Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Playground politics

A lot of hot air has been expended in recent days about the difference between ‘access to’ and ‘membership of’ the single market, and about the fact that Labour’s AMs ‘voted with the Tories’ in response to a Plaid Cymru-tabled motion.
In general, I’m singularly unimpressed with the various parties’ regular practice of accusing everyone else of ‘voting with X’ on a particular issue.  It always strikes me as being a way of avoiding discussion of the substantive issue by resorting to simplistic insult rather than a way of throwing light on the issue.  In any situation where there is a binary choice of voting for or against a proposition, politicians can only choose one of those options (or, of course, they can abdicate all responsibility, and choose to sit on their hands and abstain).  One would hope that politicians would be mature enough to decide how to vote on the basis of the proposition itself, rather than on the basis of who else might be voting on which side.  Being on the same side as another party in such a binary situation isn’t the same as forming a coalition with that other party, or even agreeing with them on policy – it’s perfectly possible for two parties to oppose any given policy on totally different grounds.  To hear some of them talk, one might think that voting the same way as party X – usually, but not invariably, the Tories – is equivalent to forming a pact with the devil himself.
Returning to the question of ‘access’ or ‘membership’, whilst it could be argued that ‘membership’ is simply a special case of ‘access’ and is therefore included within the broader term, there clearly is an important unresolved question about the nature and extent of access by UK, and therefore Welsh, businesses to the single market post-Brexit.  I agree with the thrust of the Plaid proposal in the Assembly that membership is preferable to any lesser form of access in the interests of economic continuity and stability, but I’m also convinced that full membership without accepting a lot of other rules and regulations, including free movement of people, is an unattainable goal.
The political question is about how we respond to that contradiction.  It’s been depressing to see Labour AMs and MPs lining up to declare that free movement is no longer acceptable because we have to accept and adjust to the ‘legitimate concerns’ that people have about immigration.  What these ‘legitimate concerns’ are is never spelt out; the position of said AMs and MPs looks more like capitulation to a vague and prejudiced xenophobia than a thought-out policy position.  It’s increasingly clear, though, that Labour, like the Tories, is moving to a position of accepting that full membership of the single market is an impossible goal, as a result of the conditions which they themselves are seeking to impose.
Part of the Labour response to Plaid’s motion was to describe it as a motion whose main aim was to be the basis of a press release afterwards.  I think they’re right to say that, but don’t see anything wrong with doing that if the purpose of the press release were to highlight the issue itself and the dangers that we face if we damage our trading position simply in order to secure more control over EU migration.  The bigger problem for me wasn’t using a motion and a press release in that fashion; it was that the publicity which the party sought was more about the playground politics of who voted with whom than with the real and important issue of the economic impact of having to leave the single market as a direct result of demanding controls over migration.
If we are to convince people that arbitrary reductions in migration will be economically damaging, we need to address and debate that question directly and make the link clear, rather than indulge in simplistic point-scoring.  To date, few politicians – in any party – seem willing to do that.


Anonymous said...

Petulant grandstanding sums up Welsh politics very well. All parties do it at the expense of actual policy debate, but until the public demands a more grown up politics were stuck with the he said, she said nonsense.

This latest episode shows everything that’s wrong with Plaid Cymru’s strategy, they’ve got the right issue, serious economic damage to the Welsh economy because of tariffs, but they can’t make a clear and credible argument to the wider welsh public to support it, instead they attack the Labour Party hoping that this will somehow magically turn into support for them at elections.

As for Labour aping UKIP its surely the least surprising aspect of the new post Brexit world, Labour in Wales will cling on to power at all costs and are chasing UKIP voters to ensure it, so adopting an anti-migrant and anti EU single market policies is the obvious way forward for them.

Anonymous said...

The public in Wales doesn't want or care about 'a more grown up politics'.

The public in Wales just wants the same or less and less politics. Otherwise there'd be a demand for more. And arguably a demand for better.

Let's face it, we in Wales are indelibly politically intertwined with our closest neighbour. Why do we persist in trying to convince ourselves that the few differences we might have necessitate 'the Welsh Assembly' and all its nonsense.

John Dixon said...

Anon 15:27,

Or, alternatively, why do we kid ourselves that the similarities between Wales and England are so great that we only need 'the UK Parliament' and all its nonsense? In truth, neither that statement nor the one to which it is a response contribute much to debate about anything. But then contributing to debate isn't really part of your aim is it?

Cwm Cymro said...

Your article implies that there is a positive link between immigration and economic benefits ... and to argue otherwise is to align with the dreaded UKIP. Aren't you John, playing the same game you accuse Plaid Cymru (and Welsh politics in general) of doing?

John Dixon said...

Cwm Cymro,

"Your article implies that there is a positive link between immigration and economic benefits I don't understand why you think that; I don't think it said that at all. (That doesn't mean that there isn't a positive link, by the way - I happen to think that there is, in the sense that, taken overall, immigration delivers more economic benefits than costs, it's just that that wasn't the point of this post.) This post was more about the fact that arbitrary controls on free movement of people (which, incidentally, is not the same thing as immigration) will have an economic cost as a result of barring membership of the single market.

I'm afraid that I simply do not understand what the rest of your comment is trying to say.