Saturday, January 13, 2007

We live in a police state

Brett at Harry's Place has posted something interesting. Its funny to hear people relating their experiences under this regime. I've got a few I could throw up here so I'll spin you the one that my friend related to me whilst driving home last night and a couple more personal experiences.

My friend's dad is, in her own words, "Jeremy Clarkson". He often rails against the injustice of speed cameras and she mentioned that he was currently driving illegally as he was contesting his latest penalty and therefore considered the consequent ban to be "suspended pending resolution". Anyhoo, apparently the penalty in question had arrived out of the blue after he thought he had got away with it some time previously- something about moving house or the wrong address on the ownership papers. This raised some confusion as to how the police had caught up with him and so he enquired where they had got his details from. The response was somewhat astonishing. Some months before he had stepped into a fight outside a pub in Yorkshire where he lives to prevent some chap taking an undeserved kicking and had done his duty by calling the police and making a statement. The details he had given allowed the police to chase him up for his parking ticket!

I can't imagine anything less absurd in this day and age where politicians and police superintendents go on record blaming the public's loss of any sense of civil duty as partly responsible for the breakdown of law and order and the proliferation of ASBOs. So when someone does their duty you might expect the authorities to turn a blind eye when the opportunity to chase the upstanding citizen for some minor infringement is presented. This is known as "discretion".

My second tale relates to a aprking ticket I apparently received recently. I say "apparently" because I received a letter some weeks after the date of the alleged incident stating that I had failed to pay the penalty within 28 days and consequently was now liable for the full £60 fine. I wrote back saying I had never received the ticket and couldn't remember the day in question but believed that I hadn't been parked where and when they said I had. Unfortunately this form failed to reach them (my own fault) within the 28 days they had given me- I hadn't stamped it when I put it in the internal mail at uni. I delivered it to the council offices by hand the day after the deadline and hoped for the best. Foolish in the extreme, I know. The result you might be able to guess- the fine raised to £90 and a threat to send the debt to county court. I feel that a little informed discretion might at least alleviate the burden of the fine by £30 or so even if it does not excuse me entirely (no doubt about that- apparently they have photographic evidence of my illegally parked van).

Finally I would like to relate the tale of my wife's visa. She is from Auckland and her grandmother was a UK citizen, thus entitling her to ancestral UK citizenship. She had also been married to me for a year or more when we returned to this country from our travels in 2004. She rang up the Nationality and Immigration Directorate to enquire about getting indefinite leave to remain ("permanent residency") and was told that if she was going to apply as my spouse then there was a 2 year grace period before she could do so in which she had to be resident on a spousal visa. "Fine," she answered "I'm also entitled to citizenship through ancestry and I've been living here on such visas for 7 years so I'd like to get residency through that route instead." The stooge on the end of the phone told her to ring another department and speak to another stooge, who asked her a few questions about her movements before informing her that she would be perfectly eligible for this route. So, Wiff gets the forms sent to her and she spends days filling in absurdly detailed questions before sending the form back with a cheque for the extortionate sum which is demanded with every application.

"Not so fast, sunshine." Says the NID stooge, who calls her a month later. (I'm hamming this up, I know. Its called dramatic license.) "You may have had those visas for 7 years but you've been out of the country for the last 8 months and that invalidates your eligibility for residency. You must have been resident here for 4 continuous years with no more than 6 months out of the country."

At this point I had to grab the phone from Wiff as she was becoming (rightly) abusive. Many rude words were said to thin air before she attempted contacting the NID again. Further phone calls confirmed this story and in the end she got another application form for a spousal visa and sent it off. Another month passed. Then Wiff came home one day in a rage. Apparently some goon had rung her up and told her that the debit card details she had supplied had been declined and that they were returning the form to her. She would like to point out that there was nothing wrong with the details she had written down and there was plenty of money in her account to cover the fee and so the only possible reason for the failure of the payment process is that the goon in question had not punched in the right card number.

After some soul searching Wiff determined to complete the task in hand and so she filled in a new form and rang up to check that everything was as it should be with her application. Imagine her frustration and outrage to discover that the cost of application had recently DOUBLED. To £335.
now my wife is perfectly entitled to UK citizenship through 2 separate pathways. She is (almost) a model citizen and pays her taxes and is generally an asset to the nation. She is certainly not a dole bludger or a burden upon our social support system. Any cursory inspection of her application would reveal this. So why the hassle, the expense and the ignomy assoicated with this process.

A follow up to this tale relates my experience of gaining a New Zealand work permit. I had a 6 month holiday visa and was living with the in laws in Auckland. We were looking for some casual work whilst travelling around and wanted to do it legitimately. If you are looking for such work it i by no means necessary to have a work permit- it is legally necessary but most manual labour jobs aren't picky about who they employ or how rigourously they check such things. The only downside is that you can still be "taxed" on your wages and this "tax" goes into the pocket of the guy organising your labour. So, there was an immigration office in the suburb a few miles down the road, one of several dotted around Auckland- no centralised bureaucracy here- and we toddled on down there one day with the forms that I'd picked up one day from the main office in town. This office was notoriously busy as it dealt with "special cases" and asylum applications too so the discovery of a branch in the suburbs was encouraging. We were not disappointed. 40 minutes from walking in the door I walked out again with my work visa in my passport. 30 minutes waiting in the comfortable, clean waiting room reading magazines and then a 10 minute face-to-face interview with an immigration official. She was polite. She was patient. She was a Kiwi and spoke perfect english- unlike several of the people Wiff had to talk to at the UK NID. This is a demonstration of the use of "discretion"- I was blatantly not an asylum seeker, any other form of immigrant (I had a plane ticket out of the country), a criminal or any other form of citizenship pirate. I had all the evidence required to support my application in hand and I was there in person, reasonably smartly dressed and polite and eloquent to boot. Why is it anathema in this country to give people the responsibility of making on-the-spot decisions about such matters? Why do you have to tick fifty boxes, pay a small fortune and wait a month to be told you are eligible for residency when its clear that you are anyway?

The point of my ramble is that, if other countries have no problem establishing efficient and functioning bureaucracies then why can't we? The same question can be applied to the NHS, the rail networks, the police and just about everything else in the UK. Its all been done better elsewhere (look at Scandinavia).

So why not here?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to share your opinions of my opinions. Oh- and cocking fuckmouse.