THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
What kind of country?
Who pays? What a naive question.

The state is not your friend

Pat Nurse has a worrying post up at her blog. A professional colleague and his wife almost lost their children some years ago over unfounded allegations of abuse similar to those now faced by Pat's daughter. My colleague and his wife are wealthy, articulate and both qualified lawyers, yet still they struggled in the face of the state's unfailing assumption that only it may be trusted. I hope things work out well for Pat's family. They are in greater peril than she seems to know.

My own story of state malevolence is smaller, but perhaps equally telling. When Mrs P. died a certificate of the cause of death was signed (as required by law) by her doctor. I was politely asked to take it to the local authority's registrar so that the formal death certificate could be issued. The form itself was less polite however. It bluntly set out my duties as 'informant' and the penalties for non- (or imperfect) compliance. In the worst moment of my life, the British State was threatening me. You may say the system protects us all by allowing the investigation of suspicious deaths. I answer you thus; Dr Harold Shipman. Any system of certification, state-sponsored or otherwise, is only as good as the individuals signing the certificates.

In a daze, I attended the local Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths the next morning. The receptionist, bless her heart, was a friendly, chirpy lady. I mention it as it's so unusual. I don't think I have experienced any other pleasant exchange with a state employee (apart from teachers) in 54 years as a British citizen. Have I been unlucky? You tell me. I have been out of Britain for twenty of those years so it's fair to say my sample of interactions includes an unusually high number of contacts with immigration officers. They were never pleasant and have been noticeably less so since Tony Blair gave them FBI-style badges to swagger about with.

The Registrar herself - an Eastern European immigrant with passable English - had fully mastered the British bureaucratic stance. Though near-strangers had been kind to me in my grief and though I was fresh from my wife's death bed with my eyes still red and swollen, she did not (unlike her nice receptionist) offer a word of condolence. Asked about my wife's occupation, I said she had been a teacher but not for many years and never liked it mentioned. At this, she offered to write 'housewife' - a word Mrs P. liked even less. I asked politely why it could not be left blank as Mrs P had been a lady of leisure. She ignored the question and wrote 'housewife'. Challenged on that, she wrote 'secondary school teacher.' I was too upset to argue.

In the package she sold me (for though certification is compulsory and for the state's convenience I had to pay the surly harridan a fee) was another government notice. This told me I must inform the Department of Social Security of my wife's demise (an institution she never once troubled in life). Why should the organs of the state communicate with each other, after all, when they can use the bereaved as messenger boys under threat of force?  I was ordered to find the nearest 'Jobcentre Plus' and deliver the completed form there. It took me a while to find her long-disused National Insurance number, but I complied yesterday. For all my protests, I obey the law you see. Perhaps if I obeyed less, it would trouble me less?

None of this palaver served the needs of my family or me. If there was no state certification of death (or birth or marriage) banks, insurance companies and other bodies would accept my affidavit accompanied by a letter, perhaps, from my doctor. But the state, as the story makes clear, is the boss of us. It owns our time, our service and our money. It can - and does - compel us to deploy them as it pleases so that it can keep perfect records of its herd of taxpaying cattle.

Some of my friends and family think me extreme when I declare that I have no greater enemy than the British state. Perhaps they are right; but it certainly does not use me as a friend. Thank goodness then for those friends (some of them unexpected) who have used me far, far better in my grief. In my distress I have learned once again that humanity is mostly good. If I were at the mercies of the state alone, I would have a very different impression and would be a sad wretch indeed.

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