of the finest examples in all of Sri Lanka, and explains that the four layers to the pattern symbolise the obstacles on the path to nirvana. One set of animals represent cravings, and another set symbolise desires. We have a short semantic debate about the difference between craving and desire, and decide that one is physical, the other cerebral.

Strolling back to our bus, we are approached by two young men in grubby T-shirts. They each have a tray of souvenirs, and I cannot help but steal a glance at their merchandise. They have an interesting selection of brass trinkets and bangles, but nothing that I crave or desire.

I try to walk on. “No thank you.”

“You are British?” I know they want to engage me in a sales pitch, but I owe them the courtesy of answering.

I nod, and smile. “Yes, I live in Scotland.”

“Tell me,” he says, “why is it that the Germans and the Americans will buy from us, but you British always say ‘no thank you’? Then you always go and buy the same things from the shops in Columbo!”

I am taken aback. This is not an effective method of endearing oneself to the customer.

“I’m not going to buy anything from the shop in Columbo,” I retort.

He looks at me with scorn. “You say this, but then you will buy somewhere else for a higher price. You won’t get these prices in the hotel shops.”

Now I am quite agitated at this effrontery. He is missing the point. “I realise that, I really do. But please understand that I don’t actually want any of those things.” I almost say, I have enough tat in my house already, but I bite my tongue. “Even if you offered me these things for one rupee only, I wouldn’t take them.” I also do not mention that the Buddha suggests we relinquish, not accumulate, worldly goods.

He shakes his head in disgust, turns his back on me, and wanders off to greet the next tour bus that has pulled up to view the moonstone. His silent companion follows a few steps behind. A few Japanese in wide brimmed hats and big sun-glasses step off the bus and into his path. Perhaps he will have more luck with them.

Rejoining our group, we find that Jude our tour guide is getting excited. “Now,” he gushes, “Who wants to see a well in the shape of a key?”