Harry Shindler is tough. Decanted onto the beaches of Anzio by a grateful British Government in 1944, he successfully dodged bullets – and landed a few in the right places – as he fought his way up the peninsula with the British Eighth Army. He was young, fit, and a hero. That was then.
Today he is wizened, greyed and balding; a man you wouldn’t give a second thought to if you passed him shuffling down the street to collect his pension. Except that you wouldn’t pass him in the street, for Harry has evaded the muggers by collecting his pension by post. From Italy. The country he fought to liberate.
That may not seem much of a crime to you – but to the British Government it is the ultimate insult and must be duly punished.
David Cameron said a few weeks ago that the idea of giving prisoners the vote made him feel ‘physically sick’ – at least he is considering the notion, albeit forced on him by the European Court on Human Rights.
Rapists, terrorists, the dregs of society, however sick Mr Cameron feels, he is considering that they should be part of society, given a voice in how their non-taxation should be represented.
However, Harry Shindler is neither a rapist, nor a terrorist, and certainly not the ‘dregs of society’. He is a tax payer, but Cameron is not even considering whether he should have representation.
Harry is an honest man. Unlike the thousands of Pakistani’s who have returned to Maipur and now cheerfully hand their postal votes over to Asian clan leaders who control the voting in Labour dominated inner city wards and set up ‘voting factories’ to process the ballot papers, Harry told the truth when he decided to stay in Italy. He told the returning officer that he was unlikely to return.
After all, how many retirees do move from their retirement home? He was unlikely to return to England and collect his cold weather payments, or his pension credits, or be a burden on the NHS. He would still be paying the UK Government his full taxation on his British pension.
For that heinous crime, Harry was deprived of his vote. Disenfranchised.
There are many misconceptions regarding those who live abroad. Gerald Kaufman, the Labour spokesman on home affairs in 2000, argued that only those resident in their constituency should be allowed to vote. His battle-cry was “no representation without taxation”. Expatriates, in Mr Kaufman’s eyes, were tax exiles who have forfeited their right to choose a government which sets the taxes for those left behind. Kaufman was smartly silenced when Labour realised the potential of postal votes for those resident in Bangladesh and Maipur.
The notion that all expatriates are wealthy is further seen in the fact that it is only the EU which forced the UK to give annual pension increases to pensioners living in Europe – in all other parts of the world, pensions are frozen at the rate extant on the day you leave to follow your heart or your partner to foreign climes.
The issue of ‘cold weather payments’ has exercised many expatriates. Those living in Spain were described as ‘raking in millions of pounds’ for having ‘escaped the chilly UK and retired to the sun’. Nonsense. Those clear blue skies come with a price – no cloud cover to protect you from the extremes of cold weather. Our winter night temperatures regularly drop to minus 10 – we don’t even discuss the weather until it drops below those temperatures! Minus ten is the exception in Britain. “Price hikes in the UK mean that pensioners’ gas and electricity bills have rocketed in recent months, leaving many elderly people frightened they will not be able to heat their homes this winter.” – Not as frightened as those pensioners living in Europe who do not get cold weather allowance, and are not eligible for any assistance from their host country – they are battling with pensions slashed by the exchange rate and threatened with increased taxation to bail out a country that they no longer have a say in the management of. There are an estimated 5.5-6 million Britons living abroad, or about ten per cent of the population. A mere 50,000 of them have their rights to cold weather payments preserved by virtue of having claimed the benefit whilst still in the UK.
Still, back to honest Harry. He is still a valiant warrior, he decided that if prisoner’s could have their right to vote restored by the European Court – then so could he.
“If people who have broken the law, are in jail – and in my book broken their ties with society more than people who live abroad – can be given the vote then why can’t we? A war was fought to bring back to Europe the right to vote for its people, yet thousands of British citizens are denied that basic right. The only excuse given in a letter from a British Government Minister was that we have ‘broken our tie’ with the UK.”
Surely it is the UK government which has broken its tie with us? The UK government that was so keen that we should have ‘free movement’ all over Europe. We moved – and they promptly punished us.
Harry took his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which accepted the suit in June 2009 with the almost biblical subject line “Shindler v. the United Kingdom”. In an earlier moment of his life Harry was the secretary of a small trades union that challenged Britain’s biggest union, the Transport and General Workers Union, in a case involving union recognition and won, so taking on the UK is only a small step up.
It has taken four years to get to the point where the Court is ‘almost’ ready to deliver its judgement. We wait with bated breath. Harry is now 90 years old.
Old warriors never die – and Harry has no plans to fade either.