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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3 Comments »

  1. From BBC website: `He said he did not want to “pull up the drawbridge” on all immigration, but bring down net immigration to a “sustainable level”.

    “We must recognise that in an advanced, open economy there will be high levels of emigration and immigration. But what matters is the net figure, which I believe is currently too high,” he said.`

    As a Lib Dem I happen to agree with him. I reject the argument that to manage immigration better would be economically suicidal. Otherwise why not just allow anyone in if it’s so good. It’s like saying all cutting is bad. Where do you draw the line? Why not just spend oh I don’t know 200% GDP to get the economy going again. That’ll work.

    You forget one other factor – it doesn’t matter how open-minded you are you’re going to come up against the idea that this is relatively speaking a densely populated island. We can’t carry on adding to our population levels.

    Comment by Saul — April 14, 2011 @ 10:11 am

  2. The reason it seems like we can’t carry on adding to our population levels is because of chronic government failure in areas like housing. Immigrants are currently held as scapegoats for the crisis in housing and other public services, when even with no immigration these would be in chaos. Blame politicians.

    That aside, my issue is principally with Cameron’s allegation that migration causes social problems, and that this is the fault of immigrants for “not integrating”. I think that point got lost in my post because it was poorly written.

    And for the record, I would allow anyone in. Cameron was right about one thing, that our shoddy welfare system has caused the conditions for immigration. Nature abhors a vacuum, and as long as there are large numbers of vacancies that white British people don’t take, it is beneficial to have migrant workers come in and do those jobs instead. If and when this changes, migrants won’t come.

    Comment by Bolivia Newton-John — April 14, 2011 @ 10:31 am

  3. Hi Bolivia,
    I think your comment in reply to Saul is interesting in that it reverses your analysis in the post, so that it is a social analysis rather than an economic analysis is emphasised.

    However I don’t think any reasonable conclusion can be reached unless both are combined.

    My own feeling on immigration is somewhat mixed – I think there are some areas which could definitely do with more, some areas which could probably do with less, but the overwhelming majority of areas should really set up their public, private and voluntary infrastructure to be able to better deal with the issues caused by cultural interaction, dislocation and isolation.

    Certainly there are different sections of the public which take different attitudes, so it’s fair to ask why that is and if there aren’t any underlying practical matters to be dealt with rather than simply play to either of those different galleries, since that has had the result of polarising debate rather than resolving it.

    The fear of being labelled (eg racist or nationalist) has meant these real problems have been allowed to mount up for so long that successful ways of dealing with them are forgotten, not implemented or not even investigated – it is important that we don’t go down that road.

    Then there is the wider context of technologically-driven international integration (for the UK through the EU) which wraps up issues of sovereign rights and universal freedoms to create some odd conclusions.

    So I don’t agree that the economic/welfare system is either the primary influence on immigration or the best way to improve the social conditions of immigrants – these are just tactical arguments from either side to build and maintain political constituencies.

    Immigration has always existed and will always continue to exist – the administrative issue is in managing the flows and directions of global migration patterns so that by balancing the desires and needs of the individuals with the supply and demand of the societies the standards on all sides of the equation can be raised most effectively and sustainably.

    I for one find it completely bizarre that immigration is discussed without any understanding of it’s relationship with and between emigration and internal migration!

    Comment by Oranjepan — May 27, 2011 @ 2:49 pm


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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.

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