Simon Richards, chief executive of The Freedom Association, has come all over strange with me.
I’ve known Simon for nigh on twenty years: we’ve been to cricket matches together; I’ve attended countless TFA meetings; and we’ve been out for scores of lunches and dinners. Then suddenly, he writes to me and asks if he can have my permission to continue to write to me. I was flummoxed. Simon is a stout Brexiteer, a better-off-out man if ever there was one. He doesn’t go in for bureaucratic procedures. So what was it all about – could he have permission to keep writing to me and phoning me up? Was he joking? Well, in that case, what sort of a joke was it? Not a very funny one. Has he been watching too many old videos of Monty Python?
But hang on, it’s not just Simon who’s come all over funny with me. I buy a specialist diary every year called The Parson’s Pocketbook. I’ve bought it through the post from Preston in Lancashire every year since my ordination in 1970. And very handy it is too with all the saints days, feasts and fasts and the table of lessons for every day of the year. Now the supplier of that book has written to ask if he can keep on writing to me.
There’s seemingly no end to it. Every day another letter or email asking the same weird question. I’ve been chaplain of the Honourable Company of Air Pilots since 1999. In fact I was at one of their court meetings only yesterday. But now they’re writing to ask the same damn fool question. Ditto the Fuellers Company of which I’m a Freeman. Ditto my friend Edward Spalton of the Campaign for an Independent Britain.
Any minute now I’m expecting a letter from my wife asking the same question – even though we’ve just breakfasted together
Well, finally I’ve found out what all these letters are about. They are required by the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which come into force this month.
What’s the source of these regulations? I’ll give you one guess: the EU of course. Their purpose is supposed to be to ensure our privacy. That’s fine by me: I like to be private – but I don’t want privacy at the expense of contact with my friends. What sort of nonsense are we embarked upon when someone from whom I’ve enjoyed receiving messages for half a lifetime suddenly has to ask my permission to continue to do the same?
It’s bureaucracy, and bureaucracy is mad. But it’s not just mad: it’s malign. Bureaucracy – particularly state bureaucracy – is not at all about defending my privacy but about control.
And the new GDPR mightily inconveniences me – and not just me, but you and everybody else. I have to write to tell welcome correspondents that they are at liberty to carry on corresponding. This lunacy puts me to some trouble. What if, by an oversight, I forget to give permission? Will they never write to me again? Shall I be altogether cut off from the land of the living, like a dead man out of mind?
Let me think about it.
Meanwhile, Simon, I’ve ticked the box on the form you sent me and returned it in the prepaid envelope you kindly supplied. So please don’t stop writing to me…