The Nightmare of Government 60

I am wasting enormous energy lately in an absolute nightmare of visa applications. The insolence of office is to be seen in its most extreme forms, everywhere around the world, in those connected with the organised atavism of immigration control. I was chatting with a charming young lady, one of those wealthy young women who pass a brief season as interns and personal assistants before marriage to some dull heavy jowled banker. She was on her seventh visit to the Indian High Commission visa office, each time being sent back for reams more documents, which are nowhere asked for in the official guidance and checklists.

The British are even worse. The very experienced chief engineer on the electricity project I work on in Ghana, a man with engineering degrees from the UK and US and substantial international experience, was refused a visa to visit the Siemens factory in Lincoln from which we have bought over £13 million of British engineering exports so far. I genuinely have no idea why this baffling decision was made.

The British and Indians have one thing in common – they have both privatised their visa handling process out to profit making companies who employ cheap and unqualified labout to accept, sift and pass on the applications. The lady who had been sent back six times had got nowhere near an immigration officer. Experienced immigration officers still exist, locked away in back offices being fed trays full of less straightforward decisions, made a great deal harder to cope with as they have never set eyes on the applicant. I have line managed one of the biggest British immigration offices in the world, before the processing was privatised, and the best immigration officers never forget you are not granting entry to a pile of documents, but to a human being. The look in the eye is worth a thousand sheets of A4.

We have of course a similar experience to look forward to in the NHS, as the government decides that the profit motive rather than the desire to heal and to relieve pain is the best way to motivate a health service. This will, inevitably, result in de facto triage by sixteen year olds with no fixed contract and paid on various government job subsidy schemes, while the Tories will get a whole new raft of billionaire donors from our taxes, and private health insurance booms among the middle classes. This is the inevitable and highly predictable result of the government’s current NHS plans, and if the process is not stopped will be the situation come 2017.

To return to visas, added to the apparatus designed to reinforce fear at the airports, just moving around our world has changed from a great pleasure to a total misery. Within my lifetime, we have allowed state control over the individual – as a worldwide phenomenon – to intrude to the point where people have little more free will than farmed animals. The quality of life for the majority of people has declined, is declining and appears set to continue to decline. Meanwhile an elite super rich get richer and are free from any kind of restraint at all. The control of a stupefied population appears not in the least difficult.

Sometimes I despair.

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60 thoughts on “The Nightmare of Government

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  • Andrew Stergiou

    I am very sorry that you are suffering for it is the pain of abusive government which had some 31 years ago tortured me as a younger man struggling as a musician in Europe when I attempted to travel to the UK, that was often without reason obstructed by “British immigration which was then privatized under the obscene rule of the rusted Iron Lady of 10 Downing Street though:
    1. As an American I was never required by the British Government to obtain a visa as the US had some sort of special status.
    2. Though my profession as a musician was also considered preferentially.
    3. I was an entrepreneur as a musician.
    4. Lastly in that on one occasion they obstructed me while I carried a consular letter asking that my entry be facilitated in return to the US by a scheduled flight from the
    UK to the US.

    That and the present state of air travel which has turned the world into the worldwide segregated ghettos of one big concentration camp internationally that I am sorry to inform you began then some thirty-one years ago. If only the world was aware of the these selective policies they would not have dared to do what they do today.

    Awaiting the last days of empire.
    ~A~ Andrew Stergiou

  • mike cobley

    Craig, you say – “Within my lifetime, we have allowed state control over the individual – as a worldwide phenomenon – to intrude to the point where people have little more free will than farmed animals.”

    But surely in the situation you describe, and certainly wrt the NHS predicament as well, what we are seeing is the politicisation of corporate imperatives. The profit-seeking, loss-externalising mechanisms of the corporate machine are being shoe-horned into the spaces formerly occupied by public services whose core functions are supposed to be serving the needs of the public (although, yes, I know that bureaucracies age, and self-serving procedures can interfere).

    Aghast as I am at these ongoing and overt plans to obliterate the postwar structures of social democracy, I take the view that their overreach is almost a justification for progressives to push back when – if – they can get hold of the levers of power.

  • deepgreenpuddock

    I will avoid the issue of visas, but privatisation is well described here. One of the great achievements of the right has been to insert the virus of greed and social darwinism into common perception, that the only motivation in a human activity is one that can be defined by profit and financial advantages and that we will act only in a narrowly defined self interest, yet for the majority of people I grew up with that was not the case, as people were organised in ways and had rich social attachments that were often made impossible by intervention pf the single-dimensionalism of money worship.
    It was readily accepted that there were many dimensions to a rich and rewarding life,and money was as much a hindrance to those other components as it was a means to improvement. In simple terms, financial improvement was a collective process
    It is astonishing to think that such a volte-face of perception has been achieved in such a short time-thirry years or so,
    So the issue here is really the NHS, not visas, irritating though they may be, and the rhetoric deployed by certain elements of the political class.
    George Monbiot has a series of interesting tweets about the NHS and the perception that has been rhetorically engineered by certain political elements-mainly Tories of course, but also notably Margaret Hodge, prime example of that deleterious, political mutation, nulabour, that the NHS had declining ‘value for money’ based upon a study by the ONS. Like in all things, the devil, is in the detail, and the detail suggests no such decline and indeed there are many counter interpretations that suggest quite the opposite.

    Of course such issues are complex but one has to really question what is going on with people like Margaret Hodge who a serial hand in many a destructive act or utterances, or at least, acts that are damaging to the very cause she proclaims. It is far from the first time she has been implicated in regressive policy change.

  • Passerby

    I am glad there are others who can see what is happening around us, and despair at the prospects of human battery farming that is passed as our way of life.
    The creeping legalisation by the various legislature has been in the direction of limiting the masses in their choice of location, habitat, jobs, food, and potential for progress. All the while “protecting” the individual from the “dangers” lurking around the corner, from the; regimes, terrorists, health and safety shortcomings, et.
    The rich get to have no laws, while we the poor get to enjoy all the laws, now how is that for a bargain?
    PS Spaniards have a saying; laws are good for your enemy. Just about sums up the situation, so far as the Malthusian misanthropes in charge are concerned.

  • eveningperson

    Andrew Stergiou: Susan Greeenfield is making a big name for herself on the detrimental effects of the internet, without the bother of producing the slightest evidence that what she claims is true. She has published no research on the subject.

  • Nico

    On the one hand governments preach greater security, tighter controls; on the other they farm out the visa processing to underpaid folks working for private internationals such as VFSGlobal.

    How secure are your documents passing through these anonymous offices? Can’t be that hard to bribe and infiltrate.

    When the UK still had a visa processing consulate in the Netherlands (they’ve farmed this out to Germany and France) the way the applicants were treated was downright disgusting. You could not take in a bag or mobile, so you needed a friend to stand outside. Except the friend would be forced to stand away from the building and not in front of it! Interviews were held within earshot of other applicants and there was never a please or thank you said.

    As a UK citizen I stood outside waiting as failed applicant after applicant trotted out. I spoke with a few including an Afghan who’d lived 10 years in Holland and could travel throughout Europe (except for UK since it isn’t Schengen!), had a job and home in Holland and could not even speak English. He only wanted to visit his aunt who was dying of cancer in UK. Refused.

    The patience of these people and their refusal to direct any anger towards a Brit was saintly. I have to think of Gandhi and his response to the question: What do you think of Western civilization?
    “I think it would be a good idea.”

  • Clark

    I see this as a more general trend, not confined to government or visas or the UK NHS. It’s the rise of bureaucracy in general, and to an extent it’s to do with computerisation. At least on a paper form the assistant could write a note. These days, the “form” – which is now a page on a screen – won’t be accepted by the software unless the right boxes and fields are filled in. When the complexity of reality exceeds the versatility of the “form”, there is simply no way forward. Pretend to conform or get lost.
    The general problem is the replacement of personal judgment with a “tick all the right boxes” approach. The employees daren’t challenge the utility of the software with their bosses, who are doing far more important things than actually dealing with the public. Like working out how to replace relatively expensive employees with yet more software.
    This leads to frustration and anger. But the Security State comes to the “rescue”. We now have specialists in throwing the public out of offices, which all employ private security. Such strong-arm support encourages arrogance in the staff, who can stonewall the public with impunity but have no influence on the power structure above them.
    I could list dozens of examples from my own experience. “Nightmare” is indeed the right word.

  • Nextus

    The systematic dehumanisation of bureaucracy is designed to transfer accountability onto a set of ‘rules’ developed by an analyst, rather than relying on the individual judgement of people working at the coalface. In doing so it also discards the implicit wisdom accrued from years of personal experience. Rules will never compensate for expert human judgement in complex human situations.
    Susan Greenfield is quite enlightened on such issues. It’s true that her research background is in neurophysiology, but her popular writing is essentially philosophy inspired by neuroscience. In that respect, she is pushing the boundaries into interesting new areas, which I think is to be lauded. She’s quite visionary in some respects, although I think she could benefit from more rigorous and self-critical analysis. She does acknowledge (at least in private) that she’s laying the groundwork for research hypotheses, not actually confirming them herself. Many philosophers and psychologists are essentially engaged in similar pursuits, without conducting the laborious and expensive experiments themselves. I think Greenfield’s theorising serves a useful function – inspiring research – but shouldn’t (yet) be regarded as fact.

  • Clark

    It’s Terry Gilliam’s Brazil made real. Minions work in “Records”, a lowly, hard working department where you have no status and low pay. To be “someone” in society, you need to get into “Information Retrieval”, the euphemism for the Department of Torture.

  • Nico

    Computers are just a tool that we may or may not choose to use or abuse. Possibly it is more a reflection of the trend away from actually learning something useful such as medicine, therapy, a trade, science, engineering, or working your way up from shop floor/junior level, toward people just wanting to be “managers” direct from uni. That is no learning about actually what they are managing.
    So society finds a place for these smooth talking empty shells and they read reports, set targets, meet targets, rig targets, write reports, etc. Anything other than deal with the real job at hand which is getting off your rear and going to the clients or the shop floor or equivalent.
    If they did then the likes of immigration control would want to meet every visa applicant and well if they look like they might be useful would do anything to entice them to stay and help the UK economy … I mean that’s just good business sense!
    Say what you like about the USA but they gave my wife a 10 year visa the instance they saw PhD … the Brits gave her 6mths and she’s even married to one. She had to miss a conference in the UK because the visa waiting list was 6 weeks and there were no exceptions.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Iraq

    Ideally in my opinion regulation of all forms of social interaction by codes, rules, policy statements and abstract values, the so called contractual regulation framework of law, policy and surveillance should give way to cultural or moral regulation by peer pressure and institutions set up to provide an alternate environment that is morally and practically robust.
    As an example, a nursery introduced a fine to parents turning up late to collect their children. Even when the fine was dropped the problem of late collection increased. One can understand that paying the ‘cost’ of punctuality subverted the respect and sense of belonging and approval among the parent group. A much better result could be acheived by mild disapproval by other parents and staff in an interactive, cohesive, communicative and morally accountable group of parents.
    Craig tells us our Coalition government decides that ‘profit motive rather than the desire to heal and relieve pain is the best way to motivate a health service.’ In other words our society is, despite a ‘Big Society’ banner, run on the economic model, a homogeneous medium for exchanges of markets and market like organisations. Everything from schools, universities and hospitals to village halls and allotment associations are to be run as if they were businesses, with business objectives, strategies and roles.
    Incentives and contracts are all part of the ‘City of London’ philosophy and a lack of ethical globalisation peppered with an ‘apparatus designed to reinforce fear’ are part of the neo-Con principles contracted to provide optimum welfare for all, under the aegis of the omniscient banks, financial authorities, government ‘think tanks’ contracted enforcers and secret services that classify, codify, monitor, incentivise and target set in every conceivable sphere of human interaction.

  • Wayfarer

    I’m both retired and disabled, as is my missus. Talking with a large group of like people recently, we all had tales to tell of reduced income, failing health and all the usual minutae of advancing age. We didn’t exactly put it to a vote, but it was clear that a major problem for most of us these days wasn’t any of the above.
    Far and away the largest complaint was of the cancerous effect on our lives of jobsworths and the near-impossibility of ever actually getting anything positive or useful from of the nation of petty bureaucrats that seem to populate almost every public office these days. Even (in fact increasingly) those styling themselves as caring services.
    No-one takes responsibility for anything. No-one, apparently, has the authority to exercise even the slightest discretion in the exercise of the ‘rules’. Ask a question of most government or local government agencies and you’d best start a new folder of correspondence and documents. Certainly do not hold your breath.
    Is it getting worse, or are we just getting old? I’m sorry, but it’s the former – on a daily basis I see the arrogance of petty authority growing as fast as pride in service vanishes. And it’s not coincidence. When trusted and valued care-givers disappear as a legion of managers, coordinators and other excuse-generators move in, then surely it’s policy.
    I’m actually glad I’m old. I reckon my immediately postwar generation had the best of it. The UK has become a land of jobsworths with no self-respect or personal honour – where no-one gives a tinkers damn about anything as long as they have iphones and reality TV. If I’m relieved I won’t be part of it for much longer, it’s increasingly apparent I can rely on the system to hurry me along.

  • Abe Rene

    Wayfarer: I’ve a lot of sympathy with what you wrote. The question is: what can we do about it? It seems to me that the transformation of society will take the colective effect of many acts by individuals, of wisdom and kindness, despite the constraints. I’m not saying that such things are a substitute for political activism of various kinds, but I think that they may be an important part of the solution.

  • Mary

    Sorry about your experience here in 1981 Andrew Stergiou. The gangsters–in-charge have now morphed into fascist gangsters-in=charge so things here are a great deal worse as Craig outlines. They have no soul and know no beauty or art.

  • mike cobley

    Wayfarer – you may find that many of these jobsworths aren’t public employees but low-wage employees of a company now acting in place of a formerly state-run facility.

  • Clark

    Nico, you are right of course, software is just a means unto an end. But to get appropriate software, the relevant department has to have it written or modified for the individual task at hand. I.E., these departments should hire programmers when they need improvements to their software.
    Unfortunately for the public, but very conveniently for the proprietary software vendors, the dominant model for obtaining software makes this impossible. Proprietary software is not susceptible to modification. The bit that programmers need, the “Source Code”, is a trade secret. The terms of the software license generally also makes modification illegal.
    So departments mostly buy software, and programming, a high-value form of employment, is made less available in the job market.
    Issues about the freedom to create and modify software can be found here:

  • Sudanese

    I am a naturalized British of Sudanese origin. My mother owns two flats in expensive areas in West London. She had visitors visas for the last 15 years. She always refused to apply for indefinite leave and become a British. However, she used to spend whole lot of time in London, mostly for health reasons and she constantly attends private doctors. She has never applied for public funding from the British government. She recently had a kidney removal operation and was asked to attend medical checks regularly. On one occasion her health deteriorated and was under medical control for couple of weeks. As a result she missed the deadline to leave the UK for 5 days. Now she is being refused to receive a visa at British consulate in Sudan. We have all the documents to prove that her late leave from the UK was due to medical reasons and she needs to attend next appointments related to her kidney condition. She has been refused three times now and we paid over 1000 usd for application process. Each time they ask us to bring different document. Absolutely rip off service and no use of the consulate officials. I am asking my mother to find other doctors from Germany, yet she is on principle and angry because of her more than mln pound worth investments in London property market.

  • Mary

    [..] yards of detail of funding from the profiteers.

    This is not the first time that Lansley has found himself in controversial waters, he has previously been exposed as accepting a £22,000 donation to his constituency office from the Tory donor and hedge fund director John Nash, who is also chairman of Care UK, another private health care company which stands to make millions from lucrative NHS contracts under the new reforms. John Nash and his wife have also donated £100,000 to the Tory party coffers.
    Andrew Lansley’s wife Sally runs a public affairs business which boasts about advising drug and food companies. Sally Low, the managing director of Low Associates, denied being a lobbyist, saying she provided clients with “strategic policy” advice. At a business conference less than two years ago, however, Miss Low gave a lecture on improving lobbying skills, where she advised people to “establish positive relationships with decision-makers before you need their help”.

    “Pursue your lobbying internally until you hit a wall,” she added.
    Declaring these “activities” in the members register does exonerate them from being a conflict of interests, which there clearly is with this health secretary. David Cameron said he was going to clean up politics, in fact he has turned the water from being slightly muddy to outright murky. This government is looking more corrupt with each passing day.

  • Nextus

    I’ve seen this debate form both sides. Working as a systems analyst, it is very often the case that human judgement is sloppy, fudged, biased, and corruptible. I’ve virtually had to pin people down to try to make systematic sense of the way they did things, so i can abstract the design principles, and it’s often been a painful process. But I think in all cases, all stakeholders agreed the resultant automation was a significant improvement over the previous poorly defined system. (I guess that’s partly because I build in flexibility for exceptions in special cases.)

    Clark, I recently authored an original software application for a major corporation – under temporary contract as an ad hoc programmer – because there were no off-the-shelf solutions. My system had featured several innovations and embellishments, including customisable graphs and an internal post-it messaging system. They didn’t pay for all my development time – I did a lot of additional work on it that was never invoiced. I left them with the source code, because I believed was moving on to a different sector (academia) anyway. I’ve recently heard that they are now trying to upscale it to play a central IT role at the heart of their operations – and they have assigned one of their staff to the task (good luck to him making sense of my code!). If I had kept the source code, they’d have to give the job to me (which I would welcome). Business advisers told me I did the wrong thing by not protecting the code or slapping a licence on it. I’m not sure, though – for the reasons you mention.

  • nuzothie

    Flying abroad has indeed become an amazing experience of finding yourself in an environment where one basically renounce all your rights. I think that the only limits to the discretionary power of Customs is that they cannot actually shoot people without provocation of torture them; but they can detain them arbitrarily, can deny entry on a whim, can condition entry upon answering personal and intimate questions of no connections to security issues, can copy electronic data, and can submit people to a range of invasive searches without rational (anal search being an amazing form of legal rape).

    You have to thrive to look as bland and uninteresting as possible in the hope of not catching an eye. Answering all questions politely is not enough to please the officers. As a boringly law-abiding person, I never had such a strong feeling of law enforcement being directed at me, rather than at the petty criminals who annoy the likes of me. You’d refrain even thinking unorthodoxly for fear of begin singled out.

    I highly recommend the experience. It gives a sense of proportions of what immigrants go through.

  • Mary

    Earl Howe, Health Minister, has been attempting to answer questions in the House of Lords on the extent of payments to international management consultants McKinsey, as outlined in this Daily Mail article, and whether McKinseys have discussed the outcome of their conversations with HMG with their clients in the private health ‘industry’ as it is called.


  • Clark

    Wayfarer, I thoroughly agree. My comments about software cut both ways. Jobsworth managers will choose unalterable, proprietary software just as they will hire jobsworth-minded staff, sending them on jobsworth training schemes where they are taught how to use the jobsworth software as an effective excuse to deflect any reasonable request that the department wishes to avoid.

  • Tom Welsh

    The answer to unalterable proprietary software is open source (or free and open source – FOSS) software. More and more natioanl governments, not to mention municipalities, states, and other public entities are deliberately moving to FOSS. This is less on the grounds of cost savings then because, just as the deliberations of parliament, etc. should be open to public scrutiny, so should the software that implements its decisions.

  • harry

    What an exact commentary upon the state of affairs extant between citizenry and the state machine. Thank you Mr murray.

    The amorality of our age surrounds us. Consider: The political class that have corporatised and betrayed us in such wholesale fashion are protected from us by a coporate (private) Police Service. The police service that protects our enemies (government) is manned by us and paid for by us. This is possible as a result of the Gov protection rackets known collectively as Taxation.

    Answer is to deny funding to Gov. Rebellion. It is about time.

    Life is a Journey. Government, the Road Block…David Stanley

  • ingo

    Thanks to wayfarer and Sudanes for giving real examples of the state of affairs, I myself have given up asking for anything. Firstly, unless I get a meanigfull job abroad, I do not need a visa, nor have I bother with my passport lately, but then my situation is far more reasdonable as an EU citizen.

    Rigmarole is a emans of stiffling business and people, especially if theyr are ‘engaging’ in democratic discourse and are questioning the workings of the FCO.

  • Paul Amery

    I am married to an Iranian woman and we have two daughters. We wish to visit my wife’s family in Tehran during the Persian new year at the end of March. Now that the UK and Iran have stopped consular relations, we are forced to apply for visas to the Iranian consulate in another European country. We’ve chosen Dublin, and have to send our documents there by post. Before doing this, we had to obtain a “telex authorisation number” from the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, via an online agency, for £99. The three visas (for myself and our two daughters) cost Euros 450. That’s nearly £500 in visa-related fees alone. For its part, the UK government forced Iranians seeking British visas to apply in person at British consulates in Dubai or Abu Dhabi long before the latest spat, making travel to Britain inaccessible to most. The UK has also seriously hiked its visa fees,as well as outsourcing visa processing to a profit-making entity, VFS Global.

    The bureaucrats will soon discover, as in Greece, that if you tax people to death, you will bring economic activity to a halt.

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