The tenor and academic John Potter has just suffered a security nightmare at the Britten homestead.
It is a proud British tradition that we are not required to carry identity cards. Except at Aldeburgh, apparently, where they ask to see your passport in the Britten year. John pulled out when they refused to back down. Read his outrage here and below. He has every right to be furious.
ALDEBURGH AS A FOREIGN COUNTRY
March 19th, 2013
by John Potter
Imagine the scene: one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world, you turn up at the stage door to rehearse and are met by a border guard who assumes you to be a criminal threatening the state unless you can show him your passport to prove otherwise. No passport, no entry, and presumably the risk of being detained indefinitely.
Kafka, Orwell or John Le Carré maybe? Nazi Germany before World War II, or somewhere in the Eastern Bloc after it?
Wrong: Aldeburgh today. No entry for British performers unless you can prove you’re British.
I was booked for a concert on Easter Saturday with Concerto Caledonia, James Bowman and a whole bunch of fabulous musicians, but have had to pull out as I’m not going to show my passport to a concert promoter in my own country. It’s fundamentally wrong.
Aldeburgh Music is a ‘licensed sponsor of the UK Border Agency’. When I first got wind of this my thoughts were along the lines of what’s one of the country’s great musical institutions doing in cahoots with something I’d only heard of in connection with cruelty to children and pregnant women and the possible closure of London Met. Then it dawned on me that the UKBA assumes that EVERYONE IN THE COUNTRY is an illegal immigrant unless they can prove otherwise. This is completely mad – who on earth dreamed up a scheme that assumed a whole country’s citizens to be illegal immigrants?
Towards the end of my time as an academic I was sometimes asked to provide my passport number when visiting other UK universities, and also to get the passport numbers of visiting lecturers at York. I just assumed this to be yet another example of the university not trusting its staff, another layer of pointless bureaucracy. But I now realise that ALL ACADEMICS ARE ASSUMED TO BE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS unless they can prove otherwise. No wonder HE institutions throughout the land are terrified of losing their ‘highly favoured’ status and going the way of London Met.
We have to wake up. The comparison with Nazi Germany is not an idle one – it’s the incremental undermining of fundamental freedoms that leads to the total erosion of everything else. The Kafka and Orwell comparisons are apt too: we seem to have ended the Cold War so that the UK Border Agency can go to war against its own people.
There are things we can do. Academics: don’t go anywhere in the UK where you’re required to produce your passport; post your lecture online – students won’t be disadvantaged and your employer might begin to take this problem seriously. This especially applies to emeritus staff and people of my generation: we really don’t need to go along with this stuff.
Performers: I know musicians have to work, and the system perpetuates itself because we can’t afford to say no. Well, some of us can, and we should. Most concerts have several performers and will still work perfectly well with one missing (like the Aldeburgh gig). Only one person need make the gesture – an empty chair and some explanation to the audience will work wonders in raising consciousness.
Are there any benefits to being a UKBA sponsor? Yes, they get to employ foreign artists without their having to get visas in their own country. All well and good (though it’s a pity those countries don’t offer reciprocal arrangements, as anyone who’s ever had to go through the dreadful US visa process will know). And of course they keep out the undesirable Johnny Foreigner and producing your passport is a small price to pay for that, Daily Mail readers will say. Well it isn’t and I’m not paying it. A British Citizen should have the right to work in his own country without having to prove he isn’t a criminal. Even the Daily Mail should get that one.