The British Government is legislating the ‘Great’ out of Great Britain
Like many British people, and indeed many people who are not British but living in my country, I am so angry about our current government that it becomes hard to express.
I must say, before I begin my rant, that my anger with the Conservative government must also be aimed equally at the Labour Opposition. Our democracy functions through checks and balances, and the Opposition is there to keep the Government in check. Labour’s failure to do this, instead getting lost in egocentric internal politicking, is damaging the country as much as it is damaging their party. They are therefore as much to blame for the woeful state of things in the UK. This isn’t about party politics, it is about policy and politicians in general.
But back to the government. We had, I think, hoped for better things from their Party Conference. After it was over, die-hard Tory friends of mine said they’d cried through it. We had not hoped for much, but we had hoped they might start bringing some reason back to politics after the storm they unleashed on this country with their Brexit referendum. But no, we have heard about proposals for companies to have to list their foreign employees; we’ve seen Twitter storms likening their ideas to the Nazis.
The government are doing what they think the popular voters want. They are acting in order to maintain their grip on power, which is perhaps ironic given they have no real opposition and therefore don’t need to. Theresa May disappointed us all by laying out a plan for Brexit that is designed to maximise her chance of winning the next election, rather than minimising the risk to the country. We had hoped Theresa May would put behind her the narcissistic, self serving policy making of Cameron and the despicable Brexit Trio, but no.
We should have seen this coming. A year ago when she was Home Secretary, she was castigated by the usually right wing, pro-Conservative, Telegraph newspaper under the headline “Theresa May’s immigration speech is dangerous and factually wrong.” When the Tory’s favourite paper, which I usually consider too right wing and inflammatory to read, is calling her out for making it up about immigration, and ‘fanning the flames of hatred’ for her own political ambition, you know something is really very wrong.
The Problem with Populism
The Government are building policies around popular fears, rather than established facts. This is never a good idea. Imagine if our doctors treated us for what we feared was wrong, rather than for what they prove is wrong. We allow our doctors to tell us that our fears are unfounded, and to use facts and science to show us what is actually happening. Our current politicians are to policy what crystal-waving quack healers are to doctors.
The Government is proposing policies that make liberal minded people feel physically sick in order to tackle an immigration problem that exists in the minds of people, but not in reality. Going down the path of pandering that much to the electorate for the sake of winning votes is very weak. Imagine if your doctor kept you as a patient by telling you what she thinks you’d like to hear, rather than what is medically true and important. When people think there is a problem with immigration, do you address the fact that they are wrong, or do you just go off and solve that imaginary problem with policies that will, in fact, cause the problem to start to exist.
Even if some of the more absurd proposals do not make it into law, the mere fact that the Home Secretary and Prime Minister are talking this way is undermining everything this country is and always has been.
Not from around here
The UK has always been a country of immigrants and diversity, and has grown great on the back of it. In the heat of the Brexit debate I found myself moved to write briefly the story of my own family’s emigration to the UK 120 years ago, and the contribution they have made to the country since. We are not unusual. Immigrants work hard. They have a fight in them. Refugees even more so. Not only do they work hard, but they bring new ideas to the country, and disrupt existing ways of thinking and doing things.
That disruption is essential for innovation, whether it be in business, technology, or food and culture — imagine what English food would be without the foreign influence of centuries of immigrants! Now apply the same thought to our economy, industry, and universities.
Brexit made clear that there are people in the UK who either perceive a threat from immigration, or suffer real consequences from immigration. Addressing both the perception and the reality are essential but pandering to either is wrong. You do not address the sense people have that immigration is a problem by publically stigmatising foreigners. You deal with it by demonstrating their value, and by addressing the social and economic problems experienced by the people who feel they are under threat.
This is not London
At the end of the day the UK, or even just England, is tiny. Meanwhile London punches well above its weight as a global city. As a Londoner I have often told people I’m from London rather than saying from England, or the UK. There is a feeling, both in and out of London, that London is somehow a thing unto itself, a state within a state. While I love London for everything it is, that feeling of separateness is to some extent to blame for this too. Londoners are cocooned in an echo chamber — as I have written about before, and many others too, cosmopolitan Liberals tend to cluster and then not realise that outside their cluster people are not agreeing with them. Outside London we are accused of being an elite, of patronising the rest of the country, of not understanding the relative hardship experienced by some in regional cities and towns. This is true.
Meanwhile, whilst the regions are busy being angry with us Londoners, we’re getting angry with them. The divide opening up between an open, cosmopolitan city and its closed, isolationist country is causing its own conflict. London is the powerhouse of the UK - it pays a third of the UK’s tax. To an extent, when someone outside London claims benefits from the State, that money was probably paid into the State by London. Ouch, that’s controversial… uncomfortable. But you will hear that on the street, hear it from your cab driver. The kind of joking comments that are underpinned by serious feelings about London becoming an independent City State, leaving the UK, joining the EU, are really quite powerful sentiments. I think if we could, we would.
And in London we understand the value of our immigrants — indeed a large number of us are either immigrants, descended from them, or married to one. Bloomberg reported that “Foreigners in London are ‘horrified’ by Theresa May’s immigration vision”, and they may just leave and live somewhere else if their firms are forced to ‘report’ them as foreigners. Any suggestion that the government would legislate to force firms to put British employees first would not only be damaging economically, encouraging firms to hire based on someone’s passport rather than their skills, but as the wave of Twitter indignation has said, that kind of policy is nasty, and a short step from Nazi. Indeed, one radio presenter likened these policies to Chapter Two of Mein Kampf.
Look back at what happened last time
I like historical analogies. My last piece on what we should learn from History was criticised by people saying that history is just the random outcome of future events, and cannot be used to predict things. I disagree. Precedent can suggest what might happen. Evidence based decision making using what has come before is common-place. Think about drink driving. Evidence from history showed that if you drink and drive you are more likely to crash or kill someone. The same with wearing seatbelts, and smoking. Legislation was used to try to learn from history and change the future, successfully in these cases. All three laws have dramatically reduced premature deaths.
We can use that same evidence based historical approach to say that:
1. Populist governments don’t usually work out
2. Stigmatising people by race, religion, or nationality is the first step towards times that historians have always later characterised as bad
3. Neither the above lead to economic prosperity, and generally lead to economic bad times.
4. Economic bad times lead to populism and nationalism….
5. … see 1–3 above, and repeat.
An intelligent, patrician government would know this and break that pattern now. A government made up of weak minded, dim witted, career politicians only interested in their own agenda would not. And that is what we’re landed with.
If we go further down this route we risk becoming like our embarrassing European neighbours. Hungary started out with mild anti immigrant rhetoric and is pretty well a dictatorship now having just shut down one of the last independent newspapers, and Poland, which is now moving to ban abortions. All this comes 80 years, almost to the day, since The Battle of Cable Street, when the The British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley was confronted and stopped by Liberals, Jews, and Irish immigrants. You’d think somehow any of this would impact on current political decision making.
Only dim-witted politicians with no sense of or care for the consequences of their words and actions would even think about responding to a fear of immigration by suggesting firms have to list foreign workers. Forcing foreigners to be listed, reported, singled out, really is factually a step towards Nazi Germany and is an unforgivable thing to suggest.
The perceived Immigration problem
The new tradition of ‘fact checking’ politicians’ speeches showed that pretty well all the concerns about immigration May has pointed to in order to justify her populist policy proposals are nonsense; just not true. We all know that immigrants add to economic activity, don’t take away jobs from the locals, and even the World Bank showed they generally contribute more to the tax base than locals. What the dumb populist thinking fails to recognise is that if someone moves to England from abroad and gets a job, they also pay tax, and spend the money they earn on stuff, which in turn leads to more jobs, and more tax income.
Not liking having a bunch of new foreigners living on your street is totally different to suggesting that those foreigners are having a negative impact on the economy that can be blamed for your own socio-economic hardship. It is racist and narrow minded, sure, but it is not accurate factually. By all means be a racist, we can talk about that, work on it, or just agree to disagree, but don’t start defining government policy around made up nonsense, because it means the policies will also be nonsense.
Cracking down on the intellectuals
Worst of all, given how stupid the government is being, the fact that they’ve banned foreign academics from advising them on their EU strategy is mind-bendingly stupid. Yes, this is real. Read the article. I find this the hardest one to digest for a number of reasons. Whilst the other policy proposals are disgusting, they are just proposals. The ban on foreign advice is real. And this really is un-British, with echoes of the darkest of times. It is also plain stupid.
Nazi Germany banned Jews from government jobs, and then from academic positions. The Jewish professors left for America. Europe lost some of its greatest minds, and America has been reaping the social and economic rewards ever since. The value of the Jewish refugees in America was evaluated in a study at Stanford: “By 1944, more than 133,000 German Jewish émigrés had moved to America — many of them highly skilled and educated. Some were even Nobel Prize winners and renowned intellectuals like Albert Einstein in physics, and Otto Loewi and Max Bergmann in chemistry.” What Germany chased away was America’s gain.
So now the UK is going to ban foreign academics from advising the government. That sounds uncomfortably close to banning Jews, or for that purpose Muslims, Blacks, or women, or indeed any group of people judged on who they are rather than what they know. It is despicable and un-British.
This is not England
Any government that will ignore advice from a world expert because they’re not British is not worthy of any role in the politics of a country that has, historically, been known as an open, liberal, progressive place, and has prospered as a result.
The UK, which risked annihilation to fight the Nazis, has historically welcomed waves of refugees, immigrants, and has sheltered political activists from around the world. This report goes into more depth about Britain’s history of providing safe haven to the persecuted over the centuries. This is not about recent identity, it is about what Britain has been for hundreds of years being undone by a bunch of hapless and stupid politicians focussed wholly on winning elections regardless of the cost to the country. That is, indeed, what populist leaders do. Look at Venezuela and Argentina for what happens when you take that to an extreme, and put populist politics over logic or fact based policy making until the country collapses.
And the solution is?
I don’t know what we can do. We are without the usual toolkit our democracy affords us in times of trouble. We don’t have a functioning political opposition, we have an un-elected leader of a party carrying out policies voted for in a non-binding referendum. Normally the opposition would shout them down or they’d be voted out in an election, but without an electable opposition even a general election may not stop the current government.
A strange thought is that in London we’re so focussed on working hard, making the money that keeps the UK economy of some global significance, that we’re too busy to take to the streets. Perhaps London should go on strike, though the irony is that Londoners would feel that pain more than the country. But then again a strike by London would at least hit the one thing the Government needs, which is the economy. Can you imagine if the whole of London went on strike for a day? That would be a statement, and each time London did it, GDP and the pound would crash. Perhaps that would get the attention of the government, then again, perhaps not given that their policies already have this effect.
At the moment it seems that in the UK the populist sentiment is making itself heard, whilst the opposition to this is not. The Government are pandering to the regions after the regions kicked them hard in the teeth during the Brexit vote. Electorally they have pretty well lost London and they know it. Labour should be London’s political mouthpiece, given that they are the dominant party in London, yet they are completely failing their voters and saying nothing of any significance. Corbyn has purged the party of any heavyweight or credible politicians, and so much energy is being wasted on in-fighting they are powerless as an opposition.
The Liberal Democrats, who barely ever get a mention now, are in fact saying the right things about Europe and Immigration, but are too decimated to be an opposition party. I am intrigued to see if they will manage to take advantage of Labour’s self immolation and capture the centrist, Liberal refugees fleeing Labour and the Conservatives.
Meanwhile probably the only political voice of reason representing liberal Londoners is Sadiq Khan, who is pro immigration, the son of immigrants, anti Trump, anti Corbyn, and generally seems to base his politics on rational fact based decision making. Perhaps he should start his own party. And the other voice of reason continues to be Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon, who brilliantly described her Scotland thus:
“Whether we have lived here for generations, or are new Scots from Europe, India, Pakistan, Africa and countries across the globe we are all of this and more. We are so much stronger for the diversity that shapes us. We are one Scotland. We are simply home to all those who have chosen to live here. That is who and what we are.”
This again raises the question of whether London and Scotland could form a union and remain in the EU, leaving the rest of the UK out in the cold. I’d vote for that.