Friday, 26 May 2023

Plans, plans, and more plans


In response to yesterday’s publication of the latest figures for net immigration, the PM said simply that the numbers are “too high”. Without knowing why he thinks they’re too high or having any indication of the criteria he’s using to arrive at that assessment, it’s impossible to validate his claim, although the suspicion must surely be that ‘the right number is whatever number will buy the most votes’ rather than a thought-through assessment of the UK’s needs and interests. It’s not true however, as some have claimed, that the Tories have no plan to deal with the situation. They actually have lots of plans, even if some of them are mutually contradictory and incoherent.

It is, apparently, the ‘net’ number which is most important; the difference between those arriving and those leaving (although I have a suspicion that if 1,000,000 UK-born white people left each year to be replace by 1,000,000 entering the UK from Asia or Africa they would quickly find that the net number isn’t what those target voters are interested in at all). However, if we assume that they mean what they say about wanting to reduce the net number, then reducing immigration isn’t the only potential solution; we could also increase the number leaving. On this score, we can look to the lunatic fringe of the Tory Party, aka the deputy chair of the party, for part of the Tory solution: encourage republicans to go and live elsewhere. Strictly speaking, of course – and considering only quantitative issues rather than qualitative ones – it doesn’t matter whether those who leave are republicans or not, it just matters that people leave. Unkind souls might wish to point out that abolishing freedom of movement didn’t exactly help them achieve this objective – indeed, there is some evidence that Brexit and accompanying regulation has forced some of those who previously left to return to the UK, which is one of the factors leading to an increase in the net difference. But then coherence and consistency are not requirements for Tory policy.

Another two Tory plans revolve around reducing the number of jobs which migrant workers can do. The same fringe element at Tory HQ has in the past suggested forcing council tenants guilty of anti-social behaviour to live in tents in the fields, get up at six, pick fruit and veg all day, followed by a cold shower and lights out at six in the evening. It helped him get promoted to deputy chair. And moving people out of houses into tents might help to ‘solve’ the housing shortage as well, I suppose. Another Tory, a former cabinet minister, once proposed obliging pensioners to pick fruit and veg, but paying them less than the minimum wage because they’d be a bit slower collecting the produce. Oddly, that wasn’t the thing for which he ended up disgraced.

Yet other Tory plans turn on the idea of reducing what they like to call the ‘pull’ factor; reducing the reasons why people choose to come to the UK. One of those, obviously, is that English is so widely taught – when considering which European country might be a good place to live, knowing English helps to make the UK an attractive proposition. Reducing the funding for the British Council, the body charged with promoting the English language, is a small step, and will take time to have an impact, but, as a certain supermarket regularly reminds us, ‘every little helps’. Another pull factor is the perceived quality of teaching and research in UK universities. Opting out of European funding programmes, leading to researchers leaving in droves, is one small step in addressing that issue; restricting foreign students to those prepared to come without their families is another. Faced with a choice between allowing immigrants in and destroying the university sector, it is apparently preferable to encourage the brightest and best foreign students to go and study in those countries perceived as competitors to the UK. The reasons escape me but are obvious to those obsessed with migration. If the result helps bring about a financial crisis for tertiary education, well, having fewer universities offering fewer courses all helps to deter foreigners from coming here to study.

But the biggest pull factor of all is the persistent perception, despite all the government’s efforts to date, that the UK economy is one of the world’s richest and most successful. Not to worry – they have a plan to deal with that as well. Holding wages below inflation so that people, particularly in the lowest-paid jobs, become poorer each year, ensuring the weakest growth rate in the G7, forcing up interest rates – these will all help to deter people from coming here to seek a better life. (They might also, incidentally, help to encourage UK citizens to seek a better life elsewhere, bearing in mind the importance of that net number.)

Those who argue that the Tories have no plan to reduce net immigration are being utterly unfair. They have loads of plans, most of which they are busily implementing. It’s just that they have chosen not to explain them very well. It’s a bit like with Brexit: spelling out the implications for the UK is something best avoided if you want people to vote for you on the back of an anti-immigrant viewpoint. But, and this is also like Brexit, implications a-plenty there will be, and guess on which parts of the population they will mostly fall?

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