Saturday 20 November 2021

Triangulating on Channel Crossings

For the first time in a long time, Labour can sniff Tory blood in the polls. With Boris Johnson's cover for corrupt colleagues flushed into the open, and after a week where the Tories have visibly, some might say ostentatiously, betrayed their levelling up promises where northern railways are concerned, those who plumped for the Conservatives these last few times might be taking another look at Labour. And how does Keir Starmer respond? With some red meat.

From the moment he entered the leader's office Starmer has always been more comfortable making process as opposed to political criticisms. This is why he stuffed up Labour's response to the Coronavirus crisis right royally. But venturing into an area of traditional Tory strength - asylum seekers, immigration, and the barely concealed racist dog whistles these entail - to peddle more of the same was an opportunity too good to miss. And one that might, in the circumstances, play well. With the numbers of people crossing the Channel at around three times the level versus the same period last year, Starmer chose the Today programme to set out his stall.

Characteristically, his critique of Priti Patel was of the "get a grip" sort. As the Tory party's poster girl for spiteful authoritarianism, attacking her as being "too liberal" was an obvious non-starter. Likewise, a principled critique of the whole framing of the issue, as per promise number six of his leadership contest pledges, was off the agenda. We can't well have a Labour Party defending the wretched of the earth, after all. He said the deal the UK struck with France to stop Channel crossings was not good enough, contrasting Patel's performative toughness with the growing figures. He also attacked the Home Secretary following her remarks in the wake of the Liverpool suicide bombing in which she said the asylum rules were clearly not working. Starmer observed that as the Tories had been in power for 11 years, if the regs are "bust" then it's obvious whose fault it is.

And then the switcheroo. Avoiding a bidding war about turning dinghies back or finding cruel and unusual punishments for human traffickers, he said "You have got to do the work upstream otherwise you will never solve this problem." In normal speak, this is Starmer linking record crossings to Tory cuts in the foreign aid budget, monies that might be used to deal with some of the difficulties pushing migrants away from their homes. And just in case anyone missed the point, the "upstream problem" was mentioned twice more. Et voila, triangulation in action. Reproaching the Tories for not living up to their over-the-top rhetoric, but offering a fluffy and apparently non-racist solution that would sit easily with curious centre right voters and who Starmer imagines is Labour's bedrock support. And, more importantly, the columnists and hacks who market themselves as representative of these layers.

Having got wide coverage across broadcast news sites with feeble rebuttals from the Tories, Starmer will be satisfied with an intervention well done. It has also prompted more tough promises from Patel and Johnson giving responsibility to tackling migrant crossings to Stephen Barclay. In other words, an approach which means the status quo and more easy targets for Starmer in the future.

This is a reminder that anyone hoping for a left turn are going to be waiting a long time. Having determined that alienating the core support from the Corbyn years is something the party can still do and win (spoiler, it can't), what happened in Germany and the tentative turns toward Labour in the polls is the Starmerist road map to Number 10. Portray one as a competent administrator who, despite his party, leans right on "culture" and public spending, and the Tory voters will surely come. And those who are discontented? Former Labour supporters playing footsie with the Greens or new left parties will drift back to keep the Tories out. And while all this is going on, people are suffering and dying as they try to reach these shores: tens of thousands of tragedies that don't merit an acknowledgement as all these clever-clever games are played out.

Image Credit


Blissex said...

«the "upstream problem" was mentioned twice more. Et voila, triangulation in action»

The sad thing here is that "upstream" is the right concept. Ever wondered why there are no huge streams of korean or chinese-Taiwan or singaporean or malay boat people? Even the vietnamese boat people have stopped.
Because the ruling classes of those countries chose the risks of internal development through inward offshoring to emigration.

However as to UK politics the differences between outward offshoring and immigration poses big risk for someone pursuing the vote of affluent tory voters:

* Both immigration and offshoring "moderate" middle and low wages, but immigration does so more widely and in ways that benefit affluent tory voters more directly.

* More critically, offshoring makes property cheaper in the UK (see "the north") but immigrations makes property more expensive (see "the south-east").

What Starmer is missing is that tory voters are very much in favour of immigration, because of the effect on property prices and middle and low wages, but only if it is of indentured serfs with no rights on temp visas. Tory "Leavers" objected to EU immigration not because it was immigration, but because EU immigrants had the same rights as UK workers, and because of shared EU citizenship. As Boris Johnson has summarised:

You've seen quite a large number of people coming in from the whole of the EU — 580 million population — able to [treat the UK as though it's basically part of their own country,

This is more the tory attitude to immigration:

When Natalie Huss-Smickler arrived in England in 1938 as a 26-year-old, she found her new job as a domestic servant something of a shock compared with her secretarial work back home in Vienna. "My first job in England was very, very hard," she says. "I had to work from 8am to 11pm with an hour's break, cleaning and scrubbing and looking after the house, with half a day off a week. "After a few weeks I complained, saying it's a bit too hard. The lady of the house said, 'If it's too much for you, I'll send you back to Hitler.'" [...] Anthony Grenville, of the Association of Jewish Refugees, says the women who came over using the domestic service visas were mostly from well-to-do Viennese families and "completely unprepared psychologically" for their new lives. "The British government brought in a visa requirement for refugees seeking entry from Germany and Austria after the annexation of Austria to the Third Reich in March 1938. This was a way of the government controlling the sheer weight of numbers of applicants flooding over from the continent, particularly Austrian Jews for whom the situation had become desperate. Although they took them in great numbers, there was a very clear motive for the British having Jews over - not to save them, but to provide labour for middle and upper middle-class households. A small number of Jewish men also came as butlers or gardeners."

Perhaps Starmer could triangulate better if he promised that a Labour government would train both asylum seekers as household staff, indenture them with the costs, and then give to agencies for hire to private households, with immediate deportation in case of complaints. :-(

Anonymous said...

«alienating the core support from the Corbyn years is something the party can still do and win»

I still think that for many "centrists" (both ideologically or because of their property portfolios) it is more important that thatcherism wins than that their specific thatcherite party wins.

«(spoiler, it can't)»

Any "centrist" can point to the 2001 and 2005 election where New Labour lost 4m votes and still won majorities of seats to show that New Labour can win elections after getting rid of its "trot" members and voters.

But that happened only because of the memory of the 1990s property crash, and the 2020s property crash has not happened yet.

The critical question is whether it is going to happen before or after the next elections. My guess is that Johnson will not make the same mistake as Brown did in 2007, so at the first sign of trouble in the property market he will call an election so it happens before the full crash.

Anonymous said...

Labour Party strategy: waiting for the Tories to fail is not risk free.

Blissex said...

«waiting for the Tories to fail is not risk free»

That is precisely the opposite for New Labour: suppose that the first priority is to ensure that some thatcherite party wins, and the second that New Labour in particular wins.

Then either house prices don't crash, and the thatcherite Conservatives win, and the property portfolios of New Labour big (and not so big) cheeses continue to do well, or house prices crash, and the New Labour big cheeses become secretaries of state and it is their turn to spend or loan whatever it takes to push up house prices again. It is a win-win risk-free alternative (yes, in both cases Labour voting renters and workers get shafted, but nothing new there, they have nowhere else to go).

There may be a third case: that house prices crash, and can't be pushed up again. But then in that case at least New Labour big cheeses are ministers and can take advantage of that to do well for themselves (yes, in that case too Labour voting renters and workers get shafted, but again nothing new there).

Anonymous said...

And then helpful Starmer's little helper comes along to offer some supportive words which will doubtless be picked up on the more obtuse parts of the Tory back bench army. "Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds (for it is he, that unforgettable name) said on Sunday that, at the current rate, "more migrants will be travelling to Britain via the English Channel than there are voters in the Ms Patel’s constituency if the Government does not (magic words) act."