Tag Archives: economics

Flounce to the Right

The dramatic media “Why I’m leaving..” article has really had form in the last year or so. First they were all leaving London, then it was the Labour party. Last time I checked, we all survived.

A change, then, to have it coming from somewhere other than the Guardian – this time, Tim Montgomerie in the Times: “Enough. I’m Quitting the Conservative Party” (behind a paywall).

Clearly, there are internal politics in the Tories at play. But I find his objections interesting.

First of all, he says that it’s Thatcher who got him to join the parties, not because she was right but because she was strong. She did what she said she would – on the EU rebate, the Falklands etc.

Yay…?

Anyway, Tim’s point is that Cameron hasn’t done what he said he would – on the deficit, on the debt, on immigration, and the EU deal is a farce.

I agree. Sort of.

Firstly, I think it’s interesting that he’s not so concerned with whether any of Thatcher’s or Cameron’s positions were right so much that they just did what they said they would. We’ll come back to that later.

I’m not one to come riding to Cameron’s defence but Thatcher’s world was different. The Falklands was a storm in a tea cup compared to the threat of Daesh and the like; a time when warfare was straightforward and you could see your enemy. As much as it’s part of the British nation myth, the Falklands is basically a rock off the coast of South America with less than 3,000 people on it. And some sheep. So, yay for colonialism, mostly. He credits her with ending union militancy and boosting Britain’s internal narrative of decline. OK, fine.

All realistic goals in so far as there were clear steps to achieving them, whether you agree with them or not. The things he faults Cameron for, though, are not.Like…

Reducing immigration – a stupid pledge that politicians keep making because they can’t tell the truth – that we live in the 21st Century and you can’t have the free movement of capital and not people; and Europe needs immigrants to support their ageing populations. That’s before we get onto the figures; that falling emigration affects the statistics as well. A ridiculous target (tens of thousands) was given and duly missed, because it had no foundations in reality. What they have been doing (Theresa May) is mainstreaming racism and passing legislation that punishes migrants and is tearing families – yes, British families too – apart. I assume that someone is enjoying that.

He points out that the Treasury is still borrowing £75million a year and debt is up, so Osborne has failed on his own targets too. Perhaps if the Tories had spent less time pinning a global financial crisis on Labour and hacking away at everything with a machete in the name of austerity (which the OECD and others said was not the way to growth) this wouldn’t be the case. But again, to my mind the Tories have been getting on with what they wanted to do – namely, cutting the State to the bare bones, privatising what’s left, flogging what they can to their mates in the city, and cutting welfare. It appears that ideologues have been having a field day. The fact that is isn’t working (great employment figures masking underemployment, greater inequality etc) is a failure of the ideology. Montgomerie doesn’t think Cameron is doing enough. They’ve done plenty. It’s just not the right thing.

And the EU. Thatcher got a rebate, Cameron got….well, we don’t know yet, there’s a peculiar charade underway. Suffice to say that no deal he could ever get would satisfy sceptics and those who want to stay in will want to stay in deal or not. As for the rump of people in the middle, let’s not pretend the EU debate has any roots in reality or common sense. It’s an emotional discussion and people will vote with their hearts. Because it makes sense to stay in. But like immigration and failed ideology, that’s not something people want to hear.

So maybe telling the truth and doing the right thing does matter, after all.

 

 

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Cracks in the Wall

It’s interesting that despite all the polls telling us that no one knows about Corbyn’s policies, and the almost daily pledges of rebellion and revolt from Labour MPs, that he (or at least the Opposition) is making a difference in how we think of austerity. As in, now we’re thinking about it.

Tax credits are hitting home and there are a flurry of articles and screaming editorials from all the tabloids, left and right, urging a rethink. There are reports of restive Tories possibly losing their seats * and so many economists and commentators discussing the tactic of tax credit cuts.

Tactics.

No longer are we in the rigid hegemony of apparent common sense that austerity is the logical response the crash of 2008. Instead there is a subtle shift in language. Now the talk is of “choices”. It’s not much, but it’s a few cracks in the wall that suggest that there are other options. This is a change.

Like many, I doubt Corbyn will lead Labour to the next election. I don’t think he wants to. But in the short time he is there, he will hopefully continue to shift the conversation.

After all, the way we frame the problem determines the solutions we consider feasible. Suddenly, competing framings to Osborne’s are getting more of an airing.

*I doubt it. After all, they did win the election. And despite the squeals from people who were happy to vote for pain as long as it wasn’t theirs to bear, I think the same divisive, selfish politics could yet win another election as people continue to vote for “everyone else” to suffer. (until they are “everyone else”, of course).

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At the Sharp End

It begins. This week, The Guardian has a series of reports showing that the BAME community is at the sharp end of the cuts, based on research from the Runnymede Trust.

“The Conservative budget risks widening Britain’s racial divide by making millions of minority ethnic people poorer at a faster rate than their white counterparts…with one of the worst affected groups being British Muslims”

“Runnymede’s study has built in the fact that the national minimum wage will rise to £9 a hour in 2020. But changes to tax credits and other welfare payments will hit minority ethnic Britons harder than their white compatriots.”

And that’s not all, folks. Weak enforcement of the Race Relations Act means that legal protections that are supposed to highlight disparities like this and put a brake on damaging policies are reduced to a box ticking exercise, as Kehinde Andrews highlights in a comment piece on the research.

“Not only is the Race Relations (Amendment) Act completely ineffectual, it has now become an active device for institutions to cover their discriminatory tracks.”

This is a snapshot at the intersections of economic inequality and race – it’s an intersection on a sorry road that has the rich speeding ahead and the poor increasingly sidelined, as Aditya Chakraborty devastatingly outlines in his recent article on holiday hunger and the need for free meals for kids in the school holidays, a Victorian problem making a shameful comeback.

Usefully for the government, these differences are portrayed in the media overwhelmingly as personal failings, obscuring the systemic nature of some of these problems –   hence the push to have benefits withdrawn from the overweight or drug addicts who refuse treatment, another useful sub-group to browbeat with our self-righteous cudgels. As usual, it’s a reductive narrative. If someone is obese or a drug addict, it’s rarely as simple as telling them to stop, no matter how much they may want to. And those issues are often symptoms of deeper dysfunction.

Runnymede’s research points out that here too, ethnic minority children will be plunged further into poverty after the Budget, at a rate faster than their White counterparts.

“The report warns that child poverty among minority ethnic groups may be even greater after the 2015 budget. It says: “Black and minority ethnic households are more likely to be living in poverty. This is particularly notable for BME children, with nearly 50% of Pakistani children and over 40% of Bangladeshi children living in poverty, and all BME groups having higher poverty rates than white British children.”

If there is a need for shame in this whole debate, it should be felt by all of us. Especially those who voted for this.

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The Immigration Speech Cameron should give

Tomorrow Cameron is going to seek to deflect from the news that he has spectacularly missed his arbitrary and nonsensical immigration target. I expect it will be ghost written by Migration Watch and aimed at UKIP supporters. There will no doubt be references to “common sense” and will be laced throughout with lots of “every man” metaphors (a bit like his flashing lights on the dashboard of the global economy). It will be a sop to the Eurosceptic wing of his party and he’ll bang the drum about leaving the EU.

We’ll see.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Portes has written an excellent, frank and honest article on the speech Cameron should give – would give, if he had some courage.

“We need to return to a migration policy that is no longer driven by arbitrary targets better suited to a centrally planned economy – and an immigration systemthat doesn’t assume bureaucrats in the Home Office are best placed to assess the needs of a flexible labour market in an increasingly knowledge-driven economy. Even more importantly, we need to stop pretending to young people excluded from the labour market, or communities left behind by economic recovery, that restricting migration – as opposed to the hard work of real policies to improve skills or invest in infrastructure – is somehow a magic solution.

And politicians must have the courage to try to explain this to the public, and to convince them that an open, outward-looking Britain may not be the best of all possible worlds. This is better than any of the options on offer.”

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On Invisible Power structures

David Cameron announced that the “red warning lights” are on for the global economy. Bob Geldof amassed an array of stars to re-record Band Aid for Ebola. Apart from the fact that both of these things are linked by the fact that they annoy me greatly, they are also connected by a (naive?) disregard for structural power.

So…Cameron, who warns that “a dangerous backdrop of instability and uncertainty presents a real risk to the UK recovery,” adding that “the eurozone slowdown is already having an impact on British exports and manufacturing.” These things have not happened by accident. Without donning my tin foil hat and Wonder Woman bracelets, I think it’s safe to say that he fails to address the fact that we can’t go back to business as usual because capitalism (at least the way we’ve practised it) is broken. Instead of a real analysis, we get that odd car dashboard metaphor (so awkward when politicians grasp for “genuine” turns of phrase to appear normal) that warns of impending doom but proffers little in the way of a proper analysis of it. Perhaps because a proper analysis would show that welfare and immigrants aren’t the problem, and austerity is not the answer. Also worth mentioning that this is an elaborate exercise in crafting a fig leaf to put over the hiccoughing recovery, given the deep cynicism and unbelievable brass neck it takes to declare that we might be on the verge of a second global financial crisis (second!) when Cameron and every minister in the Coalition government has spent the last five years denying that the first one never happened but instead it was all Labour’s fault, that they crashed the car.

And.. Geldof. I think everything I feel about Band Aid is explained perfectly over on Al Jazeera and the Washington Post, but suffice to say that well-meaning a gesture though it may be, and generous the government’s offer to double whatever is raised certainly is, this sort of charity endeavour (celebrities give their time, you give your money) overlooks structural problems. Like the failures of neoliberal economics (sort of like the above) and the under-resourcing of the very agencies that are trying to help. We shouldn’t have to rely on this sort of endeavour to get the cash where it is needed. The UN and WHO  have repeatedly appealed for funds. That’s before we get to the problems of governance that left health systems in these countries a shambles to begin with. We can sticky plaster all we want, but there’s some hard graft to be done when the crisis is over. And yes, Africans do know it’s Christmas, for goodness sake. (Could they not have at least written a less patronising and more intelligent song? Or just amplified the work that Africans are already doing?)

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More Facts

Maybe the immigration rope has been pulled too often by politicians and UKIP this year; whatever it is, the fact checking on immigration seems to be taking place more than before. Channel 4 has a great fact check based on the latest UCL figures, that show that overall, EU migrants contribute to the UK economy, and although overall non-EU migrants take more than they put in, when you put it all together (in a nutshell) migrants put in more than they take out. An excerpt:

“The big take-home messages are that: a) the big wave of immigration from central and Eastern Europe after 2004 was good for the UK economy and b) native-born Britons are a bigger drain on the state than immigrants.

One important point: the researchers say that all their figures are likely to under-estimatethe long-term economic contribution made by immigrants, because it’s impossible to track what happens to their children.

British-born descendants of immigrants tend to do better at school and may well go on to make a higher net contribution to the economy than natives.”

I wonder if the reason that non-EEA migrants take out more than they put in is because over time they become residents and eligible for benefits here. They become British. (Because I’m pretty sure you’re not eligible for benefits before you get indefinite leave to remain). Which leads me to the last two paragraphs. The reason you can’t track what happens to the children of immigrants is because they become British. And this shows the limits of the economic argument. When do we stop counting? When do you belong?

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I know what you did last summer

I remember when summer’s were quiet, filled with fluff and cotton wool as everyone left the city on holiday. I guess it’s a year before the election, hence the immigration drive, but then it was that way last summer too. It’s just over a year since the Go Home vans and they’re gone, but the hostile environment campaign never stopped and if anything is ratcheting up a gear.

And so to an excellent (I need to say this slowly because I can’t believe it) piece by Dan Hodges in the Telegraph on the “consensus” on immigration that has finally been achieved among the main parties, mainly in response to the UKIP threat. It follows Cameron’s Eurosceptic reshuffle that promoted placeholders and right-wingers, giving an indication of what we can expect until May.

What jumped out at me in Hodges’s article are four (inconvenient) truths:

  • There really isn’t much to divide the main parties on immigration now:

    “With Clegg’s surrender, the final domino has fallen. For the first time in over half a century each of the three major political parties will enter the election calling for curbs on immigration. The anti-immigration lobby, which at turns has counted such diverse figures as Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher, Frank Field, William Hague, Nick Griffin and Nigel Farage among its number, has won.”

  • And that’s politically expedient because, basically, that’s the way public opinion is swinging

    “[the mainstream party leaders] know that migrant labour, at all levels of the economy, is vital to Britain’s prosperity. They have seen the OBR statistics that immigration is crucial to the recovery . And they know too that no one wants to hear it. That negative perceptions of the social, cultural and economic impact of migration are so embedded as to make any attempt to reverse them political folly.”

  • But, ultimately, just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s right or makes sense, which is why the parties are lying:

    “So our politicians embark on a greater folly. They tell the voters “yes we get it”. They pledge ever tougher measures to crack down on an imaginary tidal wave of Romanian bandits, and Polish benefit fraudsters. And then pray the voters won’t notice that despite the fiery rhetoric, immigration continues to rise.”

And the net result really is a horror story: Voters can see craven from a mile off, so they probably won’t be convinced by this scramble. But having legitimised the public’s fears by pandering to them, the fact that the parties will ultimately fail at their stated immigration aims (because: globalisation, economic reality etc) will only annoy people more, leading to more cynicism at politics, and fuelling support for people like UKIP (who, by the way, are left to sound vaguely dignified as they demand policies instead of repellent rhetoric, which is, as they quite rightly point out, disgusting – even if the policies they want are crackers).

But the saddest truth of all, and the one that I don’t think I’ve heard anyone articulate as eloquently as Hodges (pinch me someone, please!) is this:

“It would be easy to paint this capitulation as a triumph of prejudice. As we saw in the European elections, with Ukip’s toxic campaign, when immigration is debated prejudice is never far below the surface. In fact what we are witnessing is the triumph of fear. Despite our occasionally bombastic rhetoric, Britain is now a scared country, lead by scared men. With Nigel Farage circling them like Banquo’s tweed-clad ghost.

We have become scared of the outside world. Scared of changes in our own society. Scared of each other. Where once we looked to the future with optimism, we now do so with trepidation. Where we saw opportunities, now we perceive only threats: terrorists, scroungers, grooming-gangs, criminal overlords, cut-price cleaners and plumbers.

One day our confidence will return. When the economy stabilises. When the Ukip revolution is shown to have been just another passing political fad. When we realise the River Tiber is not foaming with blood. And when it does, we’ll point the finger at our leaders and say “why did they scare us like that?”. But they didn’t. We scared ourselves.”

Damn straight.

*Incidentally, my dissertation, that I am painfully giving birth to this summer, is concerned with exactly that – the politics of fear and unease

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Migrant Voice Fourth Annual Conference

I had the pleasure of taking part in a Question Time-style panel at the fourth annual conference of Migrant Voice along with Philippe Legrain: Journalist, Economist and Author; Harriet Sergeant: Journalist, Author and Research Fellow at the CPS; Wilf Sullivan: Race Equality Officer, TUC and Sofi Taylor, Overseas Nurses and Care Workers Network and MRN Trustee. The Chair was Simon Israel, Home Affairs Correspondent, Channel 4 News.

It was a fascinating and nervewracking experience, particularly as the questions aren’t seen in advance. I was most captivated by Sofi Taylor, a straight-talking, passionnate, smart and articulate campaigner. I want to be like her when I grow up!

Read the storify of the entire conference here.

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Retreat and Reframe

Although we’re only 12 days into the year, the immigration rhetoric has been coming thick and fast. But something that I’ve mentioned before is the reframing of almost every other issue that touches people’s lives in terms of immigration. So, rather than discuss the effect of cuts and privatisation on the NHS, politicians discuss benefit tourism. Instead of a jobs plan for unemployed young people, we hear about closing loopholes for foreign workers. I was blown away to see the usually wise and measured Polly Toynbee making the case for the living wage as a way to curb immigration.

With the exception of benefit tourism, which is being over-hyped for political gain, many of the other measures, such as a the living wage, are good in and of themselves, as a matter of social and economic justice. But immigration is the primary lens through which everything is being seen at the moment. This may give politicians an emotional lever to pull, but it’s a toxic strategy. With perceptions on immigration out of step with reality, this just validates everyone’s misperceptions and makes it even more likely that we will see more policy solutions in search of problems.

Something else I’ve noticed is how critics of immigration, such as Nigel Farage, are increasingly dismissing economic arguments as cold, dry figures in favour of a discussion on the social effects of immigration. I think this is partly because most of the economic data shows that immigration is on balance a benefit to the UK. But I also think it’s because it’s easier to debate the nebulous concepts of integration and assimilation. I do think it must be discussed and it is an issue, but I don’t think it’s either/or. And, while I do agree with blogger Sunny Hundal that it’s an argument that we can win,  I disagree with the reasons why he supports a shift in emphasis.

As I’ve blogged before, British Future found that the issue of integration is a vexed one, with the “laundry list” for migrants from often idealised version of who we want to be:

“It can be difficult for migrant voices to be heard whenever the integration debate becomes framed as a question of “them and us” – especially ‘why can’t they be like us?’ – rather than the two-way street of how we work together to make the new “us” work.”

 I think it’s pointless to discuss the social impact of immigration without looking at other (often economic) factors – in the form of decisions about spending – on housing, schools, hospitals because  pressure on these resources contribute to community tensions, with immigrants all too often the lightning rods for frustration at lack of resources. 

And finally, there’s the subtle rehabilitation of Enoch Powell; Nigel Farage agreed with excerpts of his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech when presented with some of it on Sky News. Hugo Rifkind of the Times wrote a blisteringly excellent column on this, and putting Powell’s speech in historical context and warning that “If Britain wants to debate immigration, the Rivers of Blood speech is emphatically not the place to start.”

I will go into this further in another blog post, but I think part of the resurgence of interest in what should be an entirely discredited speech is because along with the oft-repeated clarion call that critics of immigration have been silenced by the establishment thus far comes the accusation that this is because all too often, race and immigration have been linked. Well, we may be living in a brave, new world but the bad news is: Powell’s speech was racist then and it’s racist now. And while to be against immigration is not racist, the way in which this opposition is expressed sometimes is. That’s why having “Go Home” emblazoned on the side of vans last summer was never a polite suggestion but the co-opting of a nasty, racist far-right slogan that offended and wounded so many ethnic minorities.

And, yes, we may be talking chiefly about Romanians and Bulgarians at the moment, who are white, but the stereotyping and othering of the Roma people has historical roots and is – yes, I’m going to call it – racist.

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Let them Come

If you haven’t already, check out the footage of the Intelligence Squared Debate at the  Royal Geographical Society. The motion: Let them come, we have nothing to fear from high levels of immigration. The speaker were David Aaronovitch, Ken Livingstone, Susie Symes, Nigel Farage, David Goodheart and Harriet Sergeant. I was particularly pleased to hear some female voices in the debate for a change!

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