While the lawless laugh at us, we send good men to the dogs
Ah, the Home Office. As a lifelong connoisseur of incompetence, I have to say it gets better every day. You may remember that when John Reid took over, he made some Ratneresque remarks to the effect that his organisation was “not fit for purpose”. How amply his ministers and officials have striven to vindicate their boss!
Yesterday, the Home Office revealed to a stupefied world that the subject of one of its new draconian “control orders” had scarpered. Whoops, they said. He was here just a moment ago, said one of Mr Reid’s lackeys. We’re sure he’s somewhere about the place, said the Home Office, after the terror suspect defied the control order and scooted through the back of a mosque. We think he’s in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, they said; though I note that they have no evidence that he has left the country, and they did not exclude the possibility that he is, in fact, living in East Sheen and buying supplies of peroxide and chapatti flour on his way to work – where else? – in the Home Office.
As I ponder the Olympic standards Mr Reid and his team are setting for boneless protoplasmic uselessness, I suddenly understand why the Home Office is so called. It’s like your office at home – your home office, geddit? – and, in other words, it’s complete chaos. It’s a vast midden of abandoned filing systems and broken printers, and used coffee cups, and on every surface there are great, teetering piers of unopened mail.
In my case, it is all junk from hotels in Wales (stop, I’m begging you), though in the case of Mr Reid’s Home Office it is piles of unopened mail from foreign constabularies warning of paedophiles at large in Britain, or abandoned lists of dangerous criminals who ought to be deported if someone could only summon up the energy, and defunct “control orders” that have been issued to terror suspects who are refusing to obey orders and are quite beyond the control of anyone, let alone the Home Office. The total effect of these great mountains of unassimilated data is to give anyone who works there a terrible, gasping, panicky sense that they simply haven’t a clue. And they haven’t.
Poor Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, has been begging the Home Office to come up with some basic immigration figures, because if you want to control inflation, you had better know the size of the labour force. So-rree! said the Home Office. Ask us another! They don’t know how many migrants are working here, or where they have come from. They don’t know how many illegals there are, and they don’t know how many dangerous types there may be among them. They don’t know what to do with the terror suspects when they find them, since they can’t name them and alert the public (human rights) and they can’t deport them (human rights) and so they slap a control order on them and then haven’t got a clue what to do when they vamoose.
It is amid that general mood of desperate and demoralised ignorance, therefore, that the Home Office will sometimes latch on to someone, or something, and show that there are times when it can jolly well enforce the rules. Oh yes. Even if the rule is manifestly unjust. I have on my desk a letter from one of Mr Reid’s ministerial team announcing in stern terms that a certain Zimbabwean must now return to Zimbabwe. No mucking about, says the Home Office to Mark Coleman, the brother of one of my constituents: we want you on the next plane back to Harare, or else your removal may be “enforced”.
As I think about the logic of the decision, what makes me mad is the double standard. Here we are, brutally sending a man back to Zimbabwe, where he is likely to face all sorts of persecution from Robert Mugabe’s thugs; at the same time, we have stood pathetically by while white farmers, black farmers, just about everyone has suffered from a catastrophic land reform that means 3.3 million Zimbabweans need emergency food aid and inflation is running at 1,218 per cent. We are preventing Mr Coleman from working here, even though his girlfriend is here, and there are plenty of jobs he could do, and he is able-bodied and willing. We are about to deport him to this hellhole even though all his relatives – parents, brothers, sisters – have now fled the Mugabe tyranny and there is no life for him there.
Above all, though, the Home Office is about to kick this man out when his immediate antecedents are completely and utterly British. His father was born in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia, while his paternal grandfather, a British citizen, holding a British passport, served the Crown in Southern Rhodesia during the Second World War. His paternal great-grandfather was commissioned by Queen Victoria as a surgeon and retired as a lieutenant-colonel in India, and as for his mother – her family has been entirely English since 1160. Mr Coleman’s maternal grandfather was imprisoned by the Japanese and built the bridge over the River Kwai, and his great-grandfather was a surgeon major in the Army. And how do we treat him? Pow: we kick him out on a technicality – one of his grandparents was born in what was the Empire, and not Blighty itself.
It seems so unfair that we turn the full force of the law on someone who is totally British by descent, who complies with the law, who turns up at the police station every two weeks as required to do, and who refrains from working or claiming any benefits. For all his obedience, we reward him by sending him back to a dictatorship with which he has severed all links. At the same time, there are hundreds of thousands of others who thumb their noses at the law and abscond into society, and we are not able to know even their names or their number. The whole thing is an outrage, and if any Home Office minister knows any better, perhaps he or she could inform us.