England – the land of the petty official

It didn’t use to be this way. Not so long ago bus conductors, ticket inspectors, and the guy who checked your passport at Dover were polite and courteous.

Now, they are vulgar and dripping with power. They speak to you crudely in an ugly tone devoid of respect. They speak to you not as someone who understands that it is their job to help you but as an enemy. They understand that they work for the state and that the population is there to be controlled.

I knew this was how England was before I dropped in a couple of weeks ago (from a period working abroad) – and I wasn’t disappointed. At Heathrow passport control was largely deserted. I went through the automatic gates. I accept it is me (I really do) but I never seem to get on with the automatic passport checking machine. Either I put my passport down the wrong way – or I look the wrong way. (I’m not sure if “look ahead” means look at the camera on the machine to your right or straight ahead at the gates). There were 2 guys in uniforms lounging around a few metres away not doing anything at all. So; I asked for help. One of the officials drifted over. He couldn’t have shown less enthusiasm to help if he had tried. With some persuasion he made an effort to help but it was grudging and ungracious. Then he and his colleague both quickly melted away.

Today – on my way out – I passed through Heathrow Central Bus Terminal. I passed a uniformed member of staff who was standing (doing nothing) near the gate to the platforms. Once outside I saw the busses and headed over there. There was a row of busses on the hard-standing. I walked along the row looking for my bus. One driver leaned out of his window and told me I was in the wrong place; he indicated where I should wait. His English was pretty broken, but his manners weren’t. Perfectly polite. Then the uniformed staff member caught up with me. “I’ve been calling you. You shouldn’t be here. There is a sign”. delivered in a contemptuous tone; as if I was a dog who’d strayed into the lawn where dogs aren’t allowed. (As concerns the ‘sign’; it was dark and there were signs everywhere). The default position is to be rude and treat me as a wrong-doer. And the fact that I am a wrong-doer gives her a license to speak to me in a rude and disrespectful way.

I said “You need to fix your attitude Madam”. To which she replied “I am just doing my job”. The ‘job’ gives her the cover to speak to a member of the public rudely. No doubt this really is how she conceptualises her job. She isn’t there to help the public. She is there as part of a wider society-wide surveillance and punishment regime. This is how she conceives her role. To surveill and control – not help.

She does this because the idea of pubic service has simply vanished. Which is hardly surprising when the main function of government is to shovel as much public money into the coffers of their city friends as fast as possible; in a world when even a public health crisis is simply seen by the people at the ‘top’ as another chance to line their pockets. [1][2][3]

Josie Appleton with her book Officious Rise of the Busybody State is the critic of the moment on this phenomenon.

At the top – shameless stealing of public funds as senior politicians launder funds to city companies and their media and PR friends secure in the knowledge that when they leave office they will be richly rewarded. At the bottom a network of little tyrants bullying and lording it over the passive population. Maybe this is how it was in the 4th century of the Roman Empire – when, in England at least, wealth and power became concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy high-ranking state officials who plundered the land for their own benefit. [4]


  1. https://www.ft.com/content/93036435-45df-4883-b5d3-86ab96ca20e8
  2. https://www.nao.org.uk/press-release/investigation-into-government-procurement-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/ (Notice that contracts were much more likely to be awarded on the basis of a personal referral by, amongst others, government Ministers and MPs).
  3. Billions were given to private companies to run the Test and Trace system which failed. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/13/failure-test-trace-folly-huge-contracts-private-giants-uk There is concrete evidence that a local approach using the public sector would have worked: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/11/plans-to-hand-contact-tracing-to-england-local-authorities-come-too-late-covid
  4. Neil Faulkner – The Decline and Fall of Roman Britain. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Decline-Fall-Roman-Britain/dp/0752419447/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=Neil+Faulkner&qid=1605910291&sr=8-3

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer