Now before we start I should probably mention something. I am what those on the right would call a limp wristed, bleeding heart liberal. I believe that handguns should be banned, that universal healthcare is a good thing, and that women have a right to choose in regards to abortion. Luckily I live in the United Kingdom, where none of these things are actually issues. In fact very few things are actually issues over here. Because if we're honest, British politics is as dull as dishwater. Did you ever see that Futurama episode where the two candidates running for president were called Jack Johnson and John Jackson, and during a debate they would end up disagreeing with each other only to say the exact same thing? Well British politics is a lot like that. All the major parties are so stuck in the middle they could be flanked by clowns and jokers (Gee Note: Actually come to think of it, that would make Newsnight a hell of a lot more entertaining. PAXMAN: So what your saying is that you had no idea the laptop that was stolen contained citizen's private data? POLITICIAN: No I didn't know. Mind I left Bonzo in charge of that kind of thing. PAXMAN: Very well. Bonzo, would you like to explain how you managed to lose such sensitive information. BONZO: Sensitive information? I thought it was a list of people who liked cream pies! A wacka wacka wacka).
But then I guess there’s something to be said about a country where the biggest political scandal to rock the nation recently is the revelation that our Prime Minister isn’t very good at spelling. You see I love being British. I love the way we discuss the weather as if we’ve all been working at the met office for years. I love the way that everyone thinks a nice cup of tea can solve any problem, no matter how big. I love the fact that unless your dangerous, your free to be as bonkers as possible and people will still be nice to you. It really is a brilliant place to live.
But last week, something happened that made me feel that little bit less patriotic. Something that took the shine away from being British.
Mark the date down in your calendars folks. On December 1st 2009 the Ministry of Defence announced the closure of it's dedicated UFO department. Set up in 1950, for almost 60 years this venerable institution served as a real life X-files. Except it was British. And didn't find any evidence of alien life. Or werewolves. Or conspiracies involving some dude who smoked a lot. So not really like the X-Files at all when you think about it.
Now how did the MoD go about declaring the death of one it's own departments. A firework show? A dancing Panda quartet? Josh Groban singing "You Raise Me Up" while a crowd of people hold lighters in the air and sway back and forth? Well it was none of those as it happens. Instead it was announced in the following statement on their website, under the "Holy shit, I think I just saw me an alien spaceship or something! What the hell do I do now?" section.
The MOD has no opinion on the existence or otherwise of extra-terrestrial life. However, in over fifty years, no UFO report has revealed any evidence of a potential threat to the United Kingdom.
The MOD has no specific capability for identifying the nature of such sightings. There is no Defence benefit in such investigation and it would be an inappropriate use of defence resources. Furthermore, responding to reported UFO sightings diverts MOD resources from tasks that are relevant to Defence.
Accordingly, and in order to make best use of Defence resources, we have decided that from the 1 December 2009 the dedicated UFO hotline answer-phone service and e-mail address will be withdrawn. MOD will no longer respond to reported UFO sightings or investigate them. The ongoing programme to release Departmental files on UFO matters to the National Archive will continue.
And like that (Gee Note: By the way for this line to work you have to clench your fist, blow sharply on your fingers, and then open your hand like Kevin Spacey in the Usual Suspects as you read it. If you have seen that movie then just do what I do when people start talking about books I claim to have read but actually haven't. "Oooh I love that book" I say, "So deep and moving. My gosh is that the time? I have to go and do... something to… something. Must dash.". And then I run away. This is probably the reason they call me Mr. Smooth) it was gone, reduced to nothing more than a brief footnote in history.
Now a lot of people are very angry about this. One such person is Nick Pope. Renowned ufoologist and all around swell guy, Pope had previously run the department from 1991 to 1994 and had called the decision to close it "outrageous". Quoted in The Sun newspaper of all places, Pope claimed that "We’re leaving ourselves wide open to terrorist attacks.” Which may or may not be true. I mean I'm guessing if your reliant on members of the public spotting dim lights in the sky to forewarn you that Al Qaeda is in town then it's probably already too late. I'm just saying if Britain's defence against terrorists is solely reliant on Bill the sheep farmer happening to look up in to sky while tending to his flock then, you know, maybe we're not taking the whole thing seriously enough.
But then if it was an ideal world then maybe Pope would have a point. The MoD has shut down the UFO project on the basis that it's a waste of resources and money. Which I guess is sound reasoning considering that it's never discovered a possible threat to the United Kingdom in 50 odd years. The thing is though that it's a self fulfilling prophecy. For example guess how much money the entire department had to play with last year? If you thought about it logically and took in to account wages for staff, IT systems, paperwork, expenses for field trips, etc, then we'd be looking at around the million pound mark right? Well as it goes the budget for all that was set at a handsome £50,000. All in all some 5% of UFO reports submitted to the MoD remain unexplained. The reason being that unless it's considered an immediate threat (Gee Note: And by immediate I mean dropping bombs on Westminster Palace. And by bombs I mean explosive devices, not lyrical statements used by them rap folk. You know like the time Jay Z said "Thirty-eight revolve like the sun 'round the Earth". Yeah. Take that haters. All you physicists who thought the Earth revolved around the sun. I mean how could something that's flat revolve huh? Douche bags) or something mind bendingly obvious then the department simply doesn't have the resources to follow it up. So while it's easy to claim that the UFO project has never discovered a substantial threat to Queen and country, the fact that so many go on unresolved means we simply don't know if some of the reports were genuine accounts of aliens, a new type of missile with Chairman Mao's face painted on the side, or the delusions of a deranged mind.
Also why does the MoD statement begin with "The MOD has no opinion on the existence or otherwise of extra-terrestrial life."? The term UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object, not Oh My God There's A Spaceship From Venus With Aliens In It That Look Like Barry Manilow Except More Human And They Communicate With You Via A Combination Of Telepathy And Drawing Pictures On The Back Of Live Goats With Crayons. Point is if there's something flying around in Britain’s skies that shouldn't be there, wouldn't it be worth knowing about, even if it isn't dangerous? To have no open resource with which taxpayers can report something that seems a wee bit fishy seems kinda fool hardy.
Especially when you consider the following,
"The national security implications are considerable. We have many reports of strange objects in the skies and have never investigated them."
RAF Wing Commander, name withheld due to national security reasons, lobbying the MoD to treat reports of UFO's seriously. 1993.
"That (UFOs) exist is indisputable. Credited with the ability to hover, land, take-off, accelerate to exceptional velocities and vanish, they can reportedly alter their direction of flight suddenly and clearly can exhibit aerodynamic characteristics well beyond those of any known aircraft of missile – either manned or unmanned."
Project Condign. An MoD commissioned inquiry in to UFO phenomena. 2000
Both of the above quotes were taken from declassified documents from the MoD reprinted by Dr. David Clarke. So in conclusion the MoD agrees that UFO’s exist, that they move in ways previously thought impossible, and that they could conceivably pose a threat, but they do not want to investigate them. Why? Well it seems to be that they simply couldn’t be arsed anymore.
And the thing is, when your government adopts that type of attitude it kinda makes you less proud to be British.