Saturday, February 11, 2012

I Accuse



 (Update 2013 - This article was written in 2012 - The winter of 2012/13 was much the same with an average minimum temperature of 1.8 degrees near Cahors, with some nights to minus 5. Yet the British Government claim that we are warmer than Torquay.)

The terrible weather which came to us in France last February; was it so unusual?  Some elderly Britons in particular who retired to the Continent suffered.  But were they worse off than those who stayed in Britain?  Is the winter climate at its worst, worse than any in Britain?  The answer is, ‘yes’. 
The conditions of last February brings to mind the novel ‘Jacquou le Croquant’.  It opens in the setting of a terrible winter of the early 19th century when people died of cold in their hovels.  The snow lay deep and the wolves bayed in the Dordogne countryside as even then, [at that time even], after Napoleon and after the French Revolution, the peasants were as ill treated as before.  It was as though nothing had changed and the peasants still had to fight against the tyranny of the landed gentry. Plus ça change, la plus c’est la même chose! The Government was stubborn, and the winter was Siberian as it was this last winter.
Should the British Government have any concern for British Citizens Abroad? Yes of course.  For those who live in Europe the principle of ‘freedom of movement’ should prevail.  But the British Government resists supporting the retired Briton Abroad.  And some are in consequence deficient in funds.
My thoughts turn to another French author, Zola. He felt deeply for those unfairly treated.  In January 1898 it was he who threw down the two words ‘J’accuse’ in the journal Aurore when he challenged the French Government over the case of Dreyfus, a Jewish soldier who was unfairly convicted of treason.  Zola brought shame to the Government for its stubbornness and ill thinking .
Governments and tyrannies will not change unless they are forced to do so.  We fondly imagine that we live in a democratic and reasoning society in Western Europe. It is more fondly felt than fact. Democracy does not exist for the Britons Abroad.  The British Government denies it to them.
Times may not be as harsh as in the 19th century but elements of crass stupidity and deafness to the needs of the people are still with us.  These are matters to which we who live in Europe should attend.  The British Government, which we all would like to perceive as a bastion of democracy, is as stubborn and as deaf as any.
It is deaf to the cries of the Britons Abroad that they should be recognised.  It is deaf to the cries of the elderly Briton Abroad  that their needs should be recognised.
Let me borrow the words of Zola. I accuse the British Government of indifference towards its citizens abroad.   How truly difficult it is for any such citizen to stand up for himself.  How difficult it is for the citizen who is eighty five years old.  How impossible when the citizen is cold and deficient in funds. How difficult it is when opinions of Britons at home are manipulated by the media  against him
In the eyes of many in Britain today, the Briton who dares to live abroad is dishonoured at home.  We have Lord Lipsey who dares to say that the Briton Abroad should never be represented in Parliament.  We have governments who sign to treaties in Europe which guarantee that the elderly Briton who retires to Europe will receive the same consideration from the British Government as those who remain at home.  But in the outcome, they are deprived of income and support which those who stay at home might enjoy.  The winter fuel payment which all the elderly enjoy in Britain has not been received by the most elderly of  the British Citizens in Europe.  It was first introduced as a supplement for the elderly but it was refused to those who had retired abroad.  The Pensioner in Europe cannot make his feelings felt through the ballot box because the government has not granted to him the permanent citizen’s right to vote.
Lord Lipsey again says that such pensioners have no part to play in the economy of Britain.  Yet their pensions and much of their expenditure is demonstrably part of the British Economy.  The same British Economy prevents these pensioners opening bank accounts in Britain.  The attitude against the pensioners is further hardened by articles in the press illustrating the pensioners sunning themselves on the sunny summer shores of Spain.  In Barcelona it was minus 7 overnight this February. Most of Europe  freezes every winter, this year worse than is usual.  In Central Italy eighty centimetres of snow fell.  In Central France in February 2012 we suffered the same climate that Jacquou suffered in 1815.
The summer sun does not allay the winter's frosts.   
Successive nights last February brought temperatures of minus ten.  Numbers of British elderly residents suffered from shortage of cash, frozen pipes and a cold heartless Government, too mean to care for its elderly citizens – too mean to even grant them the natural rights of any citizen.  It is too mean to grant them a voice.
This stubbornness of the British Government is felt across the world.  Imagine the elderly couple whose children have set up home in distant Australia.  The parents would like to join them in their last few decades of life.  They are deterred because the British Government would freeze their State pensions and as the years roll by they would become poorer and poorer. 
The cold heart of Britain’s Governments is felt most severely by those who have given so much for Britain in their working lives and still remain ambassadors for British grit and determination, without the support of their Nation’s Government.