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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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