Letters: British visas

Nasty visa staff bring dishonour to Britain
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The Independent Online

Your article (7 May) on the opera director from Iran who gave up trying to get a temporary visa to work for the English National Opera in Britain confirms my view that our visa and immigration service does enormous damage and dishonour to our country, and has been doing so for decades.

I vividly recall witnessing first-hand at the British Consulate in Lagos the public humiliation visited upon a Nigerian man who had committed the crime of successfully producing the small blizzard of substantiation our bureaucrats stipulate in order to defeat student visa applications.

Many of our consular functions are carried out by part-time and temporary workers, but few are more fearsome than, as in this case, the "British wife", that expatriate fixture, filling in the hours between dropping children at school and making G&Ts. Her rage fixed upon a document she was apparently having trouble comprehending, despite the applicant's patient explanation, as her voice boomed across the waiting room to an audience of about eighty people. Apparently, it was an exhibition (a minor scholarship award) from a Cambridge college.

I cringe every time I observe the same ignorance, arrogance and gratuitous nastiness we hand out to foreign visitors in places like Terminal 3 at Heathrow. Britain is no longer a destination of choice for elite students, artists or businessmen. They'll come here if they have to – or at least attempt to do so. I'm amazed and grateful they still make the effort. But just because Britain is no longer great doesn't mean we have to be so appalling, does it?

Ayo Hughes

London, SW11

Milburn's reforms already under way

Alan Milburn can be reassured that the progressive reform agenda he so eloquently espouses is alive and well in health care. ("More state is not the answer", 7 May). The Government is piloting health care personal budgets, which have been so popular and successful in social care, with powers in the Health Bill now before Parliament to allow direct payments to individuals.

People in England are also now free to choose any hospital for their treatment rather than simply accepting what is offered them. More and more are using this choice, helping driving up standards and efficiency across the NHS.

Ben Bradshaw MP

Minister of State for Health Services, Department of Health

London SW1

Alan Milburn, a member of the New Labour party elected in 1997 with a commitment to seek electoral reform, makes not a single mention of the most fundamental right of the citizen – to live in a true democracy, which would mean getting rid of our first-past-the-post electoral system.

He speaks as an ex-minister in a government which in 2005 received only 35 per cent of the vote and the support of only 21 per cent of the electorate, but, under this bizarre system, was awarded an overall majority of 65 seats, enabling it to ignore the opinion of the majority of voters. How does this accord with his concern for empowering the individual citizen ?

This champion of the individual citizen makes no objection to the Blair government's reneging on their 1997 electoral reform commitment, a cynical betrayal that occurred under pressure from the party tribalists whose main concern was, and remains, the gaining and retention of power.

Joe Patterson

London SE19

ID: don't forget threat to liberty

The Government must be delighted that most discussion about the introduction of ID cards is concentrating on cost and on the delicious prospect of being able to buy one with a book of first-class stamps. These are really not the important questions. But even opponents of the scheme find themselves saying "and of course the civil liberties arguments" as if they were now an afterthought.

In fact the questions we should be asking, and to which we have not yet had any honest and intelligible answers, are what information other than the biometric details required for passports is – now or in the future – intended to be added to the database; what agencies, public or private, will be able to access and exchange that information, with what safeguards and with or without our knowledge; and, since it is pretty clear that the Government is thinking of the card as a passport to public services, just how likely is it that possession of an ID card will remain voluntary?

How much cards might cost and where we might get them do not matter. What does matter very much is what the Government intends to do with our personal information.

The ID card "train" may be in the station, but it would be better to know where it's going before we get on.

Christine Lehman

Walton on Thames, Surrey

The Home Secretary has announced some of the methodology, and the types of agencies that will administer the national identity cards. I would like to offer a modest prize to the first British citizen to have two identity cards.

Peter Fines

Market Rasen, Lincolnshire

Just one long age of austerity

Future generations of this country are being saddled with massive government debt as we enter "Britain's new age of austerity" (report, 24 April). But, now entering my 60th year, I look back on my life and have difficulty recalling when the predominant state of economic life was anything but austere.

Born in 1950, when rationing was still in place, I recall a time when money was shorter than my trousers and surplus disposable income for the average working family didn't exist. Any major purchases were made on the never-never.

In the Sixties, there was a little flurry of excitement when money seemed to be available to buy Beatles records and a few lucky souls flew off to the Mediterranean, but it was not long until the Seventies resounded to the cries of "Stop the cuts", as both Labour and Tory governments struggled to balance the books by cutting public services and, literally, to keep the lights on.

The end of the Seventies were so miserable that the dead lay unburied, and Margaret Thatcher came to power mainly because people were fed up with being hard up.

In the Eighties, unemployment and government policies destroyed lives and industries nationwide, stock markets crashed, taking investors and jobs with them, and punk rock spoke for a lost and unemployed generation.

Just when things seemed to be getting better at the end of the decade and "loadsamoney" was the chant of choice, along came the credit crunch of the early Nineties, with unemployment and negative equity in its wake.

True, things were starting to get better by the time New Labour emerged to save the world in 1997, but they presided over the abolition of student grants, a huge housing shortage, and a minimum wage far too prevalent and far too small.

And now, of course, it has come to this. So while it is true that we owe an apology to our grandchildren for the fiscal burden they are inheriting, they can be assured that any golden ages we are reputed to have enjoyed in the past were short-lived and quickly forgotten.

Colin Burke


Get your money on the Lib Dems now

Matthew Norman's article "The Lib Dems may miss their chance" (1 May) is indeed a product of his "fantasy island".

First, Lib Dem leaders are elected by the party membership, and the leadership is not in the gift of a current leader. Second, he stresses Vince Cable's biographical "narrative" but, given the ageist treatment of Ming Campbell (described by Mr Norman as "doddery"), I have an unpleasant feeling that, had Vince Cable become leader, the media narrative would have been "one dodderer replaced by another".

Mr Norman places his trust in the political wisdom of the bookies that the Lib Dems will lose a third of their seats at the general election. Nick Clegg's wisdom in playing the long game over fair treatment for the Gurkhas is an indication of good political judgement, and I suggest that Mr Norman shouldn't miss his chance to get good odds on the Lib Dems while he can.

The Rev Paul Hunt

Chairman, National Liberal Club, London SW1

Running away from BNP clash

Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution economics group and Unlock Democracy Bath Group have arranged a hustings on 22 May for the forthcoming European elections on 4 June. We have invited the eight political parties putting up candidates in the South West to explain to voters their parties' policies and then answer questions. These political parties are: British National Party; Conservatives; English Democrats; Green Party; Labour Party; Liberal Democrats; Libertas; UK Independence Party

All welcomed the idea and accepted. But now Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens are refusing to attend on the grounds that they will not share a platform with the BNP.

This is cowardice. Whatever one may think of its policies, the BNP is a registered political party which has paid its deposit of £5,000 to put up a candidate. It is entitled to put its views forward. Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens are running away from debating on equal terms with this party. It is also hardly democratic. It denies voters the chance to hear the views of all candidates before making up their minds who to vote for.

Unlock Democracy, which issued from Charter88, is a non-party political organisation dedicated to constitutional reform and making our democracy more effective. It is so disappointing to meet this negative, cowardly and undemocratic attitude from Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens.

Robin Anderson

Chairman, Unlock Democracy Bath

Blame breweries for pub closures

The recurrent references to pubs closing because of the smoking ban (letter, 5 May) need challenging.

Within a few hundred yards of this house three pubs closed in the years leading to the smoking ban. There are another three pubs and a hotel within that radius, none of which has closed since the ban. One of the main differences between those which closed and those which remain open is that the former were all brewery-owned, none of the latter are. Within West Dorset there are several pubs owned by breweries which have been closed and have been left to go derelict – to the detriment of the local population and tourist industry.

The urban myth gleefully spread by breweries about pubs closing because of the smoking ban needs knocking on the head now. Incidentally, I live in a former pub, previously brewery-owned.

John Smith



Saved by Brown?

As fears of a global recession recede and investors trample over one another to get back into the market as global stocks rise, will all the mockers and doomsayers now admit that Gordon really has saved the world?

Granville Stout

Leigh, Lancashire

Fight for democracy

As an erstwhile Labour supporter, I think we should stop complaining about government policies and give them a chance. So, for example, adopting Mr Blair's "humanitarian intervention" we should invite a foreign power (my preference would be Sweden) to invade us in order to restore democracy and justice. This having been achieved, we would then introduce league tables for the various ministries which would ensure that, as with schools, very few would want the top jobs.

Nick Meyer

Great Easton, Leicestershire

Fast roads

Bill Dowling (letter, 1 May) makes a good point. If safety features, speed limit signs and speed cameras were removed he could drive faster. If the savings were spent removing potholes he could drive even faster. Good stuff, Bill, just please don't come to Cheshire. We like our children the way they are – all bits attached and all in working order.

Ian Henderson

Wilmslow, Cheshire

First mother-in-law

David Usborne has written (7 May) about America's "First Mother-in-Law", Marian Robinson. He referred to President Harry Truman's often fractious relationship with his mother-in-law, Madge Wallace. Indeed, it was Harry Truman who produced one of the best mother-in-law lines ever when he said: "Behind every successful man stands a mother-in-law who wonders how the hell he did it."

Robert L Bratman

Llwydcoed, Rhondda Cynon Taff

Professors' grammar

Nigel Thomas, of the University of Central Lancashire, laments the sloppy misuse of the word "may" by the General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (letters, 5 May). Mirabile dictu, the don's letter is preceded immediately by one from Professor Tom Simpson, of the University of Bristol, who apparently thinks that the word "media" is singular.

Simon Parkinson

Dewsbury, West Yorkshire