Monday, August 19, 2013

Spanish double standards: With Gibraltar besieged, what about Spain's own Rock - their colonial outpost in Africa

Blockade Ceuta!

Colonial grandeur still dominates the skyline. An old cannon points its weather-beaten barrel across the Strait of Gibraltar. Up on the huge rock above, the sleepy ancient fortress is still manned by the Armed Forces. Down below, locals and tourists seek shade in the little cafes or head for the beach.

It’s easy to forget that just a couple of miles down the road is the heavily fortified frontier that cuts this contented little peninsular off from the rest of the continent. But as far as the locals are concerned, this is their patch of soil. They say they will never be forced to hand it over to the vast, brooding nation to which they are attached by a narrow bit of land. That would be, well, completely undemocratic.

‘We are Spanish to the death!’ says retired fisherman Andre Leon, 77, sitting beneath a tree in the centre of Ceuta, the resolutely Spanish territory on the northern tip of Morocco, where he was born and bred.

It’s a nice enough spot, with ancient monuments and air-conditioned shopping plazas. And it neatly illustrates the ocean-going Spanish hypocrisy to be found on either side of the 18-mile stretch of water separating Europe and Africa.

For, just across one of the world’s busiest seaways, we find the 30,000 British citizens of Gibraltar enduring threats, siege conditions and even physical abuse from a clapped-out Spanish regime mired in a slush-fund corruption scandal. The centre-Right People’s Party hopes to divert the attentions of a disgusted Spanish electorate by shouting the oldest war cry in the book: ‘Give us back Gibraltar!’

Yet try to point out Spain’s own string of post-colonial possessions on the African coast, such as Ceuta — clearly visible on Gibraltar’s horizon — and the response is a furious outburst of sanctimonious shrieking, table-thumping and general spilling of Rioja. ‘That is completely different,’ declares Spanish officialdom, citing a 15th-century legal technicality.

You only need to spend a few days, as I have this week, on both sides of the strait to realise Spain isn’t just in breach of both the letter and spirit of European law with its current harassment of Gibraltar. It’s also guilty of the most brazen double standards. In short, Spain wants to have its paella, eat it, get someone else to pay for it and thump anyone who argues.

Little wonder the people of Gibraltar are preparing the warmest of welcomes for the Royal Navy frigate, HMS Westminster, when she docks on Monday as part of a routine exercise.

‘As soon as someone spots her on the horizon, we’ll have boats out to greet her,’ says Gareth Gingell from a local community action group called The Defenders of Gibraltar.

Foreign Office mandarins and high-brow British commentators may wince at the vulgar jingoism of it all. Why should a tiny tax haven be allowed to sour Britain’s relations with Spain?

As one Guardian columnist put it this week, places like Gibraltar are nothing more than ‘Churchillian theme parks of red pillar boxes, fish and chips and warm beer’.

Gibraltar yesterday unveiled designs for a new £20 silver coin featuring Churchill and the words ‘We shall never surrender’ (it had been planned for months).

This is a place so wedded to the British way of life that two juggernauts leave Britain every day just to stock the Gib branch of Morrisons. This week, the Gibraltarian government announced production of the world’s first stamp commemorating the birth of Prince George.

Yet such patriotism is scoffed at by sophisticated, Europhile bien-pensants for whom it is always ‘silly old Britain’ rather than her adversary that is clinging obsessively to the past.

This is the classic, arrogant perspective of the grand appeaser who has not had to endure hour after hour, day after day, sitting in 30c heat at the whim of a latter-day mini-Franco in the Spanish foreign ministry. Many of the people I find queuing stoically at the frontier happen to be Spanish, since Gibraltar employs 10,000 people from a part of Spain with more than 30   per cent unemployment.

Edward Macquisten of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce points out that the region has Gib to thank for one in six jobs. Spain is punishing its own.

In recent days, though, Madrid has ordered its commissars on the Gibraltar border to make life as miserable as possible for that pesky rock, with its full employment, its fish and chips, its low taxes, its photos of the Queen and its squeaky-clean little government.

This week, I have watched a perfectly fluid border-crossing turn into a five-hour traffic jam, with one arbitrary click of the fingers from a cross-looking man in a comedy moustache and green Guardia Civil uniform.

‘This is an utter disgrace. Get Rajoy [the Spanish Prime Minister] to suffer this,’ says Manuel Abad, 43, a Gibraltarian ship agent, waiting in a queue of mopeds stretching as far as I can see. The next scooter in the queue has Spanish plates and a Spanish rider. ‘Sack Rajoy!’ she shouts in Spanish.

Few have suffered as badly as Wayne McKay, a 37-year-old call-centre manager. Two weeks ago, he was beaten up by four Spanish policemen and thrown in a Spanish cell, and now awaits two charges of assault, after riding his bicycle up the wrong lane to Spanish passport control.

An exaggeration? Not when I listen to his patient, detailed account of the beating — right down to the Arabic tattoo between the shoulders of a  policeman called ‘Jesus’, who stripped off his shirt before administering the first blows.

Five generations of Wayne’s family have been policemen in Gibraltar, and he has never been in trouble in his life. Now, he is a nervous wreck, as he prepares for his day in (a Spanish) court.

Yesterday, Gib’s chief minister Fabian Picardo assured me that Wayne has the full support of his government. ‘You can see much of what happened on video,’ he says, describing the Guardia Civil as ‘storm troopers’ reminiscent of the Turkish police in the classic film Midnight Express. In Madrid, the government has threatened everything from a £43 toll for crossing the border to the closure of Spanish airspace to British planes and even a ban on ships refuelling from Gibraltarian supply barges.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also declared he was joining forces with Argentina’s Malvinas-mad President Cristina Kirchner to form a Brit-bashing double act at the UN — until it turned out he’d forgotten to discuss it with her.

At a more local level, Spain has resorted to diverting excess sewage to a Gibraltarian tourist spot. ‘Four years ago, they built a storm drain, and instead of sending it out into the bay they pointed it towards Western Beach,’ says Mr Picardo.

There has to be some sort of excuse for all this. Even the imploding administration of Mr Rajoy cannot admit it is bullying Gibraltar for the hell of it. So it has had to manufacture various trumped-up charges. For years, Madrid has been insisting that border checks are crucial to combat cigarette smuggling into Spain — although this hardly explains why there are five-hour queues to get into Gibraltar, as there were yesterday morning.

In the past few days, though, Spain has come up with an entirely different excuse. And it is one that is gathering sympathy and support in Spain. ‘This is a  violation of EU and international law!’ thundered the Spanish foreign ministry, following this month’s construction of an artificial reef by the Gibraltar authorities.

Supported by Greenpeace no less, the reef has been built to help replenish and protect dwindling fish stocks. Angrier than a ton of beef charging down the cobbles of Pamplona, Mr Rajoy and his ministers have railed at this ‘attack on the environment’.

Though Spain is happy to pump the contents of 10,000 lavatories into the path of Gibraltarian swimmers, it professes outrage that 73 blocks of hollowed-out concrete should be dumped on the ocean floor. Worse still, it claims, this is jeopardising the livelihoods of countless Spanish fishermen who earn their living in these waters. Compensation, Britain, por favor!

On the Spanish side of the border, I find considerable local sympathy for these claims, even from Spaniards who depend on Gibraltar for their livelihood.

There is just one problem with the Spanish argument. It is complete and utter codswallop. For I find that over the last few years, the Spanish department of agriculture and fisheries has installed no less than 25 identical artificial reefs along this Andalucian coastline. What’s more, it received an EU grant for three-quarters of the £11 million cost. ‘The only difference between their reefs and ours,’ says Mr Picardo, ‘is that the EU paid for the Spanish reefs. We paid for our own.’

What’s more, the only sort of  fishing affected by the new reef is  raking the sea bed — which is illegal anyway. And only one Spanish fishing boat is known to fish this area.

So, here we have it. Spain is punishing 30,000 Brits and thousands of Spanish workers for creating a marine sanctuary — just like its own — which may stop one fisherman from breaking the law.

It is beyond a joke. It is worse than ‘sabre-rattling’, as Mr Picardo described it recently. It is pure banditry. And it is entirely right that the British Government has finally ignored the feeble, hand-wringing, ‘don’t-upset-the-Spanish’  wing of the Foreign Office.

Instead, David Cameron has told Spain that Britain will not tolerate these threats, that Gibraltar has an inviolable right to self-determination, and that Britain is studying Spain’s behaviour for potential breaches of EU law.

Both he and Foreign Secretary William Hague have repeatedly condemned recent events, condemnations which, in the past, might have come from an ambassador or a junior FCO minister.

Spain is starting to get the message, aware its threats and sanctions will not stand up to legal scrutiny.

Just six weeks ago, I was here in Gibraltar after a Guardia Civil patrol boat fired plastic bullets at a blameless Gibraltarian on a jetski.

Back then, everyone here was moaning that the British Government was ‘not doing enough’.  Not any more.

‘David Cameron has been staunch on this,’ says Dominique Searle, editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper. ‘I can’t think of the last time the British Government was held in such high regard.’

In Britain, Jim Dobbin MP, Labour chairman of Westminster’s All-Party Group on Gibraltar proclaims cross-party unity on the issue.

Fabian Picardo has been touched by the response from Britain — especially Mail readers — and shows me a card he received from a little girl from London called Lucy, enclosing £10 of her pocket money. ‘There’s no address, so maybe you could ask her to get in touch so we can thank her,’ he says.

While I’m having a cup of tea with the battered Wayne McKay and his family, the view is the same. ‘If Cameron walked down Main Street, we’d shake his hand,’ says Wayne’s father, Peter, a former teacher.

He says the current situation is the worst since the days when the fascist Spanish leader General Franco closed the border completely.

‘This place was like a glorified Alcatraz back then. The only way to show my pupils the wider world was to take them on a ferry to Morocco. I’ll never forget when they all lurched over to one side of the bus. It was the first time they’d ever seen a scarecrow!’

Like everyone here, Peter asks how Spain has the temerity to attack Britain’s ‘colonial’ presence in Gibraltar while Spain sits on several chunks of Morocco — despite vocal protests from the Moroccan government.

In Ceuta, you can’t move for Spanish flags, Spanish road signs and Spanish police. It is impossible to find a single one of the 78,000 citizens who believes they should be Moroccan. And, interestingly, all seem sympathetic to Gibraltar.

‘If Gibraltar goes back to Spain, then we’ll have to go back to Morocco,’ says Ismail Abdel Krim, 42, a mechanic (of Moroccan descent) from the poor district of Los Rosales.

Back on the Rock, another traffic jam stretches into the distance. Horns honk. I can hear several babies screaming their heads off at various points in the queue. Every time queues like this happen, the local tourist trade suffers another body blow.

What’s the answer? Ask the FCO mandarins and they will call for calm and dialogue. Gibraltar’s UKIP MEP, William (Earl of) Dartmouth, has another idea. ‘The Queen has not been to Gibraltar for almost 60 years,’ he says. ‘Her presence would show that we  mean business.’

Mr Picardo insists: ‘She needs no invitation to come to the most loyal part of her realm, and she would  be assured of the warmest welcome anywhere in the world.’

Besides, it was not long ago that King Juan Carlos of Spain made a visit to Ceuta.

There is not the faintest chance of the Queen dropping by here any time soon — though next month’s National Day would be a good moment. If she did, the Spanish border would doubtless be slammed shut for days.

But it would probably be worth it just to hear what nonsense the desperate Mr Rajoy and his hypocritical sidekicks cook up next.


British Treasury 'could slash stamp duty WITHOUT losing money by gaining income tax and NI from stimulated housing market'

Stamp duty could be slashed to help struggling homeowners - and the government would not lose a penny, an analysis has found.

Campaigners say the cut would stimulate house buying and building, creating more jobs and raising the amount received from income tax, national insurance and VAT.

The unfair tax on property transactions is blamed for suppressing the housing market and causing slow-down in the number of homes being built.

More than a million jobs are dependent on the housing market - and fewer homes being built means fewer jobs and therefore fewer people paying income tax and NI.

Now consultants Walbrook Economics have estimated that the decline in transaction volumes has cost the Treasury £1.3billion in lost income tax and NI.

VAT receipts will also be affected by the reduction in economic activity and the consultants' estimate us that the decline in transactions has reduced VAT receipts by £1.75billion.

This compares with the £4.2billion raised from stamp duty charged on residential property in 2011/12.

Last night the Taxpayers' Alliance said the figures proved that stamp duty could be cut, and the Treasury would not lose money.

As well as stimulating more money raised from other taxes, more people would be paying the reduced stamp duty rates - pumping more into the Treasury coffers.

The pressure group's chief executive Matthew Sinclair said: 'Stamp duty is an unfair double tax that stops young people buying a home and starting a family, discourages elderly people from downsizing and makes it harder to move to new places for new jobs.

'The government could cut stamp duty with a limited impact on the amount of money going into the Treasury's coffers, as lower taxes would encourage more people to move and therefore increase the number of transactions being taxed.

'Politicians should seize this golden opportunity to reduce the burden and make things easier for the hundreds of thousands of people looking to buy or sell a home each year.'

The fall in housing activity is believed to have cost 80,000 construction jobs and between 80,000 and 100,000 associated positions in other trades.

Sales of residential properties are free of stamp duty up to the value of £125,000 and attract a 1 per cent tax between £125,000 and £250,000.

But rising house prices mean that more and more purchasers are paying at the higher rates of 3 per cent applied to homes worth between £250,000 and £500,000.

A rate of 4 per cent is charged on those valued at up to £1million, 5 per cent on those between £1-£2million and 7 per cent beyond that point.

More than a quarter of home buyers are now paying stamp duty at the higher rates of 3 per cent or more, meaning they are losing out to the tune of more than £7,500 when they move home.

The TPA , which has launched a Stamp Out Stamp Duty campaign, set out three proposals designed to simplify stamp duty and reduce the burden on home buyers.

One idea is that instead of paying the stamp duty rate on the whole value of the house, they should only pay the rate on the value above the threshold. This would work out as a significant tax cut.

Another is to double the thresholds, so that nobody would pay the duty on homes worth less than xxxx - compared to xxx now.

The third idea is to halve the rates, meaning everyone would pay half as much as they do now.

The TPA say that each of these proposals would provide a substantial economic stimulus at little or no cost to the Exchequer.

They called on the Chancellor to act now to reform stamp duty - saying now is the perfect time because the economy is finally showing some signs of recovery.


Number of British 'workless' falls by 400,000 in three years after benefits cap, changes to incapacity assessment and more retirees taking jobs

The number of workless people has plunged by 400,000 since the last election, figures show.

A minister claimed that the government’s welfare reforms were behind the fall in the number of those either not in work or not even looking for a job.

Much of the reduction is down to a fall in the numbers of people inactive because of long-term sickness.

The 166,000 fall has happened because the government is reassessing everyone on incapacity benefit.

There has also been a decline in the number of people describing themselves as retired as more and more over-65s take a job.

Employment minister Mark Hoban said the government was tackling worklessness because of the damaging scar it can leave on communities, with children growing up not knowing a culture of work and risking becoming dependent on benefits themselves.

‘Our welfare reforms are working,’ he said. ‘Choosing a life on the dole when you’re fit to work is not an option.

‘That’s why we introduced a cap on the amount people can receive in benefits, and have increased the support we give to jobseekers who are willing to do everything they can to realise their aspiration of getting back to work - while getting tough with those who try to game the system.

‘Worklessness has fallen dramatically under this government and is down by almost 400,000 since the election, and that’s good news for the individuals and for society. Worklessness not only holds back the economy, but also damages the prospects of our young people who should be learning about work and aspiration from family and friends.’

Worklessness is defined as a combination of the number unemployed and the number classed as inactive (neither working nor looking for work).

The fall in worklessness from 11.9million in 2010 to 11.5million now has helped keep the unemployment figure high, because more people are now looking for work.

The biggest factor in the decline was fewer people inactive because of long-term sickness - down 166,000.

There was also a 162,000 fall in the number of retired, largely because the retirement age for women has been rising as it’s brought in line with men.

Another 90,000 is accounted for by a fall in the number of people who described themselves as ‘looking after family and home’.

This includes a range of people such as lone parents on income support who are now moving onto jobseekers’ allowance or into work when their youngest child is school age.


Stopped by police and branded a paedophile... for hiking with my son: WILL SELF reveals moment an innocent ramble became a nightmarish tale of modern Britain

No 11-year-old child should have to see his parent treated like a criminal for no reason whatsoever. And no Englishman enjoying a ramble with his son should face examination by police at the roadside on suspicion of being a sexual predator.

Astonishingly – and I find it difficult, some days after the event, to comprehend that I am writing this now – this is what has just  happened to my son and me.

From the quintessence of a blamelessly British pursuit to an invitation to step inside a squad car, complete with WPC specially selected in case my boy had to be taken into protective custody, all following a ‘tip-off’ from a high-vis jacketed private security guard; can there be a more disturbing parable of the Britain we have become? Let me set out events for you to decide yourself.

My own father was a great walker. When I was a child, he’d take me on long rambles through the countryside – mostly in England, but also with forays into Wales and Scotland. It was my dad’s own proud boast that he and my uncle, as young men, had once walked right across Dartmoor in 24 hours, equipped only with the clothes on their backs and provisioned with ‘a few squares of chocolate and an apple each’. With this background, it isn’t surprising that I’ve become a keen walker in my turn, favouring high mileages and with a somewhat idiosyncratic approach: I like to walk from my house in South London quite long distances into the country, savouring the slow change, over a couple of days, from the hurly-burly of urban life to the relative peace of the countryside.

And it’s no surprise either that my own four children have also become walkers; my youngest son in particular has become not just an enthusiastic pedestrian, but a passionate one.

Three years ago, when he was aged nine, we walked for six days and 86 miles to a friend’s house in Wiltshire; last year, over eight days we walked 116 miles to another friend’s farm in Worcestershire; this year we went for the big one and covered 283 miles in 14 days from our London home to some friends’ house near Whitby in North Yorkshire.

While he’s had my example, these particular itineraries were all my son’s own idea; he may find doing 20 miles a day – and not necessarily through the most picturesque landscape – a bit of a slog, but the sense of achievement he gets from walking is tremendous.

We’re already planning next year’s long-distance walk – and this despite a disturbing and troubling encounter we had this July, when we were 11 days out from London.

Dressed in full rambling gear and boots and with my boy carrying his special walking staff, we’d left in the teeth of the heatwave and headed up the Lee Valley, then through Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire to Huntingdon, then on to Peterborough.

We revelled in the subtle changes of flora, fauna and landscape that you only notice when you move that slowly; and we also enjoyed discussing the vernacular architecture, and even the minute alterations in local accents.

We stopped for the night at B&Bs or pubs and everywhere we went we talked to people about their locale and their lives. In particular, we talked to farmers about the prospects for the harvest. I cannot recommend strongly enough this as a way of bonding with your children and teaching them about the countryside.

In particular, we enjoyed the five days we spent walking across the flat fenlands and then the Lincolnshire Wolds. This vast and very agricultural country sees little in the way of tourism – let alone walkers – in its hinterland, and yet the people couldn’t have been friendlier and more open. The great time we had in Lincolnshire makes what happened to us in Yorkshire – a county known for its rambling tradition and thriving holiday industry – still more ironic.

Crossing the great span of the Humber Bridge on a drizzly morning, we had a long day ahead of us in order to reach the village of North Dalton where I’d booked us into the Star Inn for the night.

All went well until in the late afternoon we reached Bishop Burton near Beverley, and, looking at the map I saw that we might save ourselves a half mile or so – and a weary trudge along a main road – if we cut through the grounds of the agricultural college. We approached the security guard on the main gate, and while my 11-year-old hung back – the rain had cleared by now, it was a hot afternoon and he was understandably tired – I explained the situation.

The guard was entirely unsympathetic. He said it was private property and there was no public right of way.  I said this was fair enough, but I could see from the map that there was a track leading right across the grounds, it would help us a lot, and obviously  we weren’t the sort of people – being long-distance walkers – to bother any livestock.

But the guard stuck to his guns, and staring me straight in the face said that it was out of the question: There were under 18-year-olds at the college. The insinuation that I might pose some sort of threat to young people – in a word, that I might be a paedophile – was underscored by his eyes then sliding to my drooping son. He was being absurd and offensive.

I began to remonstrate, saying I was with my own child, and moreover I also teach at a university. But when I saw another guard coming over to back up his beleaguered colleague I thought: life’s too short to argue with jobsworths in high-vis jackets. And so my son and I went on.

Two hours later, we were toiling along the verge of the B1248 about five miles north when we were passed by a police car and police van in convoy. They did a U-turn and swept up beside us. The male officer got out and asked me to step into his vehicle and answer a few questions. Shocked, I told him I’d rather not. I said we were walking all the way from London to Whitby and that stepping into his car would rather ruin the purity of the experience.

He said he understood, but that he still had to ask me some questions because they had been called by a ‘concerned member of the public’, who had said that he was ‘worried’ about the child that was accompanying me. It immediately occurred to me that the security guard at Bishop Burton College was responsible for this, for here it was again: the insinuation that a man out walking with an  11-year-old must have abducted him.

I soon finessed from the officer the information that yes, indeed, it was the Bishop Burton jobsworth who had put in the call, an alert that necessitated the calling out of a woman officer from over 30 miles away in order to attend, since there was a presumption that a child might have to be taken into custody.

The officer took my photo ID – a press card, as it happens – and phoned my details into the Police National Computer. He had already recognised me from the television: he’d seen me on Shooting Stars, and he saw the absurdity of the idea that I would deliberately approach a security guard, in full walking equipment, while abducting a child.

While we waited for the PNC to respond, we chatted. I asked the officer whether the Tazer he had holstered in his belt was useful and he explained that it was, particularly since they were so low on manpower he now often had to attend scenes of potential violence by himself.

As if to underscore this, his radio squawked at that moment. He listened for a moment then said that there was a man armed with a knife threatening people in a pub a few miles away. The woman officer in the van had already left, and understanding fully where his real priority lay, the male officer bid us good evening and departed. We went on, and in due course we reached North Dalton – but the half-hour we spent thanks to the security guard’s call had cost my child his supper, while his refusal to let us walk through the college grounds (I noted as we passed that the northern entrance was completely unguarded), had meant exposing the child to the real danger in the countryside: not rambling paedophiles, but speeding cars.

After receiving Will Self’s complaint about the actions of their security guard, executives at Bishop Burton College seemed intent on protecting the college from possible claims for compensation, despite Mr Self’s assurances he was merely seeking an apology.

In a letter dated August 12, human resources director Kate Calvert wrote: ‘I understand that the guard observed you in a village north of Bishop Burton ..... It was now around 7.30pm to 8.00pm and you had also told the guard you were from London and clearly did not know the area ..... He was concerned. He is adamant that in alerting the police he acted in good faith and out of concern for both of your safety.’

She informed Mr Self he must set out any grounds for appeal within ten days of receiving her letter. In a subsequent letter, the college’s  vice-principal Bill Meredith said  he was sorry if the writer was disappointed by the college’s response and added that he was  ‘of course at liberty to take the matter up with the police’.

Mr Self says he declined, not wishing to waste more police time.

Last night a spokesman for the chief executive of Bishop Burton College, Jeanette Dawson, said: ‘It is our understanding that the member of staff called a non-emergency number out of  concern for two people who were still a long way from their intended destination some time after their initial encounter.

‘We investigated the complaint promptly and thoroughly and when Mr Self appealed, the matter was reviewed by a senior member of staff who found nothing to add to the investigation.’

Far from acting as some sort of local hero, the guard had abused a child himself, in particular by exposing my son to the spectacle of his father – who was guilty of nothing – being grilled by the police on the roadside as if he were engaged in a perverse activity. I put these points to the human resources director at Bishop Burton College, Ms Kate Calvert, and she said she’d look into it. I explained that I wasn’t looking to have the guard punished for his malicious tittle-tattle or his wasting of scarce police time, and that I’d be happy with a simple apology from the man concerned.

None was forthcoming: on the contrary, Calvert and her boss, vice-principal Bill Meredith, closed ranks in order to protect the guard, writing back that in fact the man had had a second encounter with us after he’d knocked off for the day, overheard me saying we were heading for North Dalton, and knowing how far that was, he called the police in his capacity as a private citizen purely out of ‘concern’.

Of course, whether or not this is true, it was contradicted by what the policeman had told me – and I know who I’m more inclined to believe. I don’t doubt that Ms Calvert and Mr Meredith have acted in this way because they fear me suing the college – such is the mad culture of litigation we seem to be snarled up in nowadays. But I never had any intention of doing this: all I wanted was an apology I could show to my son, so I could explain to him that while abuses like this may occur, Britons still understand that walking in the country with your son is not a suspicious activity and nor should it be treated that way.

You may, quite reasonably, think I’m getting too hot and bothered about this – but I don’t think so. In two full weeks of walking through the beautiful English countryside, experiencing the joy of its nature and the goodwill of its inhabitants, this episode remains an ugly blot.

The time was that you could live your whole life in Britain having no more contact with the government than buying a stamp at the local post office. Nowadays, there are no local post offices, and everyone with a uniform on thinks he or she is the appointed representative of the over-stretched arm of the law. If this guard really did see me and my son a second time and was concerned for us, why the hell didn’t he talk to us himself? That would be the act of an honest citizen – calling the police is the behaviour of a craven sneak.

And then there’s the behaviour of Bishop Burton College.

You might imagine that, preoccupied as they are with turning out the farmers of the future, a case such as this would focus their minds marvellously. Personally, if I wanted to teach agricultural students about how to develop a better relationship with the rest of us, I’d make sure there was a public right of way across the college grounds – just as there is across much of Britain’s farmland. Then there’s the paedophile hysteria that seems to warp people’s reason; we all know where sexual assaults  on children mostly occur: in closed communities – schools, families, churches, and, yes, colleges.

It’s true enough that in 2011, 532 British children were abducted –  but of those abductions a mere  72 were by strangers (needless to say, my son and I bear a strong family resemblance).

The vast majority of abductions by family members involve estranged foreign parents removing them abroad – not indigenous ones taking them for a walk in the Yorkshire Wolds. Then again, during that same year there was a far more devastating threat to British children: 2,400 of them were killed on the roads –  a ten-year high.

At Bishop Burton College, they seem happy to go along with a car-friendly countryside – they list on their website a new car park as one of their exciting campus developments – but countryside friendly to walking parents and children seems to concern them rather less.

Oh, and their advice to me should I wish to take the matter further after they rejected my complaint? Why, take it up with the police, of course – but no, Mr Meredith. That’s your staff’s style, not mine.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.



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