Friday, 9 December 2016

Relevance of Immigration in the UK Referendum

by Les May
YESTERDAY the Home Affairs Select Committee chaired by Yvette Cooper launched an inquiry into developing a consensus on an effective immigration policy. 

She said, ‘Immigration is one of the most important issues facing our country and will be central to the Brexit deal. Britain voted for change, especially on free movement, but there has been very little debate about what kind of reforms or immigration control that should now mean or how we get the best deal for the country.’   

Which isn’t strictly true.  In the recent referendum the only question that was asked was whether or not we wanted to leave or stay in the European Union.  There was no question about immigration, the single market, or about the wider question of free movement of people, good, capital and services, so no politician has the right to infer anything from the vote other than that a majority of people voted to leave the EU. This isn’t sophistry, it’s just a fact.   

Fixating on immigration ignores all the other reasons why people may have chosen to vote ‘leave’. Is immigration a significant factor in the growth of inequality? Is it really the reason why some people are paying out a third of their disposable income to rent a house for which they have little security of tenure?  Is it really the reason why some people have become reliant on food banks to ward off starvation?  Is it really the reason that some people feel they have been ‘left behind’ by globalization?  
No! It’s not that ‘they’ have come here to steal our jobs, its that our companies have exported jobs to ‘them’ to line the pockets of CEOs.

In the 1980s the ‘Chicago school’ of economists argued that companies should be run for the benefit of the ‘owners’.  The natural consequence of this was that the proportion of money going to wage earners fell and that to shareholders increased.

One way of boosting profits still further is to export manufacturing jobs to low wage economies in the Far East.  Check out where your Dyson vacuum was made.   

Whether you think that Cooper belongs to it or not there is a strand in the Labour party the best way to fight off a challenge from UKIP for the so called ‘Labour vote’ is to emulate UKIP and start parroting ‘something must be done about immigration’. The effect of this will be to let the Tories off the hook as architects of our present era of ‘casino capitalism’ where a few winners take all and the rest of us squabble about what is left. 

I’m told that Corbyn has never said anything to indicate that he has any time for ‘populism’.  The indications are that he, and Diane Abbot, will tackle UKIP’s populist policies head on.  But that could bring them into conflict with those in the Labour party who think the best way forward is to become a kind of ‘UKIP Lite’. 

In summer the writers of ‘think pieces’ were speculating that the Right and Left wings would end up fighting over the carcase of the Labour party.  But if the recent referendum told us anything it’s that people do not always feel bound by those traditional allegiances.  How long before those same writers are predicting the death of the Labour party as its splits into those who are willing to scapegoat immigrants to garner votes and those who are not?

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