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Monday, January 28, 2013 

Britain - it's shit!

There are plenty of government policies that make absolutely no sense.  Michael Gove's latest wheeze to hive off AS levels as not counting towards a full A level while also abolishing modules is spectacularly stupid and opposed by practically everyone, but then every single thing Gove has done as education secretary seems designed to annoy anyone who isn't Toby Young.  Just as dumb would be criminalising khat, although as there hasn't been any movement on that yet perhaps the Home Office is having second thoughts.  Also daft is capping benefits at one percent, which while potentially making political sense is unconscionably ignorant on an economic level.

None of the above or any of the other myriad examples of waste or foolishness quite come close though to the idea of taking out advertisements in Romania and Bulgaria telling everyone there how shit Britain is and why they shouldn't come when they gain free movement across the EU later in the year.  It's a brainfart so dense it makes the inside of your head hurt as well as stink.  What's more, even on the most basic level it falls flat on its face.  One of the oldest advertising tropes is that first off, you tell your potential customers they can't have what it is you're selling, with the obvious intention of increasing their desire for the product when you do make it available.  If we're saying they shouldn't come, they'll think, why exactly is it that they shouldn't?  Is it because Britain is in fact a land of milk and honey, benefits on tap and an atmosphere so welcoming that it resembles one of those mythical, glowingly warm pubs where everyone instantly knows your name and your pint's waiting for you?  After all, what sort of government would actively want to say their country's horrible?

Secondly, it's a tabloid idea in every sense except one.  It is the equivalent of an UP YOURS DELORS, or the Sun putting out a special French edition castigating Jacques Chirac for daring to oppose the Iraq war, or the Sun (there's a theme here) taking out an advert in the Argentinian press in revenge for President Kirchner's open letter advert to David Cameron.  Moreover, it's an idea that has been motivated by the tabloids, who've been running articles for years now scaremongering about the imminent invasion of gypsies, organised criminals and other assorted stereotypes.  Stereotypes coming over here to do battle with our stereotypes? Never!  Except, of course, actually going through with such a tabloid idea wouldn't placate the tabloids, which is presumably the intention.  Even so much as saying the idea is being thought through is the equivalent of the government saying, yep, you're right, we're about to be swamped, thereby giving them the ultimate authority to run another umpteen articles about the coming tidal wave.  Look, the government's so concerned they're taking out negative adverts!

Third, it's a mess of the government's own making.  Despite having attempted to remove targets from other parts of the public sector, whether it be the police or the NHS, with very mixed results so far, the Conservatives stupidly promised to reduce immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands.  Not just that they would reduce immigration, but would do so down to a round figure.  It's all well and good pledging to do something popular, as long as you know how it is you're going to achieve it.  The Conservatives haven't had a clue, and so have flailed around all over the place instead.  Hence the attacks on "bogus" colleges, which has had the effect of discouraging foreign students from coming here at all, the ever tightening rules on bringing back spouses, and the latest farce, the new citizenship test which expects applicants to imbibe the High Tory view of recent British history.  Undoubtedly it's a great advantage for immigrants to know more about their adopted country than the majority of those lucky enough to be born here, but isn't this getting things rather arse backwards?

Fourth is that it's completely inconsistent.  A couple of weeks back two of the spare parts of the monarchy drove a Mini through the Brandenburg Gate as part of some inane promotion of the best of British, and that wasn't even part of the government's "Britain is Great!" campaign. Add in the Olympics and the government's Britain is open for business rhetoric and the messages being sent are decidely mixed. Yes, they want investment and not unskilled labour, but either we're signed up to free movement within the EU or we're not.

Lastly, it's an idea motivated by the notion that we must be seen to be doing something, no matter how futile or counter-productive. There simply isn't going to be a repeat of 2004, when only Ireland and Sweden opened their borders at the same time as we did to the accession states.  Those wanting to try their luck elsewhere will be able to choose from the other 24 EU countries, and we're unlikely to come top of the bill when Germany is both nearer and has a growing economy.  Some undoubtedly will come, but the numbers are likely to be negligible.

Instead of pointing this out, the government seems to have actively set out to inflame the issue, delighting those who love to whinge on both about how awful this country is and all the bloody foreigners.  I'm quite partial myself to the odd bout of the former, but not to the point where I want those worse off to know all about it by sticking it on billboards.  In any case, the coalition is never going to be able to really capture the occasional grimness of this country in such a campaign, or showcase us properly without using a slogan along the lines of "Come to Britain - where even the dogs have neck tattoos!". Alternatively, they could just get this strip from the latest Viz blown up and plaster it everywhere.

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