I have rarely felt as ashamed of my country as now reading about people like Valerie Baker, who has lived here since arriving on her aunts passport in 1955. Suddenly last year she got a letter from the Home Office saying she had no right to be here and should leave immediately. And one from DWP demanding repayments of social security benefits.
Government has been crassly incompetent, destroying relevant records then persecuting people who couldn’t, without the records provide, proof they were legitimately here.
Populist Democracy and dogmatic politicians who lack any experience of how organisations work are both partly to blame. I heard on Radio 4 an interview with a former official. He explained that a few years ago his officials would be free to exercise their judgement. They would interview people without the documents and probe their experience of the decades they’d been here. If someone spoke of their memories of the drought of 1976 or the miners strike in the 1980s they soon got to tell who was authentic. But after tabloid newspaper stories of the Borders Agency being too relaxed about whom to let in, the politicians stripped the agency’s staff of their authority.
Thus when Theresa May as Home Secretary called for a more ’hostile environment’ she was, through her ignorance, initiating a persecution of people of Caribbean origin without any of the previous safeguards provided by the individual common sense of officials. And when her successor Amber Rudd proudly promised her that she was upping the expulsion target by 10%, she too was licensing intimidation and racially biased aggression by British civil servants.
- Lesson 1 from this fiasco : beware any move made by a politician in the heat of public outrage.
- Lesson 2. Mistrust any politician who promises to ‘get tough’ with their officials. It usually results in more mindless and insensitive decision making.
- Lesson 3. Insist all Ministers, like the best company chairs, spend 5 days a year on the front line of their department’s work, seeing and hearing what really goes on.
How long before our country regains a reputation for tolerance and fairness?