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David Cameron on immigration: “Bloody unicorns, coming here, takin' our rainbows”

Cameron is 'cracking down' on problems which don't exist.

Alastair Sloan
3 December 2014
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Word is the air-conditioning units of Downing Street are soon to be replaced, after a record number of vacuous policy announcements dangerously increased the amount of hot air circulating above Cabinet meetings.
Adding to the strain on the huffing-and-puffing air recyclers are “two billion pounds” in extra NHS funding; of with much of the money not new at all. Then “fifteen billion pounds” for road building – mainly for projects which have already been announced. Theresa May's new counter-terror laws have included a “ban” on insurance companies paying ransoms, a practice which is already illegal and rarely occurs. And then we had David Cameron promising to clamp down on supposed “benefits tourism” from European Union migrants.

Cameron's speech was billed as “potentially historic” by a particularly fawning commentator at The Daily Telegraph. The meaning of “historic” has, without anyone telling me, moved on from “era-defining” or “breaking new ground,” or “famous or important in history,” as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it.

Instead “historic” now means, “I will make a problem up, I will make up a solution to this imaginary problem, I will preach loudly to the choir about my imaginary problem and its corresponding imaginary solution – and I will then bow basking in tabloid glory.” I was in a supermarket in Croydon the day of this “historic” speech and spotted the rows of tabloids and right-wing broadsheets, praising Cameron for being “tough”on immigration. I suspect if Cameron comes out as a believer in leprechauns, which now doesn't seem out of the question, they may follow suit.

I stepped forward to take a photo of the serried ranks of obsequious media idiocy, intended for an up-coming tweet - but placed my phone back in my pocket. I was acutely aware of the tills behind me, manned near completely by foreigners. That image, mentally retained, silently summed up more about migrant employment in this country than any Twitter photo ever could.

There is little motivation for European Union citizens to come to the United Kingdom to claim benefits. If they wanted to tele-scrounge – they would be far better heading to France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Portugual, Spain, Finland or the Netherlands. All those countries give significantly more lavish social security packages than the UK; in 2012 the European Commission described the benefits available here as “relatively tight.” In fact we ranked seventeenth in the EU for benefit payments. I suspect our ranking has plunged since 2012, after the Coalitions attempts at sweeping cuts to the social security bill have kicked in.

Cameron's government are now creating jobs; they are terrible jobs, part-time, zero hours, low pay and driven by private sector employers who will deliver redundancies at a moments notice. But this job creation is a reality: and that means that the UK is now the only country where migrants have a lower unemployment rate than the native population. Migrants are also less than half as likely to claim benefits than those born in Britain – with the exception of tax credits, where they are twenty percent more likely. Does this mean they are travelling here just for tax credits? No, it means they are disproportionately engaged in the terrible jobs, part-time, zero-hours. Cameron's jobs are quantity, not quality – and for that, the benefits bill is higher.

A revealing BBC documentary aired in 2010 suggested why migrants are getting these low quality jobs. Entitled “The Day The Immigrants Left,” the film was set in a sleepy Cambridgeshire town. Locals complained that with two thousand unemployed and claiming benefits, and nine thousand immigrants seeking work, the familiar cliché “Bloody foreigners, coming 'ere, taking our jobs” was ringing true. The show then asked the immigrants to go on holiday, leaving Britons to work in their place. With long hours, low pay and above all hard work, and despite their previous unemployment, many didn't even bother turning up. Those that did performed badly. The migrants duly returned to their jobs – for which their employers were extremely grateful.

 

There is no denying that where influxes of low-skilled migrants concentrate, local low-skilled Britons may suffer. There is an easy solution to this – raise the minimum wage. One in five in the UK are on low pay. This a moral outrage, but also a fiscal monstrosity: despite causing pain to millions through welfare cuts, government levels of debt are now at record highs. Tax credits, housing benefit – the panoply of in-work subsidies the government is required to pay simply because they don't have the cojones to ask the private sector to shoulder more of the burden, are weighing the country down with in-work welfare payments that shouldn't even be necessary.

Scapegoating migrants for structural problems in the British economy is cowardly. Cameron and his cohort of cheap, talentless politicians, whose vision for the country extends just short of their Pinocchio noses, are partly to blame. But so are the likes of The Daily Mail, The Daily Express and The Sun. If they want to continue blaming the countries woes on immigrants – they will find a surprise if the immigrants actually leave: Housing, the NHS and schools will still be under enormous pressure. The NHS will be grossly under-staffed. The minimum wage will still be so low as to make many Britons shy of going to work. Even the Premier League would be done for.

Although I am no fan of President Barack Obama, it was a telling coincidence that he made a truly historic speech just as David Cameron made his own attempt here in London. Obama may have had his own political motives, but he also knew the considerable flak he would attract for offering five million illegal migrants permanent residency. That was a truly era-defining move, a stand against those who scapegoat. It was a speech which Cameron had neither the imagination nor the bravery to pull off. It was, in the best sense of the word, historic. Instead, Cameron's “tough” speech on an imaginary problem is farcical. Rumours are that his next "historic" speech on imaginary immigration problems is already in the offing, and begins “Bloody unicorns, coming here taking our rainbows.” Better let those leprechauns know too...

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Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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