Tag Archives: EU

from Remain to Return

In the dying days of 2017, Lord Adonis resigned spectacularly from the National Infrastructure Commission.

The reason given was the government decision to bail out Stagecoach/Virgin East Coast rail franchise. Adonis warned that this set a bad precedent and benefitted only the owners and shareholders of the respective companies, and was inexcusable at the best of times, but especially now given Brexit.

Brexit. So… Adonis is not a fan. And here is why I say he resigned ‘spectacularly’ – his letter was excoriating on the PM’s handling of Brexit, coining a phrase that may indeed prove prophetic one day:

“If Brexit happens, taking us back into Europe will become the mission of our children’s generation, who will marvel at your acts of destruction”

I’m not sure about the ‘if’ there – Brexit will surely happen, even if it’s a damp squib rather than the ‘independence day’ that Farage envisions.

One thing we do know: it will hurt. Whether people will attribute this to the reality of Brexit and the PM’s bungling is unclear – after all, they accepted the Tory line that a global financial crisis was somehow Labour’s fault and have been happy to scapegoat immigrants for everything that has ever gone wrong in the UK.

Adonis was blunt about the bungling:

“Brexit is a populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump. After the narrow referendum vote, a form of associate membership of the EU might have been attempted without rupturing Britain’s key trading and political alliances. Instead, by allying with UKIP and the Tory hard right to wrench Britain out of the key economic and political institutions of modern Europe, you are pursuing a course fraught with danger. Even within Ireland, there are set to be barriers between people and trade…

…A responsible government would be leading the British people to stay in Europe while also tackling, with massive vigour, the social and economic problems within Britain which contributed to the Brexit vote. Unfortunately, your policy is the reverse. The Government is hurtling towards the EU’s emergency exit with no credible plan for the future of British trade and European co-operation, all the while ignoring – beyond soundbites and inadequate programmes – the crises of housing, education, the NHS, and social and regional inequality which are undermining the fabric of our nation and feeding a populist surge.”

Predictably, he’s the latest ‘traitor’ of Brexit – a phrase that’s being thrown around to anyone who dares to voice concerns about the reality-defying promises that politicians are making about Brexit and the breakdown in democratic processes and accountability that is being allowed to pass in its name.

When it comes to this year’s predictions in politics, I’m nailing my colours to the mast:

  • The last Remainers will accept that Brexit is a case of ‘when’, not ‘if’. The Return campaign will start to think long-term. (They will be called saboteurs and be scapegoated (along with immigrants) for everything that goes wrong with Brexit.)
  • Prime Minister Theresa May will stay in post. She will continue to pick unnecessary fights with her fragile majority, but the Tories know how to stay in power – the 1922 Committee won’t come for her.
  • After much bluster, we will accept most of the EU’s terms on transitional arrangements. Terms that we’ve known about for months, that have been published online for anyone to see, but that we will feign surprise about.
  • Corbyn will stay. On a war footing.
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Well someone voted for this

I’m trying to get back into watching Question Time, which I stopped watching after immigration became a weekly topic. To be fair, this is because people submitted questions on the topic, rather than the programme makers wanting to flog a dead horse, but it got wearying.

I’ve dipped in a few times and I’m always struck by the amount of pain and anger from the crowd. The audience is balanced with people from across the political perspective and of course I respond more to points that resonate with my political views, but I’ve been most struck by centrist or Tory voters who are pissed with the government that they feel betrayed them.

There was the T0ry voter who cried on the programme in October last year about the issue of the tax cuts. Speaking of her betrayal she shouted, “Shame on you!”

Last night, another woman echoed the sense of betrayal, saying Cameron “has stripped us of everything”.

And another man, who seemed like just a common-sense bloke, pointed out that if we collected monies owed due to tax avoidance we wouldn’t have to do austerity.

To be fair, the Question Time audience is hardly the average person on the street and they are a tiny sample. They are politically engaged. But I do see a growing acknowledgment of austerity as a political choice rather than an economic necessity. And a sense of betrayal from a lot of working and middle class voters who were (yes, it has to be said) were happy for an axe to fall when they voted for the Tories, comfortable in the assurance that it wouldn’t be on them.

We on the left are told again and again that we must smile and not say this for fear of scaring the horses away from us with our scary socialist ways…but…

someone voted for this.

Sit with that for a while.

No, really. When we’re all cried out we really have to sit with this and think it through.

Because while I don’t think “I Told You So” is useful, that has to be the starting point for a re-education (or just plain education) on what solidarity is about.

We have to take up for each other because otherwise they will come for us all. It’s just that simple. This has to be something that the Left keeps on saying because that’s the only way to build a movement that will stick beyond the political opportunism of the moment.

Of course, we should stick up for those who have been betrayed, but they need to stick up for other people too. Those people they were happy for the axe to fall on in 2010.

Solidarity. It’s just that simple.

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Disability and Other “Lifestyle” Choices

My latest article for Media Diversified’s Politics column, White Men Dancing.

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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.


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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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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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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Open Generation

Last week, I participated in a dynamic, challenging event on immigration and the younger generation, organised by Open Generation, part of the Migrant Rights Network.

Here is the video live stream of the event.



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Dip Dye

When I watch the Tories froth and foam over Europe (95 MP’s wrote to the PM demanding the power to veto EU legislation this week), I sometimes wonder if there is a complete breakdown of discipline or if this is part of an elaborately orchestrated plan to undercut UKIP and win the election.

Europe never features as high on the list of voter priorities as it does for the Tory Party. And in fact, Lord Ashcroft’s 2012 report on UKIP voters showed that they are less concerned by Europe than by immigration and their pull factor to UKIP is their outspokenness rather than their policies:

“The single biggest misconception about the UKIP phenomenon is that it is all about policies: that potential UKIP voters are dissatisfied with another party’s policy in a particular area (usually Europe or immigration), prefer UKIP’s policy instead, and would return to their original party if only its original policy changed. In fact, in the mix of things that attract voters to UKIP, policies are secondary. It is much more to do with outlook.”

Immigration is the toxic well in which all issues become radioactively charged. I can’t help thinking that the inflammatory rhetoric around immigration in general, and EU immigration in particular – with regards to Romania and Bulgaria – has given the topic of Europe (usually an issue of annoyance and frustration but not a top priority) a good charge of radioactive brilliance. Politicians have shamelessly stoked people’s fears about benefit tourism and conjured up that oxymoronic immigrant trope – the welfare-claiming job-stealing hardworking freeloader migrant.

The result? Yougov has found that restricting migrant benefits is the voter’s top issue for 2014. So maybe the Tory MPs are onto a winner. And, with Cameron being forced into concession after concession on Europe by his MPs, (as Janan Ganesh outlines in the FT – the referendum promise did not stake the issue, if anything they keep demanding more), who knows? They may yet win the election and succeed in pulling Britain out of the EU altogether.

“Of course, the spectacle of Mr Cameron fighting for Brexit is utterly fanciful – as was the prospect of him calling a referendum when he first became prime minister.” – Janan Ganesh

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