Monday, July 04, 2016 

Bargaining chips.

Over the past week and a bit, there have been more than a few occasions where it's seemed as though we've stumbled through the looking glass.  That Jeremy Corbyn is still Labour leader, over a week after the world's worst coup, with journalists insisting a challenge will come, just a bit after they first proclaimed that it was definitely definite that a candidate would put themselves forward, is but one of many bizarro events.  Personally I hope Jezza is hanging on purely until the publication on Wednesday of the Chilcot report, in order to call from the dispatch box for Tony Blair to be indicted at the Hague.  Corbyn will then flash v for victory, yell peace oot, and disappear in a flash of smoke, never to be seen again.

All things considered mind, today's urgent question in the Commons by Gisela Stuart, she of Leave and the morning after the night before wake press conference really took the cake.  Having lain down with dogs, she duly stood up to complain about the fleas.  Could it really be possible the government would not guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK would be protected whatever happens?  Yes, responded James Brokenshire, echoing both David Cameron and Theresa May.  This will be a decision for the next prime minister, regardless of how unlikely it is that anyone will be asked to leave, and how refusing to make that clear will do nothing whatsoever to stop those emboldened by the Leave vote from telling anyone having the gall to speak foreign to go back to where they came from.

People should not be bargaining chips, Stuart said.  Which is even odder.  People have been bargaining chips for as long as I can remember.  When we talk about immigration we are talking about people, however much we pretend not to be.  Immigrants are not a congealed mass; they are individuals.  If you didn't want EU migrants to be turned into bargaining chips, then you really shouldn't have encouraged the belief that a vote to Leave would be anything like a vote to Take Back Control.  Oh, but Anne Main, another Leave supporter said, no one so much as suggested that migrants already here would be sent back or deported.  Well no, they didn't say that in such exact terms, but it seems strange so many who voted Leave got the idea from somewhere that doing so would at the very least send a clear message that such people were not welcome.  UKIP campaigned expressly on the slogan "we want our country back", a sentiment so double edged that it wasn't a dog whistle so much as Farage standing in front of a giant poster of huddled brown masses, embossed with the words "BREAKING POINT".

Queerer still is how politicians beyond the likes of your Jo Coxes and Corbyns suddenly have kind words to say about migrants.  The same ones are doubtless saying so at the exact same time as they murmur on how the vote means freedom of movement must either end or be drastically curtailed under any deal, with some going so far as to say leaving the single market would be better than having to accept freedom of movement, but still, it's something, isn't it?  Anyone might have thought they almost feel something approaching responsibility for the fallout from the vote, from how for years they stoked up the question of immigration until it became so toxic it ended up devouring the question of membership of the European Union whole.  Who knows, perhaps a few like Stuart even do feel sorry.  Not that it makes things any better.

In line with all the other leading politicos who, succeeding in bringing us to this low ebb have since decided they'd rather be off wanking in front of a mirror, Nigel Farage today did the indecent thing, following Cameron and Boris through the irresponsibility door.  His life's work achieved, Farage now wants nothing better than to relax and take stock, looking forward to his inevitable demise through auto-erotic asphyxiation.  That he's resigned twice before only to return to his adoring public is no indication that he'll be back for another battle some time in the future, oh heavens no.  This time he means it when he says he wants his life back.  Yes, back to those halcyon days when he could have a pint without being called a cunt by some cultural Marxist, or needing to laugh along at the racist jokes told by bar room bores even more tedious than himself.  Who could possibly begrudge him a quiet retirement now that he's banjaxed the hopes and dreams of so many?

Boris Johnson is in a similar position.  There he was, leading a sensible, traditional campaign where no one got roughed up, and suddenly he's getting called a c and a w too!  What is it our "nose-ringed friends", these "north London radicals" love so much about the EU he asks in his latest Telegraph column, which is in fact nothing more than a reprise of his entire Leave campaign shtick, complete with 5 point non-plan for what should happen now.  His last point of said plan is that our future is very bright indeed, whatever that beatnik Bob Geldof says.

Who then should lead us into these sunlit uplands now that BoJo himself has dropped out?  Clearly none other than Andrea Leadsom, who no one had heard of until three weeks ago, but now according to Johnson has the "zap, the drive, and the determination essential for the next leader of this country".  Or alternatively, according to a unnamed civil servant, was the "worst minister we've ever had".  Of all the Tory candidates on offer, it's quite something to be the most obviously unsuited for the job of prime minister in a field that includes both Michael Gove and Liam Fox, and yet Leadsom is without doubt that candidate.  It's enough to make you wonder if Johnson's endorsement is in fact pure nihilism: having lost his chance to get the job he's coveted his whole life, he's now quite happy to sit back and watch the party and by the same measure the country burn.

May you live in interesting times they say.  Fuck that, I say.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2016 

The Hair/Pob alliance breaks loose.

After however weeks, weeks that have seemed like years, the Leave campaign has finally got its act together.  Who knows, perhaps this was always the plan: wait until the purdah period begins, happily at about the same time as the latest immigration stats are released, and then go into overdrive.

It's also helped massively that they've decided on a tactic which seems to have thrown Remain and the (actual) Tory leadership completely: make the referendum essentially into a referendum on which wing of the Tory party you want in power.  Priti Patel, in a likely Freudian slip, made this apparent when she spoke today: don't just take back control from Brussels, take back control of the government also.  Patel it's fairly obvious is first in line for the chop come the revenge reshuffle if Remain does win; if not, who knows how high an MP who once described us plebs as "among the worst idlers in the world" will rise in a Johnson-Gove administration.

As it couldn't be more obvious this is what the choice now boils down to.  Vote Remain, and you're voting for at most a couple more years of Dave, with a truculent and aggrieved party making life as difficult as possible for the man who finally won them a majority, however slim, 23 years after the last one.  Vote Leave, and you're on the side of team Bozza/Pob, and such policies as maybe reducing VAT on fuel, maybe spending a bit more on the NHS, and maybe reducing immigration a little more.  Boris is quite possibly the biggest charlatan in British politics, but he's a conniving, scheming, on occasion pin sharp charlatan.  Every time he denies this is a programme for an alternate Tory government, and every time he says Dave will continue as prime minister regardless of the result, he means exactly the opposite.  He doesn't need to so much as nod or wink.  It's that apparent.

If, and it's a massive if, the Hair/Ventriloquist Dummy pairing mean what they say on immigration, then it tells us a few things.  First, that the Gove-Dominic Cummings axis has won the argument when it comes to leaving the single market.  For years the Tories, Eurosceptics included, made the single market out to be the one unquestionably positive attribute of the EU.  Being part of the single market however means being a member of the European Economic Area, which in turn means free movement.  Gove and Cummings have somehow convinced first themselves and then their Leave mates that exiting the single market entirely is worth it if it means being able to claim you can then control immigration from the EU.  That leaving the single market is easily one of, if not the most economically destructive of all the various options Leave has posited so far is apparently by the by.  We can take it, very well alone and all that.

Except this still doesn't quite add up to the IMMIGRATION REVOLUTION! the Mail adoringly splashed on this morning.  Putting in place the same points based system as applied to non-EU migrants simply isn't going to work, unless of course the Leavers are fine with the farming industry to name just one business sector collapsing entirely.  Even if they didn't make any adjustments, and even if immigration from the EU ceased entirely as a result, net migration still wouldn't come down to the tens of thousands, as Johnson and the others have implied would then be possible.  This is without the Leave campaign keeping their other implied promises about making it easier for migrants from Commonwealth countries to come here.  Indeed, about the only way net migration could possibly fall to the tens of thousands would be if emigration increased massively.  Which, to think conspiratorially for a second, could be the actual goal.

Second, it fully gives the lie to the already ridiculously hypocritical comments from the likes of Patel about certain individuals being blasé about high levels of immigration because it either doesn't affect or actively benefits them.  Put to one side the evidence is very mixed on whether immigration has had that much of an impact on wages, and instead gaze on the multitude of reports, all of which conclude there will be an economic impact from exiting the EU.  The more honest Leave figures admit it is likely there will be at least an initial effect, made up for in later years or not.  As Rick argues, for many of the people the Leavers claim to be standing up for, they simply can't afford such an effect.

Leave knows it can't win on the economic arguments; it's why they've made their move this week.  Likewise, Remain cannot win purely on the economics, which is why you would have expected a better rebuttal to the Leave gambit of the last couple of days than the panicked one we've had.  Partially this is down to how Cameron has trapped himself on immigration, but it's also a result of Remain becoming complacent, so lacking up to now has Leave been.  At the same time, Leave has laid itself bare: the decision to go wholesale with not just leaving the EU, but the single market too gives Remain an opportunity.  Leave wants out of Europe as a whole.  The British people might reject Brussels, but they certainly don't the continent.  Most also will likely prefer Cameron/Osborne to Boris/Gove.

Then again, most would likely prefer the cold steel right up them to both.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016 

The immigration monster bites back.

If there is one thing worse in the eyes significant number of the public than uncontrolled immigration, it's claiming to be controlling it while doing nothing of the sort.  Net migration running at 330,000 a year cannot possibly be presented as controlling it, and yet to an extent that is what governments have always done.  Contrary to the repeated calls from various halfwits for the introduction of a points system, there already is oneNumerous barriers have been placed in the way of immigrants from Commonwealth countries bringing over relatives or partners.  Proof that a wife or husband from outside of the EU will be earning more than £35,000 a year is needed before they will be given so much as leave to remain.  Child asylum seekers from countries like Afghanistan can be sent back once they reach 18, while interpreters who served with British forces in the country are denied asylum.

And still the numbers threaten to reach the previous net peak.  The number one reason for this is the relative strength of the UK economy compared to the rest of Europe.  The latest GDP figures out today in fact show we're once again relying on the service sector to prop the rest of the economy up, with both manufacturing and construction falling back.  Whether this will have an impact on numbers down the line, with the rest of the Eurozone finally threatening to outgrow the UK remains to be seen, but it will come far too late for the EU referendum, with the Leave campaign bound to spend the next month plastering the 330,000 figure everywhere, as they have the false claim about £350m going to the EU every week.

Yet again it will be the steadfast, cowardly refusal of our frontline politicians to confront the electorate with unpalatable truths that will be to blame should the 23rd of June result in an exit vote.  The Tories' unexpected majority gave them a once in a parliament opportunity to row back on their beyond idiotic "tens of thousands" pledge, one they knew they could never meet, and to make a positive case for immigration, meeting voters halfway by setting out how the areas with the biggest churn of arrivals and departures would receive extra resources to help them cope.  Instead, the tens of thousands pledge, which no one believes in and no one expects to be met was reaffirmed.  Knowing that it's not possible to control immigration from within the EU once the initial controls on newly joined nations' access to free movement are lifted, every other way of keeping the numbers down has been attempted.  A "hostile environment" for illegal immigrants is duly being created, regardless of the potential consequences of making it impossible for those without the right to be here to work, live anywhere other than the street, or no doubt coming shortly, take a dump.

How either side is realistically doing at this point is all but impossible to tell.  One poll suggests Remain pulling away; others have it either neck and neck or within the margin of error.  If it's the latter, then today's figures will surely give Leave a boost after a rough couple of weeks.  In truth, it's their one remaining trump, as Remain's Project Fear campaign on the economy has left Leave only able to squawk that each and every expert is either biased, has got things wrong before, or is funded by the EU itself.  Monday's Treasury report might have been either specious bollocks or specious severe bollocks in the words of one MP, but it tends to be the stand out figures or warnings of a recession that stay in the memory regardless.

Hence why Leave has every right to crow about the 330,000 figure for the next month.  For quite possibly the first time ever, Boris Johnson is bang on to say the tens of thousands target is variously, scandalous, cynical and a mistake.  David Cameron might not have expected Boris to end up profiting from the mistake, but he knew full well that whoever the Leave side ended up consisting of they would play the immigration card for all it was worth.  Nor does it matter that Leave doesn't have any real answers on how leaving the EU would help to control immigration, just as it doesn't on practically on all the other issues; unless the likes of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings got their way and took us out of the single market entirely, any subsequent deal would almost certainly continue to involve free movement, just as it does with Norway and Switzerland.  Jacqui Smith poses 8 very good questions, including asking how Leave would bring immigration down at the same time as promising to ease restrictions on immigration from Commonwealth countries, yet the practicalities don't really matter.  As long as the impression is that leaving would bring immigration down, support will go to Leave.

Whether it will turn out to be enough is another matter.  David Davis today made a rather good speech responding to the various economic claims from Remain, in a far more temperate fashion than Leave has managed thus far.  Davis's vision of a Britain renewed by leaving is a lot more realistic than the fantasy one conjured up by the likes of John Redwood, the Vulcan insisting that unless we leave we will no longer be an "independent democratic country", just as he previously repeated the idea that leaving the EU would mean we could become a veritable land of milk and honey.  If there had though been any chance of having a good natured, knowledgeable debate, where those able to keep a lid on hyperbole had made the running, it went out the window with Boris.  Much as Cameron and friends deserve to pay for their constant feeding of the immigration monster, the alternative hardly bears thinking about.

Moreover, should Remain win handily, no longer will UKIPers or those on the Tory right be able to claim that the public haven't been consulted on the scale of immigration.  Many of them always wanted a referendum on the EU to be about immigration and little else; they've got their wish, now they'll have to accept the result.  Or not, as the case will almost certainly be.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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