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The biggest con the establishment has ever pulled

November 28, 2013
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The only factors truly central to the current immigration debate are not based either on relevant evidence or ideology. First, Ukip are doing increasingly well in the polls, causing the Conservative Party to have a full-on identity crisis; and, second, there is a realisation that migrant-bashing is an incredibly useful tool in the armoury of a coalition which appears not to have any policy aims, other than clinging on to power past the next election; a fact nakedly revealed by recent u-turns on “green crap” and state interventionism in the payday lending market.

Fear of immigration has become the golden key which unlocks difficult areas of social policy; just like paedophiles and terrorists have in matters of civil liberties. We would never accept a committee of do-gooders in 10 Downing Street deciding which website ought to be filtered and which not, but for the justification of child pornography. There would have been rioting at the idea that out own government gave permission to US intelligence to read all our email correspondence, but for the spectre of bearded men with explosives.


The relationship between immigration and welfare is similarly cynical. Secretaries of state sit in conference rooms with their special advisors, trying to figure out an “immigration angle” that will allow them access to a service they wish to dismantle, abolish or privatise. This could not be clearer. Why else would Jeremy Hunt devote such a significant slice of his energy to sorting out “health tourism” when it is entirely perceived, rather than real? But here’s the thing – he uses that fiction to introduce the idea that access to health is not a universal right, in a way that the public find palatable, but the net result is very real: the principle of “free at the point of delivery”, shredded; every GP surgery and hospital equipped with a cash register, an accountant and a tariff of what each service costs. Guess what happens next.

“Why should my taxes pay for services to foreigners?”, goes the familiar cris-de-coeur. Your taxes don’t, is the short answer. Every set of data shows that, as a group, the taxes of EU citizens working here pay for the services that they use and then they pay for some that others use, on top.

It is not so long ago, that all three main parties were shaking the pompoms of enlargement with the enthusiasm of a Glee cast member. We were told this would give the UK access to lucrative new Eastern European markets. Did they all miss the bit which granted the citizens of those countries access to our labour market? It was hardly in fine print. Now that the time has finally come, draconian measures are being introduced to punish people who have gained the legal right to be here, in direct exchange for granting access to their countries’ wealth for our companies. And all major political parties broadly agree that this is sensible.

Even Nick Clegg, the ultimate turncoat, agrees. I would love to be a fly on the wall while he explains the logic behind these measures to his Dutch mother and Spanish wife. No thought is given to the potential havoc this creates for the people already here and the millions of Brits living and working in the EU. When I found myself sleeping rough for a short period some years ago, I had already been paying full tax in this country for more than fifteen years and had never claimed a thing. Under current proposals, I would be packed off and deported from the country that has been my home, to a country in which I have never existed as an adult. According to which principle of equity or fairness is this permissible?

But then, this isn’t about equity or fairness. It isn’t even about immigration. While all this goes on, we continue to encourage foreign investors to gobble up London property; we send delegations to China and India to explain new, streamlined visa procedures for rich business leaders; we spend public money to defend in court the rights of foreign financiers to an obscene bonus; we continue, even, to support further EU enlargement to Turkey, creating the lucrative markets of the future, while fully aware that when it comes to the actual people, we’re not so keen. This is about rich against poor and corporations against individual rights. It is about subtly eroding the universal welfare principle into a contributory one. Separating people into those deserving and those not. Guess what happens next.

So, feel free to wave the union flag while supporting this most un-British notion that some citizens’ rights are less important than yours. You may hope that, once you have accepted the odious principle that wealthy people have a better claim to their aspirations than poor people, birthright will shield from its extension. But make no mistake – in a country where the gap between rich and poor has never risen so fast, where corporation tax is due to become equal to VAT next year, where your earnings continue to fall in real terms while those at the top cream the profit and hide it in Caribbean isles with impunity – the idea that what stands between you and the life you want for yourself and your family is next year’s hypothetical Bulgarian migrant, is the biggest confidence trick the establishment has ever pulled.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Margaret permalink
    November 28, 2013 2:01 pm

    Well written. I am so disgusted with this rhetoric of jingoism. I can only hope scotland votes for independence next so we can hopefully save ourselves from these parties and there determined stategy to pit one against the other so they can hang on to power.

  2. November 28, 2013 2:21 pm

    In all fairness, though, our constitution is quite explicit about the privilege granted by birth. I mean, there it is, there is the royal family. It’s difficult to argue about a fair society with a queen sat there at the top taking more handouts, and more bedrooms, than anyone else.

  3. November 28, 2013 2:30 pm

    It is so important that we don’t let this current anti-immigrant discourse go unchallenged. This is a very good blog post.

  4. Big Bill permalink
    November 28, 2013 2:45 pm

    “Draconian measures” introduced against immigrants? Gawd Alex, aren’t you aware that the bulk of Cameron’s supposed ‘proposals’ are already extant in law? That’s the con trick here. Anyway, the biggest establishment con trick is mortgages, people spending the bulk of their working lives paying compound interest on supposed ‘loans’ which never happened in the first place.

  5. Rose Seabury permalink
    November 28, 2013 2:58 pm

    Powerful stuff Alex. Pity MSN won’t explain this! X

  6. Michael permalink
    November 28, 2013 4:33 pm

    This Robin Hoodesque thinking cut’s to the root of most peoples thinking. It is very popular to demonize the rich and sympathize with the poor. While I can understand helping out those that are born into poverty, there are countless stories of those who pulled themselves out of horrible situations, and into success. Why aren’t we holding them up as examples. It is easier to categorize, rich and poor. Many people are in poverty because of choices they made in their lives, some people are rich because they inherit it, but there is a myriad of stories in between. There are many rich who are that way because they deserve it, and there are poor people that are there because they deserve it. Giving anything away is going to attract those who will take advantage.

    • November 28, 2013 4:41 pm

      Mu guess is that you have never been truly poor nor truly rich. Otherwise you wouldn’t spout such nonsense with such authority.

    • December 3, 2013 3:35 pm

      To Michael,

      There is no demonising of the ‘rich’. And of course no ‘group’ in society is entirely homogeneous with regards to contentious moral notions such as desert and responsibility, that much is obvious and trivial and the main point of your reasoning is to obfuscate against more substantial and undeniable truths; viz. the ubiquitous double and hypocritical standard of socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. The game is ultimately rigged and you should find that problematic. If there are exceptions that prove the rule, anybody with a semblance of morality and good sense would see this as beside the point. How you can end your argument and say with a straight face ” Giving anything away is going to attract those who will take advantage”-is completely beyond me.

    • Martin permalink
      December 11, 2013 10:17 pm

      When inheritance-millionaires rant so passionately, against the ‘entitlement mentality’ of sections of the working classes, something isn’t working.

  7. November 28, 2013 6:46 pm

    In response to Michael’s comment above … Nobody, but NOBODY, deserves to be poor! Equally it could be argued that nobody (purely on their own merits) can possibly deserve to be rich. when the merit is based solely on a person’s ability to work hard. Everybody is born with a different set of genes and grows up with different environmental influences. Lucky are those who don’t develop physical (or mental) health issues, in the younger days of their lives.

    That said, what I want is some answers to is the question of when the tax-payer will be paid back the squillions that went to bailing out the merchant banking fraternity (and sorority) in 2008, that very eventful period that brought us all into this state of austerity, and which has rejuvenated this whole debate about the rich and the poor!

  8. J Porets permalink
    November 29, 2013 8:06 am

    agree with most of this though it should be recognised that if you are middle class professional your experiences of immigration will have been mostly positive but at the lower end of the income distribution they are not, there is also a confidence trick at work by the pro-immigration lobby in spreading the lie that a large move in supply (of labour) has no impact on the price (of wages). there should be honesty around the debate; immigrants have a lower incidence of benefit claims, a higher incidence of employment, but indisputably cap wages. any ‘studies’ suggesting otherwise (and they are out there) dont have credibility and in their own way are part of the confidence trick.

    • David H permalink
      December 15, 2013 12:01 pm

      J Porets said “immigrants have a lower incidence of benefit claims, a higher incidence of employment, but indisputably cap wages. any ‘studies’ suggesting otherwise (and they are out there) dont have credibility and in their own way are part of the confidence trick.”

      It’s the employers capping wages because they have a larger pool of workers to choose from, though they still cap them even when there’s a labour shortage too. The minimum wage is a national one yet the living wage is higher for London for those who pay that instead.

      The biggest part of the benefits bill are things like Tax credits and Housing Benefit, both of which are paid to those who are working as well as to the under- and unemployed. Until employers nationwide are required to pay a living wage reflecting the cost of living for their region, there is no incentive to reduce the benefit bill by a meaningful amount.

      • Big Bill permalink
        December 22, 2013 3:25 pm

        It may be the biggest part of the benefits bills are subsidies and grants to landowners which inexplicably, being dignified by the terms grants and subsidies, aren’t listed.

    • David H permalink
      December 15, 2013 12:03 pm

      And if the ‘studies’ suggesting otherwise are out there as you say they are J Porets, show us them please.

  9. Mamaguru permalink
    November 29, 2013 6:23 pm

    Agree entirely. The entirely cynical way in which those in power are manipulating people to turn against their fellow human beings, be they poor, disabled, unemployed or immigrant, is one of the most despicable, sickening and unedifying spectacles imaginable.

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