Wednesday, May 14, 2014 

The scandal hiding in plain sight.

Anyone surprised by the Labour Force Survey figures confirming there hasn't been an influx of Romanian and Bulgarian workers since the restrictions on free movement were lifted at the beginning of the year?  No?  Thought not.  To listen to Danny Alexander though, you would have imagined he and the rest of the main political parties had always rejected the idea there would be a similar movement of labour as when the A8 countries joined back in 2005.  "Gives the lie to UKIP's scaremongering," apparently.  Forgive me for having a memory slightly longer than a gnat, but that most certainly wasn't the message coming across last year, when politician after politician lined up to say they were taking the issue very seriously indeed, and people were right to be concerned. Didn't Tory backbenchers force a vote in an attempt to reintroduce the restrictions? Were they told to stop being so damn silly? Ask a stupid question.

Not that we should think this one survey puts the matter to rest. The numbers might yet pick up, and it could be there have been a few thousand unemployed Bulgarians/Romanians who've made the journey without being counted by this particular survey. That there's been a drop in the first quarter seems a good indication this probably isn't the case, and bears out what some of us argued: why would they come here when the whole of Europe would be open to them? The fall is probably attributable to some moving closer to back home, the countries that had more stringent visa programmes now being as open as everywhere else.

Besides, the issue never was actual immigration, as I doubt Farage or the tabloids believed their own rhetoric, unless they fell into doing so after repeating it so often. It's that those 26 million Europeans can and could come here and we can't do anything about it. Anyone making just the economic argument is part of the problem, not understanding it's the speed of change, the perception of unfairness, the stories about migrants working for a pittance, putting locals at a disadvantage.  What does it matter if it's not affecting you personally when you simply know it's happening?

There is always something easier to blame.  It's all the stranger when you consider the latest employment figures suggest the coalition might be encouraging something on the scale of the parking of the long-term unemployed on incapacity benefit in the 80s.  Scratch beneath the headlines of a "jobs boom" and the most people in work ever, and the massive rise in the number becoming self-employed stands out.  In the year to March, 375,000 designated themselves as such, more than the number entering work in the private and public sectors.  This has been hailed by some within the coalition as a example of entrepreneurial zeal, only research by the TUC suggests the number starting their own business has in fact fallen.

Some of this rise can be explained perfectly normally, with agency workers for instance being pushed into self-employment.  Others have set themselves up on eBay, selling the odd thing to keep the wolf from the door and away from the ever harsher Jobseeker's Allowance regime.  Another explanation becomes clearer once you take a look at the also released today numbers of those sanctioned, i.e., had their benefits stopped in the last three months of 2013.  Incredibly, this had risen to 227,629, or almost a quarter, yes, a quarter of those who were claiming JSA in November.  Back in February of last year there were reports Work programme providers were pushing people into self-employment, getting the clients off their book, a payment for their company and delighting the DWP in the process.  The "customers" were told to claim working tax credit, especially if they had children as the additional child tax credit would almost certainly take their overall payment above the amount they would get normally on JSA.

With Jobcentre advisers under intense pressure to issue sanctions for non-existent infractions, life on any sort of income, even if below the £72.40 a week pittance JSA provides suddenly becomes attractive.  This also ties in with the crash in earnings of the self-employed since the recession, not all of which can possibly be put down to an increase in people fiddling their incomes.  With the ironically named "Help to Work" scheme rolled out at the end of last month, the aim of the programme being fairly transparently to stop those who have been out of work for 2 years claiming at all, or to sanction them when they fail to show up at the Jobcentre every day, it wouldn't be a surprise if the more sympathetic at the dole office were informing their customers of this almost government backed alternative.  Keep in mind also that those on workfare schemes are counted as in work, rather than unemployed, and the fall in unemployment no longer looks quite so impressive.

The only problem for the coalition (as opposed to those who are being left reliant on food banks, which the DWP insists is not due to the mass sanctioning of JSA claimants) is this dodge can't last, thanks to Iain Duncan Smith's own Universal Credit wheeze.  As Johnnyvoid explains, once fully rolled out only those earning the equivalent of someone working full time for the minimum wage will qualify for the UC replacement for tax credits.  Should UC ever be fully introduced, or indeed if the Tories are still in power, this has the potential to suddenly and apparently inexplicably increase the unemployment rate.  Hopefully by then Labour or even UKIP might have realised a real scandal is hiding in plain sight.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, January 02, 2014 

Judging a year by its start.

One of the best pieces of obvious advice you can ever give or be given is not to judge a book by its cover.  Unless of course that book is a magazine called Readers' Wives, in which case you can be fairly certain it will contain photographs of amateur women in various states of undress.  Or a novel/biography by Katie Price.  Or Alex Ferguson's understated autobiography, I Was Always Right And Youse Should All Be Doing Obeisance Before Me.

You can however make a fairly informed judgement on the way a year is likely to pan out based on the themes of its opening days and the few that came before.  Last year was dominated by continuous attacks on those who dare to continue to subsist on benefits, and then attention turned to those other sponging bastards, the immigrants who come here purely to leech off the taxpayer.

January the 1st has duly come and gone, and despite the alarmist even by their standards shrieks from the outer reaches of the right-wing press, those dastardly Romanians and Bulgarians have yet to flood into the country, instead making the journey in their tens, if that. There probably will be thousands overall who decide to come here over the year as a whole, so it's more than slightly premature to start the crowing and mockery now, but if it turns out to be the tens of thousands predicted by the more egregious scaremongers I'll be surprised as anyone.

Immigration will then remain a theme, as ever, regardless of the reality, just hopefully with less hysteria than of late. The bullshit quotient will though be amply filled by the Tories telling us the plan is working, as evidenced by David Cameron's ever informative new year message. It doesn't matter that the plan was for the deficit to have been eliminated by the end of this year in time for some election giveaways, with the Tories now promising to achieve a surplus by 2018/19, a mere 5 years later, and that there's evidence to suggest it was the very forced loosening of the plan that prompted the recovery we're now experiencing, just know you'll be told repeatedly that it's working. For the umpteenth year in a row Cameron has said the economy is the be all and end all, so who are we to disagree?

We will though also be treated to excerpts from what is being called the Tories' "pre-election manifesto" or to call it by its proper name, the Lynton Crosby whistle and see who answers strategy. As a preview of what seems certain to be the most right-wing party manifesto since Thatcher's heyday, the Tories look set to either espouse full withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights or at the least attempt some sort of fudge giving the supreme court rather than the ECHR final say. How this will work without leaving the convention isn't clear, and even if legal it will almost certainly be challenged, so the chances of it happening are fairly remote.

What they most certainly can do, or at least threaten to is interpret the ECHR's rulings in the most asinine way possible.  Whereas it's taken two governments 8 years now to not implement the ECHR's verdict that some prisoners must have the right to vote, the ruling of last year that those given whole life terms must have access to a review system at some point has become rather more urgent as some judges, in line with the ruling, have declined to impose whole life tariffs, although it hasn't stopped others.  Most notable is that Mr Justice Sweeney delayed sentencing the two men found guilty of the murder of Lee Rigby until after an appeal court ruling this month on the issue, one the government clearly expects to lose.  Hence one of the options we're told is being considered is American-style tariffs of hundreds of years imprisonment, which could then be reviewed and shortened to something more sensible like say, three score years and ten.

Despite the court being at pains in its ruling to make clear it was not saying no one could be given a whole life term, merely that in line with other European countries it believed those given such a sentence must be able to have it reviewed after say, 25 years, the Tories unsurprisingly have presented it as yet another outrageous imposition from those loco unelected idiots in Strasbourg.  It doesn't matter that it's only very recently that such a system has been introduced, and then only in England and Wales as both Scotland and Northern Ireland have different systems, Scotland not having full life terms at all, life David Cameron declared must mean life.  Except it doesn't for the vast majority of those given a life term, rather only to the now 50 or so considered the worst of the worst.  The slightest change to the current system would suffice, say giving a prisoner the opportunity to apply for their sentence to be reconsidered after 30 or 40 years by either a judge or the parole board, but apparently this would be too obvious and too soft.  Better to go overblown and make a mockery of the ruling, especially when there's an election in the not too distant future and making clear how determined Cameron is to reform everything European ahead of the promised referendum is hardly going to be a voter loser.

Here's then to another year of posturing, blaming the victims and the most reprehensible cynicism.  And there might be some of that at Westminster and in the media as well.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, December 23, 2013 

Thing of the year: the immigration monster.

Hasn't it been a fantastic year?  After the miserable period of darkness that was 2012, brightened only by the Olympics, 2013 has been a 12 months without parallel.  We've had twerking, the fourth wave of feminism, selfies, people disappearing even further up their own arseholes on Twitter and, and, and, yeah, I can't keep this up.  2013 hasn't been as bad as 2012, for the reason 2012 would have been improved markedly had the world ended on the 21st of December. We were then starting from just about as low a point as was possible.

All the same, it's still been fairly catastrophic.  We've moved from having a flatlining economy to one where growth is being driven almost entirely by the housing market and consumer spending, without so much as a indication that the rebalancing the coalition supposedly wanted is beginning to happen.  And does this worry George Osborne?  Of course not.  The man who had the audacity to criticise Labour for not fixing the roof while the sun was shining (the only reason public services have held up so well during the first few years of austerity is thanks to the billions pumped in during the good times) is so desperate for any sort of growth that he's not bothered where it's coming from.  His plan for eliminating the deficit and running a surplus by the end of the decade we now know is based on two eventualities: first, that the Conservatives will be back in opposition and so the problem will be his successor's, or second, failing that, he'll have to massively put up taxes, as it simply won't be possible to cut everyday government spending back to the same share of national income as in 1948 without something, or rather many things breaking.

The real clusterfuck of the year has however been, yet again, on immigration.  Almost as soon as Jools Holland brought in the new year the tabloids picked up on the fact that in 12 short months hordes of marauding Romanians and Bulgarians would be free to come to this green and pleasant land and despoil it by working for a pittance picking the vegetables their readers are currently shovelling into their trolleys.  Within the month the government had decided on the perfect solution: they would fund advertisements informing all the gypsies, mafia types and other assorted stereotypes that far from being a welcoming, tolerant place, life in Britain is pretty damn terrible, especially if you're a for'n and don't speak the lingo.  Incredibly, this didn't placate our famously agreeable press, and for the rest of the year the scaremongering has just kept building.  Little things like how there isn't going to be anything approaching a repeat of the '05 cock-up, when only ourselves, Ireland and Sweden opened their borders immediately while the rest of the EU put in controls on the A8 states have either gone unexplained or been ignored.

Rather than attempt to counter this by calling out the tabloids and UKIP on their nonsense, the Conservatives have just gone with the flow.  Each month seems to have seen a re-announced crackdown on migrants' benefits, with by my reckoning the restriction on claiming before 3 months set out, eerily enough, 3 times.  We have in fact reached such a point that the Tories now seemingly want new states joining the EU to have to wait far longer before their citizens gain the right to free movement, their economies needing to have caught up further before any Albanians or Serbs would be allowed to come to Blighty.  That it will be at least a decade before Albania might be able to join, meaning under the current rules it would then be a further 6 years before EU states would have to open their borders doesn't seem to matter; we need these changes in place now, damn it.  To that end, a potential yearly cap of 75,000 migrants has been mooted by the Tories, again despite how such a policy would be illegal and would almost certainly lead to other EU nations putting limits on the number of Brits they would allow in each year, as both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have pointed out.

Such is the way things have gone that we now have the Telegraph and Tory MPs outraged that Cable should so much as mention Enoch Powell and "rivers of blood" in the same breath as talking about immigration panics.  Anyone who isn't a complete idiot will have realised Cable wasn't suggesting the Tory rhetoric was comparable to Powell's, rather bringing up past examples of panics as evidence of what happens when we don't have a sensible debate or politicians acting responsibly. Whether Cable is a hypocrite for being so critical while remaining a minister in the government that's presiding over such self-defeating policies is worth considering, but it's a separate issue.

As John Harris writes, of course it isn't racist to be worried or anxious about large-scale immigration. It's also the case that the A8 accession did transform life in a number of towns, such as Peterborough and Boston. The point is surely though that the eastern European migration was a one-off due to the aforementioned factors, and won't be repeated again. For reasons known only to themselves, rather than calm the debate, the Tories have spent much of the year stoking it.  If the idea was to then claim their changes have stopped tens of thousands coming, then any credit they might receive will be outweighed massively in the long-term by the whole situation repeating. The immigration monster isn't going to go away when you keep on feeding it. And if you think you're going to gorge yourself over Christmas period, just wait until you see it tuck into the headlines over the new year.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, December 02, 2013 

Isa Muaza: no sense of shame.

There are more than a few reasons, it must be said, to doubt Isa Muaza's case for asylum.  Arriving here in the UK from Nigeria on a visit visa in 2007, rather than pursue an asylum claim immediately he instead worked under a false name, only applying for leave to remain in 2011.  He finally claimed for asylum in July of this year, and was swiftly refused under the fast track system just 13 days later.  Muaza's case revolves around the threat he says he faces from Boko Haram, the jihadi group whose attacks in the north of the country have killed in the region of 1,600 civilians over the past four years.  Muaza says he fled after he was given the choice of either joining the group or being killed, and says two members of his family were murdered by its members.

While Boko Haram was formed in 2001 and has been active over the past decade, whether it was acting in the ways claimed by Muaza in 2007 is a lot more difficult to ascertain.  Reports suggest at that point the group was mainly focusing on targeting the police, while members also disengaged from society and went to live in camps in remote areas.  It also doesn't explain Muaza's decision not to claim asylum straight away, although one factor could be Boko Haram was barely known outside of Africa until the beginning of the current decade.

It's also not been made completely clear by much of the reporting that while there are significant concerns over Muaza's mental health, the government has not refused to have him admitted to hospital (para 40 of this ruling).  Rather, they say Muaza's actions are against his detention as a whole.  The state also disputes Muaza's claim that he has hepatitis B, as there is no record of his either being tested or immunised against the disease. Muaza's original complaint was that he couldn't eat the food at Harmondsworth due to his medical condition, which also includes kidney problems.  His refusal of food developed out of this complaint, and while he had still not been seen by a psychiatrist when Justice Stewart gave his ruling in the middle of October refusing interim relief, an assessment by Dr Hartree of Medical Justice suggests that he most likely has schizophrenia.  Hartree added that she believes it "unlikely that IM [Muaza] is making a conscious, calculated protest against detention", rather that it is a symptom of his psychosis.

Something that's not disputable is regardless of how this state of affairs was arrived it, it is the height of inhumanity to subject someone who has been refusing food for over 100 days to deportation, let alone the farce the Home Office's attempt to fly Muaza back to Nigeria turned into.  Unable to get a man strapped to a bed onto a Virgin Atlantic flight, the decision was made to charter a jet.  Despite taking this incredibly extravagant decision, estimated to have cost somewhere in the region of between £95,000 and £180,000, they apparently failed to either inform the Nigerians of their plans or to persuade them they should take a man near to death back into their custody.  Refused entry to Nigerian airspace, the jet made turned round and stopped over in Malta, before making its way back to the UK.  A nice little earner undoubtedly for the charter company, an disgraceful fiasco for those of us in whose name the deportation was authorised.

As with other cases, the reasoning behind the deportation is apparent enough: out of sight, out of mind.  Who cares if Muaza dies within days of being returned, as long as someone causing such a problem is got rid of?  Apparently secondary was any concern that the stress of the deportation could result in Muaza's death, rather suggesting that if any lessons were learned after the death of Jimmy Mubenga, they've been forgotten extremely swiftly.  The Home Office's change in policy from previously releasing those who had been refusing food for a lengthy period is easy enough to understand if not agree with, but it seems not to operate on a case by case basis: if Muaza is refusing food due to psychosis rather than as a protest, he should have been seen by psychiatrists as a matter of urgency.  Even if not psychosis, to refuse food for the period of time Muaza and others have done after their claims failed is the epitome of desperation.  Many of us bitch and moan about the state of the country; others so want to stay here they are prepared to risk death to do so.

The Home Office's actions in this instance have been self-defeating in the extreme.  Keeping someone in an immigration detention centre costs an estimated £120 a day, or £43,800 a year, around £6,000 higher than that of a prison place.  Even if the chartered plane cost 95 grand rather than £180,000, that still would have paid for Muaza to be kept in custody for a further 2 years.  Instead of attempting to treat his psychosis or try to deal with his determination to die rather than return to Nigeria, the decision was made, despite the risks, to make him someone else's problem.  It backfired spectacularly.  With reports suggesting Nigeria is now willing to accept Muaza and the Home Office having long been unburdened by any sense of shame (or concern for taxpayer's money), the odds are the deportation will be attempted again.  Whether Muaza survives it or not doesn't seem to factor in to the equation.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, November 28, 2013 

The cycle continues.

At times, you just have to sit back and admire the sheer cant of some of our elected representatives.  Take David Blunkett, who's rather cross that his giving an interview to BBC Radio Sheffield resulted in headlines claiming he predicted riots, something he denies so much as saying.  Whether he did or not, the national media piled into the Page Hall area of the city and came away with the distinct impression that something had to give, such was the local anger at the Roma who had moved into the community daring to stand around in groups outside at night.  They even found a bloke at Halal Fisheries who said a Romanian couple had tried to sell him their baby, as those wacky gypsies are so often trying to do.  While he might not have expressly talked about riots, the Graun does quote Blunkett talking about "explosions", "implosions" and the three northern towns that saw race rioting back in 2001.  All he wants you see is a calm debate, such as the one he instigated previously when he said the children of asylum seekers were "swamping" schools, not to mention the time he gave an interview to the Sun agreeing with them that all these asylum seekers should be sent back, guv.

You can't really blame people for being cynical though when it's become clear just what the government was up to in suddenly announcing yet another benefits crackdown for those supposedly coming here just to leech off our fantastically generous welfare state.  Rather than net migration falling towards the desired tens of thousands, as Cameron and pals pledged, it instead went up in the year to June 2013, rising by 15,000 to 182,000, mainly thanks to a fall in emigration.  Considering Dave has been chastised in the past for apparently pre-empting releases by the Office of National Statistics, it's not that big a stretch to think this might be another example of the coalition acting on information only it has seen.

We are then once again seeing the destruction wrought by the immigration monster.  No amount of facts or pleading can stop the tabloids from claiming come the 1st of January Bulgaria and Romania are going to empty out, the whole population of the two countries upping sticks and coming to sponge off our soft touch welfare system.  It doesn't matter how many Bulgarian ambassadors we hear from who point out that most applications for work permits are already accepted, and that it was 2007 when the two countries actually joined the EU that the largest number decided to start a new life in the UK, clearly the migrant horde is going to be snaking its way through Dover on New Year's Day.  Nor does it have it any impact pointing out that unlike in 2004, when the citizens of the accession 8 states had only ourselves, Ireland and Sweden to choose should they want to look for work elsewhere, this time all the states that haven't yet allowed free movement have to open their borders.  Why would Romanians and Bulgarians come here rather than chance their arm in Germany, say, or somewhere slightly more receptive?

It perhaps does bear repeating that we aren't the only country where sentiment against immigration has turned decisively.  There is also a certain amount of truth in the government claiming that the Germans and French are taking action themselves ahead of January 1st, although again this seems mainly in an attempt to placate public opinion rather than out of there being any hard evidence of benefit tourism.  Putting further restrictions on when migrants can gain access to certain benefits only encourages rather than refutes the narrative that migrants aren't here to work.  Indeed, Cameron didn't so much as attempt to argue that the concern might be misplaced, instead yet again blaming Labour for getting it wrong in 2005.  The opposition meanwhile continues to up the rhetoric, criticising the government for "panicking" at the last minute, while former ministers dig themselves further into the mire by continuously apologising for the mistake they made in thinking other countries would be opening their borders in 05 as well.  The estimate now ritually criticised was made on that assumption, which was why it was so out of line with the reality.

The latest immigration figures in fact suggest politicians are fighting the last battle; rather than it being workers from eastern Europe making the journey, there have been large increases in those arriving from the countries hardest hit by the crash.  Free movement of labour goes both ways: wanting to put an end to it might please the UKIP tendency the Conservatives are still trying to win back, but it isn't going to appeal much to businesses who are already complaining about the government's approach.

Such has been the shift from defending immigration or singing its praises to saying it must now cease while not being able to do much about it, combined with the lack of political will to confront the hysteria from the tabloids, we've reached the point where the public doesn't believe any of it.  More to the point, only a fifth were able to pick out the "tens of thousands" pledge as being government policy.  Why not then be brutally honest with everyone: whether we remain in the EU or not, freedom of movement is highly unlikely to go away when the economic benefits are fairly well established.  We could raise the drawbridge entirely, like say Israel or Australia, but is that the type of country we want to become?  Acceptance of migrants excepting the unskilled is in fact fairly high.  Besides, regardless of whether most know the tens of thousands pledge now, they will come 2015 when UKIP and Labour will doubtless make great play of the coalition's failure.  Only then might it occur to some of our politicians to break out of this self-defeating cycle.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, October 31, 2013 

The immigration monster and the "go home" vans.

If anything, it's a bit of a surprise that as many as 11 people decided to "go home" rather than face the rather distant possibility of arrest after learning of the Home Office van campaign. This raises the obvious question of just how desperate a situation they must have been in to want to take their chances back in their home country, but such concerns are clearly irrelevant. These people shouldn't be here and they should go.

Only, as the reporting of Mark Harper's written answer makes clear, it costs more to enforce a deportation (£15,000) than the average illegal immigrant costs the taxpayer a year (just shy of £5,000). The latter figure seems difficult to believe, in any case: most illegal migrants won't/can't access public services, and so will use hardly any resources at all.  The motivation behind the campaign is then somewhat financially sound: paying for a flight for someone is hell of a lot cheaper than doling out money to our friends at G4S or Serco to "Mubenga" someone.

The problem was in the execution, but then that was clearly the point. This was a stunt straight out of the Lynton Crosby playbook. Wait until news was slow, then launch a campaign using a borderline racist slogan designed to attract both condemnation and attention in equal measure. If some people did take up the kind offer, all the better. The Tories could portray themselves as tough as well as practical, and Labour would be caught in the trap of either condemning sending illegal immigrants home, or condoning a 70s style National Front demand.  They didn't however factor in that this being the social networking age, a thousand people would prank the phone and text line, or indeed that even Nigel Farage would denounce the campaign as being too nasty, designed purely to win back some of those who had defected to his party.

Without figures for voluntary deportations for a similar period prior to "Operation Vaken", we clearly can't make a comparison as to how successful the whole charade really was.  It might well be that a similar number to the 125 total claimed to have been motivated by the operation would have submitted themselves anyway without prompting.  This is the thing: there is absolutely nothing wrong with ensuring those here illegally know they can return to their country of origin if they so wish, with the government picking up the tab.  It's how you go about doing so, and telling people to go home or face arrest is manifestly not the right way, not least when it's clearly a political campaign designed to look tough and win votes.  It probably does save money, although the idea the Vaken might have saved the taxpayer £830,000 is ridiculous.

Something that wouldn't just save money but actually benefit both the taxpayer and the economy would be an amnesty, bringing those working cash in hand out of the shadows and onto the path towards citizenship.  That however would go completely against the rhetoric and policies of the past few years, where politicians have followed public opinion rather than attempt to lead it.  Too bad that as Sunny wrote previously, it's now probably too late: the monster is loose.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, October 14, 2013 

How the coalition works.

Last Thursday:  
Theresa May announces the 8th immigration bill in 18 years.  Designed to create a "hostile environment" for illegal migrants, it will impose new checks on anyone applying for a driving licence or bank account, with a view to extending similar restrictions to those looking to rent, if a pilot scheme works.  Rather than move towards an amnesty (as the Lib Dems supported at the election), which would result in those working in the shadow economy being encouraged to become residents or citizens and in turn contribute to the exchequer, the government instead continues to promote the idea that all those here illegally can either be deported or "persuaded" to return home.  The implication seems clear: by making such bureaucracy affect everyone, it will exacerbate resentment while making life ever more miserable for the migrants, but not to the extent where they'll return home, even if they could.  That the evidence contradicts the idea there is mass benefit tourism, or "pull factors" beyond relatives already living here is also ignored.

Today:  

George Osborne goes to China to lessen visa restrictions.  Not just for business reasons, but as the Guardian explains:

Ministers were understood to be alarmed when one study found that Chinese tourists were buying vastly higher numbers of expensive designer handbags in Paris than in London.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 

Political dog-whistling: still not working in 2013.

It took a while, but by the end of last week the government's billboard campaign telling illegal immigrants to "go home or face arrest" had attracted the wider press attention it deserved from the outset.  One of the old chestnuts we often hear when it comes to debating immigration is that politicians of old shut down debate by calling people racist.  Accurate or not, we now have the opposite problem: politicians are afraid to say that some of those opposed to immigration are racist, as one thing racists don't like being told is that they are racist.  Hence despite criticism of the campaign coming from the Lib Dems, a few Labour MPs (although not the leadership, again presumably because they fear it being used as "evidence" of their weakness) and even Nigel Farage for goodness sake, who in the next breath scaremongers about a Romanian crime wave, none have called a spade a spade.

It's therefore only lunatics on the left and the "pro-immigration industry" that believe such a straightforward message is racist, says Mark Harper, the immigration minister described by Nick Clegg as "a very good guy", given space in the Mail. He doesn't expand on just which organisations make up the pro-immigration industry, but perhaps he means the Office for Budget Responsibility, set-up by the coalition, which only last week published research on the continuing benefits. Harper for his part doesn't even bother to engage with the argument as to why the billboards are racist, which is that they reprise the old NF slogan and play on the most obvious of racist sentiments, he instead uses attack as defence, saying that those critical are encouraging the breaking of the law. To call this a non sequitur doesn't quite cover it; a billboard threatening illegal immigrants with arrest if they don't leave voluntarily is hardly the most striking example of the law being enforced. Rather, it only underlines the reality: it's completely unfeasible to deport every person here illegally.  Continuing to claim it is only raises unrealistic expectations which then feed further discontent.

For such a short piece, Harper makes up for it by packing in as many distortions as he can. He conflates perfectly legal migration with the illegal by going into the standard riff on Labour's supposed "open borders" policy, says there is evidence that migration has pushed down wages when there's plenty (PDF) that contradicts the claim, that some areas have faced "intolerable" pressure due to migration, despite services continuing to function, then tops it off by saying the government is controlling immigration, if failing to meet their target of bringing net migration down to 100,000 by 53,000 can possibly be considered controlling.

He ends by saying that if the poster campaign helps tackle illegal immigration, who could oppose it? Considering a poll for the Sun suggests that there's almost an even split between those in favour of and those opposed, a remarkable result when there's such a prevailing sentiment against immigration, it suggests plenty don't like such "stupid and offensive" campaigns, even if they don't regard them as racist.  Seeing as Harper doesn't even repeat the actual wording used on the billboards, perhaps he secretly feels the same.  Either way, someone ought to explain to Lynton Crosby that if dog-whistling didn't work in 2005, it isn't going to now.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 

Silly racism season.

The silly season is descending, although frankly it's getting more and more difficult to tell the difference between the dog days of late July and August, and well, almost any other time of year.  Apparently, "bitchy resting face ... makes Gangnam Style look like a slow burner", at least according to Hadley Freeman, and yet somehow I had avoided encountering this cultural phenomenon until she elected to write about it. Beards have also reached their fashionable peak, doncha know, and in what seems to be an extraordinarily late April 1st joke, Kerry Katona is to be Marilyn Monroe.  Presumably alongside Peter Andre as JFK.  Oh, and Guido Fawkes, he of repeatedly declaring he can't be sued fame, threatens to sue Claire Perry.  Perry we've already established is a dangerous nincompoop, while Paul Staines is just a hypocritical tool.

Is there anything even vaguely serious going on then?  Well, sort of.  Coming from the same great minds behind the idea of putting up "adverts" pointing out how shit Britain is in Bulgaria and Romania (while at the same time declaring how great we are everywhere else), one of those billboard vans is being sent round six London boroughs telling illegal immigrants to "go home or face arrest".  Why, we'll even be kind enough to help you with your travel documents, and we'll tell the immigration officers not to "Mubenga" you, as long as you come along quietly, of course.  Who wouldn't have their head turned by such a tempting offer?

Understandably, quite a few people are suggesting this is just a teensy bit racist.  On its own, it isn't.  There aren't that many pithy formulations you could put together that are simple to understand and carry the same message.  I mean, they could have gone with "In the UK illegally and want to leave?", but that doesn't carry the same element of menace all rhetoric on immigration must now have.  "Go home" though carries decades of baggage with it; it wasn't just a National Front slogan as Sunny says, go home (or words to the same effect)  is still one of the first resorts for racists, regardless of who it's used against.  "Go back to where you came from", even if you were born here and so were your parents; your skin colour doesn't fit.

When a government is reduced to such, err, dog-whistling, it ought to be apparent that it's in trouble.  One thing the Tories remain terrified by is the likely failure to keep their promise to get immigration down to the "tens of thousands" by the time of the next election.  Almost all the decline we've seen under the coalition has come as a result of the crackdown on overseas students, those grasping, scrounging bastards who come here, take almost nothing out and put hell of a lot in (is this right? Ed.).  Hence this year, as well as being partially in response to the rise of UKIP, we've seen further punitive policy proposals, including the ridiculous prospect of landlords being asked to do the job of the UK Border Force, as though making illegal immigrants homeless is something approaching a solution.  Sarah Teather made clear just how far the Tories would like to go when she revealed the "Inter Ministerial Group on Migrants' Access to Benefits and Public Services" was first known as the "Hostile Environment Working Group".

As pointed out before, this is a great example of how the new politics works.  Politicians say they're listening to concerns, they talk tough and tighten the rules ever further, and then act surprised and chastened when the mood against immigrants hardens as the numbers stubbornly refuse to fall precisely because freedom of movement is clearly here to stay.  Rather than confront voters with a few facts and ask them if they like being able to move freely around Europe even if they don't want to at this precise moment, we just get ever more discriminatory rhetoric.  Once, that the government was paying for adverts which contained allusions to the racist slogans of years gone by would have caused a storm.  That it hasn't shows both how the Tories have succeeded and why they will also end up being hoist by that petard.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, April 29, 2013 

The rise of the unpopular populists.

Ah, UKIP.  There are a number of ways you can explain the rise in support for Nigel Farage's unhappy band of monomaniacs, whether it be disaffection from modern society at large, disaffection with Cameron's Conservatives, a protest aimed at the main three parties, for which there are a whole variety of reasons, complete opposition to continued immigration, or, and this is possibly the least significant factor, hatred of the European Union.

To give the typical nerdy fuller answer, the rise is in some way attributable to all these reasons, but also a couple of others.  Unlike much of the rest of Europe, we haven't seen a rise in support for the traditional far-right, somewhat to do with how the BNP have turned into a basket case and the EDL are a bunch of thugs led by a convicted violent criminal with an identity crisis, leaving those who are racist and xenophobic (decreasing numbers, it should be stressed) with having to compromise their feelings somewhat.

Far more important is that the media and indeed most politicians have given Farage almost a completely free ride. Farage has appeared on Question Time more often than any politician other than Vince Cable, regardless of the amount of support his party was up until around this time last year attracting.  When interviewed one to one, which is rare, he's also barely questioned on his party's policies beyond getting out of the European Union, which when even so much as glanced at fall apart.  A 40% increase in the defence budget, doubling the number of prison places, and spending £90bn building new nuclear plants? You can make the case for those policies individually perhaps, but all at the same time? Pull the other one.

Farage and UKIP have been most obviously helped through the completely wretched scaremongering that has surrounded the upcoming lifting of the controls on the number of Bulgarians and Romanians who can come here to work.  This hasn't just been thanks to the usual suspects at the Mail and Express, although they were in the vanguard, but also to politicians who either haven't bothered to challenge such silliness or have in fact connived in it.  One of the most basic lessons of politics is that you don't win by stealing the policies of outlier parties, as the Eastleigh by-election ought to have shown.

By doing so, you either buy completely into their myths, or give them further credence: witness Sajid Javid on QT last week talking almost solely about making Britain "a less attractive place" for Bulgarians and Romanians to come to, when there is no evidence whatsoever that the level of benefits plays a significant role when people make decisions about where to go, or indeed when all the evidence suggests recent immigrants overwhelmingly put more in than they take out.  It's a measure of just how far the debate has been shifted when Farage isn't called out on his linking of Romanians to crime; it may be just about true that 30,000 people giving their nationality as Romanian have been arrested in the past 5 years out of a population in the region of 100,000 (it's not clear whether these arrests were all made in London or not), but this is close to being a worthless statistic when it's convictions that matter, not arrests. We also quite rightly worry when black and Asian men are disproportionately stopped and searched, but not it seems when it's foreigners linked to criminality by politicians.

Another factor is that once a bandwagon's going, plenty of people jump on precisely because it's seen to be the thing to do. Some of those who've voted UKIP in recent by-elections would no doubt be aghast at the views of Godfrey Bloom, and wouldn't dream of supporting a party where he's one of the most senior figures, but as a protest at the way politics has been conducted in recent years it makes sense to climb aboard.

It is therefore just a little rich when UKIP complains that its poorly vetted candidates for the local elections on Thursday are being, err, held up to the same standards as everyone else.  You can of course quite easily portray most people who have a presence online as being unpleasant or worse by cherry-picking questionable tweets or posts and presenting them out of context, yet if UKIP wants to be considered the third or fourth force in politics in this country then it can hardly expect to be given the benefit of the doubt, as it has been up to now.

The question of how you respond to UKIP's rise is a far more difficult one.  Difficult as it is to disagree with Ken Clarke when he reprises David Cameron's old line about the party being made up of closet racists and other assorted eccentrics, just dismissing Farage out of hand is a dangerous game.  Lord Ashcroft's polling may well have suggested that a large percentage of UKIP's support comes from those who are irreconcilable, and as likely as it is that come 2015 the vast majority of those currently flirting with the party will return to one of the main three, a UKIP victory in next year's European elections isn't something to savour.

The very first thing to do then has to be stop agreeing with them: we are not going to be flooded by Romanians and Bulgarians come January, nor will those few who do come have any discernible impact on the number of jobs available for our own young people.

Second, challenge them on their policies which have nothing to do with the EU (PDF): what's their stance on the NHS? Why do we need to double the number of prison places when crime is at a historic low? Why do we need to increase the defence budget so massively if we're going to leave peacekeeping and interventions to others, especially when we face no conventional threats whatsoever? How can their proposed flat tax possibly be fair, or affordable? How can they reconcile their opposition to gay marriage or decriminalising drugs with their claim to be a libertarian party? What impact will a halt to immigration have on the economy?

Third, question their every assertion on the EU, whether it be how much it costs through to their claims on red tape and the amount of laws decided in the European parliament. Hit back at their every soundbite or statistic with one that either flat out contradicts it or disputes it.

And fourth, just wait. UKIP and Farage are still at the moment a media novelty, and one that will be quickly tired of. They will only become a true fourth force in politics if they are indulged as such, as their overall appeal to the majority as anything other than a convenient protest is slight. Populists who fail to make a true political breakthrough quickly fade away. Farage isn't close to being a Boris Johnson yet.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, March 25, 2013 

Haven't I heard all this before?

If there's one thing you can say about David Cameron's speech on immigration today, it's that it was clever politics.  It worked on one level, and one level only: that of the tiger repelling rock.  The government knows full well that the number of Romanians and Bulgarians likely to come here next year is going to be nowhere near as high as the numbers that came after the A8 accession states, so setting out a whole range of new "restrictions" makes perfect sense.  We ended the soft touch system we inherited from Labour and look at the results!  It won't matter that the figures overall will still show net migration of hundreds of thousands rather than tens, at least there aren't many of those nasty gyppos or other assorted stereotypes here as we feared, eh?

Other than that, it was just miserable.  It wasn't so much the actual announcements, if you can even call them that, as they were all but identical to those set out by Labour's Yvette Cooper a couple of weeks back with the exception of the requirement for those wanting social housing to have lived locally for at least 2 years.  Even this is undermined by how councils also have a requirement to house those in most need, although naturally Cameron deigned not to mention this.  It was instead that it gave in to every myth, claim and lie we've come to expect from those aiming to profit from scaremongering about immigration: that we're seen as a "soft touch", that the welfare system needs to be reformed alongside immigration itself as it clearly attracts those with no intention of working, and that under Labour immigration was out of control.  All were and are untrue.

It's not that it's wrong to publicise problems with the system, as Cameron said, it's that it's wrong to not challenge the idea that immigrants are here to scrounge rather than work.  Saying that the vast majority are hard workers but then dedicating the remainder of the speech to suggesting there are huge problems rather drowns out the reality.  The emphasis on benefits also spectacularly misses the concerns of most on immigration.  Until very recently, the main concern was not that immigrants from the EU were coming here to claim benefits, it was that they were undercutting wages, stretching the resources of local public services and changing communities beyond recognition.  Cameron today didn't address either the former or the latter, only that there would a renewed emphasis on ensuring employers aren't using illegal immigrants.

Indeed, the major announcement today has been rather buried underneath all the anti-scrounger rhetoric.  The government that ensured ID cards weren't introduced (although they were never going to be after the crash anyway) for us Brits has decided that they're fine and dandy for our friends from the EU should they want to come here, as they'll be the only way of determining just what they're entitled to.  Don't then be surprised if this inevitably leads to the rest of us also needing them at some point in the future.

The problem for Cameron today has turned out that, if anything, he's gone too far even for a press that has always led the way for politicians rather than followed.  The figures we do have suggest that the number of immigrants claiming benefits is low, and that the numbers in social housing are similarly not massively increasing.  On the NHS, ministers simply don't know how much foreign nationals are costing us: it's either £20m or closer to £200m, if we're to believe Jeremy Hunt, which isn't advised.  One suspects it's closer to the £20m figure, but either way it's a drop in the ocean considering the NHS budget is almost £100bn a year, and when as we saw last week George Osborne masterminded an underspend of £2.2bn to help get his borrowing figures in line with the forecasts.

As encouraging as it is that even the Telegraph is calling for politicians to make the case for immigration rather than keep on attempting to woo the UKIP vote (which is, as has been noted, to completely misunderstand UKIP's appeal), we've gone from a situation at the last election where we had at least one party calling for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, even if they tried to kept it quiet, to that same party fully signing up to the Tories' self-defeating measures.  It seems we are as far away as ever from something approaching an informed debate, let alone an informed policy.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, March 07, 2013 

Immigration: just the facts, Ma'am.

Panic, as even the slightest glance at recent history attests is infectious, and politicians for their part are just as susceptible as everyone else, if not more so.  Just a few weeks back it seemed as though immigration had dropped down the political agenda, or was at least not the hot button topic it had been in recent years. Cue a few scaremongering articles in the Mail and Express about the imminent flood of Romanians and Bulgarians (for which read gypsies, gangs, organised criminals and foreign scroungers) and the continuing rise in support for UKIP, and suddenly we have politicians of all stripes scrapping over who can be the harshest on the new arrivals and anyone else non-British claiming benefits. It at least makes a slight change from the seemingly constant assaults on British welfare claimants, but not much of one.

The last few weeks have been a great example of how politics often seems to work now.  Our representatives haven't been responding to public concern, as there was little in the way of complaints about immigrants claiming benefits as opposed to immigrants in general, but rather taking a non-issue, massively exaggerating it to the point at which it then does worry the public, and so demands a response.  As Jonathan Portes sets out at length, immigrants overwhelmingly put more in than they take out (they also speak English to a far greater extent than is often claimed). The only real potential problems are the NHS, where it's non-EU migrants and visitors who have been accused of taking advantage, and the issue of child benefit payments going to parents when their children have never even visited this country, and in that instance it works both ways, even if the payments in other EU countries aren't as high.


Due to this, there's not really much point in arguing with the policies outlined by Yvette Cooper today in her speech.  If making the rules on when migrants can claim Jobseeker's Allowance slightly more stringent than they already are reassures some people, then fine.  Much more useful would be a crackdown on those who exploit migrant labour, as Cooper also proposed, but just how many employers or agencies do succeed in not paying the minimum wage is debatable; it's almost certainly not as many as the public suspect and politicians make out.


Much of the attempt by Labour to get back on the front foot is though a waste of time.  Immigration has become one of those issues that regardless of how you approach it, how sensitively it's debated or how many times you repeat the facts, very few minds are changed.  The evidence for the undercutting of wages, for instance, is slight, yet it is repeatedly brought up and complained about, just as it was once a common claim that social housing being taken almost exclusively by black and Asian families.  


In part, this is the legacy of Labour's great cock-up: the failure to put in place initial controls on the 8 accession states in 2005, and the much quoted estimate that only 14,000 migrants would come a year, which was based on the belief that the other EU states would open their borders at the same time when as it turned out only ourselves, Sweden and Ireland did.  Apologising for that mistake is pointless when the effect has turned out to be so massive, as is Cooper's other comment that diversity makes us stronger when she and other politicians then say in the next sentence that immigration must now either be extremely limited or stopped altogether.  Indeed, it achieves exactly the opposite of the effect intended when, as the statistics continue to show, net migration continues to be in the hundreds of thousands.

The only way to tackle the disquiet caused by immigration is to be brutally honest.  Freedom of movement is clearly here to stay, and if anything borders are likely to become ever more open rather than closed, with a few exceptions.  It is the utter hypocrisy on the part of the Western world to say to the poor in developing countries that they must stay where they are while those lucky enough to be born in the West can essentially go wherever they please so long as they have the money to back them.  Moreover, the attempts to bring net migration down to the tens of thousands are likely to damage the economy in both the short and the long term, as we're already seeing with the numbers of foreign students wanting to come here dropping dramatically.  Closing the door to those who take almost nothing out in services whilst putting so much in isn't only phenomenally stupid, it does nothing to help those already here who have either been failed somewhere along the line or for whatever reason find themselves out of work.


This isn't a popular argument currently, it's true, and it's certainly not going to go down well initially.  When though we're still discussing immigration come 2015, when it turns out that the coalition has failed miserably to get the numbers down to the tens of thousands, and when it might well be Labour that are making the running due to that, perhaps some will come to the conclusion that it's about time they stopped treating people like fools and confronted them with the cold hard reality.  It might turn out not to be the vote loser they assume.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, February 18, 2013 

Going soft? If only.

Chris asks, rhetorically, whether or not the Tories are going soft due to the move by George Osborne on tax avoidance and Tim Montgomerie's support for a mansion tax. They quite obviously aren't, not least for the reason Chris mentions, but also because they still seem to have it in their heads that portraying themselves as against immigration without actually stopping it will win them support.  You do almost suspect that all the recent scaremongering about the Bulgarians and Romanians flooding over here in a year's time is not because they are going to move here en masse, but precisely because they're not going to, with the coalition then taking the credit when they don't turn up.

This whole talking tough and then not actually doing anything process is one of those things that does undermine faith in politics.  Theresa May has no intention whatsoever of further legislating over Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, and the best that can be said for her intervention beyond the very slight impact it may have on the Eastleigh by-election is that it'll probably make judges even more determined to decide deportations on merit rather than attempt to appease the government.  Iain Duncan Smith for his part, beyond his decision to continue denigrating Cait Reilly, which says nothing whatsoever about her and absolutely everything about him, is similarly unlikely to get anywhere on "limiting" benefits to migrants, and they are most certainly not the ones putting pressure on the welfare system in the first place.

Soft simply isn't the right word for much of what government does, and this applies across the board and not just to the run by one party.  Under Labour for instance refugees from Iran who applied for asylum because they were gay were rejected as they were told they would be fine back home as long as they acted "discreetly"; since then things have moved on, with now the main reason for refusal being that the refugees aren't really gay at all, pushing some to such lengths that they've filmed themselves to demonstrate they are.  As for Sri Lanka, where some of those we've deported back to the country have since managed to return and been granted asylum after proving they were tortured on their return, today we have news of how we've sold them £2m worth of weaponry over the past year.  Meanwhile, in Libya, where it seems all the weapons we gave them to fight Gaddafi have since gone missing, we've decided we have to join in the re-arming race, and so a boat laden with the finest British defence equipment will be travelling to the country in April as a floating mini DSEI.

At least during Robin Cook's tenure as foreign secretary we pretended that we had an "ethical" foreign policy.  We didn't of course, as we carried on selling weapons to tyrannies and flogging radar systems to countries which couldn't afford them, but it was something.  Under the coalition our prime minister acts as arms dealer in chief, we urge the rich to come here while doing everything in our power to persuade the poor not to, and run ridiculous campaigns saying how great the country is regardless of the contradiction considering the former.  The best that can be said is that we haven't involved ourselves in Syria, beyond recognising the Syrian National Coalition, the opposition grouping that no one actually in Syria recognises.  And that isn't really going to figure on a list of great achievements.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

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.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, June 11, 2012 

Drifting rightwards.

Call me naive, but I really don't think there's an intention to be specifically unpleasant to any particular group with the newly announced policy of disallowing those earning under £18,600 from bringing a foreign partner to live here. Rather, it's completely secondary that it's going to be the working classes and those born abroad who will have ensure that their love doesn't cross boundaries outside of the European Union. Sure, it's not going to be something that the UKIP tendency within the Tories are going to shed any tears over, yet it's hardly going to be a cause for celebration in the Cameron camp either.

The real reasoning behind it is two-fold: firstly, something has to be thrown towards the increasingly restive Tory grassroots, as well as the focus groups that keep reporting on the loathing for imm'igants and scroungers. Never mind that if the Euro goes down as is still possible there's likely to be an increase in both and they'll be very little we can do about it, and that the only place further cuts can be made in welfare is to pensioner's benefits, something has to be done. Second is the unrealistic promise made by the Conservatives in their manifesto, and somewhat carried into the coalition to reduce immigration from the hundreds of thousands a year to the tens of thousands, the clear implication being to return to the levels seen under the last Tory government before Labour "opened the floodgates". Numbers have instead stubbornly stuck around the 250,000 net increase level, despite the Tories repeatedly claiming that they're beginning to make progress.

To be fair to the Tories when they don't deserve it, this is a case of the cliched policy chicken of all three parties coming home to roost. At the last election all three failed to make the case for continued immigration, while at the same time defending what had gone before. No one suggested that if those who had come before had contributed so much, it was daft to say that it should now immediately cease, as that wasn't what the polls, focus groups and the tabloids were telling them. Instead of being honest, and suggesting that it was likely in the 21st century that there was little they could do to control immigration when there are 5 million Britons living abroad and the economic situation is as bad as it is, all gave the impression that the drawbridge was going to be raised. This wouldn't have been an easy thing to do, to say the least: it would have meant short-term unpopularity, and perhaps could have only been done after the election. Doing the opposite though, as all three leaders did, was to raise expectations that something would change, when they knew it was unlikely in the extreme. Disaffection, anger and unpopularity then await.

It hasn't quite ignited yet, probably because there's been so much else to quietly simmer about. All the more reason to make gestures like today's, which Theresa May made clear would do relatively little to get the numbers down. According to her Commons statement, 18% of the total is family migration, meaning that even if the entire route was closed down it wouldn't get the figures to anywhere near under 100,000. Ian Birrell makes the point that this goes dead against the Tory policy of making Britain the most family friendly country in Europe, having promised they would support families to stay together, even perhaps eventually recognising marriage in the tax system. Forcing up to 15,000 families a year to emigrate or live apart, as he writes, is "morally suspect" and even threatens the detoxification of the party.

That's a bit strong, both because the popularity of Osborne and Cameron has already slumped, and also due to how May's presentation of the measure of ensuring that the system can't be abused by scroungers rather than putting restrictions on love has mostly been swallowed whole. It does though highlight the coalition's rightwards drift: having started off with Ken Clarke's aim to reduce the prison population, we now have a new snooper's charter, secret "justice" and pointless grandstanding like "making clear" that Article 8 of the Human Rights Act is clarified, as if judges didn't already know and resent the implication that they bend over backwards to let foreign criminals stay here as long as they grow potted plants. What it does do is placate the Sun and Mail for all of a day, and at the moment, that seems to be enough.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

About

  • This is septicisle
profile

Links

Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates