Monday 13 July 2020

The Class Politics of Points-Based Immigration

What was the main driver for the vote to leave the European Union? Trading opportunities? An end to European jurisdiction over British courts? Restored fishing rights to our coastal waters? No. It was immigration. Say it three times if you like. Leaflets with Nigel Farage posing in front of columns of refugees, leaflets with lies about Turkish accession to the EU, leaflets highlighting the country's border with Syria. These fell on ground repeatedly ploughed by leagues of column inches and thousands of broadcast hours banging about the dangers of immigration, the crime it brings, the wages it undercuts, its drain on hard-pressed public services, the dissolution of community and dilution of Britishness. The main reason why Brexit is happening is because this went unchallenged by mainstream politicians and so-called opinion formers for decades. And this is what leaving the EU really means to millions of leave voters. Lift up the drawbridge, close the borders, and magically the country will simply become a better place.

The problem the Tories have is how do they deliver the Brexit promise on immigration but without disrupting those labour intensive industries that have come to depend on a ready supply of workers from elsewhere. The Coronavirus crisis provides a solution. Their so-called points-based immigration system begins with the assumption anyone coming here is not to be trusted. Their intent is either to soak up social security and free health care, or to steal jobs and force down wages overall. Imposing a points system eliminates this danger and keeps the undesirables away, while simultaneously keeping the equation of immigration = bad things going as a bogey to frighten the support with as and when it's needed - like at election time.

Under the scheme announced by Priti Patel, once the transition period ends in December anyone wanting to live and work here must cross a 70 point threshold to be accepted in. Points are awarded for job offers over the minimum of £20k, ability to speak English, holding higher qualifications relevant to the position, and starting salary weighing in at £25k plus. In response, Labour pledged to scrutinise the proposals. Congratulations Yvette Cooper for bouncing the leadership into tacitly backing the Tories' racial politics. What caught the headlines was the exclusion of care workers from the health and care visa, which was cobbled together after opposition to surcharges the government planned to level on NHS staff from overseas. As Patel said during her Commons speech, "At a time where an increased number of people across the UK are looking for work, the new points-based system will encourage employers to invest in the domestic UK workforce, rather than simply relying on labour from abroad."

The slump and unemployment crisis allows the Tories to restructure the job market. Always contemptuous of British workers - the conditions attached to social security shows what they think of us - restricting access to the low pay for long hours care sector to prospective employees from outside gives our "spoilt" and "lazy" workers the kick up the arse they need. No longer are care jobs too good for sniffy Brits, no longer is the pay too low. The crisis in social care has been solved by crushing unemployment, not investment and the raising of wages. The same will be true of other sectors too. The so-called "jobs miracle" Dave and Osborne talked up really crammed as many people into as many low paid labour intensive occupations they could. These immigration plans, combined with Rishi Sunak's policy to create even more jobs of the same ilk indicates Boris Johnson is carrying on where his unlamented predecessor left off. Far from protecting British workers, the Tories have no intention of replacing lost jobs like-for-like and are expecting care to take up the employment slack.

Forcing through these changes aren't about to win the Tories the support of British and UK-resident workers moving into the care industry under the lash of economic compulsion. Nor are they designed too. The contempt our ruling class has for its workers is matched by the envy and fear millions of Tory supporters have of the young. Values survey after values survey shows all workers are less likely to be perturbed by immigration than the over 65s - starkly so where the young are concerned. Which is curious when you consider actual working people are, theoretically, competing with overseas workers for jobs and housing. Because something akin to a petit bourgeois consciousness is the default for the bulk of retired people, the twin promises of security and authority - as well as smiting scapegoats and confected agents of chaos - provides the safety feels. It addresses the anxiety underpinning their position in the world by directing it outward, which is then (seemingly) negated by keeping out the foreigners and giving the pampered youngsters a dose of real world medicine. The points-based immigration system is one such political technology for exploiting, solving, and exploiting these fears over and over again. It offers a sense that, perhaps, the clock can be wound back. Or at least the world can be paused.

This presents a problem for Labour so obvious even a right wing backbencher should be able to comprehend it. Accepting the government's position puts the party in a bidding war with the Tories, and it's one Labour can never win. Though, of course, it can alienate core supporters. Defusing immigration as a hot button issue doesn't mean banging on about underfunded border staff or criticising the Tories for not running a tight enough ship, it's refusing the ground chosen by the Tories entirely, challenging the myths, and taking on the scapegoating not from a position of liberal let's-be-nice-to-everyone, but on grounds of solidarity, mutual interest, and opposition to divide and rule. Something approaching class politics, you might say. The chances of Labour breaking with the Tory consensus? Not great.


Blissex said...

«The chances of Labour breaking with the Tory consensus? Not great.»

Why would New New Labour want to "scare the horses", that is the tory voters, on immigration as on any other issues? I have just read on LeftFootForward the authentic case for Starmer as the leader of a "quasi-Conservative" party:
But Keir Starmer gives me confidence it’s possible to kick the Tories out at the earliest opportunity. I want someone who’s relatable, competent – and yes, conventional enough – to not scare off voters in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s constituency; the ones Labour must reach in order to win, barring a Scottish revival for the party. Starmer’s credentials and skills fit the bill.

What does “not scare off voters in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s constituency” are policies to further their interests, the assurance that K Starmer will keep housing cost inflation high, and push down wages, that he will spend more on police and less on social insurance. J Rees-Mogg's voters want an even more affluent and secure life for themselves at the expense of everybody else, not a leader's image that is merely “relatable, competent”; also that “and yes, conventional enough” transparently stands for Peter Mandelson's “we are all thatcherites now”.

Starmer’s credentials and skills fit the bill. Call it shallow, but the leader’s image is fundamentally important for me. The vast majority of voters never meet party leaders face-to-face. We make up our minds about who looks like a plausible prime minister based upon what we see on our screens and read on social media.

But several studies show that the image of the party leader has either no effect on voters or a small one like 1-3% of voters (with the exception of Tony Blair, whose electoral toxicity lost millions of voters to New Labour).

As to that, it was thanks to the ruthless effort of so many within New Labour and New New Labour to lose that 1-3% of voters to ensure the defeat of J Corbyn and the Labour wing of Labour that made all the difference in 2017 when the votes were 42% to 40%.
Thanks to K Starmer's image that does “not scare off voters in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s constituency” that gap has "shrunk" to 10% despite B Johnson's government being even more ridiculed than T May's government, and it having lost their only trump card that was "Get Brexit Done", and we also have:
"What Great Britain thinks of Boris Johnson
39% positive opinion/43% negative opinion/17% neutral opinion/99% have heard of"
"What Great Britain thinks of Keir Starmer
15% positive opinion/19% negative opinion/18% neutral opinion/52% have heard of"

Jim Denham said...

This is,of course, the logic of Brexit and was explicitly spelled out by the pro-leave campaign during the referendum. No Labour supporter of Brexit can consistently oppose this (though I hope they do). Just a pity that Starmer is now keeping shtum on Brexit.

Anonymous said...

"barring a Scottish revival for the party."

Something Labour has given up on? I suppose they might as well because rebuilding the party's support in Scotland would require some political effort, some gestures in the direction of reforming the British state or competing with the SNP for the left-wing vote. Totally incompatible with the 'strategy' being pursued in England.

Meanwhile, we have a member of the shadow cabinet going on TV and saying: "We’re not setting out proposals at the moment for the next manifesto, the next general election is likely to be four years away … There’s plenty of time to do that work." As if everything is basically fine and there are no major issues to confront, nothing urgent! Such complacency is incredible in the circumstances of 2020.

I do not see Labour winning an election like this. Neither can I say that I'd expect much from Starmer's Labour if they were in government. 'Corbynism' represented a positive alternative; 'Starmerism', merely a lesser evil. Labour is going to lose the same way the Democrats did with Hilary Clinton and are very likely about to lose again with Joe Biden. It's depressing.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the politics of immigration in the UK, I think Marx's comments of 1870 remain relevant (which is a sad indictment of this country in itself):

"The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself.

He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the “poor whites” to the Negroes in the former slave states of the USA. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this."

Obviously, we're no longer talking just about people from Ireland but from a wide range of places much further away, but the essential political dynamic is the same. In Britain itself, as in anywhere else, it's "the old divide and rule" that keeps the ruling class in power, always and everywhere.

And the solution remains: "WORKERS OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!"

Arjun L Sen said...

This is an excellent assessment. It has NO obvious weaknesses and explains both what's wrong with the Tory approach and the current Labour approach to jobs and immigration and very effectively points out what SHOULD be the Labour approach. Well done !