Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Little Englanders

Watching the Conservative Party go full UKIP on immigration must be like watching the Republican Party go full Trump: in retrospect perhaps inevitable but nonetheless horrifying to witness. As Ian Dunt notes,
“During just three days they have pledged to phase out foreign doctors, cut down on the numbers of foreign students, put landlords in jail for not checking their tenants' residency papers and 'name and shame' companies for hiring foreign workers.”

If the UK had a land border with France, you feel this government would have also announced the building of a great wall. (Ireland please note.)

With words and actions from the government like this, I feel I desperately want to say to the many immigrants I know working hard and contributing to this country: this is not the real England. Most of us do not think this way. And in one sense I’m right. The Brexit vote was about many things but it has been taken by the government as an excuse for a hard Brexit and a demonisation of immigrants. But in another sense I am wrong: physical attacks on immigrants have increased sharply, and few in the media are prepared to condemn the government’s words and actions while many cheer. [1]

Instead some prefer to highlight the uncharacteristic sight of a Conservative Prime Minister taking some of Jeremy Corbyn’s best lines: about how those that have suffered as a result of the financial crisis are not those that caused that crisis, about the inequities of crony capitalism and so on. Words that got Ed Miliband labelled Red Ed by the right wing press. But this is also part of the Republican play book of diversion. With the Republicans it is about race and also immigration and religion. With today’s Conservatives it is about immigration with a bit of race and religion. The diversion is to pretend that inequality of incomes and power were somehow achieved through increasing immigration, and can therefore be reduced by controlling immigration.

If May was at all serious about wanting to redistribute, her first policy announcement would have been to replace the cuts to Universal Credit imposed by Osborne, which will hit hard just the kind of families she says she wants to help. Or it would have been to reverse cuts to inheritance tax introduced by her predecessors. Instead her first big policy announcement was to bring back segregation of schooling at 11, a measure that could almost be designed to entrench the poor life chances of working class families.

Even if you thought there was some genuine desire behind this latest version of compassionate conservatism, there is a harder reality which means it will never happen. The Conservative government is on course for a hard Brexit with the worse kind of deal for UK business. The strategy so far has been inept: principally giving away the UK’s strongest negotiating card, which is invoking Article 50. Hard Brexit will shrink the size of the national pie, and require plenty of fiscal ‘subsidies’ to placate business and keep them here. Furthermore cutting back on immigration will also reduce the amount of resources the government has at its disposal. If the strategy was to keep the high tax paying skilled immigrant and control only the low tax paying unskilled, the government is showing a bizarre way of pursuing that: telling overseas doctors they are welcome only for so long as it takes for the UK to train up home grown alternatives.

At the Conservative’s conference there was only one grownup in the room, Chancellor Hammond. He noted the appalling productivity record of his predecessor, yet his home office colleague Amber Rudd makes things worse by making it more difficult for universities to recruit overseas students, one of our more successful export industries. No wonder the markets have, through a depreciation, already substantially cut the real incomes of every person in the UK through sterling’s depreciation.

Which brings us to the real problem with a focus on immigration. It is a policy that will not achieve what the Conservative’s pretend it will achieve, which is to make life better for UK natives. Indeed it will almost certainly make things worse. So where do those, like the Prime Minister, who pretend otherwise turn when things do not improve? As we have seen in the US, they just turn up the volume, or their party of Little Englanders just choose someone else who will shout louder. A party that is openly prepared to say that the position of the millions of immigrants currently living here are their best bargaining chip in the forthcoming negotiations have already started along that road.

If England were a paradise among squalor all this could perhaps be understood. But once you leave our big cities, ironically made vibrant partly through high levels of immigration, that is just not the case. A confident successful nation does not fear outsiders but embraces them. What we have today is a Conservative government protecting a dream about a glorious past as if it were today’s reality. I am reminded of some verses from The Last Living Rose by PJ Harvey:

Goddamn' Europeans!
Take me back to beautiful England
& the grey, damp filthiness of ages,
fog rolling down behind the mountains,
& on the graveyards, and dead sea-captains.

Let me walk through the stinking alleys
to the music of drunken beatings,
past the Thames River, glistening like gold
hastily sold for nothing.



[1] My own view is that it is our UK right wing tabloid press that is largely responsible for the popular intolerance towards migrants that we now see. Yes fear of the ‘other’ is an easy passion to invoke, but a responsible press would not go out of their way to invoke it. Having the ability to day after day plant stories in the minds of those who vote more and probably seek less alternative information than the average citizen remains a huge power, and those with that power use it shamelessly to great effect.   

44 comments:

  1. To paraphrase and paradoxise John Donne: no country is an island

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  2. I also fear very much for the union. Scotland may hesitate on going it alone if it can achieve some protections for its interests. If it does not, and worse, gets hurt by the actions of little England, then what do they lose by holding another referendum and going for independence? After all, Scotland may well be hurt either way, but by fighting to stay in the EU, they may have a path to recovery.

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    1. Hope so - for very selfish reasons. (I'm an Aussie living in Germany with a Scottish grandfather. I might have a good chance of getting an EU second passport.)

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    2. Well. Depends on what the economic research says. We don't know what Brexit it so its not prudent (right now) to commission research on whether or not Scottish Independence in the EU is the best. (although, I think the answer is very, very obvious.) I also think the EU knows an Independent Scotland *could)* in its interests because it is the perfect punishment for the UK and shows the EU is popular when it stands up for its values.

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  3. Hi Simon
    Great analysis as usual of the disgraceful and disgusting vision and rhetoric of Mays Conservatives. Does it not illustrate a party devoid of any meaningful ideas or policies, that they have to steal the clothes of both Labour and UKIP and have the shamelessness to call them their own?
    As far as their 1930s Germany nationalism and immigration policies go, why is there never anyone in the media pointing out the 'demographic time bomb' faced by Britain in the coming few decades, and the need for more immigrants...or has it gone away??
    What they say in speeches at the Tory conference, and what they actually implement once economic and political realities become more apparent and real, I hope will be two different things. On the other hand, rather like their ever closer counterparts over the pond, they appear to be ideologically warped enough to pursue their regressive, odious views.
    Lastly, few appear to remember or put any weight on the fact that 48% of the electorate disagreed with Leave and now May's vision...that's a lot of political clout...yet people and politicians behave as if this was more like 20-30%...why?

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    1. There is no centre left force ready to defend the 16 million remainders. We need an alliance of the great and the good from Labour or not and those who would support this cause like the Lib Dems. Donors would easily appear meanwhile Corbyn for multiple reasons cannot do this nor his unpopular hard left supporters. We need an opposition that could step around Corbyn and defend our nation at this time of Hard Brexit hegemony and they do not need to be all MPs.

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  4. Another thought came to mind....in the seventies, the UK was the sick man of Europe...and from my understanding, the UK government had had to turn to the IMF for a bailout. Maybe the UK government is trying to return to those glory days?

    I am just reminded of the asinine mention of bringing back the Royal Yacht Britannia and sailing around the world signing trade agreements....why not recommission the HMS Victory in that case? That really goes back to the apogee of the empire...

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    1. At this point, an IMF bailout would be a godsend

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    2. "the UK government had had to turn to the IMF for a bailout. Maybe the UK government is trying to return to those glory days?"

      No it didn't. The problem was ppl not understanding fixed exchange rates had ended and how that changed things. Please read:
      http://www.3spoken.co.uk/2013/03/uk-borrowed-foreign-currency-from-imf.html?m=1

      "an IMF bailout would be a godsend"

      WTF is wrong with you people?

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  5. So it's a relief that the irreesponsible, inept Owen Smith - who on several occasions stoked fear of immigrants, often despite there being a minimal amount - didn't win the Labour leadership. Right, Simon?

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  6. Also, this is a good post. Thanks.

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  7. I think the cosmopolitan elite (which includes you) need to stand back a little and try and understand what has really happened. Large parts of the country have not gained from globalisation- or feel they haven't. If you disagree, show that they have. The causes of the Brexit disaster have been brewing for a long time. Deindustrialisation, the severing of large parts of the population from the productive base and social marginalisation. It did not start or end with Austerity. I think there is some evidence brewing that the real reason for the vote was that people felt that were not being listened to or that their politicians were properly representing them. It is natural for people to want to feel to be part of a group and a system where its leaders are placing their interests very highly. They are more likely to want to contribute in a positive way if they usefully feel part of such a group. Charity starts at home. This is just one facet of how neo-classical theory is highly unbalanced and built on weak philosophical and ethical foundations.

    The answer is not to be found in Model. Or running through vast amounts of quantitative data through computer programmes.

    It is closely engage with facts on the ground and gradually put the pieces together. Accept the contradictions. Rely on primary documented evidence. The answers are there in black and white. No ridiculous story telling is necessary. This is the way historians and sociologists understand stagnation, decline and the related political fall-out. So should economists.

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    1. Doc at the Radar Station7 October 2016 at 04:21

      https://thefifthwave.wordpress.com/2016/06/28/brief-reflections-on-the-brexit-vote/
      ...
      "Caught in the grip of a glacial established order, ruled by elites who appear to offer few alternatives, the British public opted to break some crockery."
      ...
      "The higher meaning of Brexit is as indicator of a great secular reversal. The institutions that bind the world together have entered a process of retreat and disintegration."
      ...

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    2. Dear, Anonymous. There is a lot of anger about how Britain has changed since 2008 or 2010(?). This relates to, but is not confined to, insecure employment, pay, conditions, lack of affordable housing, cuts to benefits, effective cuts to the health service and many other issues. The role of our media and the Conservatives is to misdirect that anger toward immigration as their cause.
      People wait to see a doctor and observe 'migrants' in the queue and make the link I'm having to wait/not getting treatment because of the migrants adding to the queue. The same applies to affordable housing, and through a perceived increased supply of labour jobs and conditions. This is experience based prejudice, in that the collection of experience is both open to observer bias and its analysis centred on false premises.
      Once the austerity line was sold by those who had, to a considerable degree, benefitted/caused the financial collapse, and this was not challenged by Conservatives and, the pre-Corbyn Labour party, people stopped looking at the why and if, and concentrated on the who. That is the who is to pay/suffer the consequences of austerity. Many years later, after the why and if were sufficiently distant to hinder the rewriting of history, the Tories and media have put in the narrative that it's all (or, at least, that no other cause need be mentioned and considered) the fault of immigration. Now, most people know that's not so, however, the question and answer are not put out in so plain a juxtaposition it's mostly unstated assumptions. It's presented as these people are causing shortages.
      Quite how the Labour party did not grasp the consequences of its acceptance of the false premise that the world went into a financial crisis because it spent too much, and/or taxed too little, may turn out the most significant political errors of the 21st century. Indeed, millions are suffering from its dereliction of duty.
      shaunt

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    3. Paradoxically though Brexit voters will suffer most from higher import prices hitting their wages, companies leaving Britain back to EU to avoid tariffs of hard Brexit, talented academics, skilled migrants, researchers, technologists and companies not choosing the Brexit UK, so less jobs, less growth, less tax revenue from a declining population , smaller national cake.

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  8. Unpleasant Labour propaganda.

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    1. Whatever it is, it isn't macroeconomics.

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  9. “I feel I desperately want to say to the many immigrants I know working hard and contributing to this country..”. I’d expect an Oxford professor to refer to actual studies of hours worked, hourly pay etc of immigrants and natives, rather than make emotional references to the “many immigrants” he claims to know who allegedly “work hard”.

    A study by Oxford University’s Migration Observatory (link below) found that immigrants and natives work almost exactly the same number of hours a week and earn almost exactly the same average hourly pay.

    http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Briefing-Characteristics-and-Outcomes-of-Migrants-in-the-UK-Labour-Market.pdf

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    1. Ralph, unless I have misread it the study you link to does not mention hours worked per week. So rather than be snide about what you'd expect an Oxford professor to do, you could start by practising what you preach.

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    2. Are you saying that native British are layabouts?

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    3. Strange comment, Ralph. Is it somehow supposed to undermine that many migrants work hard and contribute to this country?

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    4. The report you link to says nothing about hours worked.

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  10. It's the antithetical in full pursuit of the inimical.

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  11. What a boatload of horseshit and sterile platitudes. This idea that immigration is Paradise Lost is fanciful and fanatical. The notion that immigration is a universal and wholly a good is to put ones head in a Marxist vice. The conflation of good thought and bad action is complete. Sell immigration on all the good thoughts one can have about it and never mention all the bad action that arises from it. If inviting my neighbor over for dinner is a good idea, fans of immigration translate that to open your damn doors and let anyone in, we your betters, decide you should let in, whether you like it or not, regardless of the overall effects on your life. Rubbish!

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  12. Part of the problem with your analysis is that you are just as unprincipled in supporting the rhetoric about 'giving away the UK's strongest negotiating card' as politicians who see people as bargaining chips.

    You must, surely, be aware of just how dangerous the situation is, and how much instability has been caused not only in Europe but other continents, by the UK deliberately delaying a formal invocation of Article 50. There are a lot of people who could be excused for failing to understand this, but you are not one of them.

    The longer we delay the more damage we do, and yet you are castigating the government for its failure to inflict yet more damage. I very much doubt that anyone with a moral compass could persuade themselves that this is anything other than a wholly selfish course of action, and yet you are preaching about the immorality of the politicians in failing to make things still more dangerous.

    I think it would help if you gave some thought to the morality, or lack thereof, in your argument. That way you might arrive at a response to EU citizens living and working here who would prefer that their countries, and the EU itself, are not destabilised by Britain's actions. At the moment you seem indifferent to that aspect of reality...

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  13. My own view is that the anti-immigrant sentiment is misplaced and very unpleasant. However, I feel that the elite have ignored many problems building up over a long period of time. The high rates of immigration are not a problem in themselves, but with the fundamental causes of dissatisfaction remaining ignored (the relatively social upward mobility of large parts of the population, high housing costs, growth of poor quality employment - which will not change with the end of austerity), immigrants have been unfairly scapegoated and immigration made an issue.

    NK.

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  14. England ? Simon. Is this an acceptance of the inevitable end of the union or an implicit acknowledgement that so far the contagion is less virulent in Scotland. I still think that we in Scotland could help you , and us all , steer a better course but time and options are running out.

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  15. You left the best bits off:

    Let me watch night fall on the river,
    the moon rise up and turn to silver,
    the sky move,
    the ocean shimmer,
    the hedge shake,
    the last living rose quiver.

    Something is lost and something is gained - maybe.


    Henry

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  16. Isn't this article just an example of the division in the country which lead to Brexit? You said it yourself, to you as soon as you leave a multicultural city you see noting but places ripe for building on and people who are too "English" to be exciting to the multikulti left. On the other hand, lots of people are more than happy being English and their culture, and are deeply suspicious of the logic that one of the world's densest countries needs to become indefinitely more dense just to survive. I don't really think the article addresses the different world views. It is also why people ignore so-called "facts". Because most of them are used and gathered to support one world view. And again, suggesting England is shit doesn't really help the left's cause....

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  17. An enthusing read, Simon. Indeed this would be a great satirical piece if the consequences of what we're heading towards weren't so serious and potentially dire. The most depressing part of the whole thing is that this path now seems inevitable. Would you agree with this, or is there any hope of circumventing our "Little England" fate?

    Another question I would raise is the switch in approach indicated by Phillip Hammond. Whilst it is obvious that deficit fetishism is still present, the change of tack seems to indicate that Hammond and May are not concerned with reducing the size of the state as such, but rather genuinely believe that achieving a budget surplus would be a desirable economic success. What role can you perceive for fiscal policy after we leave the single market? I guess this will be determined by the relative sizes of shocks on the supply and demand?

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  18. As you say!

    But at least you can be happier about the New Economic Policy, and today's news that productivity is back to 2008 levels, can't you?

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  19. Simon you said yourself two years ago that Sterling was 20% overvalued. Have you changed your mind?

    Also, this is nothing new. It's echoes of Elizabeth's Act of Supremacy:

    I, A. B., do utterly testify and declare in my conscience … that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence or authority ecclesiastical or spiritual within this realm; and therefore I do utterly renounce and forsake all foreign jurisdictions, powers, superiorities and authorities.

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  20. Also Simon can you have any sympathy with the British people wanting to get as far away as possible from a Germany in which the madman Wolfgang Schäuble is the second most popular politician in the country?

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    1. Schäuble is clearly a madman: Believe it or not, he refuses to give away German taxpayers' money!

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  21. Could I suggest a piece of research for Labour Party members who will be doing the door-stepping in the run-up to the next general election? It's this: spend an hour or so on a Saturday morning near the newspaper stand watching out for people who buy "The Sun".
    These are the people who don't read many politics blogs; they get their politics from their newspaper and these are the people YOU have to persuade to (a) turn out and (b) vote Labour.
    By the way don't go on a weekday: all you'll see are young mothers and pensioners; you won't see all those who are normally at work. And don't bother with those who buy the "Daily Mail" or the "Daily Express": most of those are a lost cause.

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  22. PJ Harvey! Never thought I'd see the day. I started reading this blog when it (seemed) to be lots and lots of economics...then more Labour stuff was added...then more British politics...then Brexit...now the best album of the last few years! Unexpected to say the least. I always thought that album did a brilliant job of making me feel 'patriotic' but not in a Ukip way. The closest concept is probably the 'civic nationalism' (ugh) of the SNP/Scots. It's a high point in exploring the relationship you might have with your country.

    Anyway. Liked the post. May's rhetoric was shameful, but I worry that some arguments really can be lost – and immigration, post Brexit, looks like it really might be close to being lost. Unclear strategically or tactically the best way to fight...

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  23. Dear Professor,

    I follow your blog. Although I have a MA in economics, reading your stuff continues to keep me humble and mindful of my own intellectual short comings.

    I have got a model of exchange rates which have proved useful is assessing that sterling has historically been too high over many years. I came across your 2003 note on sterling last night and wonder if you have an update as your numbers form 2003 correspond with my own estimates of fair value. I am merely trying to sense check my own model which pencils in a fair value of sterling of €1.23 and $1.31. Of note however is the tensions within the Euro as the fair value of sterling vs the old Deutschemark implies a €1 fairvalue. i.e. the non-DEM Euro is overvalued by at least 20% against the DEM.

    It may make a different subject for your blog from the political economy as well as providing grounds for hope for an export led recovery which combined with fiscal spending from Hammond may begin a more virtuous state of affairs for the UK economy.

    I thank you for your writings and insights.

    Kind regards
    Gerard Gerard.lane@artorius.com

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  24. I don't see why we can't celebrate and cherish everyone living in the UK (whether they immigrated yesterday or are native) whilst at the same time acknowledging that dependency on net immigration isn't sustainable. I'd have more acceptance of your argument if I found a coherant rebutal of this:- http://cis.org/immigration-and-the-american-worker-review-academic-literature IMO the test of whether immigration is "good" is whether the immigrant would have still wanted to come had they been a citizen of a more affluent country (eg say Japan or Germany or USA etc). If yes, then they are probably wanting to come here as part of a wholy beneficial exchange of expertise or for personal or family reasons. If no, then I worry that such immigration is just people being herded around by global financial distortions and is fairly destructive. Over and above that, I do think we have a duty to provide refuge for persecuted people (in the way we did with the Ugandan Asians in 1972) -but we mustn't conflate that with the debate over using mass economic migration as a way to avoid businesses needing to train workers and offer decent pay and conditions.

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  25. Like US, like UK, like Australia, like Canada. The anglophone 'right' (conservatives they are not) are prisoners of the same dynamic. To govern in the interests of an ever decreasing top wealth percentile, they must persuade an ever increasing number to vote against their economic interests. Religious bigotry, xenophobia and racism are the obvious ways to attract the necessarily irrational votes against self-interest.


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  26. May’s adoption of the ‘Dad’s Army’ view opens a space for Labour to move into as the party of progressive modernity, engaging positively with the world but managing change (not just socio-economic but also technological and environmental) to realise the opportunities and control the risks. This space is large enough for Labour to win the next election.

    “Vote Labour: Invest in a Brighter Future.”

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  27. "phase out foreign doctors, cut down on the numbers of foreign students, put landlords in jail for not checking their tenants' residency papers and 'name and shame' companies for hiring foreign workers.”

    Mixed bag then.

    Well I don't see much wrong with targeting immigration law at employers/landlords. And the phase out of stealing foreign doctors is sensible - as long as we train enough people here. Those places we steal them from have much worse health outcomes. Cutting down on foreign students is questionable.

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  28. Prof. Wren-Lewis,

    You should start a new blog: "Mainly Labour".

    And then stick to it.

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