Tuesday, 6 June 2023

Swallows, chickens and an occasional cuckoo


One swallow, or so they say, does not a summer make. Unless you are a Prime Minister desperate to see success wherever you look, in which case even half a swallow will do. Yesterday, Sunak was busily proclaiming the success of his attempts to ‘stop the boats’, by drawing attention to the drop in the number of crossings that we know about so far this year compared with the same period last year. Some unkind souls have pointed out that last year’s numbers were at a record high, and that other factors, such as the weather, or people finding other routes, may just have had a little influence. Time will tell whether rushing to claim ‘success’ on the basis of a snapshot will turn out to be like greeting a false dawn.

It wasn’t the only dodgy use of numbers in his speech. He also drew attention to the fact that the French authorities prevented 33,000 crossings last year. The wording is important – it’s ‘crossings’ that they’ve prevented, not ‘migrants’. One of the things we know is that those prevented from crossing once will make multiple efforts to cross, which raises the question – if a single migrant makes 10 attempts to cross and is ‘prevented’ on the first 9, how many times is he counted in that 33,000 total? I rather suspect that the answer is that 9 ‘crossings’ have been prevented, but that 0 migrants have been stopped, making that number of 33,000 a rather meaningless statistic. Except for the purposes of Prime Ministerial speeches determined to count chickens whilst they are still inside their shells.

The PM’s desperation stems from the obvious fact that his pledge to ‘stop the boats’ by the end of this year is unachievable. He knows it, and everybody else knows it. A more sensible and humane policy would be to create proper legal routes, and to start trying to explain why migration isn’t such a bad thing anyway for an economy short of labour in a number of key sectors. Some might see that as showing leadership rather than following prejudice, but he’s trapped in a net which his party has made for itself, and where their success in ensnaring the Labour Party alongside themselves is more important than getting themselves out.

So we get ever stronger rhetoric, daft and meaningless statistics, and increased efforts to make life as undignified and unpleasant as possible for some of the world’s most desperate people. Whether it is reasonable or not to expect migrants to sleep four to a room in a hotel depends on a lot of factors, not least whether they are related or at least known to one another, how many beds are in the room, and for how long the arrangement will last. Demanding that people share with complete strangers in a cramped room for an indefinite period just because they are migrants who have arrived by an unapproved route doesn’t meet the criteria which a civilised society would use; saying that it’s reasonable (as Jenrick did) is deliberately dehumanising those involved. The history of dehumanising identifiable groups of people is not exactly a happy one.

Whether migration is a good thing or a bad thing is ultimately a matter of opinion. The economic impact is clearly positive, but the social and community impact is rather harder to assess and is ultimately highly objective. But to the extent that anyone would wish to control it, the problem isn’t about controlling borders to keep people out, it’s about the reasons why people decide to leave their homeland in the fist place. War, disease, oppression – and above all poverty – these are the problems which need to be tackled. Desperate people in small boats is just a very obvious symptom of the failure to tackle the causes. When I hear Sunak and his rhetoric, the bird that comes to mind is neither a swallow not a chicken; just a cuckoo. Sadly, it isn’t the first this spring.


dafis said...

"The economic impact is clearly positive, but the social and community impact is rather harder to assess and is ultimately highly objective." A country too lazy or indifferent to train its own people in key skills will always be on the look out for "talent" from any overseas source. Perversely a part of a population too lazy or indifferent to take up jobs in the low paid end of the economy will lead that same country to fill its "unskilled" deficit by employing cheap labour from any source that generates able bodied people. All this suggests that the UK which has failed any test of improved productivity must draw in more immigrant labour across the entire skills spectrum. What places us between a rock and a hard place is the UK'S historic failure to build housing and social infrastructure to enable the integration of all these new people. That failure places all the social stress on natives at the lower end of our communities who have difficulty competing for housing and other social resources when immigrants are often given a higher rating. Neither Sunak,Starmer or any other politician has articulated well defined plans to break this huge deficit in resources. It's all recurring bouts of bullshit and rhetoric that feeds resentment and hatred. By 2030 we will all be reduced to serfs by the elites unless we put them out of business.

Pete said...

I tend to disagree with Dafis' assessment of a population too lazy or indifferent to work in low paid jobs. There is a clear poverty trap where the wages offered do not meet the benefits of welfare payments. A low paid job can leave a family worse off than if they were on the dole. Some would suggest cutting or even eliminating the safety net to force people into work, but who does that benefit? It only benefits the low paying employers, never the people trying to keep their head above water. It was pointed out to me some years ago by a woman who said that yes! there are plenty of jobs, I have three of them and I still can't pay the rent.
Immigrants form a supply of cheap labour because they cannot claim benefits. In fact claiming benefits can have a negative effect on your right to remain. So there are those poor souls who will work all day and not ask how much they are being paid. Because they know they will get something.
Surely this is not what we wish for our population, whether indigenous or immigrant

Anonymous said...

There are clearly arguments for and against immigration. But the arguments for it tend to cluster around, ultimately, the perceived need to ensure an evergrowing economy and the apparent absence of any other solution to our otherwise aging population. However, my uneasiness about net immigration running at 600,000 a year (and whatever that equates to in terms of Wales) is that it represents a rapidly expanding population which has enormous environmental consequences. We have decared a nature emergency in Wales - an evet-expanding population can only make that worse. I don't have any easy solutions to problem but it seems to me that very few peoole even understand why that is a problem.

John Dixon said...


Your point about an economy based on perpetual population growth - a sort of population Ponzi scheme - is a valid one, well-made. Undoubtedly, we need to move away from such an economic model to one based on sustainable use of the earth's available resources and fairer allocation of those resources, although that's easier said than done. However, in this context, doesn't migration merely move the problem from one part of the world to another? That is to say, positive net migration does increase the population of the UK, but it does so by reducing the population elsewhere. My biggest objection to migration is that, far too often, the UK effectively 'poaches' people and skills which are desperately needed in their own home countries. An economic model dependent on immigration is essentially very selfish (the complete opposite to the way it is usually seen). Convincing those demanding a more-or-less complete end to net inward migration that what they're actually demanding is a revolutionary change to the world's underlying economic model may be a bit beyond the scope of a single blog post.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with most of what you have said here. What you are referring to us effectively 'brain drain', something with which we in Wales are all too familiar and which undoubtedly contributes to keeping poorer nations poor. But I do wonder about seeing rhe world as simply a source of resources that we should be sharing out equally. The earth doesn't exist for the benefit of humankind. It's a home rhat we share with a myriad of other species. We need to start thinking of ourselves as its custodians rather than of it a resource for us to exploit. I appreciate that probably wasn't what you were intending to suggest but we perhaps need a shift in the language that we use if we are to enable a shift in attitudes.

John Dixon said...


You're right - that wasn't what I intended to suggest; your point about a shift in language is well-made.