Boyd Tonkin: UK visa policy humiliates creative visitors who should be friends. It's a disgrace

The Week in Books

If you ran the intelligence service of an unfriendly power - Iran, perhaps, or even China – and wished to discredit Britain in the eyes of current opinion-formers and future leaders overseas, how might you set about it? Here's a cunning plan. Have an assortment of high-prestige events – festivals, conferences, symposia – invite rising stars in literature, the arts and academia to Britain. Then infiltrate the UK visa-issuing offices in their home regions so that these influential voices found themselves disbelieved, mocked and grossly insulted by outsourced agents of the British state.

Deny them entry; question their motives; throw their invitations back in their faces and treat them as low-life cheating scum who don't want to read poetry, play music or discuss science for a few days but plan to dive underground and work, perhaps, as illegal fruit-pickers or waiting staff on poverty wages. Then, to twist the knife, make sure that this routine humiliation of the leaders of tomorrow takes place in just those areas – the Middle East; south and east Asia; Latin America – on which our prosperity in coming years will urgently depend.

Of course, all this already happens – and has, without respite, for years. This column has several times highlighted this suicidal national strategy – recently, when a deal-hungry literary agent from Turkey, guest of honour at the London Book Fair, was refused entry to the UK. Clever, no? Yet we have to bang the same drum once again. The Shubbak festival – London's annual celebration of the modern Arab arts – has been mutilated by visa refusals. One curator of the festival's exhibitions, Yazan Khalili, cannot travel from the West Bank because his application for a visa met with no response. Even more grotesque, Shubbak's literary strand was scheduled to feature a reading by two authors from Gaza, Ali Abukhattab and Samah al Sheikh. Their visas were refused on the fatuous grounds that they were not "genuine business visitors" and would not return home. Thanks to Skype, the conversation did, remotely, go ahead.

Arbitrary, capricious, self-destructive, Britain's visa policy towards short-term visitors of high artistic and intellectual repute is a national disgrace. Of course, no politician dare challenge it because every party is fronted ("led" is hardly the word), spinelessly, by doormats who live in terror of being thought soft on foreigners. I don't blame the media bugbears that so scare them for the pitiable failure of our political class to make the rational, patriotic case for openness. If they had any courage, they would. But they don't, and so they can't.

This latest visa fiasco does point a finger at one interested party in particular. Shubbak takes place with strong support from the Mayor of London's office. Boris Johnson writes that culture has "a key role to play in building understanding with the Arab world". The mayor does get it – as his efforts to simplify the UK visa rigmarole for Chinese tourists shows. However, he remains the grassroots darling of a xenophobic party which will now outbid UKIP in the jingoism stakes. Soon, he has to choose: world-class leader or cheap, populist end-of-the-pier act? Time is running out.

No thanks to our shambolic visa system (another triumph for cack-handed privatisation), Shubbak – until 6 July – does still abound in good things. Thankfully, perhaps, it was programmed before the success of the most famous Gazan in the world right now: Mohammed Assaf, the 23-year-old singer who has just won the Arab Idol TV talent show. On current form, his request for a UK visa would meet rejection on the grounds that the young star secretly yearned to disappear from sight and sweep floors incognito in a branch of KFC.

'Shubbak: a window on contemporary Arab culture': www.shubbak.co.uk

Tales out of court: crossing the lines again

Publishing lore used to maintain that, unlike sports with heavy-reading fans such as cycling and cricket, tennis didn't sell. John McEnroe dented that belief in 2002 with his first memoir Serious; and it was knocked out by Andre Agassi's all-round-the court revelations in Open. Now McEnroe has signed up with Little, Brown for a second confessional, due in September 2014. But will Andy Murray ever wish to update his premature autobiography, Coming of Age? We all know which event would prompt a new edition.

Austen adorns the tenner: in 1808

It is a truth almost nowhere acknowledged that Austen has already appeared on a £10 note. The British Museum has such a note issued by the Alton Bank in Hampshire in 1808. It lists the partners' names: "Austen, Gray and Vincent". The first is Henry Thomas Austen, Jane's brother.

But champions of the novelist who yearn to see Jane adorn the tenner soon – the Bank of England's retiring governor, Mervyn King, has revealed she is "waiting in the wings" for the £10 gig – may care to know that Henry's career as a banker does not augur too well. He flourished for a while and, around 1806, opened an office in London.

But the Alton Bank ceased trading in 1815. Then his London outfit failed. Henry was declared a bankrupt. He became a clergyman: back to the family business that Jane knew so well. She lived long enough to praise his "very superior sermons".

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris
architecture

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album