23 January 2006

We'll procrastinate you to death

Procrastination is a strange word, and it is only when you start to speak it out loud that you realise what a long word it can become. Just saying it at a normal pace of speech will take up maybe 2 seconds, but this is a word that simply loves to be stretched out. Try saying it more slowly: pro-crast-in-at-ion. Take this a step further, and slow it right down, savouring each syllable … pro-craas-tin-ay-shi-on. You see, you can even squeeze another syllable out of this word. Just imagine saying it softly, over and over again to a baby - can you not imagine how this word might make an infant go to sleep.

This focus on the word procrastination makes it look almost pleasant, and innocent. Not so! This word defines one of the most powerful weapons available to the British Government. When the Ministry of Fear cannot cower the people into subordination by threats, then they wheel out their ultimate weapon, the device MORE fearful than fear itself - and that weapon is ... wait for it ... you know it is true … procrastination.

How can you fight the bureaucrats: the walls of silent red tape, and telephonists who pass you from one office to another, the endless forms to be filled and returned? When you feel you are getting somewhere, and an answer about to be given, it turns out that they lost your file, and the process must all be duplicated. For a poor punter, after months and years of trying, it then comes as a crushing blow to learn that the official may not be able to answer that question after all, or the department will have to do further research. The system tries to do everything not to give in, not to provide some piece of information that might embarrass the minister, or to upset some other petty official in an outer circle of offices that surround the Ministry.

The aim in all this is not obvious at first, but it dawns on everyone eventually that officialdom does not actually wish to answer any questions. This procrastination thing is merely a tool by which officials hope you will get frustrated, and bored, and give up your quest for information. But eventually, if the process can be drawn out long enough, the bureaucracy hopes you may even die.

I was coming to this conclusion, and I thought my desire to get an answer about my case might go on so long that I wouldn't actually live long enough to see it through to a conclusion. How else could I challenge these faceless people? ... Take it to the streets as Tony Benn advocates? ... Chain myself to the railings outside Buckingham Palace? I can understand why some people get to this level of frustration.

Ever since the end of my trial I was anxious to challenge the evidence that I had heard in court. How was it possible for, apparently trivial or public domain information, to be considered and described as highly sensitive material; and why were the 3 days I spent in Portugal as part of my holiday in July 1977 presented as a KGB training mission? All through 1994 and into 1995 I worked on the grounds that I would need for an appeal against my conviction. It proved unsuccessful, and this is something I can deal with in later posts. I tried my best to get help to resolve the technical issues surrounding the one important exhibit - the “restricted” document - and this took me through 1995 and 1996. However, things finally seemed to come to a head when I decided the only thing to do was to write to the Security Commission.

I prepared, and sent, a long letter to the Security Commission on 10 January 1997. This turned out to be lucky timing, because there was a riot at Full Sutton on the evening of 20 January 1997 and 2 wings, including the one in which I was located, were destroyed. Later, I was no longer allowed to use prison computers to prepare my legal documents, or to communicate by printed letters. All my work had to be done in handwritten form, and anyone who has experienced this will know how hard it is to prepare long documents by word processing with a pen and paper.

Needless to say, I waited and waited for the Security Commission to reply, despite reminding them on the first anniversary of posting my letter to them. In utter frustration I eventually called on the help of my Member of Parliament, Mr Andrew Mackinlay. Mr Mackinlay was dismayed at the time I had been waiting for an answer to my letter, and he promised to raise this matter in the House of Commons. Clearly, somebody needed to rattle a few cages to see if anyone was still alive in these departments. I print the exchange that then took place:

26 October 1999
Michael John Smith

Mr Mackinlay: To ask the Prime Minister (1) when Michael John Smith (prison number 3345) will receive a substantive reply to his letter of 10 January 1997 to the Secretary of the Security Commission; and what was the reason for the delay [96168]; (2) why undertakings contained in the letter of 7 January 1998 from the Secretary of the Civil Service Commission to Michael John Smith (prison number 3345) were not fulfilled. [96167]

The Prime Minister: Mr Smith last wrote on 3 August 1999 requesting a substantive reply to his letter of 10 January 1997. An acknowledgement was sent on 13 August by the current Secretary of the Security Commission also apologising for any earlier delays. A substantive response, approved by the Chairman of the Security Commission, was sent on 13 October 1999. This pointed out that the questions raised in Mr Smith’s letter of 10 January 1997 relating to the Security Commission Inquiry had already been dealt with in correspondence from the then Secretary of the Security Commission dated 20 December 1996 and in the Report of the Security Commission on Mr Smith’s case published in July 1995.

The questions I raised were never answered by any of the correspondence mentioned by Prime Minster Tony Blair. The truth will become clear in later posts. This is why years (yes years!) later I am still raising the same issues. So you see, this recent question asked of the Secretary of State for Defence by Mr Mackinlay, which was “answered” on 10 January 2006, is not a recent issue but an ongoing problem I have been trying to sort out since Dr Meirion Francis Lewis stepped out of the witness box on 11 October 1993. Over 12 years of trying to get a fairly simple question answered! Now we learn that the MoD has other excuses to procrastinate, and yes … they are trying to procrastinate me to death.

If Big Brother has found a weakness, then he will use it without mercy. In my previous work, as a quality assurance professional, it was my job to ask lots of questions. What worse experience can there be in Room 101 than to meet the face of the bureaucrat, the one who never answers any questions - this is the ultimate fear that a questioner like myself must face and try to overcome. This is a doubleplus ungood experience, but I must try not to be crushed by it like Winston Smith.

That is why I wonder if I will live long enough to receive an answer to my question. I would hate to be roasting in the fires of the crematorium with this issue still unresolved. You see, I don't believe in ghosts, so I am not confident that I can come back to haunt the bastards.

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