I had come to the Home Office in 1997, aged 29, certainly on the centre-Left. My arrival coincided with New Labour sweeping to office. Simply everyone – from junior administrative assistants to bigwigs – was a Leftie. That was disappointing. Much of the thrill of being on the Left stemmed from being an embattled minority. So where was the fun if everyone agreed with you?
I soon started to weary of the complaint that Blair was ‘too right-wing’. Tiring too was the constant refrain that Mrs Thatcher had been “a fascist”. I hadn’t agreed with her on everything but couldn’t remember seeing any Gauleiters about.
Even more wearisome were the cynical grunts that accompanied Diana’s death, the constant admonition not ‘to play the establishment game’ by signing a book of condolence. These uncivil civil servants were starting to annoy me. I forced them to watch as I signed the book. One person in particular, whose every public utterance was to stress ‘the international brotherhood of man’ and ‘collective compassion’ merely smirked when I expressed sorrow.
It’s interesting how the Left react to a tragedy. Their tendency is always to dismiss its individual impact and, yet again, always to broaden the discussion. So they will say something to the effect that ‘people die in tragic circumstances every day but nobody mourns them en masse’. To which the answer is, of course, that, if we know the person concerned, we will have cause to mourn him or her. As with the recent tragic death from cancer of Stephen Sutton, the fearless campaigner who won everyone’s hearts.
There is little respect for the uniqueness of someone’s contribution – or that this person’s life affected us in a particular way. Their reaction is to bombard you with figures. ‘Thousands, millions die of starvation every day…’
My biggest mistake was attending a Marxism Today conference in 1998. Or, more precisely, writing down my name complete with (office) contact details. (I only went because I quite enjoyed listening to Tony Benn.) From that moment on I was besieged during working hours by seedy-looking socialists, the ubiquitous Red Rag under their arm. Most seemed to spend all their spare time traipsing through the streets of Camden banging on doors. Proselytizing was like a drug to them.
I grew so tired of the incessant talk of politics among the SWP that I’d try to change the subject. They reacted to a seemingly innocuous question – do you have a girlfriend? – as if I had asked if they wanted arsenic in their coffee. Silly me! The left-wing political activist has no private life at all. His only company is to consort with like-minded individuals. But doubtless even a hair’s breadth of difference over Kosovo, Israel, Saddam, foxhunting or abortion, indeed any other minor transgression of the party line, would terminate friendships.
I tried to concentrate on my job but soon realised that positions of advantage and disadvantage at the Home Office were institutionalised. There were no rewards or progression for hard work, particularly among the lower and middle-ranking staff. And no sanctions at all for sloth – let alone demotion. Acts of extreme selfishness and petulance were unpunished. An alcoholic junior civil servant was rewarded with his own office.
These are the seedy people who now rule us, and thanks to the digital revolution, watch over every detail of our lives.