Monday 4 December 2023

Scorching the Earth on Immigration

The Tories have lost the next election, and a quick bounce back from the expected heavy defeat is not terribly likely. Facing a historic reckoning and no obvious means of recovery, they're playing politics in the end times. Nothing the Prime Minister or his front bench of the clueless and the gormless can do will reverse this situation. Even reviving the career of yesterday's man won't cut the mustard. But that doesn't mean the Tories will abstain from causing more damage between now and whenever the election is called, and today's announcements on immigration are a case in point.

Since Suella Braverman was exiled to the backbenches, sundry MPs and Tory editorials have pressured Rishi Sunak to "do something" about immigration. This has become a constant buzzing in his ear since the ONS revised its 2022 figures last week, revealing net migration was 745,000 for the year - the highest on record. For a government that routinely talks tough about hard borders and reducing the inflow of people, this is nothing less than an embarrassment. Meanwhile, the execrable Reform UK have been doing the media rounds, reminding the Tories of UKIP ghosts of the recent past. Something had to be done!

Unfortunately, that "something" is counter-productively stupid policies. James Cleverly re-announced the repeat attacks on higher education with a clamp down on overseas graduates remaining in the UK, a ban on care workers bringing dependents with them, the abolition of the 20% below market salary scheme (which happened to exercise Keir Starmer on Sunday). And the most damaging - raising the minimum salary threshold for foreign workers from £26,200 to £38.7k.

It's not difficult to see what this means in practice. Because the Tories have systematically defunded health and social care and held wages down, there are acute labour shortages as workers move out of these industries for better pay. To stop them from collapsing utterly, the Tories have overseen the largest waves of migration this country has ever seen. But because the problem they caused has not gone away, and that the pull factors - low wages by UK standards but high wages by global standards - cannot be fixed over night, slamming the shutters down on migrant workers will jeopardise not just health and care, but all sectors addicted to poverty pay business models and not a few paying near to or the average salary. Starmer likes to peddle the "country, not party" rubbish as his signature sideswipe at the Labour left, but it has never suited anyone more than the Conservatives.

In the backrooms, there might be some Tories congratulating themselves on a bold move. They might be daft enough to think it will go down well in the so-called Red Wall. The proles aren't competing with foreigners over jobs in KFC and Sports Direct any more. That and the handsome minimum wage hike will help us see off Labour. There might be others welcoming it as a forceful correction to the labour market. I.e. Instead of doing the hard work of planning and investing, a few years of pain will ensure low paid sectors sort themselves out in the absence of cheap overseas labour. And if you're dependent on health and social care and will be affected by the sudden exacerbation of labour shortages, that's hard cheese.

It's also a barely-disguised elephant trap. Or so the Tories think. Yvette Cooper got the centrists tittering over her sweary reply to Cleverly in the Commons (some of us observe how she often drops a shit bomb in her speeches), but predictably she committed Labour to doing nothing. Not to unwinding this ridiculous policy, setting caps, or tackling the structural pull factors. This isn't just because there's a complete void where the shadow front bench sits, but because saying anything in opposition might make Labour look "weak". And when they do undo it because it's so obviously a Tory scorched earth effort, that gives future Tories something to attack Starmer's shiny new government on. They're so transparent.

Going from comments in The Telegraph, Tory MPs are well pleased. Danny "Freddy" Kruger of the miserable New Conservatives was "delighted". John Hayes, one of Braverman's pathetic cheerleaders, said the government had finally "seen sense". But immigration is not the magic bullet the Tories think it is. Years of scaremongering and the amplifying of racist "real concerns" won them their precious Brexit, but immigration is now widely and rightly seen as distraction tactics. Poll after poll shows immigration trumped by other immediate and visceral concerns, and even on the issue specifically the Tories are trailing Labour. They don't even own the issue any more. That only means one thing: the more they highlight it, the more out of touch they look. And the harder they will hit the brick wall of electoral defeat.

Image Credit


David said...

Seem to recall "Enough is enough" as a Labour slogan.
When Cleverman trots this out, somebody should remind him.

Rodney said...

The Tories are all but certain to lose the next election but if we're at the point that it is utterly unsurprising Labour are going along with every policy they announce it doesn't seem that their ideology has been defeated, instead it looks like it has become hegemonic.

Even under Miliband there was a token caveat to Labour's general agreement with the Tories, a little bit of mitigation to provide differentiation. We can't really celebrate when it has become wholly routine for the "opposition" to offer no alternative.

It's very hard to feel any joy about capital's A team losing, especially when authoritarian Starmer is talking ominously about how his point blank refusal to fix any of the problems people face could lead to "political extremism" with the implication he'll crack down on that. I fully expect the Greens to get a "sensible" new leadership or face crackdowns for their extremism and links to the climate protests that make Starmer so angry.

Kamo said...

There is a certain type of idiocy in importing economic migrants to fill skills shortages in low wage sectors like health and social care if the cost to the taxpayer of supporting dependents makes the overall cost benefit uneconomic. 'Economic migration' is supposed to be economically beneficial for both the migrant and the receiving state. This is before we even address the elephant in the room of economically inactive natives who might come back into the labour force for better pay and conditions.

Blissex said...

Immigration is also about other things, but it is most importantly about property (no surprise, it is unfortunately the central political and economic topic in the UK): the Conservatives are cutting (from next year) legal immigration after making a big deal only of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in order to make it much harder for New, New Labour, if they get into power in 2025, to pump up property prices.

How important is immigration to "prosperity" for "Middle England"? A small-scale example from the USA is clear:
“Tucked in the far southwest corner of Colorado is the historic city of Durango. Built in the 19th century at a railroad junction, it's nestled in a bend of the Animas River as it flows through the magnificent San Juan Mountains. Stunning scenery and copious amenities helped attract 460 new residents to the town of 19,000 during the pandemic. That may not sound like a lot, but it was enough to juice median home prices by 50% in just three years, with them soaring from $500,000 in 2019 to over $750,000 by 2022.”

That is of course a fantastic win: 19,000 resident may mean 5,000 houses, which will be typically owned by around 60-70% of the families of Durango, and that means that the "wealth" of each of the 3,000 property-owning families of Durango ballooned on average by around $420,000 in 3 years, or $140,000 per year, tax-free, work-free, entirely (net) paid for by the lower classes, in particular the "deplorables".

The same has happened in nearly all London areas and in many villages and towns in the south-east over the past 40 years, ensuring the popularity of thatcherism: who cares about better wages and safer jobs when their property profits are far larger than any likely wage increase and far safer (see the several hundred trillions of handouts to the finance and property sector in 2008 and subsequent years) than any job.

Blissex said...

«importing economic migrants to fill skills shortages»

There are no skills or labour shortages in any sector, as the population today is much, much larger than it was when under more honest accounting and reporting there was widespread unemployment. There have been large surges in employment among zero or negative productive service jobs like mortgage brokers and real estate agents, millions of people could be easily redeployed from those unproductive sectors to where they are needed by using a classic capitalist mechanism, higher prices, that is higher wages in the sectors where shortages are alleged.

«in low wage sectors like health and social care»

Obviously if entire sectors are "low wage" that means there is no labour shortage in those sectors. If the argument is that "losers" simply deserve low wages and precarious jobs, that is a "moral" rather than an an economic argument.

«if the cost to the taxpayer of supporting dependents makes the overall cost benefit uneconomic»

If there any evidence that young hardworking immigrants have so many dependents on welfare? Most studies I have seen show that immigrants pay in a lot more in taxes (both direct and indirect ones like VAT) than they and their families take out, never mind rent, and the main beneficiaries are older UK citizens, who pay as a result lower taxes and no taxes at all on their immense property profits.

«'Economic migration' is supposed to be economically beneficial for both the migrant and the receiving state.»

The “receiving state” is an abstraction, what matters are the net beneficiaries, and obviously that is always a win-win: when a migrant is eager to take a job for 6 pounds per hour (e.g. delivery) that a citizen would demand 12 pounds per hour then "everybody" (except nobodies) wins: the migrant gets 6 pounds per hour instead of 1 pound per hour in his origin country, the employer makes 4 pounds per hour more profit, and consumers benefit from lower prices enabled by 2 pounds per hour savings on labour costs.

Blissex said...

«The proles aren't competing with foreigners over jobs in KFC and Sports Direct any more»

There is a strong moral argument as to this:

* In South Africa's apartheid 15% of the country were enclaves with 95% whites in them, with nice houses with good plumbing, reliable electricity and other public services, and wages 10 times higher than in the 85% of country where 95% "people of global majority" lived in shacks without plumbing, occasional electricity and no public services, and the "people of global majority" could not move to the white enclaves because of the racism of white supremacists.

* In the current world there are 85% white enclaves ("the garden") like the UK with good plumbing, reliable electricity and other public services, and wages 10 times higher than in the global market where 85% of the "people of global majority" still live in favelas ("the jungle") with shacks without plumbing, only occasional electricity and no public services, and the "people of global majority" can not move to the UK.

* Inasmuch as there is a global labour market and disparate impact is the result of identity discrimination, until the UK has the same wage levels as the global market and its residents are 85% of "people of global majority" any restriction to immigration from the 85% of the world which is non-white can only be, "objectively", because of the racism of white supremacists.

I wonder whether corporations in the UK would be so keen on diversity and immigration if "people of global majority" had wages 10 times higher than those of, "objectively", racist white supremacists ("bigots") of the UK.


Anonymous said...

This kind of economic nonsense is exactly the kind of nonsense Tories want people to believe.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

Perhaps the problem is that Starmer and co don't actually have any answers to the multifarious problems besetting us. If you don't know what to do to make things better, and you aren't in charge and so don't have to try to come up with any solutions, and you are almost certain to win the next election, then going along with whatever the government proposes, while criticising the more obviously daft suggestions, and caveating vaguely, is a 'sensible' approach.

Which is depressing as it means that they genuinely don't have any idea about how to improve life for those most negatively affected by all the many problems visible. From wage stagnation, BS jobs, lack of opportunity, crumbling infrastructure, struggling public services, environmental degradation, to social division, and increasing resentment and anger being fomented and manipulated for nefarious purposes.

The lack of a vision for a better future by any political actors, who seem focused on either returning to a past that never existed or carrying on as now by patching and bodging things, means that politics in its current form is losing what credibility it had. Unfortunately the only alternatives being presented are increased authoritarianism or blame it on the foreigners.

Blissex said...

«they genuinely don't have any idea about how to improve life for those most negatively affected by all the many problems visible.»

But why should they waste their time trying to figure that out?

For the past 40 years the focus of policy has been on the large minority of "Middle England" thatcherite voters who have been doing rather well and when Corbyn tried to refocus policy on “those most negatively affected” he got monstered (by Starmer too).

Ah but I am as usual talking about my imaginary parallel planet in which competent politicians have been successful in delivering massive upward redistribution to 20-40% of voters from the lower classes, not the real world in which you, our blogger, the author of "Tory Nation" and most "progressives" live.

To me it keeps being astonishing that in the real world 43% of voters keep voting for those politicians who have been making them poorer with their incompetence for 40 year along with everybody else.

Perhaps the columnists of "The Guardian" are right that unlike on my imaginary planet they don't vote for their material interests but on identity and culture (to put it simply: "Remain" vs. "Leave") and they prefer bigotry to prosperity :-).
“Brexit redrew the political map along axes of culture, geography, class, age and educational attainment”

Jay said...

Don't forget their commitment to the "push" factor of immigration as well.

Sponsoring or engaging in the continued destruction of Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Ukraine, and to an extent driving wedges in China/Hong Kong and very probably Taiwan soon, will ensure a steady flow of people forced to abandon their country and seek refuge in the only places they know the west won't attack.

I wonder if they can see this consequence of their foreign policy but are too committed to backstopping their mates in the war/disaster capitalism industry?

Blissex said...

«Don't forget their commitment to the "push" factor of immigration as well.»

Immigration would be enormous regardless, even without wars and massacres, because also of disasters and of TV/cinema: there are billions of poor people in the world that are nowadays well aware that in "the west" everybody (for now) has running water, reliable electricity, garbage collections, hospitals, paved roads, schools, as well as wages (for now) 10 times the (worldwide) market wage. It seems little known but there was quite also bit of "managed" migration to the USSR, GDR and other soviet countries from third world countries in the soviet sphere of influence for similar reasons.

«I wonder if they can see this consequence of their foreign policy but are too committed to backstopping their mates in the war/disaster capitalism industry?»

That foreign policy may have "useful" side effects like higher flows of migration and greater spending on the military, but even without those it would still be pursued: empires have always tried to destabilize the neighbourhoods of other empires, and to wreck the occasional country or two to teach object lessons to others.

Usual quotes:

Jonah Goldberg, “Baghdad Delenda Est, Part II: Get On With It,” National Review, April 23, 2002: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”

George Kennan "At a Century's Ending: Reflections 1982-1995" "Part II: Cold War in Full Bloom" (1997): “Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”
“One of the biggest names in European private equity said that Brexit will be good for his business, but will mean a 30% wage reduction for UK workers. [...] He added that EU immigration will be replaced with workers from the Indian subcontinent and Africa, willing to accept "substantially" lower pay.”