Bolivia Newton-John's Blog

Clegg must speak out on the most damaging cut of all

April 14, 2011

So far, the justification for all the cuts planned by the coalition government is that they are necessary for the economy, and to get the public finances back in order. Obviously how necessary they are is a matter of intense debate, but for what it’s worth I broadly support the coalition’s line of argument. The key point about the coalition’s argument, though, is that it is dispassionate, and framed in painstakingly economic terms. Removing Disability Living Allowance and Independent Mobility Payments for the disabled, and Legal Aid for the poor are clearly not decisions made by bleeding hearts, but are the result of hard-nosed fiscal mathematics. Which is all very well, and polls show that a majority of the British public still accept these arguments.

When it comes to economic credibility, then, the coalition rather shoots itself in the foot in its cretinous attitude to immigration. Many stupid Conservative policies were jettisoned on the formation of the coalition, which fitted with Cameron’s rhetoric of “liberal conservatism” and his attempts to paint himself as a man of the centre-ground. They have pressed ahead, however, as I have blogged previously, with the plan to reduce net immigration from around 250,000 to “the tens of thousands”. This is the most damaging cut of all, and in doing so they are putting the economy in grave danger.

A successful government reform should identify a problem needing to be fixed, and then fix it. Insofar as immigration in Britain represents a problem, it is that Britain is still a racist and exceptionalist country, unable to reconcile its own post-imperial decline with the new realities of the world. Britain still wraps its sense of self-identity in a mesh of moronic historical fictions, such as the idea that Britain was the most powerful country in the world due to our superior industrial innovation and creativity, rather than the fact that it enslaved more of the world more brutally than any other Western European countries. Immigration, then, is seen by many as a concession made by British people to the inferior and unsophisticated denizens of other, darker, countries, desperate for an unwarranted piece of Britain’s delectable pie. Britain is racist.

Yet in public discourse, opposition to immigration is often couched in specious voodoo economics. “Immigrants take British jobs”, “immigrants are a drain on the state”, “immigrants lower wages” are all clarion calls of the Right, and they are all utterly fallacious. Every single economic analysis of immigration shows that immigrants are a boon to the economy, pay far more tax than they take in benefits and public services, and because of the Lump of labour fallacy, actually add jobs to the country. They are also younger and by definition more entrepreneurial, thus doing something to address the rapidly ageing population that truly threatens our economy. As unenlightened as their core voters and backbenchers may be, the Conservative Party has traditionally been a staunch pro-business party, so willing to accept the arguments of the business lobby who recognise these issues.

So it is then even more depressing that at a time of unprecedented economic peril, Cameron is making public speeches endorsing a wholesale ransacking of the immigration system. These measures have been in the pipeline for some time, but today Cameron uses language that is unacceptable:

When there have been significant numbers of new people arriving in neighbourhoods, perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there, on occasions not really wanting or even willing to integrate, that has created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods.

Here Cameron is effectively blaming immigrants for British people being racist. It is obvious from poll after poll, and the media coverage of immigration, that many people in the UK feel this way. Media pillory of Gordon Brown last year for calling a bigoted woman a bigoted woman was a mind-numbing case in point. But thankfully the public and the media are not responsible for the economy. Using emotive, dog-whistle, populist sentiment to justify policies that will wreck the economy is literally the opposite of what the country needs in a time of austerity. The tragedy is that when the effects of this are felt, they will be mistaken for the effects of that austerity, and austerity, which otherwise may have just about kept the country afloat, will take the blame, leading to a new generation of voodoo economists who eschew austerity, but maintain a wrong-headed approach to immigration. Witness Shadow Home Secretary (and probably Labour’s next Prime Minister) Yvette Cooper’s reaction to the speech, which was basically to carp at Cameron for not going far enough.

Yet this government is supposed to be a coalition. While it is quite clear which side of the government these sentiments are emanating from (given that Lib Dem policy is for an amnesty for everyone living in the UK illegally and no tightening of immigration controls, numbers-wise), every policy should be stamped by both partners. If there was ever a time for the Lib Dems to speak out against Conservative folly, it is now. As well as being overwhelmingly in the country’s interest to keep migration levels up, it is clearly in the Lib Dems’ interest; if such economic vandalism is allowed to derail the deficit-reduction program and plunge the country into further economic doldrums, the main defence of maintaining the coalition dissolves. As I write, news is breaking that Vince Cable has strongly criticised Cameron’s speech. While this is welcome, Cable has been allowed to take too much flak on his own already – if he resigns the cabinet will be weaker, and so will the Lib Dems’ position in it. Cameron’s words and actions are racist, xenophobic, economically damaging, and virulently illiberal. Nick Clegg has rightly supported the coalition program from the front, but on this matter he should speak out now before it is too late, and Conservatism is allowed to do lasting damage.


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About author

Bolivia Newton-John is an enthusiast from South East London. She will be mostly writing about society, anthropology, politics and entertainment, though hopefully in a less pretentious manner than here indicated. Bolivia Newton-John likes diplomacy, irony, and seeing the big picture. Bolivia Newton-John dislikes misanthropy, self-importance, and censorship.