Apr 122010
 

All right, all you readers out there. Time for a pollbomb.

At publicservice.co.uk (Public Sector & Government News), they’re running a weekly poll in which the question is:

Should public sector workers have to pay more to maintain the value of their pensions?

You won’t be surprised to hear that the ‘No’ votes are winning.

Can we round up enough ‘Yes’ votes to make them think pubic sector workers are all in favour of paying higher pension contributions? It would save the rest of us money, after all. And they deserve our spiteful little tricks.

Join me! Vote for higher pension payments for pubic sector workers. The poll is on the home page, in the right-hand sidebar.

Feb 022010
 

… to me. This blog is one year old today.

Via the Croydonian, this.

As bold plans go, this one is tres bold. Now obviously, districts within US states are redrawn after census so that each district contains roughly the same number of people.

But I have never heard anyone suggest that US states themselves should be redrawn after census so that each state contains roughly the same number of people. Considering that state boundaries are essentially arbitrary, I don’t find this particularly unreasonable. And it would certainly solve the problem of overweighted small-population states and overweighted large-population states.

However. For the moment, gerrymandering is limited to the states at the moment. Extending the temptation to gerrymander to the entire country, and putting that temptation squarely in the hands of the US Congress, is a very poor idea.

Additionally, redrawing state boundaries to make federal elections more efficient would play merry hell with state and local governments. In the US, state and local governments do actually do things, and are responsible for a great many competencies that would be sorely affected by altering the geographical perimeters of each state every ten years.

There is also the problem of revenues. Federal taxation would of course remain largely unaffected by this, but much of what state governments do is paid for by state taxation, be it sales, income, property, or some other form of levy. As you might expect, much of the wealth of the US is concentrated in urban areas and centers of high population, or else in areas where wealth-generating industries are located.

Look at the map provided:

redrawn states

This redrawing of states would create, I predict, revenue problems particularly in the South, which is the poorest region of the US already. The states labelled Pamlico, the Delta, Tombigbee, Brownia, and Pecos all represent the poorer areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas. At the moment, these areas which generate little public revenue are all effectively subsidised by the wealthier parts of those states. Dallas and Houston especially pay for much of the public services in the rest of Texas. Redraw the boundaries in accordance with this map, and these poorer areas will see a drastic reduction in transport maintenance (roads especially), public education, and other state- and county-provided services such as law enforcement and rubbish removal. That, or they will be themselves subsidised by the federal government, putting them in hock to the rest of the nation like poor cousins fallen on hard times.

Now, one can argue that some of these competencies are things no government needs to provide, and maybe that’s true, but at the moment state governments do provide them, and there is little chance of that changing any time soon. The fact of the matter is that, at the moment, there are concentrations of wealth and population within states that enable those poorer areas to get by. Divide them from the sources of public revenue, and those poorer areas may become even more deprived. There is always a chance, I suppose, that those poorer areas might adopt reforms that would make them extremely attractive to businesses and industries, but experience (and cynicism) suggest that is unlikely.

Essentially, I do not think this is a good plan. It would be nice to have fairer and more efficient federal representation, but not at the cost of disrupting and in some cases even destroying the provision of state services.

Jan 052010
 

From the TaxPayers’ Alliance comes the news that the Tories are planning… to be absolutely no different from Labour:

Well, it’s the second day of the unofficial 2010 election campaign and already it appears that the Conservatives have pledged to create a new quango. In a speech today to the Oxford Farming Conference, Shadow Environment Secretary Nick Herbert is pledging to create a “Supermarket Ombudsman”. Sigh. So much for a “bonfire of the quangos”.

Yes, that’s right: the Conservatives have pledged to create government oversight of the retail food supply. This is in addition to the NHS policy announced earlier this week, in which they pledged to create more government oversight of health allocation:

But then…

To make sure the NHS is funded on the basis of clinical need, not political expediency, we will create an independent NHS board to allocate resources to different parts of the country and make access to the NHS more equal. (Page 8)

Eh?

So we have another new quango, explicitly designed to remove the people’s control of how the biggest budget in British Government is spent. Of course, when you want to make democracy sound like a bad thing you call it “political expediency”, rather than “accountability” as it was termed earlier in the very same document.

It seems that despite all the speechifying about the post-bureaucratic age, the Conservatives are yet to shake the temptation to slam everything into a quango and then wash their hands of responsibility. Not exactly change we can believe in.

Too right. ‘Change we can believe in’, British-style, appears to be the same as it was Obama-style: more of the same, really, but dressed up in attractive language.

Meanwhile, the discerning voter begins to feel rather like Sally from Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat: weary of the identical Thing One and Thing Two, and desperate to rein in their nonsense before they destroy the whole house.

UPDATE: And hey look, I agree with Sunny Hundal at Liberal Conspiracy!

But let’s assume we want these decisions to be more accountable. A good idea in theory right? But what’s this?

With less political interference in the NHS, we will turn the Department of Health into a Department of Public Health so that the prevention of illness gets the attention from government it needs.

Less political interference? But I thought that was more ‘accountable’ surely?

Can we file this under the Steve Hilton award for ‘Progressive Gobbledegook’?

Truly, Camerhoon is a uniter, not a divider.

Dec 082009
 

As some of you may remember, I have had tremendous difficulties navigating my way through the UK Border Agency’s Byzantine bureaucracy in my attempts to maintain settlement here this year.

First, I was told in February that, because of the change in immigration laws, I would no longer qualify for renewal of my sponsored work permit. Teaching had been classed as a shortage occupation, obviating the need for employer-sponsors to justify hiring non-EU employees. After the change in laws, this applied only to teachers of maths and sciences – and, as a result, my school informed me they would not be able to continue employing me after my work permit expired.

Second, I decided to apply for a Tier 1 (Highly Skilled Migrant) permit, which would not be tethered to a particular job or employer. The application was tremendously complex, involving 50 pages of guidance notes, the provision of innumerable documents proving my recent earnings, educational attainments, mastery of the English language, maintenance of funds, and an £820 ‘processing fee.’ The endeavour was so complex that I had to call the Immigration Enquiries Bureau to clarify that I was doing it correctly.

Meanwhile, in the hope that I would receive this Tier 1 permit, I applied for a job at a different school and was offered the position.

I finally submitted the application in May; at the beginning of June, it was returned, marked ‘Refused,’ because, as it happened, the Immigration Enquiries Bureau didn’t know what they were talking about. When I rang them again, the same day I received the refusal notice, to clarify the same point that had resulted in refusal, they gave me the same incorrect information.

I wrote a pleading letter to the UKBA asking for reconsideration, and a pleading letter to my MP asking for advisement. My MP replied quite quickly to tell me he had taken the matter straight to Alan Johnson, the then-new Home Secretary. UKBA…didn’t reply at all.

Meanwhile, I contacted the new school where I was to start work in September and asked them to pursue a sponsored work permit. They told me they’d have to rescind the contract we’d signed and re-advertise the position in order to prove there were no qualified British/EU applicants.

At the beginning of July, my MP forwarded on to me a letter he had received from the Deputy Chief Director of UKBA. The DCD and his caseworkers had, according to the letter, reviewed my case and decided to stand by the original refusal. The same day I received this communication, the new school wrote to inform me that, alas, there were many qualified British/EU applicants for my position, and they were going to have to hire one of them instead of me. So, no sponsored work permit would be forthcoming (as I had suspected would be the case anyway).

Devastated and facing ‘voluntary repatriation,’ I travelled to the US for a week for a friend’s wedding. Upon re-entry to the UK at Heathrow, I was detained by the immigration officials, even though I had done nothing illegal and my work permit was not due to expire for another 28 days. Their justification for detaining me, they said, was that I might overstay my visa at some point in the future. They could also see, on their passport database, they the Tier 1 permit I’d applied for had been refused; but as their database didn’t tell them the circumstances of that refusal, I looked doubly suspicious to them. Since, however, they could not get away with further detaining me or deporting me, given they had no evidence of actual wrong-doing, I was allowed back into the country.

Which I then left again, almost immediately, with DK to get married in Cyprus. When we returned, the border agent seemed inclined to detain me again and questioned me pretty searchingly, but ultimately decided not to make an example of me.

At that point – with 4 days remaining on my work permit – I applied for a spousal visa, at a cost of producing more innumerable proofs of probity and a £465 ‘processing fee.’

Some weeks later, I received a letter commanding me to present myself for biometric enrolment – a condition of evaluating a spousal visa application. As I should have expected given their laughable identity management, the biometric enrolment officers were unable to tell me what would be done with my fingerprints and facial scans should my visa application be refused (again).

Here’s the new part – the shameful, jaw-droppingly incredible part – of the story.

Nothing further took place until mid-November, when I received, out of the blue, an email from the Tier 1 office which said:

Thank you for your letter of 5th June 2009 asking for a reconsideration of the decision to refuse your/your client’s leave application under Tier 1 (General) of the Points Based System.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in responding to your letter.

Due to you receiving the incorrect advice from the Immigration Enquiry Bureau I am exceptionally able to accept additional evidence to support your claim for previous earnings and will reassess your Tier 1 (General) application.

This, then, was the response to the pleading letter I’d written to the UKBA five months beforehand; and here it was also coming four months after my case had been reviewed at the special request of my MP and definitely refused by the Deputy Chief Director himself. What, I wondered, is all of this?

I sent along the additional evidence, of course, with a curious question about why the DCD had changed his mind. This was the UKBA’s reply:

Having spoken to Managers and checked our system we are unable to find any record of the MP’s correspondence or your application being reviewed.

Therefore, can you please send me the following documents:-

********** to cover the period stated in my previous email
Your passport
Copy of the MP’s correspondence you received.

Um, what? No record of my MP’s correspondence? So I posted my copies of those letters along, too.

Less than a week later, another email from the UKBA:

I can confirm that we will be overturning our initial refusal decision as I have sufficient evidence to award points for previous earnings.

As soon as I have received your passport I will ensure your leave is endorsed ASAP.

As you Tier 1 (General) application is now a grant what would you like to do regarding your spousal visa application. If you are no longer wishing to continue with the spousal visa application please let me know and I will arrange for the application to be withdrawn and the relevant fee refunded to you.

Result! I get the Tier 1 permit after all (only costing me £820, seven months of stress and anxiety, one job, and to date loss of four months’ earnings) and a refund for the spousal visa application! And yet, what about this correspondence of which there is no record?

The MP’s letter does state that someone has reviewed your application and decided to uphold the initial decision. However, having discussed your case with my Manager and the department who deal with MP’s
correspondence we could find no record of the response you received. It appears that its an administration error in the fact that this letter or the review haven’t been logged on the system. I am currently taking this forward with the relevant department.

Okay, so… neither the letter my MP wrote, nor the review it resulted in, nor the response he received from the DCD were logged into the system. Because of ‘administration error.’

Riiiiiiiight.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s worked out well for me. The visa itself arrived, shiny in my passport, last Friday. (That the visa is now firmly in my sticky paws is the reason I feel able to describe the climax and denouement of this whole sorry business.) But I can’t help suspecting that the complete absence of any kind of record of my MP’s involvement means something vaguely dodgy has gone on.

The MP in question is a well-thought-of guy, clean on expenses, and generally praised as being a model of integrity (as much as a politician can be such a thing). I doubt very much that he fabricated a review that never took place and forged a letter from the Deputy Chief Director of the UK Border Agency. Which leaves me wondering: did the DCD, or his minions, bullshit my MP? Because it mos def looks that way from where I’m sitting. And I’m certainly wondering if I should contact him again and tell him all of this. I imagine he’d like to know.

Especially given what Phil Woolas has been shooting his fucking mouth off about today: £295,000 in bonuses for UKBA senior officials! I wonder if the Deputy Chief Director and his non-existent reviews administration errors will be receiving some of that money.

Mr Woolas told presenter John Humphreys: ”I think the UK Border Agency should be praised – they are very brave men and women who protect our borders and they are getting on top of the situation.

”The chair of the (Home Affairs) Select Committee has said we are not yet fit for purpose and I’m defending my staff who put their lives on the line for us.”

Yeah, okay. Whatever. The UK Border Agency is a clusterfuck of gargantuan proportions and its officials patently couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. And Phil Woolas is a colossal asshole who should be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

And for the record, I still don’t know what’s happened to my fingerprints and facial scans…

Sep 272009
 

And so, as part of my on-going attempts to continue living and working in this Promised Land, yesterday I had my appointment to be branded get my biometrics enrolled for an ID card.

The process revealed some flaws in the system. First of all, the Border Agency still has my passport, because it is still considering my visa application. So when I showed up yesterday to provide biometric proof of my identity, I did not actually have any ID, nor was I asked to present any. I could have been anybody. The Border Agency will have to go through the time-consuming process of making sure the pictures and signature I sent them match the picture and signature I gave yesterday. Handwriting analysts must finally be having their day in the sun.

Second, although their website states that the enrolment process takes 5-10 minutes, this is not strictly true. I showed up the requisite half-hour before my appointment time; two hours later, I finally had my five minutes of fingerprinting and facial scanning. The waiting room was packed full of people, like a slightly more civilised version of a refugee camp, most of whom were asleep. I kid you not; that is how long people were made to wait. I myself had a lovely hour-long nap, read the newspaper front to back, and managed a couple of chapters of a novel as well. However, as the Border Agency is quick to assure us, tougher checks mean longer waits. And we will all sleep soundly in our beds at night as a result.

Third, and most important, the people taking my biometrics had absolutely no idea what was going to be done with them. My primary concern since being told to go and give my biological data has been that the Border Agency may still refuse my visa application. If that happens, what is going to be done with my data? Will it be removed from their database? If not, what justification does the UK government have for retaining the fingerprints and facial scans of a non-resident foreign national? Unfortunately, my enrolment officer could not answer the question. Neither, it seems, can the Border Agency website. I find it difficult to believe nobody has asked this question. The Home Office has been enrolling foreigners on its biometric identity database for nearly a year now; a significant proportion of those are going to be people who never did get a visa. Is the Home Office removing their data from the database and destroying it? I doubt it.

The upshot of this whole tagging process is that I may, in the end, never get the visa, and a foreign state will end up possessing more of my personal data than my own government, with far less justification. It’s a worst-case scenario, I know, but still: the bastards.

Immigration woes, part 2

 argh, stupid-heads  Comments Off on Immigration woes, part 2
Jun 062009
 

As I explained in a previous post, one of the items I had to supply for my tier 1 application was proof of earnings; the Border Agency requires two separate documents that prove one’s income.

Because their ‘guidance notes’ are so Byzantine, before I made the application I rang the Immigration Enquiry Bureau to ask for clarification. The conversation went something like this:

Bella: I have here a letter from my employer and a P60 as proof of income. Do those count as two separate documents?

Chappy: Yes, yes they do.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when on Thursday I received a letter from the Border Agency refusing my application on the grounds that a letter from my employer and a P60 are not considered two separate documents – both being prepared, as they were, by my employer.

After recovering from the Britney marathon, I rang the Immigration Enquiry Bureau on Friday morning. The conversation went something like this:

Bella: I have here a letter from my employer and a P60 as proof of income. Do those count as two separate documents?

Lady: (after putting me on hold to seek clarification) Yes, yes they do.

Bella:. Yes, that's what I was told when I rang this number before making my application. Why, then, do I have a refusal letter here informing me that, in fact, they are not considered separate documents?

Lady: (after putting me on hold again) I must apologise for giving you incorrect information, but as you will see in the guidance notes…

Bella: The guidance notes say nothing of the sort. That’s why I rang for clarification in the first place. You people have given me incorrect information twice now, and according to this letter of refusal, I have no right of appeal or review. You must see that the Border Agency itself is partly culpable for my mistake: what recourse do I have?

Lady: All I can suggest is that you write to the case worker who considered your application and explain the situation.

So I have written to my caseworker, and to my MP, in the hope that they will reconsider the original application if I provide a second document (bank statements) to prove that income, and if they consult their own recordings of telephone enquiries.

Because I cannot make another application. For one thing, I do not have another £820 to spare. (TGS, thank you for your very kind offer.)

For another, the application also requires that one has maintained a minimum bank balance of £800 for three months prior to applying. This was easy to prove when I made the original application; but in paying their exorbitant fee, my balance dropped to £780 – twenty quid below their minimum requirement, meaning that I would need to wait a further three months to achieve that minimum balance and re-apply. Unfortunately, that would mean waiting until September to make a second application, and my current leave expires 31 August.

And for another, for the tier 1 application, one can claim points for age. At the moment, I am 27 and so can claim the maximum number of points. In July, I will turn 28 – and thus lose half of the points I was able to claim for age on my original application.

The upshot is that, unless the Border Agency abandon their bureaucratic impulses and allow a reconsideration, or my MP takes pity on me and does something to assist me, I will no longer qualify to remain in the UK as a tier 1 migrant.

One other possible option is the tier 2 category – a work permit sponsored by my employer. This prospect raises another problem: that of proving that I am a better candidate for the job than any UK or EU national. Considering the specialised job I do, in theory this would be easy to prove. However, in order to prove it, the school would need to show that they had advertised the position with the JobCentre for some minimum length of time. Which, naturally, they did not do, because teachers do not look for jobs at the JobCentre. So the school may not be able to prove my superiority to native Britons and Europeans. The tier 2 permit also, apparently, requires the applicant to get an ID card. I’m not real pleased with the idea of doing that, as one can imagine.

Thus, there is very little I can do at the moment (although my employer and I are investigating the tier 2 possibility), and whether I can remain in the UK beyond the end of August is for the most part out of my hands and up in the air.

I am very irritated that, based on their own incorrect advice, the Border Agency has refused me permission to live and work here, especially since I can clearly support myself and will contribute to Britain’s economic well-being. I suppose those factors are simply not as important to the Government as indulging the bigotries, misconceptions, and protectionist instincts of a small number of the populace.

Some people over at the Devil’s Kitchen have suggested that marriage might be the answer and, having looked into it on a whim, it would seem that taking such a step would indeed take care of the immediate problem. Unfortunately, in reading the Border Agency website and this poor man’s horror story, I see that it would only suffice for two years, whereas the tier 1 application, had it been granted, would have lasted for three. Also, if I’m going to marry anyone, I want it to be for the, y’know, romantic and practical reasons – not because I need a visa. The very idea offends my ego.

May 192009
 

Independent regulation of all remuneration of MPs – that’s it?

(1) How fucking embarrassing. The governors of our nation admit they cannot be trusted to govern themselves.

(2) Is it really possible to have ‘statutory independent regulation’? I mean, who is going to choose these regulators? From what funds will they be paid? From public funds? In which case, are they really independent?

(3) If they will be paid from public funds, how much hiring and paying and funding of this new, presumably civil service, branch of the state is going to go on? When this came up in a discussion with libertarians on Saturday afternoon, a figure of £600,000pa was posited. Small change in terms of spending, but surely part of the whole scandal is that public money is being spent not only too much, but unwisely!

(4) Brown’s little press conference would have been a hell of a lot better without his autoencomium. His own Bill of Rights and Duties (ugh), and New Labour’s devolution, reform of the House of Lords, etc., etc. Nobody cares or wants to hear that sort of boasting in this situation.

(5) Someone has asked what the definition of ‘breaking the rules’ is, under which MPs will not be able to stand in the next election. Brown has no answer. I suspect that since the running excuse is that all these expenses were within the rules – and, indeed, it appears many of the most obnoxious ones were – we will see bunches of these bastards standing again, more’s the pity. (That, or Brown intends to use this ploy to neutralise his political enemies.)

(6) Brown has no response to a remark about how the public are saying that, if they did this stuff, they’d go to jail; the example given is of a shoplifter offering to return or pay for his booty. Brown’s claim: not an equivalent situation, because Hazel Blears acted within the rules. No ‘discipline’ for her then. Aha.

(7) A radio reporter-type has said Brown should call a general election. His response: it is the system at fault, not the Government, since ‘all parties must take responsibility for this.’ Never mind that the real reason for an election is the total collapse of public confidence in government. When the government cannot govern – as it appears not to have done over the past three weeks – a new democratic mandate is needed. Brown must be hugely delighted on the inside that the European elections are happening so soon, as it means the public will take out their justified rage and exercise their democratic privilege there – where it will have no effect on Labour’s continuing grasp-of-dead-hand hold on the UK. Once the voters have vented their spleen on MEPs, perhaps their disaffection will be purged! (He hopes.)

(8) A question about the Tamil protestors. Brown defends freedom of assembly. [Stopped listening; laughing too hard.]

(9) Brown keeps smiling – what the fuck has he got to smile about? He’s also leaning on the lectern in a way that, I’m sure, Obama the Orator never would. This bizarre body language actually makes him look… bored.

Speaking of which, I’m bored now too. Most of the snide questions I was droolingly anticipating have been asked, and Brown is now wittering like a madman: a maximum of words, a minimum of meaning, and enough use of the passive voice that, if this were transcribed into Latin, the page would be littered with -turs.

Make that turds. Which represent exactly what Brown, his speech, all other MPs, and the whole rotten edifice of this state are worth.

Apr 222009
 

Deluged in more visa paperwork. The new permit I’m applying for has a 73-page application and 50 pages of guidance notes. It will cost me £820 to make the application, not refundable if I am turned down. I also have to provide somewhere between 8 and 12 original documents proving my antecedents. This includes:

  • my passport, which the border agency will keep until they get round to throwing me some breadcrumbs
  • two separate documents proving my qualifications
  • two separate documents proving my income in the past 12 months
  • three months’ worth of official bank statements proving funds for maintenance
  • one document proving I spent a year as a full-time student in the UK (not related to the two above for qualifications) despite the fact that I’ve lived here full-time for almost four years
  • proof that I can speak English

Now you would think, considering today’s budget, that UK plc would be desperate to attract and keep middle-class professional types like me (after all, we provide the lion’s share of tax revenue); and, rather than charging me £820 for the privilege of being a cash cow in what is now surely the worst of the first-world nations (economy at least as bad as everywhere else; climate worse than everywhere else), HM Government ought to be paying me £820 not to fuck off.

Or at least not demanding that I contribute to the UK economy in exchange for permission to continue to contribute to the UK economy.

[Some of you may wonder, in light of my bitching and moaning, why I’m so determined to stay here. No need to go into details, but there are rather compelling personal reasons.]

Feb 232009
 

This article is on the front page of the print edition of the Times today, although not, oddly, on the website:

Plans to axe new laws that would increase costs for businesses, including enhanced maternity leave and tougher equality legislation, are threatening to blow open a Cabinet rift over how Labour should respond to the economic downturn, The Times has learnt.

The proposals, outlined in the Queen’s Speech just two months ago, and championed by Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader, are at risk after Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, and the Chancellor called for a moratorium on any measures that would add to the current financial pressure on businesses. Right-to-roam legislation and powers to allow councils to ban alcohol promotions are also under threat as the Government prepares to gut its legislative programme in the face of the recession.

This proposal is so eminently sensible that I have trouble believing that Mandelson himself is the originator, but lo! Somewhere along the line, he twigged that imposing extra costs on businesses during an economic slump was a fairly counterproductive move.

But my delight continues to grow:

Senior figures say many of the policies targeted are those promoted by Ms Harman, who has argued Labour should take a harder line on those to blame for the financial crisis and do more to protect its victims.

Snigger, snigger. Looks like Harman’s intention to become party leader when Brown finally cracks – as signalled, apparently, by a critical speech to her constituents and speculated upon heavily last week in the blogosphere – is being nipped in the bud. Ah, the Machiavellian machinations!

Sources close to Lord Mandelson defended the move to stop the new laws. saying that proposals to enhance maternity leave were almost certain to be scrapped, as were new measures to ensure that government contracts were awarded to firms with good records on equality.

Some regulations, such as a ban on cigarette displays in small shops, have already been delayed.

And so, at long last, Mandelson is doing his job and defending the interests of the business community (though not, admittedly, of the banking sector). It’s a positive step at the very least; even more preferable would be not a moratorium on such intrusive social engineering but a stop to it entirely – but any move critical of the government’s zeal for excessive legislation is better than no move at all.

While Lord Mandelson has risen in my estimation this day, however, proof remains that many Labour MPs are still absolute tits (emphasis mine):

Jon Cruddas, an influential left-wing Labour MP, warned last night that the Government was split over how to deal with the downturn. He said: “If the most progressive of our policies are the first to go under the hatchet, that will cause deep unease across the party. Genuflecting to the free market got us into this mess and the solution is not more of the same. There is now a deepening ideological divide about what to do next.”

I wonder if Jon Cruddas MP ghost-writes for Polly Toynbee…

Feb 192009
 

As I sit here and listen to an enterprising builder outside whistle an excellent rendition of Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King,’ my thoughts turn to halls, and kings, and naturally thence, to the Middle Ages.

With my intellectual cap on, as opposed to my professional one, I am a medieval historian and have collected degrees in the subject in the same way that others might collect da Vinci sketches (i.e. expensively). In the hallowed drinking establishments of the world’s foremost institution of learning, I have pondered with fellow medievalists what it might have been like to live during the Middle Ages.

And, despite speculations about the scholarly aestheticism of monastic existence, or the bellicose excitement inherent in noble birth, we decided that it would have been utter shit.

So why – and I have seen this flagged up on Tim and the Landed Underclass already today – are there people, bred in luxurious modernity, who want us to go back to it?

Monty Don, the former BBC Gardener’s World presenter, said the UK could run out of food “within weeks” because the country is so dependent on imports and it was essential for the country to grow more of our own food.

He urged businesses around the country to follow the lead of the National Trust: “If every household, business, office or factory dug up a patch of land there would literally be millions of allotments made available. This is just the start of something really big.”

I will tell you when we really will run out of food, and that is when we stop depending on imports. In the Middle Ages, when importing food was impractical due to the obvious problem of it rotting in transit, local growing conditions meant the difference between a full belly and death by starvation. With the succession of overly-dry and overly-wet summer growing seasons Britain has experienced in the past four years, had we relied entirely on local produce, we all would have starved.

The other problem with eating only local produce is, of course, that delightful as these shores may be, we’d all be eating nothing but turnips and parsnips from November to March. A four-month diet of root vegetables might solve the nation’s obesity problem, but the incidence of malnutrition (particularly things like scurvy) would soar to fifteenth-century levels.

Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust, said it was not just the recession driving demand for land to grow food but the desire to “reconnect” with the soil.

“More and more people want to grow their own fruit and vegetables,” she said. “This isn’t just about saving money – it’s really satisfying to sow seeds and harvest the fruit and veg of your labour.”

Oh, indeed – it’s very satisfying to till the soil and eat the fruits of one’s labour, as long as one doesn’t have to do it from sun-up to sun-down eight months out of the year, and as long as the fruits of one’s labour are sufficient to keep body and soul together. As the Landed Underclass points out, subsistence farming is hard on the body and, unless one has the luxury of farm-labourers and a horse-drawn plough, unlikely to generate enough produce for actual, y’know, subsistence.

But perhaps in addition to sharing allotments, we will all have the privilege of access to the village horse. It might even be better to have a system wherein the municipality’s food is grown entirely on common land, the care for a strip of which is allocated to every resident. Then we can all reconnect with the soil, and our roots, and our ancient heritage. While we’re at it, we can reconnect with bathing in the freezing rivers and defecating in buckets!

Christ, haven’t these people learned anything? If living off our own fucking local food was so great, our ancestors wouldn’t have escaped in relief from doing it as soon as conditions made it possible. Pardon me while I descend into teleological historicity, but isn’t one of the purposes of chronicling human development to avoid past mistakes, rather than to do the same stupid shit all over again?