Thanks to all those who supported my previous post out there in the ether. It was both heartening to see so many people agreeing, and awful that so many people have had terrible experiences with the UKBA. To those who were offended by my reference to pre-war Germany: I wasn’t suggesting that there was a direct comparison between Nazism and the present-day UK, but trying to make the point that greater evils begin with lesser ones.
I’m sorry to be making life difficult for Aldeburgh music, though I hope that raising the problem might ultimately be a small nail in the coffin of what is an iniquitous system. Aldeburgh is legendary for its support of young artists from all over the world, and the fact that they have to treat UK performers as potentially foreign criminals is not their fault (as many have pointed out). There’s a response from them in the Comments below my previous post. What makes the UKBA’s policy even more sinister is that it’s clearly aimed at young artists: a quick ask-around of non-UKBA sponsored promoters revealed that they rarely had problems with visas as these were organised by performers’ agents, which performers at the beginning of their careers are much less likely to have.
Although most people were either shocked by the actions of the UKBA or had already had dealings with them so knew exactly what I was getting at, a small number favoured ID cards and the like and had no problem with showing their passports. Some people, mistakenly, thought it was a security question (terrorism is taken care of very efficiently by our security services, and an efficient terrorist will be way beyond Passports 101); one in particular (a fellow tenor, so maybe it takes one to know one) thought I was on some kind of ego trip (and thanks to Alan Fairs for putting him straight!). There were also those who didn’t read it closely enough and thought I had literally been confronted by a border guard in the dressing room.
I don’t have a problem with confirming my identity – for years self employed people have had to give their NI or TR numbers, and European promoters often require an A1/E101 form which asks for similar information. It’s a pain but you just get on with it. As several people pointed out (see Mark Swinton’s succinct comment below the previous post) there are plenty of ways to confirm identity which we’ve all been doing for years. But a passport is specifically to allow you to travel unhindered between countries – to get you out of your country, into another one and back again. It’s basically for use in a foreign country, so to use it internally is to make you a foreigner in your own country. That’s my objection.
I know it’s a small problem compared with the main work of the UKBA, which is policing overseas workers coming into this country, and which it does robustly (to put it politely – Google them). Their basic assumption is that anyone coming in, whether a teacher, student or musician, may be illegal, and with a bizarre kind of equality they apply the same assumption of guilt to UK Citizens. Surely a government department that reckons the entire population is potentially here illegally has lost the plot somewhere along the way.
Some people wondered what would happen at the concert next week if I’m not there. Firstly, let me apologise to David McGuiness and my wonderful fellow musicians. I know they don’t like the situation any more than I do and that they fully support Aldeburgh’s plight. They’ve also been touchingly supportive of my position too. It’s a freewheeling kind of event, and although it will obviously be a bit different if I’m not there, there are plenty of ways of doing it without me. It’ll be a great gig, and if it wasn’t already sold out I’d be urging everyone to go along.