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”

Sweet Fanny Adams in Hyperspace Eden

Andrew Haydon asks why theatre is not addressing the world of cyberspace:

But there is a lot of scope left for potential experiment. Just as the internet has opened up whole new avenues of investigation and activity, creating thousands of jobs and revolutionising the way that we consume music, watch films and conduct commerce, so should theatre be finding a new visual and literary language to reflect modern lives which are increasingly lived online inside the belly of a machine.

Haydon’s post gives me an excuse to formally announce the launch of our Internet film project, Sweet Fanny Adams in Hypersapce Eden. Produced by my company Fifty Nine Productions, and joint funded by the Scottish Arts Council and Arts Council England (Yorkshire), the project brings Judith Adams’ play back to its original home on the Internet.
When Judith was commisisoned by Stellar Quines Theatre Company to write a play to be performed in the Scottish Plant Collectors garden, we helped her devise a unique method of writing the text – through HTML. The non-linear nature of web-pages allowed her to create scenes that would overlap and reference each other, and also inspired her to create scenes where one character’s thoughts were echoed, or overheard, in the words of another character. My essay explains the project in much more detail, but my conclusion is that the text is quinessentially of its time and of its medium – the Internet.
Most online films are very short, but this is an early attempt to create something feature length. By December we will have posted over two and a half hours of footage, shot against blue-screen, given CGI make-over, and podcasted on a daily basis.
Haydon’s quote resonates, and not only because this project is an attempt to develop a new “visual and literary language”: Our characters are caged and watched inside the sinister Showman’s Garden, a reality he has constructed to observe and subjugate the other inhabitants. The fiesty Lily and her friends are, in some ways, in the “belly of a machine.” Can they escape?
Read my essay, or simply get started by watching “The Story of Fanny”. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or your favourite pod-cast catching site. Then, let me know what you think…