Mr Paine the Elder having reached his 70th birthday, I am back in England for a family party tomorrow. I arrived as usual at the municipal Airport of a Northern city. As we arrived at immigration, we found post office style posts and tapes over the whole area, but no queue ahead. Nimbler passengers started to duck under the tapes. I simply opened them in a straight line and walked through. A uniformed jobsworth shouted at me to stop. Irritated, I carried on. At the front was the usual sorry crew of gum-chewing, insolent scruffs. Their crookedly-worn new FBI-style badges did nothing to lend them the Bureau’s style.
The slouched, slovenly, baggy specimen of officialdom to whom I presented my passport asked me to remove it from its holder (to swipe it through an identical machine to that through which a polite and well-turned-out Russian had earlier swiped it in its holder). I said that, as she had asked politely (an exaggeration, but she did say “please”) I was happy to comply. She said, officiously that there were signs “back there” asking me to do that. I replied that she was wrong, There were signs “back there” ordering me to do that and I didn’t take orders from anyone. She said that they were “requests, not orders”. I pointed out that, as they were in the imperative voice, she was wrong. She plainly had no idea what that meant. She rolled her eyes and said “whatever”. Persisting, I said it was not a matter of “whatever” but a matter of grammar. She plainly had no idea what that meant either. Rolling her eyes even more theatrically, she simply slouched and chewed her gum with her mouth even wider open.
These people are out of control. They are our servants, but they think we exist to obey them. The young official who moronically “whatevered” me has served her whole career under an increasingly authoritarian regime. How can she have any concept of proper behaviour for a public servant in a democratic society? 20 years ago, I would have said her attitude belonged in Communist China. Having recently crossed that country’s border in less time and with smiling words of welcome from a clean and well-dressed young official when the formalities had been courteously concluded, I now know that would have been an injustice.
David Davis’s campaign has begun some 10 years too late. I hope he achieves a spectacular result in his by-election. I hope he unites voters across the political spectrum who despise the authoritarianism of New Labour. I also hope that, as Home Secretary in the next government, Mr Davis will purge our immigration service completely. Only total de-Baathification will now do.