Monday, September 07, 2015 

Welcome to the Farmer Palmer era of international relations.

One of my better/worst traits (delete according to taste) is I'm naturally suspicious of mass movements, or seeming mass movements, regardless of agenda or politics.  Is it still going to be active in a year's time for instance, will it have burned brightly and then disappear as soon as it emerged, or will it, like the Stop the War coalition, still exist for reasons known only to the handful of individuals that serve on its executive committee?  Is it ever worth jumping on a bandwagon when so many end up crashing minutes later?  Why is it so often the same people, both at the heart of these movements and those in the vanguard of shouting about it, only for them to lose interest so quickly?

It would be easy to look at the groundswell of action for refugees since those pictures were published on Wednesday and be cynical.  There is little in the way of evidence to suggest that anyone opposed to immigration outright or merely suspicious of asylum seekers will have had their minds changed by the pictures of Aylan Kurdi, whether lying dead in the surf or in the arms of the Turkish policeman as he carried the child's body away.  Indeed, I've heard more than a couple of people complain in the same way as they always do about immigrants, almost always with the refrain about how every refugee we admit deprives one of "our people" of a house or a job.  They couldn't of course give a stuff about those deemed "our people" unless they're family members or friends, let alone do anything that might help, nor does it seem to occur that we should be able to accommodate the needs of both "our people" and those in need of sanctuary.   That our leaders lack the political will to do so is a personal failing, but they operate partly on the basis that a large number of people in this country go through life in their own bubbles, insulated from and ignorant of anything that might penetrate their own little safe haven.  Those same people demanding the army be sent to Calais and that dogs be set on those trying desperately to make their way here are just as opposed today to anyone being allowed in as they were then, if not more so.

No, what's happened over the last few days has been that other minority, also noisy but much rarer listened to setting the agenda.  When so much of political discourse of late has been about who can be the nastiest to the lowest, who can best project their own personal vision of the sensible and prudent to an already pampered and spoilt demographic, it's difficult not to be heartened by both the anger at the government's refusal to help with the refugee crisis and the action which that anger has galvanised.  That some of this has been led by newspapers that previously ran front page after front page fulminating against refugees, or comment pieces that dehumanised those on rickety boats to the same level as insects is less evidence of a reverse ferret than just utter hypocrisy.

Far more aggravating though is just how quickly this transitory mood of selflessness has been used to further settle old scores and also reignited the belief that the only way to solve a situation where both sides use tactics that would be considered dirty is to put yet more high explosives into the mix.  George Osborne, fresh from a couple of days back defending Cameron's not one refugee policy to the hilt, was on Andrew Marr, accepting that thousands would now be admitted, but also made clear that the vote in Commons not to intervene in Syria was "one of the worst decisions" parliament had ever made.  Matthew d'Anconservative in the Graun all but blames Ed Miliband for the last two years of the conflict in the country, the Labour leader's "gamesmanship" preventing our noble British bombs from knocking sense into Bashar al-Assad.  Both the Sun and Boris Johnson have pursued similar arguments, with the former also declaring all four Labour leadership candidates to be cowards on the basis they don't think our joining an already failing US mission in the country to be the best of ideas.  When the Sun runs a spread with the headline BLITZ EM TO HELL, where it isn't clear whether it's those fleeing or Islamic State fighters that are to be "blitzed", apparently not seeing the slightest irony or problem with its favoured response, you know the current mood is not going to last long.

David Cameron has nonetheless been forced into making the government look like it's doing something, despite first having sent out Andrew Mitchell to repeat ad nauseum that in fact we've doing more than our fair share by funding the refugee camps in the neighbouring states.  These are the same camps that many have left precisely because conditions have deteriorated to the point where they prefer to take their chances with the traffickers.  That might not be in any way the UK government's fault, but when the scale of the problem is increasing so too must the nature of the response.  The figure of 20,000, much higher than the bandied about 4,000 we heard at the tail end of the last week, turns out to be the number of Syrian refugees to be admitted over the course of the next five years, and so doesn't even match Yvette Cooper's opening offer of 10,000 to be admitted this year.  The 20,000 are also to be plucked entirely from said camps, rather than any from the proposed EU quota system.  Cameron likened the decision to favour orphans and children especially as making the mission the equivalent of a latter day Kindertransport, only for it be made clear in the Lords that all such children are liable to be deported once they reach 18, the kind of self-defeating stupidity that only the last few governments could possibly have come up with.  The 20,000 figure also depends on the already operating scheme that has admitted a mere 216 Syrian refugees so far being rapidly expanded and working as planned, both things to believe only once documented.

The prime minister was at least not so crass as to make any bitter reference to the Syria vote in 2013.  Considering he did have the honour of announcing that the British state is now in the business of killing its own citizens so long as they are deemed to be plotting in a foreign clime whose government either can't or won't intervene this wasn't much comfort.  Extrajudicial assassinations are apparently entirely fine and dandy legally, whereas the Russians poisoning a defected spy now working for MI6 and in the business of propagating conspiracy theories is of course a complete outrage and the sort of action that marks out Russia as a rogue state.  To be clear, I am not for a moment comparing Alexander Litvinenko and Reyaad Khan, not least because Khan barely had two brain cells to rub together.  A terrorist mastermind like all those previous terrorist masterminds, the 21-year-old had to be killed in an entirely justified act of self-defence, lest he be involved in telling another newspaper journalist to bomb a public event.

Yep, apparently Khan was in the background when Juanid Hussain, also since killed by a drone strike, was telling the Sun to bomb the Armed Forces Day parade, an attack that was never going to happen and never could have happened.  He's also being linked to another "foiled" attack, this time aimed at the Queen on VJ Day, and which again was leaked to the press beforehand.  Still, Khan probably was in contact with other people who may not have been spooks or hacks, and who could have gone along with his mate Hussain's advice to spray the shrapnel inside their bombs with rat poison.  Clearly he was a threat, and in this day and age when politicians promise a "full spectrum response" to terrorist attacks only to then do sweet FA, killing a terrorist regardless of their nationality is not an opportunity to be missed.  That another IS fighter from the UK was also killed was merely unfortunate.  No one's going to miss such people or shed any tears over them, not least when they're involved in the latest most evil grouping since the Nazis, so frankly who cares about little things like the law or the precedent such an action sets?

For just as the attack on Syria which parliament refused to authorise was entirely legal because the attorney general said it was, so too was this.  It might be stretching both international and national law to breaking point to suggest the threat posed by Khan was so serious as to invoke the right to self-defence and to act pre-emptively, especially when generally an "armed attack" would need to involve a state rather than non-state actors, but the bar has already been breached.  Cameron went on to say that he would act in the same way in Libya also, so it would seem that we have joined America in all but declaring that we'll kill anyone in a country whose government is unlikely to co-operate, as long as we declare they were a threat after the fact.  We have therefore entered what ought to be known as the Farmer Palmer era of international relations.

Drone strikes on people like Khan are little more than a substitute for Cameron not being able to fully get his war on.  When Paddy Ashdown writes a sane article, pointing out that chucking around a few more bombs is not going to solve anything when he's usually first in line to call for intervention, there ought at least to be a flicker of recognition that something both smarter and more substantial is needed than further military action.  When however the prime minister opened his statement by once again dividing the "economic migrants" from the refugees, the precise distinction that has meant up until very recently we ignored what was happening on the continent, it's hard to believe thinking in Whitehall has significantly changed.  All the more reason why this particular moment's movement has to be kept going, regardless of doubts about fellow travellers.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Friday, September 04, 2015 

The only solution to war is more war.

There's been a lot of this about the last couple of days, but the Guardian really ought to know better:

To begin restoring that hope will inevitably mean international intervention of some kind. The establishment of credible safe havens and the implementation of a no-fly zone must be on the table for serious consideration.

Except we've really gone too far now for this to be even approaching a viable solution.  Establish a no-fly zone and you undoubtedly help protect civilians, but you also give a massive advantage to the rebels, including Islamic State.  It's difficult to imagine how things could get any worse, but the bloodletting likely to follow the total collapse of the Syrian government and immediate battle for the spoils between the rebel groups will be immense.  Safe zones again sound like a great idea, but who on the ground is going to guard them?  The Kurds, the very people the Turks have launched 100x more air strikes on than IS?  The rebel groups other than IS?

Nor has there been any past argument for intervention that would have helped matters.  Unless it had evolved Libya-style into regime change, the mooted response to Assad using chemical weapons in Ghouta was to chuck a few more Hellfire and cruise missiles into the mix and hope that made clear just how serious we were about him killing people with explosives and bullets rather than more exotic weapons.

The only realistic option at this point is to push for a ceasefire between the rebel groups (excluding IS) and the government, with the promise being that once the fight has been taken to IS, Assad will depart and a settlement will be reached from there.  Even this would require a massive turnaround in current attitudes, such has been the amount of blood spilt and the belief on all sides that total victory can still be achieved.  This I'm afraid is the fault of all involved.  There are no clean hands.  And taking in an extra 4,000 refugees remains a completely pitiful gesture, considering the role we've played in Syria reaching this beyond grim juncture.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, September 02, 2015 

Subtext is everything.

There is always a danger in reading too much into works of art, whether they be music, film or animated comedies.  The number of obsessives that regard American Pie (the song, not the film series, you dullards) as a masterpiece with meaning and allusions so deep that it can never be fully deciphered, or have detected things that were never there in the Eagles' Hotel California is testimony to that.

And so we must then return to Rick and Morty, for which I make no apologies whatsoever, although if you have been watching and haven't reached this point yet there are obviously spoilers ahead.  The third episode of the new series ends in another exceptionally bleak denouement: after being dumped for a second time by Unity, a being that can take over the minds of the inhabitants of entire planets, Rick comes within a whisker of killing himself, passing out moments before the suicide machine he constructs would have turned him to dust.  Clearly it's not just because of Unity that he tries to do so, and it's also the case that he's not certain about what he's doing, hence why he drinks a substance that he knows will knock him out very quickly, reducing the chances he actually will die.  Does he also take it though because he doesn't want to experience even the momentary pain the instant cremation will have if he doesn't collapse before the beam reaches full power?  Has Rick reached this point despite being a world-beating albeit unrecognised genius, or is it rather because of that genius, and that despite his intelligence he cannot overcome the failings of his own sociopathic personality, which in the words of Unity, makes him better at what she does without even trying?  And as this is a world where there are an infinite number of alternate realities, as demonstrated neatly by the next episode, in just how many of those universes did Rick kill himself?

Or of course it could be that this was simply a neat way to end an episode that would get an already fevered fan base talking all the more.  Such is television.

Similar pratfalls can result if you focus on one particular issue rather than the whole.  Witness the silliness over the killing of our old friend Cecil, for instance.  You could if you so wish reflect on the impression that gave of an awful lot of people caring more about the death of an endangered animal on the other side of the world than they do plight of other humans on their doorsteps.  You could say that's understandable when animals are, unlike humans, far less complex creatures and operate only on instinct, however much we like to anthropomorphise them.  It's also easy to lose proportion when you don't have to deal with the bottom line, with nature reserves unable to survive on tourism and government funding alone.

All the same, when images like the ones today of a drowned, tiny child washed ashore in Turkey are widely shared, the sort of photographs that manage to speak of both the simplicity and difficulty of the refugee crisis gripping Europe, you can't help but note the other items that are vying for attention alongside it.  The latest on Taylor Swift's latent racism?  How about every single one of you journalists involved in bringing us the latest on this thrilling saga build your own suicide machines?  A 4-page feature on the styles for autumn 2015, including school bully hair, whether to channel the 70s or the 80s and where the only people smiling in the entire feature are notably those smug fucks that sit in the front row at all the shows?  Fashion journalism has always been about incredibly privileged white people in a tiny part of London telling each other to buy £700 trousers and £1,200 pairs of shoes, but isn't it about time you stopped trying to tell us this is of any importance whatsoever or deserving of even the small space it still gets in the national press, especially when the writing reaches ever greater heights of absurdity and insularity?

The real villains are of course not these people, although they make for easy, highly punchable targets.  According to our prime minister, taking in more refugees will do nothing to solve the root problems in Africa and the Middle East.  Well no it won't, but then I don't think anyone was suggesting it would.  It would be a gesture, a recognition that we along with a whole lot of others should play more of a role than we have so far.  Except according to Dave we already are doing our bit to bring peace and stability to these troubled nations.  It's not precisely clear what we're doing to help the situation in Eritrea, for instance, or how aid will help persuade the government there to stop terrorising its own citizens, nor is it obvious what we can do to fix Libya having helped to so comprehensively break it.  

As for Syria and Iraq, presumably the fact we're playing a role in bombing Islamic State targets in the former and the government is likely to seek parliamentary authority to do the same in the latter is what Cameron means, although considering advances against IS have only been won with a combination of air power and ground forces, their defeat is hardly expected any time soon.  Nor would IS's defeat immediately bring an end to the wider conflicts in Iraq and Syria, especially not in the latter, where for all the repeated claims that Assad's government is on the brink of collapse, the murderous stalemate continues.

This is without once again repeating the tedious argument that err, we've played quite a considerable role ourselves in creating this refugee crisis, whether by intervening in Libya and then all but abandoning the place, or by following the Saudi policy in Syria.  If you're going to bomb somewhere or provide support to the people who operate weapons like this with as much impunity as the Assad regime, the very least you can do is offer sanctuary to the people who find themselves in harms way.  

To Cameron, and it should be added a sizeable proportion of people in this country, the 200 who have been give refuge through the specific scheme and the few thousand others that have made it here through fair or foul means are more than enough.  Cameron either doesn't feel any responsibility, or believes that to do the decent, honourable thing would cost him some short-term popularity.  We know he's not going to serve a full term, his government currently faces almost no opposition except from the media; what is there to stop him from this once refusing to bow to those further to his right?  Or is it that he really is just a completely obtuse, pompous snob, from whom there is no subtext to read?

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, September 01, 2015 

Germany: putting the rest of Europe to shame.

There is something quite extraordinary taking place in Germany.  With predictions that the country will see 800,000 asylum applications this year, a figure that some are already suggesting is likely to be an underestimate, it's all too predictable that 199 attacks of varying severity on refugee hostels had been recorded by early July.  Polls suggest 40% of Germans are opposed to taking in any more, while the rise of both the Pegida movement and the Alternative for Deutschland party have both further raised concerns.

Yet that only tells half the story.  Established a year ago, the Welcoming Alliance for Refugees, based in Berlin, now has over 1,000 supporters and regularly sees more than 300 volunteers turn out to give donations and help newly arrived asylum seekers with their claims.  Banners making clear that refugees are welcome have been waved not just at demonstrations, but at football grounds across the country.  The German media, regardless of political affiliation, has almost as a whole expressed the same message.  The populist tabloid Bild, which most closely resembles the Sun, declared at the weekend it too supported the "we're helping" movement, having in the past been accused of helping to ramp up xenophobia.  Politicians too have almost universally said that the country can accommodate the numbers coming, even if there has been criticism they have at times been slow in acknowledging as much.  Last week the government also suspended the Dublin convention, if only for Syrian refugees, making clear they would not be deported regardless of if they had already made an application in another EU state.

Indeed, in the main this has been the reaction of the locals at the sharp end of the biggest mass movement of refugees since WW2 regardless of country.  Residents of places like Lampedusa and any number of Greek islands have shown remarkable patience and made great sacrifices to help those whom have landed on their shores, a kindness that has not always been extended by the authorities themselves.  While few will begrudge the Greek government protesting about it being unable to cope, the refusal of other EU member states to agree to a quota system for refugees is one of the first signs of the possibility of the Schengen agreement breaking down.  The Schengen agreement underpins the freedom of movement rules that have become the bete noire of those opposed to "uncontrolled" immigration with the EU, with Theresa May declaring at the weekend that freedom of movement ought to mean freedom to move to a country where a job is waiting, not simply to look for work.

Der Spiegel's depiction of both a "dark Germany" and a "bright Germany" is probably to overdramatise events in the country that will on current trends take in more refugees this year than the rest of Europe combined.  Germany's stance is all the more remarkable when you realise it is motivated less by anything approaching guilt over the role played in the various wars that have led to the refugee crisis and more by memories of the suffering following the second world war, when millions were left to make their way back to places that were either in ruins or soon to be under a new tyranny.  Germany, unlike ourselves or France, refused to get involved in the NATO intervention in Libya, while it has also played a less partisan role in Syria.  The irony that it is now the major destination for refugees making their way through the failed state of Libya and has opened its borders to Syrians as a whole has not been lost on the German media: Bild for one has raged against David Cameron for shirking his responsibilities.

The attitudes of the German and British media could hardly be further removed from each other.  At the same time as the German papers have welcomed the 200,000 that claimed asylum in the country in July alone, our finest have been thundering against the 1,500 that equally desperately have been trying to make their way to this country from Calais.  Every solution other than letting those who clearly won't be put off by bigger fences and more security make their claims in France has been considered, including sending in the army.  Some might argue that our papers are more reflective of public opinion than their German equivalent, and to judge by radio and TV debates that's probably the case. 

That this merely demonstrates the nadir the debate on immigration has descended to is hardly something to say in our media's defence.   The number of asylum seekers taken in last year made up only around a tenth of the overall net figure of 330,000, a number which is itself deceptive due to how it includes students coming to study from abroad.  We've reached the point where a Songs of Praise broadcast from a makeshift church in the Calais "jungle" has become a front page outrage.  That once these same papers did on occasion welcome asylum seekers, so long as they were from the eastern bloc, with even those who would now be denounced as people smugglers regarded as heroes just underlines the way in which the default tabloid position has become one of permanent suspicion if not outright opposition.

You could say the reality of mass immigration since 2005 has led to public opposition to migration in general, whether economic or for sanctuary, and there's a smidgen of truth in that.  Easily forgotten is back in 2001-2003 the same scenes of chaos at Calais were a nightly feature on the news, with much the same reaction from the media, including alleged collusion between the Sun and the government over what the paper had deemed to be the biggest issue facing the country.  The main problem for many seems to be those in Calais trying to get to Britain aren't completely helpless: that they are breaking into trucks, sneaking onto trains, cutting fences, scaring holidaymakers means they can't possibly be victims, not least when their actions are or were having such a knock-on effect in Dover and Kent in general.  Combined with the questions over why they aren't claiming asylum in France or elsewhere in Europe, despite France taking more than double the number we have, such an atmosphere is hardly conducive to our politicians attempting to raise the tenor of the debate, let alone draw back from such self-defeating policies as the ever more ridiculous Conservative target of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands.

Credit must then be given to Yvette Cooper, for at least making the case for us to do more.  To be frank, even accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees would be a fairly minor gesture, such are the numbers not just in Germany but throughout Europe and also Syria's neighbours.  It would at least be a start, and as Cooper said, would go some way towards this country once again playing the role it has in the past.  Without going further however, and providing a way for refugees to claim asylum from outside Europe, it is both ludicrous and downright stupid to talk about those involved in getting Syrians and others into Europe as the equivalent of slave traders.  What option is there apart from paying smugglers when the other choices are staying or attempting the journey through Turkey and then the Balkans on their own?  Stripped of those boats and vehicles there would be even less hope, terrible as the sinkings in the Mediterranean and suffocation of so many last weekend are. 

That regardless Cooper is up to now the closest we've come to a politician recognising we have a responsibility, not just to Europe but to ourselves to do more is an indictment of just what a nasty, selfish and brutish country we are in danger of becoming.  The very least a nation can do when it has had such a role in breaking the likes of Libya, Iraq and Syria is to give shelter to those who were in the way.  The selflessness of Germany increasingly stands apart from a rest of Europe that seems all too willing to turn its back on its shared past.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, August 03, 2015 

Blaming the immigrants.

Those with long memories for arcane decisions by newspaper regulators might recall that the reason the PCC cleared Jan Moir's article on Stephen Gately of breaching the editor's code was because Moir had been careful not to be explicitly homophobic.  She managed not to use any of the more obvious anti-gay epithets while at the same time casting aspersions on how healthy, normal people do not suddenly just die, especially when they might have been doing something shortly before they stopped breathing that a Daily Mail columnist would naturally disapprove of, and so was not guilty, your honour.

Much the same rules are now in place when it comes to discussing immigration, or rather migrants and asylum seekers, as we have been.  So long as you don't use any language which is definitively racist, like the n-word, p-word, call those desperately trying to get to Britain from their makeshift camps in Calais the coloured masses, or anything similar, you can say absolutely anything you like.  Before the panic of the last week we'd seen human beings described as cockroaches, and most people didn't say anything because giving the person behind that diatribe attention is precisely what she wants.  When David Cameron refers to those fleeing war and oppression, some of whom are on the move from conflicts that have either been exacerbated or even in part set off by British participation as a "swarm", it's just a slip.

It isn't, of course.  Whereas in the past Thatcher and Blunkett were both heavily criticised for describing communities as being "swamped" by newcomers, this time there was just as much biteback at the relatively few who did describe Cameron's choice of words as unhelpful.  The fact is you can now say almost anything you like about immigrants or even foreners as a whole, so long as you don't specifically identify them by either their skin colour or race.  This is not because levels of racism and prejudice have increased, far from it; if anything, both continue to decrease.  Rather, it's because immigrants have been so successfully othered, in much the same way as benefits claimants have.  Once you've reached the point that the first thing those in desperate need declare is that they're not like all those others in desperate need who are scrounging bastards and deserve shooting, it's clear something fundamental has shifted.

Nigel Farage did have something of a point when he complained during one of the general election debates that the audience before him wasn't like the ones he usually encountered.  At the vast majority of events his line in blaming the delays in cancer treatment on foreners and immigrants taking up NHS resources with their bad AIDS doubtless went down a storm.  So long as you get the balance just right between being nasty but with reason, and don't go off into being nasty for the sake of it, you'll be fine.  Go home vans?  Not racist, said the majority.  And to be fair, they probably did just about land on the side of not racist.  Nasty but with reason certainly, but not racist.

Anyone tuning into radio or TV debates over the past week on the situation in Calais will have quickly realised the general consensus is the army should be out there fragging anyone who so much as approaches a truck with what could be interpreted as malign intent.  Some, but not all, will broaden their complaints to how immigrants and refugees are first come first served when it comes to housing and how the people featured on Crimewatch are all foreigners, as did one lady on a local BBC station I happened to catch, before the presenter hastily cut in that might be because such people are poor and desperate and it was time to move on.  The same presenter moments later was agreeing with another caller that clearly the army did need to be on manoeuvres and fences reaching up to space were one solution.

Voters no longer blame politicians when it comes to immigration.  If they did, they wouldn't have given Dave "tens of thousands" Cameron a majority, however small.  They've just stopped listening.  It didn't matter however many times Labour and Ed Miliband insisted it wasn't racist or prejudiced to be concerned about immigration, and how deeply sorry they were that they made a balls-up of not putting in place the temporary restrictions most of the rest of Europe did on eastern European migrants in 2005, voters kept on ignoring them.  When said lady above complained about how her son was having to live in two bedrooms in a Travelodge as his local council couldn't find him anywhere to live, and how this was clearly down to all the immigrants, she didn't think it could just as much be the result of a lack of investment in social housing, or the ultimate culmination of right to buy, she just blamed the immigrants.

When politicians then come up with idiot policies like forcing landlords to examine the passports and birth certificates of everyone they rent to on the pain of jail, they can do so safe in the knowledge that voters won't blame them for the inevitable delays and injustices that will result, they'll blame the illegal immigrants.  They know that when they come up with the idea of further impoverishing the families of failed asylum seekers, despite knowing full well that many of those failed asylum seekers cannot be deported because their countries of origin are paradoxically declared to not be safe, they won't blame politicians for their cruelty, they'll blame the immigrants.  They know that when Theresa May and the French interior minister have the audacity and cant to declare in a joint article that the streets of the UK and France are not paved with gold, they won't think this populism of the most self-defeating and stupid kind, they'll nod in agreement.  The contradictions of how the Conservatives present the UK to the world as booming, the place to be to trade, how great it is won't bother them, as the immigrants are not the target audience.  They'll take no notice of the Swedish justice and migration minister calling out the self-pitying bullshit of British and French politicians, as it doesn't matter how many different people try to explain that most don't want to come here, aren't coming here and that those who do overwhelming are seeking sanctuary, minds have long been made up.  Immigrants we know, good.  Immigration as a whole, bad.  Such is the new centre of British politics.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, July 30, 2015 

Send in the clowns.

Amid the continuing delays at the Channel Tunnel, MPs and media alike today demanded that the military be deployed to help stem the crisis.

"The army must be sent to Dover," said MP Davide Davies.  "Every year this problem gets worse.  Swarms of disgusting British tourists force their way into France, disrespecting our culture, our women and our language.  They sing songs asking where were we during WW2, get drunk, urinate in the streets and dare each other to have sex with goats.  Any benefit from the money they spend is outweighed by the carnage that follows in their wake, which we then have to pay to put right.  It's a completely false economy."

The extreme right-wing newspaper Le Courrier meanwhile had its own take on the factors behind the tourist surge.  "It's the benefits, stupid.  The British government pays so much to feckless layabouts that they feel entitled to come over here with all their friends.  Not that it is just the evil poor.  The problem is exactly the same at the other end of the scale: villages in the south have been bought wholesale by the dreaded "champagne socialists", leaving nowhere for our children to live.  When exactly will we start looking after our own?"

More sanguine voices have been at pains to point out France in fact plays host to relatively few British tourists, and that they mainly head through the country to other destinations.  "Spain is by far the worst affected, with Marbella, Benidorm and Ibiza swamped by a mixture of social classes," commented TV host Antoine de Caunes.  "We get off lightly compared to places like San Antonio, where braying trustafarians party alongside your common garden permissives, who are more than willing to give dozens of blowjobs in exchange for a single shot of Sambuca.  Back in the old days we would have made a highly amusing little short film about that, complete with silly accents."

The reaction in Britain has so far been muted.  Premier David Cameron declined to comment, while the Sun refused to be drawn into a slanging match. "It's the silly season, so the French media is just indulging in its only sure sellers: bigotry, xenophobia and casual racism," commented a spokesman.  "We're above that sort of thing."

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, July 29, 2015 

Calais: solvable, if we really wanted to.

The continuing chaos in Calais is one of those problems that could, should have been solved years ago.  It still could be now if only there was the political will.  The main culprit is the EU's Dublin regulations, whereby an asylum seeker is usually the responsibility of the first member state they lodge a claim in, or where their fingerprints are first taken, and which have long outlived any usefulness they once had.  They weren't designed to be able to deal with the two crises of 2015: the economic turmoil in both Italy and Greece, the two main entry points into the EU for migrants; and the unprecedented number of refugees making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

Even if Italy and Greece could cope with the numbers arriving on their shores, many would soon be moving on anyway, never having had any intention of making a new life in either state.  As it is, there are plentiful reports of the Italian authorities helping migrants on their way, dropping them off close to the border with France.  If you think this hands-on approach might be related to the apparent lack of action from the French police to the numbers who do manage to get to Calais, one step away from this country, you'd be right.  Why waste time, money and effort on dealing with migrants who only want to stay temporarily when to get involved increases the chances of having them stay permanently due to the vagaries of EU policy?  If Scotland had become independent and gained a reputation for being more welcoming to asylum seekers than the rest of UK, difficult as that is to imagine, you can guarantee before long there would be a similar situation in Berwick or the edge of Gretna.  Such is the way we try to pass our problems onto someone else.

An obvious solution would be to do away with the Dublin regulations entirely.  Regardless of where the claim is made, the only way to deal with the numbers coming fairly is to distribute them evenly between EU member states on the basis of a country's wealth, size and number of those already settled of the same heritage, to identify just three possible factors to be taken into consideration.  This approach would have some major problems: the resettling would have to be done almost immediately after the application is made, to ensure a family or person isn't then wrenched away from somewhere they've come to call home a second time.  It would almost certainly have to happen before an application is either approved or rejected, with all the difficulties that entails for cross-border information sharing and language barriers.  It would also mean countries that have previously experienced mainly emigration rather than immigration needing to accept some newcomers.  As has been shown by both the deal forced on the Greeks and the abortive attempt to do something similar to this earlier in the year, such solidarity is already in extremely short supply.

None of these problems ought to be insurmountable.  It's no more fair for Italy and Greece to be the front line in both rescuing and providing for migrants in the immediate aftermath of their reaching Europe than it is for Sweden and Germany to bear by far the most asylum applications (if not in Germany's case by head of population).  The main reason Britain would oppose any such change to the regulations is that despite the Calais situation, we would almost certainly end up taking in more asylum seekers than we do now.  For all the wailing, Cobra meetings, cost to the economy of Operation Stack and the closure of the tunnel, it's seen as preferable to any further increase in the immigration figures, especially when the situation has in the past only been this acute for short periods.  The chaos this time has been exacerbated just as much by the ferry strikes as it has marauding bands of refugees.  The irony of borders being wide open for everyone except those most desperately in need is still yet to properly sink in.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, February 26, 2015 

The immigration monster strikes again.

You can't help but admire the Tories' hugely successful efforts to increase net migration.  There was the campaign abroad stressing just how wonderful the United Kingdom is, the repeated loosening of the rules on claiming benefits, despite there not being the slightest evidence a country's welfare system was a pull factor, and, not unrelated, we've also seen the rise in the polls of the single issue EU-OK! party.  The government hasn't quite reached its ultimate target of 300,000, no ifs, no buts, it must be noted.  Still, 298,000 couldn't be much closer.  Considering the miserable failure to double the deficit in a single term, to all but achieve his aim on immigration is a major fillip going into the election for David Cameron.

Yep, we are once again in bizarro world.  There was never the slightest chance of getting net migration down to the tens of thousands as Cameron so foolishly promised, but it looked for a time at least as though the numbers would come down enough for some sort of progress to be claimed.  For the figure going into the election to be 50,000 above the number which prompted Cameron to make his pledge is little short of fantastic.  Indeed, you'd need a heart of stone not to laugh, if it wasn't for how immigration has long since just become another issue to beat politicians as a whole over, transforming unpopular populist bores into salt of the earth sages who can be trusted to mean what they say.

As plenty of Tory sympathisers have been quick to say, what the increase really shows is that compared to much of Europe the UK economy has recovered faster, except they naturally included the words long, term and plan, when there has never been any such thing.  And had the main parties and most commentators not decided that it was better to indulge the tabloids and public opinion by saying it was no longer enough to make the case for continued immigration on economic grounds, instead of doing so while promising to deal more effectively with the pressures on local services in the areas most affected, with the impact of the cuts naturally having the exact opposite effect, they might now not be in a mess entirely of their own making.

Those with memories longer than your proverbial goldfish might recall much of the immigration panic of 2013 was centred around our Romanian and Bulgarian friends, whom on 1st of January 2014 would have unfettered access to our glorious shores.  Estimates varied from every single person currently in the two countries emigrating to Britain to slightly more sensible guesses.  To give the doommongers some credit, the numbers from the two countries have indeed gone up on the 2013 figures, after the first estimate suggested there might have been a fall.  37,000 came, which isn't a number to be sniffed at considering the 298,000 overall net figure.  This is however an increase of only 13,000 on the previous year, when those wishing to work here had to apply for work permits.  A statistically significant one, as the ONS says, but hardly the end of the UK as we know it.  Nigel Farage can rest assured he's unlikely to be getting any new and unwelcome neighbours.

Let's not kid ourselves here, though.  There's just the one stat that will be seen and it's the headline figure.  How much it really matters is open to question, considering poll after poll suggests people tend to see things in their local area as having not been majorly affected, if at all, as most haven't, while by contrast elsewhere no one speaks English and something has to be done.  Draw a line in the sand, the Sun says, and the fact the Tories didn't have immigration in their 6 key election themes was proof Cameron didn't want to win the election.  If we're to believe Matthew d'Ancona the reason the prime minister's so frit of the debates is he doesn't want to give Farage a platform.  Someone with just a bit more courage ought to take it upon themselves to inform Dave that the very moment he came up with his ridiculous pledge he gave UKIP the kind of platform they had dreamed of for years.  You can't control immigration while you're in the EU, Nige repeats, and it's true, you can't put a cap on the numbers.

What you can do is make a case for exactly why a cap isn't necessary provided the resources are in place to deal with any problems unexpected surges will have temporarily.  What you can do is try and provide enough housing for everyone, enough jobs, introduce regulations that stop the unscrupulous from exploiting casual labour and enforce the payment of a living, as opposed to poverty wage.  You can make the point that a real sign of strength, both economically and culturally is the number of people from outside who want to live in a particular country.  What you don't is encourage the belief that it's all about an over generous welfare system when it's not, that despite previous waves of migrants being welcomed and celebrated for their achievements it's now time to say sorry, we're full when you can't, and then, finally facing that reality, decide it's time to make immigration the key factor in the debate about the EU when that's precisely what the headbangers in your party and the antediluvians in UKIP want to make it.

Considering the number of mistakes Cameron and the Tories have made, and when you factor in Andy Coulson, Libya, Syria, the bedroom tax and continuing to humour Iain Duncan Smith amongst others there's plenty to go round, the immigration target has to be the biggest.  It's not as though it's his only broken promise, that little one about eliminating the structural deficit in a single parliament also jutting out.  As a major cause of cynicism and anger it must be right up there, and yet rather than even at this late moment decide it's time to put a stop to such idiocy and level with a public that could still respect them for doing so, politicians look set to put in place further targets making them a hostage to fortune.  It seems they'd rather see the rise of blowhards and buffoons than make a case for the national interest, something they're more than prepared to fall back on when it comes to taking part in crazy foreign adventures.  Politics at times just doesn't make any damn sense.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, December 15, 2014 

Oh the joy (of the next 5 months).

There are a couple of reasons why l spend inordinate amounts of time slamming away at a keyboard instead of advising the Labour party.  First off, I'm not American, nor have I been parachuted into a safe seat, more's the pity.  Second, I cannot for the life of me work out why you would effectively launch your general election campaign in the middle of fricking December when most people's minds are even further away from politics than usual.  Presumably, and I'm really clutching at straws here, the idea is to get a head start on the other parties and begin the process of drilling the 5 key pledges Labour has decided upon into everyone's skulls.  Come May, all concerned will march to the polling station, their minds focused on controlling immigration fairly and cutting the deficit every year while securing the future of the NHS.

The words under and whelming come to mind, as they so often do when the topic shifts to Labour.  If you wanted to be extremely charitable, you could say it's an indication of just how spectacularly the coalition has failed that Labour seems to have pinched wholesale two of the Conservatives' pledges from 2010.  Alternatively, you could point out it's spectacularly unimaginative and an indication of Labour's chronic lack of ambition for it to be defining itself in the exact same way as the hated Tories did.  5 fricking years ago.

Again, to be fair, we're promised Labour is getting the less pleasant of its pledges out first, with the more unique ones to follow, defined by those all time classic Labour values.  Quite why Labour has decided upon the pledge approach in the first place is a difficult one to ascertain: presumably modelled on the 1997 pledge cards (and Christ alive, the photo of Tone on the card is easily as terrifying as this year's Christmas effort), is it meant to bring to mind the good old days when Labour could win a vast majority on the most vacuous of aspirations?  They're not even pithy, as the actual pledges amount to three sentences of deathly prose.  Cutting the deficit every year while protecting the NHS would be great, if the exact same message hadn't been plastered around the country accompanied by Cameron's suspiciously taut forehead.

Dear old Ed today gave what must rank as one of the briefest speeches of his career, outlining the second pledge, emphasising how he wouldn't repeat Cameron's promise of getting migration down to a specific point, only that Labour would control it, and fairly, that distinction apparently intended for both those pro and anti to interpret as they see fit.  Call me picky, but saying you'll control something you cannot still makes you a hostage to fortune in my book.  Miliband's audience helped by moving the debate swiftly on, similarly to how the campaigning against UKIP document leaked to the Torygraph suggested Labour candidates do when the topic is broached on the doorstep.

As pointed out by Andrew Sparrow, the briefing paper is about the most sensible thing Labour has said about immigration in months if not years, recognising they're not going to win over the virulently opposed while also suggesting for most immigration is "used as a means to express other concerns".  Except as it sort of implies people aren't steaming about immigration directly, and the party for whatever reason has decided to so much as suggest this is the equivalent of not taking legitimate concerns seriously, shadow ministers have all but disowned their own strategy.  It's also meant the media can talk about the distraction rather than a boring old policy Labour are only re-announcing anyway.

Still, what a jolly 5 month long general election campaign we have to look forward to.  Already the dividing lines are set between Labour, Tories and Liberal Democrats on the economy and the deficit, and they are of course the most absurd caricatures of actual stated policy imaginable.  Special marks for dishonesty must go to David Cameron, who managed to scaremonger about a difference between his party and Labour of about £25bn in borrowing terms in the most hyperbolic way possible.  Just imagine if there was another crash and Labour was once again racking up the debt!  Except, err, if there's another crash and borrowing is only falling by as much as the Tories are projecting it will, there will still be problems, although nothing as compared to elsewhere.

Labour meanwhile is making as much as possible out of the 1930s comparison on everyday spending, which is technically correct, again if the Tories mean what they say, just not particularly illuminating.  A better approach would be, as Ed Miliband somewhat tried last Thursday, to set out exactly what sort of state it is most people want.  If George Osborne carries through and magics into existence his surplus, parts of government will be left barely functioning, which really isn't to scaremonger: cutting the budgets of departments other than health, education and foreign aid (which surely won't continue to be ringfenced) by as much as needed doesn't look remotely plausible.  When the best minds are baffled by what the chancellor is up to, apart from mischief, it deserves highlighting.

Even if we look at Labour's plans in the most flattering light, Ed Balls is still promising to run a surplus as soon as possible, not because it's good economics but as a result of the way the debate has been framed.  Doing so is still going to require huge cuts, savings which the party has done the least of the main three to outline.  In the grand scheme of things, as Chris and Alex Marsh have so persuasively argued, this doesn't really matter.  The real issues affecting the economy are the collapse in productivity, and with it the decline in wages growth.  We are though operating in a climate where the difference is between "colossal" and merely "eye-watering" cuts, where the Tories claim to have succeeded on the basis they've more or less reduced the deficit to the level Alistair Darling pledged to, except they've done so on the backs of the poorest, and where it seems personal taxes will never have to rise again, despite government having apparently decided not to bother taxing companies properly either.

There's a third reason I'm not advising Labour.  I'd be even worse at it than the current lot.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, December 01, 2014 

Jolly old Saint Nige is laughing yet again.

Black Friday.  Cyber Monday.  Suicide Tuesday.  Pornhub Wednesday.  Fatuity Thursday.  And so on.  Yes, it can only mean one thing: the most pitifully oversold, and by no coincidence miserable time of the year is here once again.  It gets dark at half-past three, the same people who every December without fail have their gaudy, depressing and garish decorations up on the first have switched the lights on, and those of us with reasons for especially disliking the "festive period" try and convince ourselves not to open our wrists at the same time as others are looking forward to opening presents.  If you were a cynic, and if you're reading this you almost certainly are, you might detect a connection between a period of the year when a hell of a lot of people have a hell of a lot of fun and perpetually sad bastards being more morose than usual.  Surely not.

Still, 'tis the season where it is more blessed to give than to receive, if that is you're still mixing up that damned old time religion with the whole fat bloke in a red suit who's pals with the magic reindeer thing.  In that spirit we obviously shouldn't question where George Osborne has managed to find an extra £2bn a year for the NHS, and just be glad he's done so.  Turns out £750m of that is "internal department savings", so isn't new money, but hey, you don't look a gift horse in the mouth, right?  Labour's pledge of an extra £2.5bn on top of the coalition's plans is by contrast, as Andy Burnham tells us, "fully costed", which means some of it will be paid for by the proposed "mansion tax".  As no one has the slightest idea how much such a tax would raise in practice, especially if we're to believe noted political commentator Myleene Klass that only little old ladies and garage owners will be hit rather than absent oligarchs, the other idle rich and celebrity bikini wearers, it's a strange old definition of "fully costed".  Best not to split hairs though, eh?

While everyone waits in anticipation of just how Osborne is going to dress up a possible rise in the deficit as evidence of how the coalition's "long-term economic plan" is working come the autumn statement on Wednesday, let's turn our attention back to Friday and David Cameron's long-awaited and much-hyped immigration speech.  For weeks the briefing went that Cameron was going to change the rules of the game, a bit like Tony Blair did after 7/7, only with less scapegoating of brown people and more of white people, albeit eastern European white people.  He was going to channel Thatcher and say no, no, no to freedom of movement, either putting a temporary halt to it altogether or restricting it through only providing a certain number of migrants with national insurance numbers.  The latter move would have most likely encouraged the abuses Cameron didn't so much as mention in his speech, the non-paying of the minimum wage and so on, so you can understand why it didn't end up in the finished version.

Unfortunately for Cameron, having backed down on directly challenging the rest of the EU over freedom of movement, rightly or wrongly, he was left with not much other than a slightly harder edged version of Labour's proposals of further benefit restrictions for migrants.  To give Dave some credit, he did at least make the argument for continued immigration, one that many other politicians have retreated from doing.  Considering only UKIP and the far-right are calling for a complete halt to immigration, temporary or not, that it's become something unusual for a politician to openly state their policy as it stands is a sign of just how removed from reality the debate has become.  Special kudos must also go to the writer of the "isolationism is actually deeply unpatriotic" line, which skewers those so keen to wrap themselves in the flag, whether it be St. George's or the Union Jack.

Sadly, that's about it for the good stuff.  The rest is exactly what has become the standard when it comes to immigration: the setting up of false dichotomies between those totally opposed to immigration and those totally opposed to limits on immigration, with casual insults of the latter thrown in; the continued blaming of the welfare system, both for immigrants coming in the first place as Brits are too lazy/were better off on the dole/were faking disability or sickness, or because the immigrants themselves are attracted by the benefits available; and finally, the obvious disjunct between saying the vast majority come here to work hard and pay their taxes and then in the next breath denying them the benefits those taxes pay for.  "No wonder so many people want to come to Britain," said Cameron, without there being the slightest evidence the benefit system, let alone tax credits and other "in-work benefits" play any role whatsoever in the choice of EU migrants as to which country to go to.  If they did, as Atul Hatwal says, they'd go to countries that have far more generous systems, regardless of whether they pay "up front" or not.

People want control, and they want fairness, Cameron said.  Fairness is obviously an abstract concept; how can it possibly be fair to deny benefits to someone purely on the basis of nationality, so that an EU national is denied tax credits while a UK resident in the same job, on the same wage, the same age and paying the same amount in tax is allowed them?  It sounds remarkably like naked discrimination to me, and yet plenty on the left seem to have no problem with immigrants having to wait four years to gain access to the same entitlements.  Whatever happened to workers of the world unite?  Forget for a second about needing to calm fears over immigration and consider the obvious end point of such a crackdown:  George Osborne remains convinced there are further savings to be found in the welfare bill.  Where could such obvious savings to be found?  By applying much the same restrictions to everyone rather than just migrants.  No benefits full stop until you've paid in four years' worth of national insurance contributions, with obvious exceptions for the seriously ill or disabled.  If it's good enough for those who do come here to work, why shouldn't our skivers be subject to the same conditions?  It's pretty much what Dan the White Van Man prescribed, and you wouldn't mess with him.

It wouldn't matter so much if you know, in-work benefits were a major factor in EU migration.  Except they're not, for all the other reasons Cameron himself outlined.  He and the rest of the parties are once again setting themselves up to fail.  If anything this is an even stupider venture than the original "tens of thousands" promise, one the Conservatives assumed could be met because they expected the Eurozone to recover broadly in line with the UK economy, only for it not to as George Osborne had the sense to (somewhat) ease austerity while Europe continues to impose it.  On this occasion they must know full well these restrictions, if implemented, will have only a minor impact.  And once again David Cameron has also raised expectations, both in suggesting freedom of movement would be curtailed, and now through putting so much onus on the one policy.  It's almost as though he expects his negotiations with the other EU leaders to fail should he still be prime minister come next May, except he wouldn't seriously put our EU membership on such a fine line, would he?

I think we can all guess what Nigel Farage wants for Christmas.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 

The pull factor.

A few years back now, an enterprising individual with a paint can took it upon himself to daub "KILL ASYLUM SEEKERS" in 2 foot high letters on a wall close to where I worked.  It took the best part of a month before anyone saw fit to cover it over.  How and why this person chose asylum seekers specifically as the focus of his passive aggressive ire rather than illegal immigrants say, or a defined ethnic minority has always stuck with me.  After all, it's a lot harder to argue against providing someone fleeing persecution with sanctuary than it is to oppose economic migration, legal and illegal.  Hence why the tabloids got into so much bother with the countless pieces on "bogus asylum seekers", their attempt to fight back against a loaded term with one of their own.  The PCC was forced into recognising there could be no such thing as an "illegal" or "bogus" asylum seeker, only those whose applications had been rejected and so were "failed" asylum seekers.

In all likelihood, the person responsible wasn't specifically offended by the idea of states being required by international law to provide sanctuary to someone who asks for it, and whose case is found to be legitimate.  He just hated immigrants, regardless of their merits or demerits.  Our politicians, by contrast, don't hate asylum seekers; they just either don't care, or rather, care only about the resources they use and the responsibility they have to look after them, especially in the face of public outcry.

One approach by which they try and evade responsibility is that old favourite, blaming everyone other than themselves.  Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, might as well have been quoting from a years-old think piece in the Express in her evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on why it is so many migrants continue to try to get to Britain rather than seek asylum in France or work there.  Bouchart claimed those camped out in Calais aren't asylum seekers, and yet when challenged by Ian Austin on why they couldn't then be deported as illegal immigrants, said she was in dispute with the French government over the matter.  All the talk of the "pull factor", of migrants being attracted by the benefit system, of the UK being a "soft touch", all was to distract from how the French have never cared about asylum seekers, genuine or otherwise, trying to get to Britain through French ports but obviously can't admit as much, and second, how France is so poorly regarded that many of those fleeing persecution want to stay anywhere but there.

There are many reasons other than ones to do with our famously generous welfare state for why those wanting sanctuary aim for Britain rather than elsewhere in Europe, and they're pretty much the same as why others choose to head for Sweden or Germany rather than ask for asylum in the first European country they enter.  Real pull factors are relatives, or friends who've previously made the journey, as little as stories of friends of friends of friends.  Long established communities of ex-pats are known about and play a similar role.  Then there's language, culture, the way countries have an image whether accurate or not, and knowledge of economic success.  There's a reason why Australia continues to attract migrants and asylum seekers despite its hardline approach to both, whereas a country like Japan which on the surface ought to be similarly regarded doesn't.

The fact is facts don't matter.  Politicians don't really believe funding search and rescue operations encourages other desperate people to pay traffickers to get them into Europe, as they aren't that stupid.  The idea someone weighing up whether to flee Syria, Iraq, Libya or Eritrea is going to be put off by the Italian navy not being there to save them should their boat sink is patently, insultingly absurd.  Nor is it about money.  Both ourselves and the French for instance had no problem in finding the cash to bomb Islamic State in Iraq, just the latest self-defeating measure in a whole line of policies connected with Syria and Iraq.  Rather than try to bring an end to the civil war in the former, we lined up behind rebels it quickly transpired could not overthrow Bashar al-Assad.  Despite our role in fomenting the conflict, with millions of Syrians displaced, the only European nations to go beyond platitudes have been, again, Germany and Sweden.

It isn't that politicians are heartless, inhumane or morally bankrupt either.  Rather, the sad thing is they're just going by what they hear.  People don't care that hundreds, almost certainly thousands of migrants are drowning every year while trying to reach Europe's shores, or if they do, it's because they're angered more isn't being done to keep them out, to remove those "pull" factors.  The only surprising thing is we've reached a point where another excuse wasn't found as to why EU-wide funding isn't going to be made available, and this was presumably only down to how the Home Office thought they had cover due to it being agreed by a group of foreign ministers.  The contrast between the current attitude and that of Sir Nicholas Winton, celebrated today for making the arrangements that allowed 669 mostly Jewish children to escape from occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, could not be more stark.  Then too sanctuary to those escaping conflict was opposed and demonstrated against.  That we haven't truly moved on from those times ought to challenge more consciences than it apparently does.

Labels: , , , , ,

Share |

Monday, October 27, 2014 

Enoch: "I misspoke".

Despite being dead for 16 years, Enoch Powell has surprised politics by admitting that he was "careless" in his notorious "rivers of blood" speech.

"I used words I wouldn't have normally," said the reanimated former Ulster Unionist MP.  "To be frank, I misspoke."

"Looking back now, there are many obvious problems with my oration.  For instance, I quoted an unnamed man, who said "in this country in 15 or 20 years' the black man will have the whip hand over the white man" .  Quite apparently, those were my views, and I shouldn't have tried to hide behind someone else in such an intellectually dishonest manner.

"Also, in quoting Virgil from the Aenied, who wrote of the "river Tiber foaming with much blood", I wore my past, that of a professor of the classics, rather heavily.  I was posing as the prophet, expecting riots, perhaps almost hoping there would be.

"You'll have noted that despite these qualifications, I haven't actually stepped back from anything I said at the time.  As I don't regret it for a second.  The lesson is clear: you can say the most outrageous things so long as you use language carefully.  Michael Fallon's real mistake was in mixing his metaphors: how on earth can a place be swamped as well as under siege?  As for his past reference to Bryony Gordon as a "slut", he ought to have referred to her as "not being known to express prejudice".  Unlike myself.  Ha ha."

In other news:

Faceless McNomark, the TV executive behind this year's smash hit fly-on-the-wall documentary Just Take a Gander at These Feckless Cunts, has defended the show amid continuing protests at the filming of two follow-up series.

"They assume we have malign intent, when we don't," the indignant McNomark told me.  "There isn't an agenda.  Just because we suggested the documentary was going to be called "Community Spirit" doesn't mean they have a right to complain.  Indeed, what they're calling for is nothing less than censorship.  I will never relinquish our right to take advantage of and completely fictionalise the stories of some of the most distressed parts of our society."

Due for broadcast in January and March, Why Aren't You Stringing These Scrounging Bastards Up Right Now? and Filthy Fucking Pikeys: Over Here, Taking Your Jobs promise a new paradigm in current affairs programming.

In short:

PM in security scare: proves the prime minister needs more security, say security experts
Media obsessed with Russell Brand, complains everyone over the age of 10
Media not obsessed enough with Russell Brand, complains Russell Brand
War in Afghanistan draws to a close - sequel expected in 2017

Labels: , , , ,

Share |

Thursday, October 23, 2014 

Extremely loud and incredibly close.

John Harris is without a doubt one of the best political commentators we have.  Unlike many of the others with a column and their name in a large font, he bothers to respond to the keyboard hammerers below the line, and he really does go beyond, indeed anywhere but Westminster.  Just though as not getting out enough leads to losing touch, so too can travelling to wherever the next by-election is being held make you think the hot topic of the moment is the most important issue in politics outright.  Add in a straw man, and you pretty much have his piece for the Graun today.

To say I'm bored out of my mind by the immigration debate in general doesn't really cover it.  It's taken the place of the Iraq war in being constantly talked about without anyone ever making an original point or changing their position.  These are the facts: despite claims to the contrary, we've been having a debate about immigration for over half a century now.  Yes, there have always been some people who've shouted racist whenever the topic is broached, mainly for the good reason that up till relatively recently the majority of complaints about immigration, rather than being couched in economic or social terms, were based around skin colour or culture.  This is to simplify massively, but Steve Bell captured how far we've come in his cartoon from last week: we've moved on from the days of "if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour" to "if you want a fruit picker from Romania for a neighbour, vote Labour".

Next, Labour did not try and transform the country into a truly multicultural society through immigration, as those who can remember back to the times when it was asylum seekers rather than eastern European migrants who were regarded as the biggest problem facing the country will know.  The mistake in 2004 was not realising the effect opening the borders to A8 states would have, especially when only Sweden and Ireland similarly didn't impose further restrictions.  Even fewer Poles speak Swedish than English, hence why so many journeyed here instead of to Stockholm.  Lastly, as it bears repeating, it's now almost been a decade since the Conservatives under Michael Howard used "it's not racist to impose limits on immigration" as a slogan.  Ever tighter limits have since been imposed, except of course when it comes to the EU.

Harris's piece could have almost been in response to my post on Tuesday.  He was though most likely thinking of the works of either Polly Toynbee or Richard Seymour, aka Lenin from the Tomb.  Without referring directly to Harris, Seymour has since tweeted this poll finding, which does rather underline his point.  No, people's worries and fears about migration writ large aren't racist, bigoted or down to prejudice; are however some of those fears at their most base down to as, Seymour puts it, entitlement and chauvinism?  Well, yes.

That topsy-turvy poll finding by ComRes does in its own way sum up the immigration, even the Europe debate in microcosm.  Do we still want the undoubted benefits of being in the EU, that past waves of immigration have brought here?  Certainly.  Are we as keen on the impact on public services, on how towns like Wisbech, Peterborough and Boston have been altered, and just how swift the pace of change has been?  Not so much.  At the same time, the poll makes clear those most concerned about immigration are extremely noisy, as a solid 36% still accept freedom of movement within the EU.  As Flying Rodent has argued, concern about immigration is one of the relatively few areas of public opinion which is pandered to.

And it hasn't worked, for the reason it hasn't addressed the fundamental right of freedom of movement, as politicians haven't had the guts to make the argument for why it's one of the few areas of EU policy they ought to be able to agree has been a success.  Chris answers Harris's question of whether free movement has been of most benefit to capital or labour, but that obviously isn't going to convince the people he's been listening to.  What might, and is something Westminster politicians have shied away from as it would reduce their control is, as we now know to a fair extent where the most pressures have been put on public services and housing, the targeting of extra funding to those areas.  This, finally, does seem to be where Labour is moving towards, with Ed Miliband today setting out 5 points around which an immigration bill from his government would be based.  We can quibble about the rights and wrongs of preventing migrants from sending child benefit and child tax credits back to their home nation when Brits working abroad can do the same, but if it helps to staunch public concern then so be it.

If some of the left has been blasé about migration, as Harris puts it, the reason is precisely because of the way we've arrived at this point.  Yes, public concern about immigration has been high in the past, and is high now.  Where though did the current mood have its roots, and is it all about migration or rather migration becoming the rallying point for a whole other myriad of concerns?  Easily forgotten is the way panic was whipped up last year over the looming ending of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians coming here, with the media all but joining UKIP in predicting a movement similar to that of post-2005.  It didn't happen.  What did happen is the economy continuing to recovery, albeit without a similar recovery in living standards, the former leading to workers in western rather than eastern Europe looking for jobs further afield.  The fault is not with the migrants, but with the joint failings of late capitalism and politicians both here and in Europe.

For all the insults and asking of what the "modern left" would do, Harris himself doesn't offer a solution other than restricting free movement, despite how this both isn't going to and shouldn't happen.  We could start with being straight with the public rather than continuing to lie to them.  Who knows, it might just begin to have an effect.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 

Farage's face, staring out - forever.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell through O'Brien offered as a picture of the future a boot stamping on a human face - forever.  It's a visceral, shocking image you want to turn away from, yet it's not as horrifying as the current vision of the future we are presented with.  It still involves a human face, only rather than it being stamped on, there's a rictus grin across its mug, the eyes bright, teeth being flashed for all their worth.  The face, all but needless to add, belongs to Nigel.

Future historians looking back on the coalition government will have plenty to examine and debate over.  They will wonder how a government which insisted it was dealing with a national emergency, the size of the budget deficit, could first choke off the recovery left by the previous government by cutting back capital spending and then conjure to provide a recovery of their own in which the deficit fails to fall.  They will try to reach conclusions over whether it was the emphasis on cuts to the welfare budget by this government that led inexorably to the dismantling of the system of social security as the country had known it post-Beveridge.  Most significantly, they will be forced to consider how despite presenting himself as a strong leader, David Cameron was in fact the embodiment of a weak prime minister, at every step giving in to the worst instincts of his party rather than pursuing what was right for the country.

The evidence for just such a finding is there in abundance.  Most fundamental will be the colossal error Cameron made in January 2013, announcing in a speech that if returned to power in 2015, his government would hold an in/out referendum on remaining in the European Union by 2017, after a successful "renegotiation" with the other member states.  Designed to win over backbenchers complaining about his leadership and the party's standing in the polls, it does for a matter of days.  Having succeeded in pressurising a leader they have never taken to and never will into making one promise, they quickly demanded he move sooner.  They make clear their displeasure at legislation not being present in the Queen's speech preparing for the referendum, and again, Downing Street soon gives in.

Not that it was only backbenchers taking the credit for Cameron's shift.  In another example of Cameron's reckless promises coming back to bite him, prior to the 2010 election he set out how a Conservative government would bring immigration down from the hundreds of thousands to the "tens of thousands".  At first it looked as though he might achieve his aim, only for the continuing economic woes in the Eurozone to result in a surge of migrants from the western European states most affected by austerity coming to the country.  Immigration duly becomes second only to fears over the NHS in people's concerns, not because of it having a personal impact on most, but as a catch-all complaint over the sense of drift, the general feeling of powerlessness most are experiencing as real wages fall and politicians refuse to offer anything resembling a vision of where the country is heading.

So desperate are the public they look anywhere for an alternative.  In any other circumstances Nigel Farage would be an incongruous figure, a deeply boring, petty man who covers up for his party's lack of policies and rigour with an overarching narrative: things ain't what they used to be, and it's all the fault of the European Union.  Nigel smokes tabs, drinks beer, and so delights a media starved by the blandness and sterility of the focus grouped out of existence political elite.  They can't get enough of him, and the publicity combined with the mood of hopelessness leads to his UK Independence Party winning hundreds of council seats, before it comes out on top in 2014's European parliament elections.  Rather than bother to submit Farage himself to anything resembling proper scrutiny, with a very few select exceptions, the media instead focus on those lower down the party structure.  All the while the personality cult of Farage continues to build, to the point where a former DJ imagines the UKIP leader at Number 10 in a calypso inspired song.  It seems and is completely absurd, and yet the main topic of debate is whether Mike Read's appropriation is racist.

Absurd is the word.  Cameron's weakness knows no apparent bounds.  Only a few weeks ago he offered to his party and by proxy the country the promise he would put freedom of movement at the heart of his renegotiation strategy.  He said he wouldn't take no for an answer.  The outgoing president of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso, points out the answer could only be no when the rest of the EU, imposing its own restrictions on benefits or not, has not the slightest intention of curtailing one of the EEC's founding principles and biggest successes.  Panicked further by the prospect of losing the Rochester by-election, and apparently fearing a leadership challenge in the aftermath, we now learn Cameron is set to announce some form of unilateral restriction on low-skilled eastern European migrants, most likely by refusing to issue them with national insurance numbers.  How this will affect the economy he cares not; nor does he worry over the legal implications.

Cameron's gambit has failed on all fronts.  His backbenchers, meant to be sated by his giving them what they want, now realise they have pushed to the point at which they are closer than ever to reaching their goal of getting Britain out of Europe.  Why on earth would they stop now?  UKIP, meanwhile, has had its every argument validated, continues to gain support and still can point out that the only way to truly control the borders is to leave.  All this, and the Conservatives remain behind Labour in the polls.  The only reason Cameron hasn't been called on this disaster is due to the majority of the press sharing the backbenchers' opinion on the EU, and how they can't imagine anything as terrible as Red Ed in Number 10.  I can.  It's another 5 years of Farage's fizzog staring out from every screen, every alternate sheet of newsprint, every billboard, the same silent laugh emanating from his gob.  You're the one he's laughing at, Dave.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |


  • This is septicisle


Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates