Somehow, though, the government continues to contend that although the legal test of refugee status is "a well-founded fear of persecution", the fact that asylum-seekers cannot be returned to Zimbabwe for fear they might die does not imply that their fear of this fate is well-founded. This pernicious fuckery just keeps going; it is one of the most repellent features of the post-Michael Howard Home Office that it has so little respect for legality. An unfavourable judgment is not a fact that should alter behaviour, but an unreasonable caprice to be reversed by superior power as soon as possible.
Therefore, it is still worth menacing "Thomas" in the hope he might bugger off; and if he was to do so, and later die in some unpleasantly public fashion in Zimbabwe, the government would bear no responsibility for it. (Even if they paid for his ticket.)
But what was the official who signed this document thinking when they signed their name to the statement that his presence was "not essential to enjoy family ties with his new partner and her children"? What on earth does this mean? Are we to believe that he could pop around at the weekend? Perhaps videoconferencing might be a solution, if he can find a computer and an operational Internet connection whilst keeping away from the Central Intelligence Organisation and not starving to death?
Clearly, this sentence should read something along the lines of "We are aware of your family, and we are indifferent to them," or perhaps just "We don't care." But this would make it a far harder document to sign; it's traditional to cite Orwell's Politics and the English Language at this point. I prefer Vaclav Havel's parable about the baker, who every year put a sign in his window on Revolution Day that read: Workers of the world, unite! Havel asked if he was actually enthused at all about the idea of unity among the workers of the world - of course not. He did it because the Party wanted him to.
But, Havel wrote, had the Party demanded that he put the sign's actual meaning there - a sign that said I am afraid, and therefore obedient - he would have been far less indifferent to its content. If we were to rewrite the letter, we might frame it like this:
Dear Sir,I agree that the tone is harsh, but it could hardly be more distressing for the recipient than the original. I'm not sure what the correct formula of politeness is. (Yours faithfully? Surely not. With kind regards? Nuh. Yours sincerely? That's more like it, I suppose - this version is nothing if not sincere.) But at least, it is clear to the writer what is meant; it would be considerably harder to sign this without examining your conscience, and you could not sign very many without altering your opinion of yourself.
We want you to go back to Zimbabwe because we think you are a liar. Unfortunately, the courts do not agree with us and will not permit us to force you, but this makes no difference to our opinion. We are aware of your family, but we do not care.
If I don't sign this they'll sack me.
Civil Servant X.
That such a programme of ruthless honesty, and specifically honesty with self, would be a good first step is a cliché. But sometimes, I doubt it. Consider this column in the FT, by ex-Sunday Torygraph editor Sarah Sands.
So, my Polish builder first worked on my house only a year ago. Seven days a week, 14 hours a day with his crack team. Barely spoke a word in English. Refused tea or coffee, just smoked and consumed Coca-Cola and chocolate biscuits. I was so swelled up with pride at my good fortune that, last December, I recommended him to a liberally inclined film director. I waited for grateful e-mails but none came. I grew a little uneasy.Well, you cannot accuse her of not being conscious of the literal meaning of her words. You could accuse her of class prejudice, exploitation, snobbery, and just being fucking gratuitiously unpleasant because she can, like a dog licking his balls. But you cannot imagine that she was not fully aware of her own meaning, and so, responsible for it.
Then a few months ago, I commissioned my Pole to do a bathroom. He returned without his team. Where were they? He was a little vague; they had disbanded/gone back to Poland/were busy elsewhere, but I should not worry about that.
I didn’t, until it became clear that he was arriving at 10 and knocking off at five. The driven gang was gone. Now he had a baby-faced apprentice who spilt his fizzy drinks on the carpets and broke the window. Every couple of hours they would down amateurish tools for a break. Finally my tight-lipped resentment spilt over.
“What on earth has happened to you?” I cried. “Why don’t you work any more?”
It's also hypocritical; by her own lights, why didn't she put in more time at the Torygraph? Maybe she would still be there - and then, I could more thoroughly avoid the risk of reading her thoughts. Anyway, if you doubt that this little tale is serious, you might read this, published the same day.
Listening to all these experiences, it was as if all the Factory Acts and health and safety regulations had suddenly disappeared in a puff of smoke, along with 150 years of trade union gains. None of this protection existed in the minds of these workers. The government will point to an avalanche of legislation, but the devil is in the detail.I refer the honourable gentleman to this post, this one, and this one.