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Tuesday, October 30, 2007 

Their figures are wrong, but their policies are rubbish.

Seeing as this blog on occasion is highly critical of tabloids when they get important figures either wrong, or in some cases, willfully wrong, it would remiss not to suggest that the government really ought to be able to better estimate/count the number of foreign workers that have arrived here since 1997. To be out by 100,000 would have been bad enough, but by 300,000 is ridiculous. It's true that estimating and confirming the numbers of those who arrive and leave each is not an exact science, but getting it wrong doesn't just hinder government arguments and those who wish to make their own political points from those figures, it also makes it doubly difficult for the local authorities who are the ones that have to deal with the new arrivals to request adequate resources, which in turn breeds the resentment that does nothing to help with local cohesion.

Who knows then whether the figures now being quoted by the BBC, that 52% of new jobs created since 1997 have gone to foreign workers, are accurate. It seems a figure that is likely to further up the ante and political pressure, especially when the latest polls are suggesting that Labour is falling even further behind the Conservatives.

Whether they will be influenced by Cameron's speech yesterday on immigration is another matter. Meant to be a "grown-up conversation", he deserves credit for not mentioning political correctness or racism, as so many others on the right would be wont to do, claiming that either one or the other or both stop a debate from taking place, one of the most ludicrous arguments there is, especially in a country where we've been talking about the effects of immigration for decades. (See today's Scum leader.) Beneath the lack of political sniping however, with there only being one real line of full attack on Labour ("Labour have no vision, no strategy, no policy") there's very little meat on the bones.

Cameron's biggest error is in conflating two entirely separate issues - migration and family breakdown, or as he refers to it throughout, "atomisation" - and attempting to connect the dots between the two. His main evidence that atomisation is occurring is the large numbers of those who are deciding, for whatever reason, to live on their own, claiming that "divorce and separation" accounts for 24% of the increase in the number of households. He doesn't even consider the possibility that this might be down to the rise in independence, ruthlessly encouraged by the Conservatives, but instead mainly family breakdown and immigration. Living longer factors in, but nothing else does. He then stretches this argument even further past breaking point, arguing that the rise in single households puts more pressure on the NHS (really? As opposed to families?) and even more resources, with those living alone apparently using 40% more water than two people living together.


That inevitably brings the jibe of this being a wet, damp argument. Cameron then considers our current level of "demographic change" to be unsustainable. Both immigration and family breakdown are too high. Again, to Cameron's credit, he accurately quotes the exact immigration figures from the most recent release from the Office of National Statistics (PDF), then he spoils it later on by claiming that "non-EU migration, excluding British citizens returning to live here, accounts for nearly seventy per cent of all immigration." This is strictly true, but it doesn't take into account the fact that 36% of 2005's immigrants came from either the old or new commonwealth, where those who have a British grandparent can come freely to stay in dear old Blighty, as Hopi Sen points out. Cameron is hardly likely to close the door on them, meaning that in actual fact, rather than 70% of all immigration coming from outside the EU, only 25% comes from countries which have no material link with us at all. Cameron wants to impose a limit, although neither he nor Labour want to come up with a figure on exactly what that is, although the Tories have suggested it would be lower than 150,000.

And that, really, is it. Sure, Cameron talks of imposing further limits on "marriages across national boundaries" which have a negligible impact on immigration figures, with the spouse having to have a "basic level of English", which sure sounds nasty and incredibly illiberal, considering how they supposedly want to be encouraging marriage. Can you seriously imagine that being put into practice? "Hi, I'd like to bring my wife back here so we can get married." "Does she speak English?" "Well, a little, she gets by..." "Sorry, no, piss off." Lovely. The plans for thwarting family breakdown are equally threadbare. Apart from Duncan Smith's £20 a week bribe to the already married middle classes, they'll also remove the "couple penalty" they claim is in the benefit system, which others are equally adamant doesn't exist.

Compared to Labour's points-system proposal, and especially considering that the Conservatives have had years to get this policy right, it's close to being intellectually bankrupt. Anyone can say that they'll limit immigration, without saying exactly what numbers that will mean in practice. It's not as though this makes any change from 2005, when billboards sprouted everywhere informing us that it's not racist to talk about it, or impose limits on it; that was similarly based on no actual figures, with asylum seekers being dumped on some island which was never even identified to be processed. The very least the Conservatives could have done is recommend that it's vital that local authorities have the power devolved to them to make their own estimates on the number of migrants in their area and then request any extra funds which they deem necessary. That would be a simple, effective reform that would do much to stem the problems that have cropped up in certain areas before they become too pronounced.

Cameron says at the end that "[they will] make clear how our approach joins up and fits together into a coherent long-term strategy." There's certainly no sign of that here so far.

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