Monday, February 23, 2009

Labour's restrictions on visitors diminish the cultural life of the nation

Last week Timothy Garston Ash wrote:

For 30 years I have been travelling to unfree places, from East Germany to Burma, and writing about them in the belief that I was coming from one of the freest countries in the world. I wanted people in those places to enjoy more of what we had. In the last few years, I have woken up - late in the day, but better late than never - to the way in which individual liberty, privacy and human rights have been sliced away in Britain, like salami, under New Labour governments that profess to find in liberty the central theme of British history.

"Oh, these powers will almost never be used," they say every time. "Ordinary people have nothing to fear. It affects just 0.1%." But a hundred times 0.1% is 10%. The East Germans are now more free than we are, at least in terms of law and administrative practice in such areas as surveillance and data collection.

During the Cold War years the West used to pride itself that artists from the Soviet Union were welcome here if they were allowed to travel.

That too has changed. In Sunday's Observer Vanessa Thorpe reported:

Leading figures from the art world, including Antony Gormley and Nicholas Hytner, have launched a campaign to reverse stringent visa controls which they claim are preventing top foreign musicians, actors and artists from visiting Britain.

They say that immigration laws introduced last year are restricting artistic freedom and have called on the Home Office to review them.

One example they give is that of the virtuoso Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov, who cancelled what was to be his second performance in this country at the Southbank Centre in London when he could not provide the documents required for his planned visit in April.

"This country has always been a hub, an airy place where people from all over the world could come and express themselves in art," said actress Janet Suzman, one of the signatories of a petition calling for the Home Office to look at the rules again. "This legislation stamps on all that with a clunking, hobnail boot." ...

Artists must now not only show proof of their identity, including fingerprints, but also show they have an established sponsor happy to take full financial responsibility for them and to vouch for all their activities while on British soil. Small organisations must pay a fee of £400 to become an official "sponsor", while larger groups must pay £1,000.

There are links to more information about the campaign against these laws on the Manifesto Club site.

Above all it is the dishonesty of the this government that stick in your throat. The boom of the later Blair years was built on cheap labour from Eastern Europe, yet rather than admit this Labour harms our cultural life because it thinks it has to be seen to be tough on foreigners.

1 comment:

dreamingspire said...

We are moving towards more and more Regulators independent of government, and they are being becoming more assertive. Perhaps more significant is that they are getting better: being given more power and developing their expertise. Given that central govt depts are either floundering or becoming more draconian as they are more and more in the position of centrally controlling the application of laws (instead of the traditional British way of making policy at the centre but leaving the implementation, and often discretion, to many local officers), the roles of the independent regulator and of the organisation with a slightly longer piece of elastic, namely the ombudsman, are filling the gaps. But this doesn't seem to have come near the citadel of the Home Office (not yet).