Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Insolence of the Civil Service


The Civil Service in London, as agents of the British Government, have written to the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] in the case of Harry Shindler.  He is claiming the right to be represented in the Westminster Parliament.  That is, he wants to have a vote and have a say in how Britain is managed.

The Civil Service is as you might suppose, totally opposed to Mr. Shindler’s request. 

[A little background:-  Mr. Shindler is 90 years old.  He fought in World War II in Italy, notably at the Anzio beachhead which was a bloody experience,  and later settled in Italy after an earlier spell at home in the UK.  He married an Italian girl.  He has been resident in Italy for 29 years (since the age of 60!) but has returned frequently, even in 2011, on visits to England.  He has always been passionate for the Rights of his fellow Citizens, having founded the British expatriate Association in Italy and active in the Italy Star Association of British ex-soldiers. He brought a case on expatriate voting rights before the ECHR] 

The letter from the Civil Service (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) says or implies several astonishing ideas.
1.  It suggests that Mr. Shindler has not exhausted ‘domestic remedies’ (i.e. a passage through British Courts) prior to submitting his application.  So?  No doubt a delaying tactic.
2.   It indicates that Mr. Shindler has not demonstrated that he has been adversely affected by not being able to vote in the last 14 years or in the future.  Well, he hasn’t lost an arm, or caught some horrible disease because he hasn’t been able to vote.  But he hasn’t been able to influence the political progress in England in his own small way.  You may as well say ‘let’s take away the vote from everyone,  no one will suffer or be adversely affected!’
3.  The letter observes that other cases of a similar nature have been disallowed in the past, and imply that the development of expatriate communities and internet and other communications are no different from 2007, when the last case was heard.   Oh yes they are, and continue changing at a great pace.  Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, are examples of the rapid convergence of the world.  The democratic movements in the Arab Nations and elsewhere similarly so.  Tunisians vote for Tunisia in Canberra, Moroccans in  Cahors.  French, Russians and Poles in London.   But the Brits cannot vote in Paris!
4.  The letter claims that after 29 years in Italy, Mr. Shindler is unlikely to be considered as domiciled in the UK.  Oh yes he could!   The crazy tax laws of the UK make it well nigh impossible to reject British domicility if you are a British subject.     In legal terms you cannot reject your domicility unless you positively take on another!  Mr. Shindler has claimed that he has British domicility.  Mr. Shindler says he wants to stay British.  That alone is evidence of his Britishness.
5. The letter implies that if he wants to have a national vote, then he could take out Italian nationality.  Does not that make any loyal Briton angry! 
It isn’t the vote as a mechanical activity which is under discussion.  It is his bond to the nation of birth and for the society for which he has fought in many ways for most of his life.  Even though Mr. Shindler has been resident in Italy (now) for 31 years, that means that for 59 years he has been resident in and devoted to Britain, and is still so today!
Is it not despicable for a Civil Servant to say to a British Citizen, ‘you can transfer allegiance to another State if you want the vote’.  In the wider world beyond Europe it is a ludicrous notion.  [Japan? Russia? Thailand?] It can be problematic enough in Europe (e.g, Denmark, which forbids dual nationality).
But this deplorable suggestion shows the crass misunderstanding of the nature of Europe.  Europe is where the borders are free to cross for the people of all its nations. 
If you are a young person you may at times work in France, Holland, Italy and indeed Britain over the course of twenty years.  But you remain British at heart.  Is it expected by the Civil Servants that you should change your nationality at each move?  What insolence!  What ignorant thinking! How they lack a sense of history.
Yes indeed, in Europe it would make great sense to be able to vote where your most profound seat of interest chiefly lies.  I have considerable sympathy for those young Britons who live in Spain, Italy, France or Germany and who are denied Representation in their State of residence. This is a matter which the European Union should urgently address.   But even to these people, I observe to them that it is the treaties between Britain and the EU which enable many to live in their host country.  If their loyalties lie mostly or entirely with their country of residence, then they should in truth, take out the nationality of their host country.  If they retain a loyalty to Britain, then should they not also have the privilege of having a say in how Britain is managed?  More so, if they are almost totally dependent on Britain.  The people of Europe are the nerve threads of  the spirit of European progress. And Britons, each one of them, are ambassadors of British culture.
For the elderly who have retired to a continental country then the picture can be different.  For the retired Briton who has so many ties to their land of birth, in terms of family, income, even taxation and of course memories, to deny them Representation in Parliament is unthinking, and crassly insolent.

The Civil Service claims to speak for Britain, the British Nation.  The British Nation is the totality of its Citizens.  The Civil Service is denying a voice to a great number of British Citizens. Should we tolerate this ‘Insolence of Office’!  Should not the people speak?  Give the people a voice.