Home > General Politics > Immigration policy: when evidence actually counted for something

Immigration policy: when evidence actually counted for something

imagesThe rightwing blogosphere and mainstream press is predictably awash with outraged bile at the ‘revelations’, from an Evening Standard journalist, and one time Special Adviser to the Labour party, that Labour had an evil secret plan to introduce a multi-cultural Britain just to rub the Tories’ nose in it.

 Let’s set aside for a moment the little inconvenience that the Special Adviser/journalist, Andrew Neather didn’t really mean what he said, and that in today’s Evening Standard he seeks desperately to set out what he did mean.  If he’s been hoist by his own desperate-to-sound-terribly-relevant-and-advance-my-career-at-the-expense-of-my-poltical-integrity petard, then there’s little I can do about it, though I do feel a bit sorry for him.

 Where the Standard and the Telegraph lead, so follow Dale and his trolls (go on look at the 172 comments, I can’t bear to).  And where the Telegraph goes, so goes that ever so balanced think-tank Migration Watch:

“Now at least the truth is out, and it’s dynamite. Many have long suspected that mass immigration under Labour was not just a cock up but also a conspiracy. They were right. This Government has admitted three million immigrants for cynical political reasons concealed by dodgy economic camouflage.”

And where the ever so balanced Migration Watch goes, so goes that loveable old Labour maverick, Frank Field:

“I am speechless at the idea that people thought they could socially engineer a nation on this basis.” (to the Standard); and

“We welcome this statement by an ex-adviser, which the whole country knows to be true. It is the first beam of truth that has officially been shone on the immigration issue in Britain.” (to the Telegraph)

Frank Field, eh?  What a twat!

 And so on it rolls. 

 Today, the Evening Standard calls for a ‘probe’ into the revelations, apparently unconcerned that Neather, writes on the very same day and in the very same paper that his views have been utterly misrepresented (I don’t suppose Dale will be quoting from that too much).

 And when you’re on a rightwing troll-roll like this, why bother with anything so inconvenient as the truth?

 For the unpalatable truth is that to assign the ‘multicultural’ motive to the Labour party’s immigration policy is simply ludicrous, and so far from any vaguely sane interpretation of actual events that it would be laughable – if they weren’t getting away with it.

 By fortunate coincidence for people who like the odd bit of reason and common sense to go with their politics, in the very same week that Andrew Neather sought to use the BNP’s appearance on Question Time to advance his own commentariat career, a young academic published a paper in the UK best-respected political science journal, summarising the findings of his PhD; in it he tells us what really took place, and in so doing utterly debunks the right’s ‘ZanuLiebour’ fantasies.

 Dr Alex Balch’s paper is called ‘Labour and Epistemic Communities: The Case of ‘Managed Migration’ in the UK.’ 

For those with the correct passwords in academia it is available here, or find British Journal of Politics and International Relations (2009) Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 616-636).  

 I have asked Alex, with whom I once had a couple of beers in the Cambridge Arms in Liverpool (but that’s another story), to see if he can allow free access to his work given its sudden and unexpected relevance, and he’s seeing what he can do.  For the time being, you’ll have to trust my review of his article and the quotations I use.

 What Dr Balch’s paper shows very clearly is that immigration policy, or what came to be called ‘migration policy’, was driven almost exclusively by considerations of economic growth and labour shortages in key areas, and had pretty well nothing at all to do with multi-culturalism.

 Balch says of Barbara Roche, MP (Home Officer Minister, 1999-2001):

“She was very keen to differentiate the question of policy towards asylum seekers from a new policy of ‘managed migration’. This new policy focus would be open and responsive to evidence and expertise on migration in general, but the question this research was supposed to address was clearly formulated in purely economic terms”

 He then quotes a speech by Roche in 2000:

 “In the past we have thought purely about immigration control … Now we need to think about immigration management … The evidence shows that economically driven migration can bring substantial overall benefits for both growth and the economy.”

 And far from their being the kind of subterfuge that the right would now have us believe in, this is what Balch has to say about Tony Blair’s personal involvement:

“The story goes that without the hindrance of political considerations Blair was convinced by the arguments for managing migration in the economic interest of the country and recommended that the report be published. Clearly, the narrative chimed elegantly with the pro-business agenda, and openness to cultural diversity and so-called ‘Third Way’ global capitalism.”

An openness to ‘cultural diversity’ which ‘chimes’ with the main economic growth theme is hardly the same as a devilish plan to swamp the country with people with funny languages and abhorrent ways.

Thus, the REAL story set out in the article, and in Alex’s PhD, is one of a then new Labour government, and at least some of its newly emboldened and temporarily empowered staffers/officials, trying to enact its commitment to ‘evidenced-based policy’, and to do so openly – more openly, indeed, than its civil servants were comfortable with, as this quote from one civil servant interviewee makes clear:

 “There were people in the Home Office who were saying ‘come on, we’ve got to change policy—the old approach of simply keeping people out is not tenable’, and there were the operational people in the Home Office at IND who were effectively saying ‘there is only one political imperative: keep people out!’, but the people at Queen Anne’s Gate were arguing that it is more complex than that, more nuanced.”

 Such was the relative openness of the new approach, in fact, that it became competitive:

 “Whichever way publication was eventually sanctioned, there was then a political clamour to champion the new approach and assume ownership.”

 Is this the narrative of subterfuge?  Is this the stuff of action which, 10 years on, warrants a ‘probe’?  Is the right talking talking utter, uninformed bollox?

 The real tragedy, of course, is that Labour lost its way, and the courage of its initial convictions. 

 Instead of politicians continuing to take on board what experts had to say, and using the information to take honest decisions in the best interests of the country, the backslide into the world of ‘political imperatives’ started in the mid 2000s. 

 As Balch notes, while the government took the decision in the light of the evidence available NOT to “impose transitionary arrangement on A8 nationals” (from East European countries due to enter the EU) in 2002, by 2007 (when Romania and Bulgaria became EU members) the way of doing things had changed:

 “In contrast to 2002 this decision was taken against expert opinion.  Here the managed migration frame was displaced by a political imperative to respond to public concerns over immigration levels (despite the likelihood that A2 migration would be on a different scale to A8 migration).” 

And so it is depressing, but not unexpected, to see today’s reaction from Jack Straw spokesman for a call for a ‘probe’.  Instead of being open about what the new policy of the early 2000s was all about, the concern is to play to the rightwing crowd:

 “This [the call for a ‘probe’] is complete rubbish and the proof of that is the fact that Jack Straw introduced and was implementing the Immigration and Asylum Act at just this time, which tightened up controls.”

 The real tragedy is that the likes of Dale are now able to get away with fact-free rants about immigration policy, and that he can simply take as given that his readers will assume that immigration as a concept is wholly detestable, and that any gains made a few years ago in the argument that immigration might enrich the UK have been so wholly lost.

 The real tragedy is that Alex Massie’s unexpectedly admirable piece in the Spectator today, in which he argues both free-market and moral case for freedom of movement of labour (see my own contribution here) is disregarded as the ranting of someone out of touch with the real world, and as evidence of the new editor’s independence’, rather than a serious contribution to the immigration debate (though hats off to Hopi for supporting it).

 Dr Alex Balch’s research paper is as detailed and authoritative as you would expect from someone gaining their PhD from it.  It’s set within a solid epistemological framework of new institutionalism, and sets out to show how ‘epistemic communities’ influence the reframing of policy.

 Alex’s research paper not a hysterical knee-jerk reaction to the BNP being on TV, combined with the spotting of an opportunity to batter the Labour party via the words of a shoddy journalist who has made up his version of events to suit his editor’s line and his own career prospects (notwithstanding his laudable attempt today to say sorry). 

 For those reasons, I think the right is likely to see little value in Alex’s research paper.

As Alex himself sets out, quoting a Home Office civil servant on governments prior to 1997:

 “Immigration law in this country has developed mainly as a series of responses to, and attempts to regulate, particular pressures, rather than as a positive means of achieving preconceived social or economic aims.”

With a new Conservative government, or even a new New Labour government, we’ll have more of that to look forward to.

Perhaps that’s why, as a serious researcher into migration policy, Alex is currently in the United States.

Categories: General Politics
  1. Chris Baldwin
    October 27, 2009 at 10:37 am

    “The Left, however, will immediately accuse anyone who raises immigration as an issue as “playing the race card” – as the Government has on several occasions over the past decade.

    Both sides need to grow up”


  2. John Buckingham
    October 27, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    But surely, accepting that mass immigration is a route to growth does not entail that it is the right route to growth? Clearly more people = more consumption = more goods & services = higher GDP, but is that an inherent good? – what of the quality of goods and services consumed, and what of the knock-on effects for current inhabitants?

    It cannot be right to divert resources and attention from those with SEN or behaviour problems in our schools to serve those whose only impediment to learning is their lack of English. Equally it cannot be right to provide jobs and services for degree-educated Poles when there are millions in desperate need in this country; sure, it creates the illusion of ‘growth’ because resources are being used up, but growth for whom? A businessman buying a Rolls Royce is growth, but is it good for me or those in poverty?

    I would’ve though that a better route to growth, rather than an influx of cheap foreign labour, would’ve been investment in better vocational education (real, proper apprenticeships), long-term improvements in infrastructure (hi-speed rail, anyone?) and state sponsorship of certain developing industries (a la South Korea).

    The notion that a multicultural society is inherently ‘good’ is surely a nonsense – it is inherently neutral: because no race has a moral valence, increases in one or another cannot affect the positivity or negativity of society at large. We should not confuse the cultural and social/economic aspects here: the latter may render any further increase in immigration undesirable even when the cultural impacts are neutral or subjectively beneficial. This is not a judgement on the culture of the minority groups – it’s an assessment of the social and economic necessities required for a stable and prosperous society. It would be the same regardless of the identity of these incoming groups.

    Labour people need to give up this absurd idea so many of them have that being opposed to increased immigration makes one a racist – it’s out of touch and it’s plain wrong.

  3. paulinlancs
    October 27, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Chris @1: No idea what you’re trying to get at.

    John B @2: Thanks for dropping in John – while no see.

    I think there are two issues to disentangle in your comment.

    First, my post was less about the substantive question of whether immigration policy based on notions related to economic growth is justified, and more about the rightwing press jumping to invalid conclusions about the motivations for the immigration policy that was developed, on the basis of the twistings of an already twisted commentary on the behind the scenes dealing in the early 2000s.

    In terms of that substantive point, I couldn’t agree more about the need for the government to invest in infrastructure and specific areas of industry, and to back that up with vocational industry training of a skill level to ensure that in future people more local to the employment scene can gain jobs.

    That doesn’t take away from the fact that in the early 2000s there was expert opinion that there were key labour shortages in vital areas of It, construction etc.. While the set of experts brought to the table by a newly elected government might not be exactly to my liking – I’d have liked to see more union representation, for example, and the policy prescriptions might then have been somewhat different – there was at least a commitment at that time to a) deciding what was the right thing to do, and then b) managing the media/perception process, rather than being driven wholly by media-based views on the evil that is all immigration (as is now the case with Jack Straw).

    I am not arguing that a multi-cultural society should be seen as inherently good. I was arguing simply that the right were playing with the facts to portray Labour as promoting just that idea, when in fact it was driven by economic considerations, whether or not the assumptions being made by the ‘experts’ were correct.

    On the more general point about whether immigration is good or bad, I think I probably disagree with you fundamentally. I count myself as a left libertarian ie. someone who holds as a core value the right of the individual to have primacy over any notion of nation or state, just like right libertarians except with an understanding of how power relations in capitalist society ensure that the rights of most individuals are subjugated by capital.

    As such, I believe in the inalienable right of the individual to free movement, just in the same way as capital enjoys that right. That doesn’t mean to say I advocate an immediate open border policy, because that would be impractical, but it does mean that freedom of movmement should be a longer term aspiration of the left, and that we shouldn’t be ashamed about that.

    Your notion that such sentiments are ‘out of touch’ are out of keeping with my view that we should be driven by essential political (and humane) values, and then manage the political process, rather than by the concept of political marketing whereby we fit our values and strategies to meet the demands of a society currently biased towards rightwing views.

    Your immediate response to that may be along the lines that such idealism does not win elections, but I would reject that; it is perfectly possible to set out in politically saleable terms an aspiration to free movement of labour and people, while setting out the steps that first need to be taken if it is to be managed successfully. Indeed, this is not too distant from what the government and its experts tried to do in the early 2000s, only to lose its nerve in the face of the hysteria of the right about our ‘culture’ being submerged.

  4. October 27, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    @Paul, I suspect Chris’s quotes come from one of the articles you referenced, and he’s using it to demonstrate his opinion that the sitting on the fence is intellectually bankrupt, that the Right bears far more responsibility in corrupting the debate – which seems fairly confluent with your article.

  5. paulinlancs
    October 27, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Dave @4: Oh right, yes. I think it comes from the original Standard article by the boy Neather. Sorry, Chris @1, it was a bit too elliptic for me but Comrade Semple’s got me there in the end.

  6. Alex Balch
    October 27, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    No one could be more surprised than me that my research would be so relevant to a current controversy (especially considering the length of time it takes to publish anything)! Well done Paul for pulling this together.

    I think the issue will continue to be a source of party political controversy in the UK for strong historical reasons. The Conservatives have always believed that immigration is a weak spot for Labour (see Richard Crossman’s comments about the Smethwick election of 1964). Thatcher used this in the late 1970s (comments about ‘swamping’) and more recently Michael Howard (2005 election campaign) and Andrew Lansley have got excited about immigration’s ‘potential to hurt’ Labour.

    I don’t think it is going too far to suggest that Labour hoped the ‘managed migration’ narrative would be strong enough to consign such assumptions to history – that’s why they jumped on it (and the 2005 election seemed to prove them right) but politicians have long memories.
    We will never know what actually goes on inside other people’s heads so we won’t get to the bottom of what politicians really think about immigration. However, my hunch is that it is less about the phenomenon of immigration itself (quite complicated) and more about politicians’ assumptions about how immigration plays with the public (easier to think about).

    I think there are at least two fallacious arguments that underpin this latest debate: 1) that Labour are soft and Conservatives are tough on immigration, and 2) that ‘locals’ and ‘immigrants’ will turn on each other when times get hard (i.e. during recession) so politicians can exploit anti-immigrant sentiment.

    On the first point, the truth is that both are actually quite tough, but ironically politics/policy on immigration has limited impact on migration decisionmaking (and thus migration patterns) but serious impacts for immigrants themselves (turning someone instantly into a ‘criminal’, for example, just by changing entry/stay restrictions). As always, the US leads the way. There is now a mountain of research proving that US/Mexico border enforcement doesn’t stop immigration, but it kills quite a lot of people. Perversely, putting up a big fence means people will be more likely to settle permanently (for fear of never being able to return etc), removing it will mean more natural/circular movements occur. This is where most analyses go awry – it is not actually entirely in the governments gift to choose more or less immigration. One important obstacle to this is membership of the EU, but there are many more if you want the country to operate successfully in the global economic system.

    The second argument is more nuanced – it depends on what you ask people (there is certainly a healthy cynicism regarding the effectiveness of policy), but in terms of things getting worse during an economic crisis, this is based on little more than anecdotal evidence – it is possible that there might be an increase in solidarity among people during recessions. See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2009/mar/20/recession-immigrants
    In addition, we should also not overlook the interests of politicians in deflecting anger towards themselves via the classic ‘divide and rule’ strategy….

    One thing this certainly tells us is that election time has arrived, and it will be interesting to see how the Conservatives seek to create ‘clear blue water’ between themselves and Labour on immigration. Probably it will be something about a cap or a quota – but this will just underline the success of the managed migration narrative – it has basically created consensus between the two parties over the deeper aims of migration policy, i.e. economic nationalism.

    Ultimately I agree with Paul that it is a shame that there are fewer people on the left who are prepared to make the moral/ethical argument for free movement – the economic case for immigration, while politically easier to sell, is ultimately weaker because it reduces people to economic units and is contingent upon short-term cyclical effects. This was the price paid by those who sought to construct a more ‘positive’ policy on immigration in the 1990s and understandably pointed to the economic benefits as part of that argument – it ended up being the only part which found purchase with New Labour.

  7. paulinlancs
    October 27, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Thanks for this input all the way from the States, Alex. I’m glad we seem to be broadly of one mind on the particular episode. As you suggested by email, the notion that the whole policy was part of a big experiment in multiculturalism is more or less a copy of the BNP/Migration Watch argument.

    I think your point that what’s let New Labour down ultimately is its (understandable) over-reliance on the economic case for immigration, at the expense of tackling the tougher but lesss ‘cyclical’ issues, is useful; I hadn’t really worked that through properly for myself when I wrote the piece, and like many on the left I do still struggle to present a coherent case about the relationship between my core political/philosophical values (Kant and all that)and the real world power relations we all have to deal with. Put simply, though, I think the libertarian left needs the same level of courage in its convictions that the libertarian right feels able to display, however misguidedly (because it doesn’t get the concept of power(s)properly).

    In many ways, your comment could do with being worked up a bit into a post in its own right. I’ll have a little think about that.

  8. John Buckingham
    October 28, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Surely the ‘inalienable right to free movement’ must be tempered by the inevitable negative consequences for others resulting from some people’s movements? This seems a grossly individualist perspective. My argument is not at all about political expediency – it is about getting the best services and the best job chances for people in real, desperate need – without said jobs and services being used up or deteriorated by those who move here simply to increase their income. Both of us are making arguments from social justice, but mine is grounded in the nation state and its power to help its citizens – and that is the unit of governance we have to work within, rightly or wrongly. Yes, maybe if globalization breaks down the power, and crucially, the responsibilities (for its citizens welfare) of the nation state (and I do not believe it will, substantially), then freedom of movement may be a valid aspiration. But where individual nations still have responsibility for the welfare of a distinct set of citizens, we have to act in the best interests of those citizens – which might mean preventing others from accessing our jobs and services.

  9. Alex Balch
    October 28, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Hi John, I think you make some good points – an ‘inalienable’ right to free movement might well be pushing things too far – states should have the right to deny access to certain people – mass murderers being an obvious example. But – don’t forget that allowing freedom of movement does not mean people actually have to move – perhaps counter-intuitively most people in the world prefer to stay close to where they were born. Also, we need to remember that freedom of movement is now more than an aspiration for hundreds of million EU citizens, which incidentally has not led to the breakdown of the nation-state of which you are so fond.
    Aside from the irresolvable nature of many arguments about immigration’s consequences, I think we are straying into a familiar trap regarding the statism vs cosmopolitanism debate where an underlying ideal/non-ideal division allows each side to paint the other into a corner. You are talking about real-world (non-ideal) issues in the hear and now, whereas Paul, and myself when referring to the ethical justification for freedom of movement, are thinking about the world in the ‘ideal’ sense (I hope that I haven’t misrepresented you there, Paul!).

  10. John Buckingham
    October 28, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Well, quite. But why would anyone with an interest in human welfare wish to position themselves in the idealist camp in this argument?

    States (including, in my view, EU states) should have the right to exclude anyone whose presence would be detrimental to the welfare of their society – I can’t believe that is in dispute. And frequently, that’s going to be a question of numbers, not whether someone’s a criminal or not. It is a question of where our moral obligations lie – and I say it is a) towards those born or ‘invited’ here and their welfare and b) towards asylum seekers fleeing persecution. The rest we have no obligations towards, since their motivation is self-interest – that is not a goal the state should sponsor or promote.

  11. Alex Balch
    October 28, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    John – I’m beginning to wonder who is being more realistic here… the idea that there are no obligations towards anyone apart from those that are born or ‘invited’ to a country is starting to sound a bit, um, extreme, and quite unworkable. What about family reunion? What about the millions of Britons who have spread (presumably many of them ‘uninvited’) across the world? How would you advise that their host states treat them? Sounds like you wish none of this pesky movement of people went on. The next step would presumably be to try and ‘turn back the clock’ in some way…

  12. John Buckingham
    October 29, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Only if one believes all arguments should be taken to their logical conclusions, which is where extremists go wrong. On the other hand, your open-doors perspective is undeniably extremist – one could even go so far as to say it promotes hatred of minorities by stoking fear and through substantive negative changes. How other states treat migrants from this country is entirely their own affair (well, it’s not, but it should be), and I would not presume to dictate to them. Certainly we can allow those who have been sought out by companies to enter due to labour market shortages, but there should clearly be some obligation on that company at the same time to make investments in training (apprenticeships, partnerships with local colleges etc) to ensure that the skill gap is filled in the future. Continually looking overseas without examining our own approaches to training and infrastructure is clearly foolish.

  13. October 29, 2009 at 11:28 am

    I don’t see that moral obligation has anything to do with it. If immigration, then welfare for immigrants. Tt reduces crime by reducing poverty; it reduces the impulse to undercut the organised labour movement and the terms and conditions of workers.

    The standard complaint against immigration is actually both Left and Right: the Left wing complaint I’ve outlined above, the Right wing complaint is that too much is being spent on welfare for immigrants. But of course so far as the Right is concerned, any welfare for anyone (except corporations) is too much. You take away welfare for immigrants to appease the Right, and they move on to welfare for the indigenous poor. You take that away and it’ll be something else, and something else.

    For me this demonstrates that talking about the number of immigrants is entirely the wrong approach to take. It is, after all, not central to the question of how resources are allocated within the UK.

    Two other things: one, that if an argument is logical and has logical conclusions, then the only logical response is to link the two. The idea that you can make an argument and just leave it hanging there, as it were, is pretty ridiculous. Not to say that there aren’t such logical contradictions within the real world – but to actually push for logical contradictions is to have wrongly framed the debate.

    Two, your answer demonstrates a flaw in another way, John. You may say that continually looking overseas, but not correcting our own flaws is foolish – but this is the approach promoted by the market. If a cheap source of labour exists, it will be exploited – and there is no incentive to develop a local source with the concomitant risks of higher unionisation and so on. Which is fine, in market terms, because it is efficient – the lowest possible overheads.

    If you wish to correct that you have to introduce something to make local labour cheaper, which is self-defeating from the point of view of the welfare of British workers, or to make foreign labour more expensive – by unionising them, perhaps, or by beginning to close borders. Which contradicts your argument that we should ‘certainly’ allow those who have been sought out by companies to enter due to labour market shortages.

    Those who utilize market capitalism have a way of organising against those who seek to place obligations – like investing in training – on them. And in truth such obligations do not make economic sense anyway.

  14. John Buckingham
    October 29, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    What’s this about ‘appeasing the Right’? I’m not remotely concerned about appeasing anyone, I want to see what’s best for the citizens of this country – I couldn’t care less whether that makes me left or right wing. And in a country of limited resources, of course the number of people using services is central to the question of resource allocation! Subsidising the Polish middle class to send money back home (increasing inequalities there!) is a misuse of public funds when we have people in decaying housing and not enough social workers etc etc etc.

    I really cannot understand your defeatist attitude to markets, Dave – your resignation is completely unfounded. FDI favours countries with better training, education and infrastructure – higher public spending is tolerated by international markets where it improves these things and is not frittered away on quangos etc. On the other hand, simply because something is ‘promoted by the market’ does not mean we cannot intervene! Interventionist economies are the only ones which have ever worked, and considerable state intervention has proved vital to the development of all advanced countries. This all-or-nothing socialism-or-capitalism notion you seem to have is truly bizzare, and the idea that any intervention will be rejected by markets is equally nonsensical.

  15. chrisg
    October 29, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    All the references in this post to ‘experts’ strike me as either naive or disingenuous. Are these the same experts who predicted that A8 immigration would be 10 times smaller than it actually turned out to be? And who are the ‘experts’ on the costs as well as the benefits of immigration? Like it or not, many people find immigration to be costly to them (for example, they may find it distressing if their local community changes rapidly as a result of immigration), but the ‘experts’ on immigration struggle to take account of these often unquantifiable impacts.

    I don’t think it’s right to portray Labour as simply having made an honest fist of basing decisions on the evidence and the expert views. Labour only listened to the expertise that it wanted to hear when it framed its immigration policy. I’m not saying I buy the Evening Standard argument – it sounds crazy – but this leaves open the question of what the real political calculus behind immigration policy was.

  16. October 30, 2009 at 1:07 am

    John, you seem to have read into my post only what you wanted and missed most of the substantive points. When you actually answer all the points I raised, instead of trying to construe slights in what I said when you’re not misconstruing it entirely, I’ll take notice.

    As to your point about markets, it’s so much piffle. Firstly, it’s a fairly obvious point that FDI will favour countries with higher levels of training, education and infrastructure. But government investment in these things wasn’t what we were talking about – it was your contention that companies should be forced to invest in such things themselves.

    Even when compelled to do this indirectly, via tax, companies basically buy off the political class in order to get off scott free. Which means the question isn’t about the government funding the Polish middle class (which in itself makes no sense since presumably said Poles are working jobs like the rest of us?) it’s about the rest of us funding indirect corporate subsidies.

    Which of course is tolerated by ‘the market’, since the prophets of said market only dislike subsidies when it’s being paid to someone else.

    Lastly, nowhere in my reply did I advocate an all or nothing socialism or capitalism, implicitly or explicitly. I was merely pointing to an observable process, a political effect of markets, and using it not to draw larger conclusions but to point out that your own comment #12 was foolish.

    Which criticisms you have yet to substantively answer.

  17. John Buckingham
    October 30, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Perhaps that’s because your style of writing is so laborious that it is easy to miss the substantive points. I disagree on the ‘logical conclusions’ argument – things can clearly be right ‘to an extent’. There is no need to philosophize everything into oblivion.

    I think I answered the other criticism you made, to the extent that I understand exactly what you were criticising.
    I think the problem is that you are woefully pessimistic about the power of governments against companies, which I think is misplaced because, as I said, the aims of social democracy and capitalism are not contradictory (to an extent!). However it is achieved, capital likes training and infrastructure, and will foot the bill for it – as little as it can, like the rest of us, naturally, but it is largely hyperglobalist paranoia, rather than evidence, that prevents governments from being more ruthless in extracting revenue. Capital flight etc is a fear companies propagate, but not a well-founded one.

    And since the majority of East European immigrants have degrees (and are therefore the elite of their own countries), I think it is more than justified to call them the middle class, and to relinquish responsibility for them. Can you explain why moral responsibility has nothing to do with arguments on immigration? That is quite beyond me.

    You will have to rephrase your other criticisms to make them comprehensible – sorry.

  18. October 31, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Response to John B and Chris G

    First John (and Chris), my apologies for delay in getting back on your comments – Dave and I try to engage with all comments (other than the odd utter troll one), and I’m grateful to Dave for standing in for me while I had to go away for a couple of days.

    John: I’ll take your various comments as a whole and respond in fairly general terms, as Dave has already picked up on a lot of the specifics and I don’t want to get in the way of that line of mutual enquiry.

    Your bottom line appears to be that the ‘unit of governance’ is ‘rightly or wrongly’ the nation state, that the first responsibility of a state is to its own citizens, and that to suggest otherwise is overly idealistic.

    I don’t buy this logic for a number of reasons.

    First, yes, I do think it is perfectly acceptable for me to aspire to a post-nation state society, even while I know it’s not going to happen tomorrow in terms of the rights of migration. To a great extent we already have a post-nation state society, which we refer to as global capitalism.

    I’m much happier than Dave is (for reasons I’ll explore in comments to his post on ‘reason/unreason when I get to it) to justify my aspirations on the basis of a universal Kantian ethic. But it’s not just me that thinks like that – Spain’s approach to immigration has elements of it too.

    The notion that a strict immigration is a normal default position is only of relatively recent vintage, and in the UK can probably be most properly marked by the overtly racist 1965 Immigration Act. That’s only about a quarter of the length of modern capitalism and it can be argued that it was as much associated with the growth of mass air travel as it was with ideological changes.

    Certainly the default stance that immigration restrictions are needed are now deeply rooted is deeply rooted, 40 odd years on, and the attempts in the early 2000s to change that default stance by taking a different view on the economics of it were unsuccessful (as Alex points out above) because they didn’t sufficiently challenge/create alternatives to the rationales behind the default stance (again, look at Alex’s contribution re: migration patterns and migration policy, and his statement that in fact people don’t much like leaving where they were born if they can help it).

    While it is accepted wisdom that the county can’t cope with loads more people because of its finite resources, that’s all it really is – accepted wisdom, accepted because it’s a convenient explanation which is in tune with the accepted wisdom that immigration is in some way a bad thing. In a global age of trade it seems faintly ridiculous to talk about finite resources on a nation state basis.

    Further, there’s plenty of evidence that allowing immigration is beneficial not just in terms of the host country but also the ‘sender’ country/area. Look at Kerala, a mass exporter of labour to the the middle East, which now has a literacy rate of 100% (not solely due to returners and their money) and is a now a net importer of people, just 20-30 years on from the mass out-migration.

    For all these reasons I continue to contend that immigration ‘realism’ of the type you (and many others) propagate is a reaction to, and indeed a pandering to, a rightwing discourse out of keeping with any basic tenets of socialism. Why is it that immigration comes in for all the stick as the reason for stretched resources? Why not the prospect of a eugenics revolution (see Dave’s other post) which may increase life spans by 20-30% within the next 30 years?

    Chris: I reject of course your accusation of dangerous naivety. First off, the article was not in fact about the substantive issue of immigration, but about the way the right twists interpretations to its own racist ends without being seen to be too racist, and panders to the BNP agenda thereby. Thus I didn’t focus on whether the experts that designed policy a decade ago were in fact the correct experts. I did however say in my first comment that I’d have preferred a different and wider set of expert influences e/g from trade unionists keen to ensure that any policy didn’t become a convenient way of undercutting labour costs.

    As for your accusation that my views are ‘dangerous’, see above.

  19. John Buckingham
    November 1, 2009 at 12:02 am

    Paul, I’m pandering to noone – I have my own views, and if they happen to chime with right wing discourse or be out of keeping with the tenets of socialism, I don’t much care – I’m not going to modify them to be perceived as more leftist. I do not believe, on a public-service-usage basis, that mass intra-EU immigration has been beneficial to the rest of the British population, particularly in schools in rural areas (East Anglia & the West Country have borne a lot of the brunt) where they are not used to multilingual classrooms – and quite frankly, why should they be?

    I do not believe these people are ‘needy’ – rather, they are greedy, coming here purely for economic gain (and sending a lot of the money home, hence not benefitting the economy). That’s not a valid cause for migration in my book (or if you do it, you shouldn’t expect free public services). And the notion that we are in some ways beyond the nation state is simply hyperglobalist nonsense perpetuated by companies to create an illusion of national helplessness – states have immense power, they just don’t have the balls to use it.

    And of course we can speak of finite resources in a context where the average immigrant child requires a higher input to achieve the same levels in education, without paying increased tax to do so (and sending remittances home at the same time). And when they’re only here to feather their own nests I frankly can’t see why we have any obligation to further their education at our expense. Harsh that may seem, but it’s a social justice question, and it baffles me that so-called leftists would put the welfare of East European elites ahead of our own poor and needy. Bizzare.

  20. November 1, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    I do not believe these people are ‘needy’ – rather, they are greedy, coming here purely for economic gain (and sending a lot of the money home, hence not benefitting the economy).

    What has what they do with their money got to do with you? I’m sorry but that’s a bizarre argument with no firm basis in morality or economics.

    What do you think happens to this money when it reaches Poland? Stored under mattresses?

    No, it is spent, and some of it will be spent on British exports.

    On top of that, money leaving this country will push down our exchange rate, making our exports more competitive, which we really need at the moment(admittedly this effect may be too small to detect).

    So for one, its none of your business if they send money home and two, you seem a little confused about how economies work.

  21. paulinlancs
    November 2, 2009 at 9:48 am


    Thanks for picking up the commenting baton here. I do feel a bit guilty about my current lack of comments engagement, but times are busy, busy.

    Tbh, John’s latest comment seemed so beyond the sensible, especially when I got to ‘East European elite’ that I thought I’d just give up. So feel free……

    What concerns me most is that John is not a rightwing troll, and I respect his views on a number of things though they don’t accord with mine for the most part, but on the matter of immigration his views seem to reflect a wider malaise within the LP, whereby the embedding of ‘immigration must be enforced at all costs’ norms has meant any alternative angle, whether economic-focused or based on concepts of universal values (or both) is simply dismissed.

    I do need to do another post exploring some of this stuff in depth, esp. as Alex Blach has just sent me a really interesting article about Spain’s ‘hospitability’ based approach to immigration, which seems to suggest a value/ideas driven approach is really quite feasible. I’ve not digested it all yet.

  22. November 3, 2009 at 9:16 am

    If you don’t mind me joining the debate – from my perspective which is not to debate the minutae of what potential policy should be but to examine what I can see happening and why.

    In other words the actual and potential effect of evident and impending political actions, rather than espoused policy.

    I expressly reject the language of academic politics and write in democratic prose that anyone can understand or disagree with.

    1) Mass migration controls roughly correlate with the welfare state/high taxation era – you cannot build a high-taxation environment if people are free to leave it

    2) The preceding era of mass and individual migration is presented in the history books as a forced response to negatives (like the Irish famine) but the fact they were free to move also brought clear benefits to global growth and allowed for exceptional entrepreneurship

    3) Intra-EU migration policy, by contrast, is designed to provide low skilled labour to the companies that benefit from the single European market.

    There is a clear gap between the ease-of-business, free cross-border movement with which the EU facilitates corporate activities and the lock-down, regularatory approach to individual movement

    4) The EU constitution, to which Britain signed up, is a continuation of this process, despite the use of the word constitution, now formally dropped, which must imply a contract between the individual and the state. Lisbon offers no such thing, nor did the EU constitution.

    5) Given the funding crisis facing the British government, controls on migration will tighten but government and EU policy will continue to aim at attracting and facilitating mass labour while points systems restrict middle class room for manoeuvre.



  23. November 3, 2009 at 9:22 am

    I leave the substantive stuff to Paul, Ringside, but I think your first point is fallacious. You can build a high tax environment, even if people are free to leave the country, if an international framework exists to prevent things like tax avoidance, and to impose duties on those who seek to do business in the country whilst living outside of it.

  24. November 3, 2009 at 10:12 am

    With respect, Dave, I suggest you are looking at what policy is claimed to do, rather than what it does.

    Is the aim of managed migration to promote economic growth (or, as I say, to provide cheap labour to mobile international corporations without eroding the middle class tax base)?

    The EU makes life very difficult for people who, as you write, “seek to do business in the country whilst living outside of it”.

    That is not criminal. That is precisely the globalisation our governments espouse.

    I spoke to an Irish public servant about this last week. Her response: we have to demand every bit of information about the activities of someone who works in two countries or across borders. “You can’t expect someone like me to understand their motives. I am a public servant. I sit behind a desk, 9 to 5, 5 days a week. I don’t go anywhere”.

    Wow! That, my friend, is the public sector attitude to enlightened middle class, international, expatriate types.

    Now I live in Russia. And I know first hand that if the bureaucracy takes that stance, it can regulate business out of existence.

    That is with regards to private individuals. As for international mega corporations, EU governments can’t be helpful enough.

    But I speak from empiricism, not theoretics.

    As regards preventing things like tax avoidance, enterprising individuals are not the culprits! Nor are the tax havens those whom you might suspect:

    The Tax Justice Network published findings just this weekend: “Leading economic centres including the US, UK and Singapore are among the countries most to blame for promoting international financial secrecy, according to a new index comparing the harm allegedly done by tax havens and rich nations.

    The research – which comes ahead of the Group of 20 finance ministers’ meeting in Scotland next week – is an unusual attempt to measure whether powerful countries are as culpable over illicit fund flows as the offshore centres they have attacked since the financial crisis.”


  25. November 3, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I have a bunch of things with which to reply, but I’ll start with this:

    I think this pretentious pose you have struck “I speak from empiricism, not theoretics” or the other similar lines is disingenuous at best. For a start, presumably you mean ’empirical’ rather than ’empiricism’, since the latter is itself a theory. And presumably you’re aware that in order to judge things ’empirically’ you still have to formulate the question and raise priorities of judgment, which relies upon theory too, even if the theory is implicit.

    The other thing is that you seemed to have misinterpreted what I was saying. I’m not blaming individuals or tax havens. You can’t shoot ducks for quacking, as they say. But there is a lack of an international approach to tax havens – this lack is in the interests of the UK and US, as the Tax Justice Network findings clearly outline. Or as Private Eye, if you read it at all, has been outlining for years.

    With such an approach, the developed world could maintain a high tax environment without worrying about capital flight or talent flight, because states wouldn’t be using their tax regimes to compete against one another. Which then highlights the fallaciousness in your first point, that to have a high tax environment you need to restrict people’s movements. People could still move, the criteria would just not be one of tax regime.

  1. November 7, 2009 at 3:02 am
  2. February 14, 2010 at 10:53 pm
  3. May 24, 2010 at 10:56 am
  4. August 7, 2012 at 9:31 am
  5. December 14, 2012 at 9:29 pm

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