Friday, August 05, 2005

From Uzi To Ufi

The robust Mr Blair today announced a wide slew of measures apparently designed to prevent terrorism by stopping people talking about things. We will now no longer welcome people who "foster hatred", although there appears to be no ban, for the moment, on directly giving birth to the stuff, which may come as a relief to certain members of the Conservative Party. He will be introducing laws to deal with "the sort of remarks made in recent days" -- I presume this too is not a direct move against the Conservatives, but as he doesn't tell us which remarks he means, or who made them, it's hard to tell -- and be consulting with the Muslim community on laws to close mosques, which is nice of him, as they are presumably just the people who might have an interest in that kind of thing. He'll also be working with the same community on a commission to advise the same community how to integrate itself better, although it seems this is a special privilege he will be extending only to Muslims. Some of us, who feel, what with reality television and Heat magazine, rather cut off from the rest of society ourselves, might have welcomed, in these difficult times, a commission of our own, to better advise us on how to interact with young people and those in the service industries, but I suppose these changes must be incremental.

Not mentioned by Mr Blair, but recently announced, and in the same vein, is the development of a new requirement for prospective citizens, who, before swearing their allegiance to this country -- something, thank god!, that those of us who were born here have never had to do -- will be asked to take a test on their 'knowledge of life in the UK'. I happen to know something about this, as my gardener, Luis, is trying to bring his lady wife here at the moment, and as the poor chap's rather hard up, I undertook, for his birthday, to pay her fee for this examination. It was with some surprise, then, that I found I would soon be writing a cheque for £40 not to the Home Office, or Hampshire County Council, but rather a company called Ufi Ltd, which runs something called 'learndirect centres' on behalf of the government, and will be administering these tests for the state. Never having heard of Ufi, but impressed with the serious nature of their activities, at least judging by the importance Mr Blair places on all this stuff in protecting us against threats unimaginable, I had a quick peep at their website. In particular, I wondered what kind of career would ready someone for the captaincy of an organisation designed to prepare people for life in this country, and weed out those whose knowledge of the life or language here was inadequate. Well, it turns out the key qualification is a solid track record in arms sales: both the chairman and chief executive of Ufi have spent the great part of their previous professional lives working for BAE and other military suppliers, the former, some years ago, having had direct responsibility for the Saudi account. At first this seemed a bit odd -- how much crossover can there really be between selling military aircraft on the one hand and promoting good citizenship on the other? But as a business strategy, I suppose, it's rather brilliant: first you sell disreputable governments military hardware, and then you charge £40 to each of the refugees who subsequently pitch up here trying to avoid said guns and bombs. If it is people as clever as this upon whom Mr Blair is relying to manufacture a more consensual society for us all, I'm sure we have little to fear.

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