Colourblind

Britain should not think it’s above the racism seen in the US. 

Robert Winder, in his very Britishly titled book ‘Bloody Foreigners’tells the enthralling story of the rich tapestry of the thousands of foreign people and ideas that have settled and shaped Britain ever since mankind tracked into Europe from Africa. Our medieval architecture was created by the French; our royal family has German blood in their veins; our banks and shops are Jewish; our language a concoction of Germanic and Latin (with a sprinkling of Indian and American). Our food is anything but British, with tea from China and curry from India. A quintessentially English song of royalty was composed by the German George Frideric Handel. The book speaks of how the Empire stood shoulder to shoulder with us in the trenches of the First World War; and alongside us against Hitler. It was they who came here to help us rebuild our charred cities and bombed out buildings. It was Britain which soldiered on alone against Hitler and Nazism. The story of the Second World War is one of an epic struggle of freedom and tolerance against the forces of racism and oppression. Britain couldn’t possibly be a place of racism and intolerance.

Perhaps this is the reason many Brits scoff at the Black Lives Matter UK movement. A Buzzfeed report on the July 2016 Black Lives Matter march in Birmingham pointed to a dismissal of the issue. After all, the UK isn’t like the US. The brutality and social struggles minorities face in the US aren’t like the ones minority groups in the UK face. Britain couldn’t possibly be as barbaric and unwelcoming as that. Continue reading

The Shadow Of Iraq

Chilcot finally sheds some light on the fateful events of March 18th, 2003.

In 1999, the Blair Doctrine was declared in front of a Chicago audience. If intervention could do more good than harm, nations should go to war. That speech was given in the context of the Kosovo conflict, but the ideas also underpinned Blair’s rationalisation for Iraq. As Jason Ralph has argued, Blair sincerely believes that the war, which was presented as an act of collective security, was a continuation of the internationalist doctrine he laid out.

Blair still claims going to war was the right thing to do. At an inquiry in 2010, he said when giving evidence:

It’s a decision. And the decision I had to take was, given Saddam’s history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over one million people whose deaths he had caused, given 10 years of breaking UN resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programmes or is that a risk that it would be irresponsible to take? The reason why it is so important … is because, today, we are going to be faced with exactly the same types of decisions.

He declared the same things post Chilcot. Its a view coloured by the post 9/11 world, as Mr Blair argued himself. It’s a view that persists in drone strikes on would be terrorists. The nightmares of children who grow up fearing blue sky in that section of the world is a small price to save lives tomorrow.

Of course, the costs of the Iraq war are much greater. Since Britain marched to war in 2003, with the press on Fleet Street beating the drum, body counts climb. Innocent blood was spilt on the sands of the region, and millions were forced to leave their homes. 179 British military personnel are dead. Iraq has been thrown into the abyss of instability. ISIS rose from the ashes of al-Qaeda in the American prison of Camp Bucca, Iraq. The removal of infrastructure in the Iraqi government, even in the face of sectarian violence, made a vacuum militias were all too happy to fill, in regions left behind. The war stoked the flames of new conflicts that would tear nations apart. When Mr Blair spoke to troops in 2003, he claimed it was a defining moment of our century. He was right about that.

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Red Star Fading Over Labour

Labour’s leader is at loggerheads with the party because of Europe. Britain’s denial of an effective opposition will continue.

Nearly two weeks on, anyone expecting a respite from the impact of Brexit on British politics will be disappointed. While the Tories gear themselves up for a leadership contest, and the Lib Dems capitalise on the anger felt by the 48% who backed remain (gaining 15,000 members in the process), Labour chose this time to oust their leader, Jeremy Corbyn. A string of resignations hit his shadow cabinet. Then members he appointed to the the second one began to resign. Still, Mr Corbyn has dug himself in, telling the people of his party that if they have an issue they should challenge him openly to a leadership election. The coup against Mr Corbyn, meanwhile, is citing his lacklustre performance as reason they failed to gain a remain victory. Continue reading

Snake Oil Salesmen

The promises of brexiteers are built on sand

Politics is far away for a kid. Growing up in the Black Country town of Willenhall (just north of Birmingham) in the mid 1990s, bickering politicians in Westminster were a million miles away. I played in mud (to the annoyance of my mom) and kicked footballs at school windows (to the annoyance of my teacher). When my mom used to take me and my sister to the market stalls of Willenhall town they bustled with life. The smell of fresh produce and pungent fish filled the air. One of the first toys I got came off the bench of a Willenhall market vendor. You could find everything from clothes to books to old videos and cassettes. Not anymore. Going back to the town as a fresh faced graduate, it still feels a million miles away from Westminster. The bustle of the 90s does too. Once proud Victorian buildings are covered in grime. Weeds poke out the brickwork. Rusted iron sheets board up windows on empty buildings. The buzz of market day has been replaced with the quiet tuts of the few traders left behind. It’s history making world beating locks has been confined to a little museum.

The story of Willenhall, like much of the Black Country, where the soot from the forges of the industrial revolution blackened the sky, isn’t unique. In Walsall, the town next door, the once proud leather makers are gone. Another museum relic. Same with the bikes of Wolverhampton, and the smoking chimneys of Dudley – the heart of the industrial revolution – now has a graveyard for a high street. Guardian writer John Harris’ brilliant and heart wrenching series “Anywhere but Westminster” tells the story of Labour heartland Stoke-on-Trent, where the hum of potteries has hushed, and sizzle of steel works long died. The high street is a graveyard of boarded up shops. A phrase that keeps cropping up is “nothing ever changes”.

Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have tapped into this resentment, and offered a simple solution: immigrants steal jobs. They hurt wages. They pinch school places and crowd waiting rooms. They scrounge off the benefits paid for by the hard working taxpayer. The only way to stop is giving the EU the boot. Tabloids tell tales of migrants getting everything on a gold plate while hard workers struggle and brave pensioners attacked. One man working Walsall market tells stories of foreigners snapping up jobs and undercutting locals while politicians ignore them; dreaming of a “Great” Britain (he harks back to colonial times). Question Time in the town was dominated by brexit questions. Others talk of immigrants filling up council houses and siphoning off benefits. One woman on John Harris’ film screams she wants her country back. A staggering 80% of people polled by the Black Country’s local paper, The Express and Star, want out. Can you blame them?

The worries of people can’t be dismissed as just “racist”. They’re not. Only a quarter of young people distrust muslims. 71% said they’d be comfortable with their child marrying someone of a different race, and 74% were comfortable with someone of a different race getting the top job as PM.  At their heart, they’re economic ones. Ipsos-Mori polled people and said as much: the top 5 concerns about immigration are economic. This isn’t to paint Britain as some cultural utopia; just that people always care more about the pinch on their wallets than the Polish fruit picker.

A pity Farage and Johnson are snake oil peddlers, then. Only 2.3% of EU citizens claim out of work benefits (based on DWP claims). Only 3.3% of families claiming out of work child tax credits are from the EU. Migrants don’t come here for generous benefits – the one benefit migrants are more likely to claim are in work tax credits. In fact, most migrants pay far more into the system than they take out. Since 2001, EU migrants have made some £20 billion in contributions, according to UCL’s Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM). HMRC data for 2013/14 shows migrants paid in £3.1 billion in income tax and NI contributions, and took out £0.56 billion from the system. EU migrants are generally better educated than natives (59% have a university degree vs 34% of UK natives). They have higher employment rates than UK citizens too. Everyone from UCL’s CReAM, the OECD, the Migrant Advisory Council to a review article for the government all say the same thing: migrants don’t steal jobs.

Migrants don’t depress wages much either. A study from the IPPR, a thinktank, note it hits wages by about 0.3% for every 1% increase in migrant share of workers. That’s about 2p for every hour on the minimum wage (£7.20 for adults in 2016). If you earn ~£10,000 a year, it’s 8p a day. Studies that the lowest 5% of earners lose 0.6% for every 1% increase changes this amount to 4p for every hour on the minimum wage. Even a Bank of England paper said that it’d take a 10% hike in immigrants in work to take 14p out of every hour you work on the minimum wage. It’s too small to care about. Indeed, many studies show the opposite. The London School of Economics , CReAM, and the Migration Advisory Council all say migrants have no impact on wages, or have boosted them.

Putting stresses on the NHS? No. According to Full Fact, one in ten EU migrants are doctors. One in 25 are nurses. NHS waiting times are lower in areas with more migrants, according to Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government. Migrants are likely to be younger and fitter than Brits are, and don’t take as much out the NHS. Anecdotes about the need for translators in GP offices may well be true, but the data doesn’t bear that out. Migrants can’t be blamed for snatching up school places, either. Migrants don’t hurt public services

Europe doesn’t make 60% of our laws, either. The number is based on 6 year old German research A parliamentary paper puts the number between 10 and 50%, but most aren’t laws in any meaningful sense; but regulatory measures . TheUK sides with the majority in 87% of votes in the EU according to the London School of Economics anyway. Hardly an evil organisation imposing its will on plucky Britannia.

Promises an Australian style immigration system will fix things are hardly good ones. Australia still has high migration rates. Based on population (around 23 million), they’re comparable to the UK’s. Evidence from Australia says moving to a freer migration system (away from a points based one) stopped skilled people being unemployed or underemployed because there were jobs for them. The market planned better than the government. Points based systems don’t stop low wage employment being undercut, either. Working holiday visas for young international students in Oz are often investigated for migrant worker exploitation. Net non-EU migration (read: the number we can control) has always been higher than EU migration. In December of 2015, net non-EU migration was 188,000, most of it was students. The people government can actually stop coming in (students, families and high skilled migration); aren’t the ones we want to stop. Worse, plans to bring immigration into the 10,000s are A) nearly impossible even if EU migration hits zero, and B) the ones that hit public finances and people’s wallets hardest. No wonder Mr. Farage dumped his plans for a migration cap. 

It wasn’t the EU and immigration that caused the decline of my hometown, and countless like it. EU money has poured into places like Birmingham, which has seen something of a renaissance. EU money cleaned up town hall, funded jobs for 16,000 Brummies, and put money to everything from research, community centres and dance festivals. The naked truth, though, is all the numbers in the world won’t reassure people. John Harris noted on his travels that people are scared about losing their jobs, anxious about living pay cheque to pay cheque, and angry at a political bubble a million miles away that doesn’t care and doesn’t listen. Perhaps the biggest crime of Boris, Gove and Farage is pretending to.

Shreds

Newspapers aren’t the electoral force they once were

For many in the remain camp, the time for panic is dawning. Remain’s current hope is the polls get it wrong and LeDuc’s law holds true – like the 2011 referendum on how Britain votes, or the 2014 campaign for Scottish independence. People’s instinct to avoid risks might make them pick the devil they know over the one they don’t.

Don’t hold your breath. A Guardian/ICM poll put leave a solid 6 points ahead, and most poll of polls show a decisive swing to Gove and Johnson. The change is coming off the back of a drop in undecided too, showing people on the fence are going for the door. The Sun, a tabloid (newspaper implies journalistic integrity), has backed brexit, and has a lot of those on the Remain side worried. Since 1974, The Sun has always backed the winning horse in elections (with the exception of 2010), and now it’s mighty weight is behind brexit. Continue reading

Clinton’s Clincher

Sanders had a good run. Now it’s time to rally behind Clinton.

California, America’s most populous state, rarely finds itself kingmaker in primaries. Often, the state votes too late to shape the outcome. It must have been quite novel, then, that Golden staters had an important role in shaping the Democratic nomination on June 7th. If Mrs Clinton lost, it would show her weakness to Bernie Sanders. If she won, she’d have the luxury of treating the Sanders insurgency with some triviality.

As voting day passed, Mrs Clinton clinched a solid 56% of the vote, and the latter scenario unfolded. Still, the Sanders campaign proved very irksome for Clinton’s team. The Vermont senator threw himself into the arena and emerged victor in 20 states, scoring an impressive 1877 delegates. This time last year, he was 50 points behind the uncatchable Clinton. Now his speeches pack stadiums. Socialism is no longer the great American electoral taboo it once was. The string of wins Sanders scored in April put his rival on the back foot many a time. Mrs Clinton likely didn’t expect the road to victory to be so rocky. Continue reading

The Pendulum Swings

Maybe it’s time to give the Liberal Democrats another hearing

Liberal Democrat councillor John Leech must find the opposition benches of Manchester City Council lonely, given he’s the only opposition. The councillor is the first opposition the 95 strong Labour council has seen in two years, and the first gain for any party other than Labour in the city for six. It’s easy to joke about the #LibDemFightback, but as Labour and the Tories bicker amongst themselves, John Leech symbolises the quiet march upwards for what was once Britain’s third party. While they hover around 7% in national opinion polls, having been shrunk to a mere 8 MPs in the 2015 general election from 57 in 2010, they gained 45 councillors in the 2016 elections, and brought the previously non controlled Watford council into the fold. Continue reading