Sunday, March 4, 2012

On The Winning Team

It’s nice to have played a small part in an important victory.

Sadly I’m not talking about football because, though I screamed myself hoarse after Newcastle United’s equaliser in the dying minutes of this afternoon’s derby match, no amount of shouting could bring a second goal and glory.

And I didn’t even have time to voice my complaints about the government’s proposal to dock benefits from young people who leave their unpaid work experience, before the absurd plan was cancelled, thanks to some very vocal opposition from the very businesses that were supposed to implement it.

But I could claim a tiny amount of credit for a statement quietly released this week by the Home Office. Theresa May has evidently been listening to the chorus of outrage about the problems that artists, writers and musicians face in getting into our country.

I wrote with some passion about this issue back in August last year, astonished that our immigration authorities were treating international artists like criminals, even refusing them visas to visit their own exhibitions or book signings. I recounted the story of the Argentinian tango dancers, Ismael Ludman and Maria Mondino, who had been held for hours like illegal immigrants at Glasgow airport when they arrived for a tour of small venues in Scotland, before being ignominiously deported. This policy had made our country a mockery throughout the arts world and was turning Britain into a cultural ghetto. Some renowned performers, like the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov, had even boycotted the UK, likening our system to the bad days of Soviet oppression.

My comments received hundreds of responses – almost as many as my equally vitriolic comments about the television programme Geordie Shore – and later the issue was picked up by the New York Times. Although this latter publication doubtless caused the Home Office considerably more embarrassment than my own paltry efforts, I’d like to share with you an email I received on Wednesday from the Earl of Clancarty, who’s been leading the campaign in the House of Lords.

He wrote: “We have scored a rather significant victory in the artists visa issue…There is to be a new scheme called ‘permitted paid engagements’ starting on April 6th which will be outside the points-based system. It will include academics, barristers, artists, poets, writers, musicians, performers and sportspeople who wish to visit from non-EU countries. They will now be able to stay for up to a month and can be paid fees, e.g. for a book tour. Application is made at the port of entry and is effectively free. Thanks again for the article you did last year which was a great help.”

I’d really like to thank those readers who responded to my appeal to lobby their local MPs over the issue. It seems we have a government that’s prepared to listen if we shout loudly enough (except on the NHS, of course – I doubt Cameron would back down if the entire country walked along Downing Street with megaphones pointed at his window).

Meanwhile my latest campaign is gaining momentum. Since my diatribe against the Life In The UK Test, which all permanent immigrants to this country now have to take, scores of people have emailed or tweeted me support. Even someone with a first class history degree from our finest university said he couldn’t answer the questions.

My American wife took the test last week and I’m proud to report that, after a nightmare of nocturnal revision that was worse than cramming for my A Levels, she emerged with a pass. Only two out of twenty candidates succeeded, which is about the national average, apparently.

She did fail one question, though. She was utterly flummoxed by a phrase that hadn’t appeared in any of the test questions: “refuse collection”.

Poor love – it’s taken her five years to learn to use “rubbish” and “waste” instead of “trash” and “garbage”. I told her that I have never knowingly used the phrase “refuse collection” and probably never will. How long before the government throws this rubbish test into the bin?

No comments: