05 May 2010

Election 2010: Immigration

Countries can control immigration as much as they can control an ash cloud. If the wind is in favour, meaning there aren’t any jobs, migrants will go somewhere else. I’m not sure this is an enviable position to be in. The level of immigration is generally an indicator of economic growth. Britain has been blessed with skilled immigrants, and this has been key to economic success; yet nobody has the courage to say this.

It’s not all good, of course. There are certainly problems associated with immigration, such as race for jobs, crime, and, more rarely, cultural clashes. Unemployment is on the rise, but it’s mobility which helps economic development, not protectionism. The US economy has always relied on internal (and external) immigration. The government should help training and re-training people, but also aid internal and external mobility. It is worth remembering that it is not immigrants who steal ‘British jobs’, but manufactures that move, almost overnight, to Eastern Europe, China, India, Brazil, taking away thousands of jobs. I suppose it’s easier to see the enemy in someone who looks ‘different’.

Immigration can also foster crime, which is mostly the result of trafficking and immigrants finding difficult to have a legal permit to live and work in the UK.
People are bought and sold; or pay a lot of money for a chance in another country; or they are exploited for their hard labour with hardly any pay. The solution is not in trying to stop immigration but in making it efficient and legal. Complicated systems only mean more illegal immigration. Politicians want to keep the numbers down forgetting that we are talking about people not goods.

The whole game of ‘how many’ and ‘what kind of immigrant’ is nauseating. I suppose I wouldn’t get any points. I’m not a nurse or a doctor, a teacher or a plumber. I have a ‘different’ religion, speak another language and I’m yet again at University trying to figure out what I’ll do ‘when I grow up’. I’m very liberal when it comes to immigration because I think it’s good for the economy, because it challenges the ‘host culture’ into redefining itself and looking at its core values, and because it’s human beings we’re talking about.

The media are keen on seeing cultural clashes everywhere and make the flawed link with immigration. The multiple cultures which meet, overlap and, at times, clash in the ‘public sphere’ happen in every generation and help us define ourselves. It is important that they do not degenerate into violence, but that there’s frank exchange of views. Liberal democracy depends on the accommodation of diversity; otherwise it descends into the imposition of the interests and views of a selected few.

Yet, the political rhetoric on immigration is always about keeping numbers down. There's no uplifting tone talking about making the UK and Europe stronger and more diverse. Immigration is a challenge. It is also an opportunity to be a place where everybody has a chance to a decent life regardless of where they are coming from, their religion, sex, age, disability etc. It is our opportunity to rise up to the image of democracy to which we aspire.

Election 2010: Human Rights

The Tories’ love affair with the ruthless and obtuse right-wing press has led them to the crazy idea of dumping the Human Rights Act (1998). The Human Rights Act enabled law courts in the UK to ensure human rights are respected without having to go to the European Court of Human Rights. The Act was a fundamental step in constitutional reform in the UK protecting citizens’ rights and liberties rather than leaving it to the benevolence of the state.

I suppose Cameron taps into that romantic belief that Britain has always been and will always be a liberal country, and that this liberalism is preserved by Parliament. This only shows crass ignorance of the past and the present and bewildering naivety. Even Dicey, who was the great advocate of parliamentary primacy, recognised that a written constitution and Bill of Rights would have been essential to prevent an elected dictatorship. Labour have passed draconian legislation counting on their majority. Remember the Lords trying to stop the anti-terrorism act in 2005?

No country has a liberal DNA. That’s why constitutions and checks and balances are so important. They are a very recent thing. They are the result of hundreds of years of oppression, of absolute power, of wars. Our conception of freedom and rights has matured over a long period of time and it’s still developing. The Human Rights Act (1998) comes from the European Convention of Human Rights (1950), which comes from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the human response to the many millions who died in WWII and the horrific acts perpetrated in the name of the nation. Those rights cost us the lives of millions. Did they really die in vain?

04 May 2010

Election 2010: The 'national interest'

There’s no point in being virtuous on your own. There's no point in wishing to be on our own. We’re connected to one another, across the globe, more than ever before and I raise my glass to that. The right-wing press mantra that ‘all legislation comes from Brussels’ fails to understand the reality of Europe and of member states. Alas, aside from the Lib Dems, both the Tories and Labour have sided more with the narrow-minded views of a certain press than with the interest of citizens.

Across Europe, national governments have traditionally fought against each other to favour big businesses in their territory with no regard for the rights and interest of their citizens. The European Court of Justice found itself deciding against national governments to protect the citizens of those governments. With businesses being transnational, multinational or, simply, located in tax havens, co-operation with European partners is in everybody’s interest. More importantly, issues such as immigration, climate, transports and tax avoiodance, to name a few, can only be tackled through cross-boundaries rules and co-operation.

Last year’s financial meltdown should have been a powerful call for co-ordinated action across Europe giving us a platform on the international arena. Single European countries cannot ensure any protection and cannot call themselves out of the game. The crisis in Greece makes financial transparency across Europe imperative. It also calls for markets to be regulated to prevent ‘vulture ventures’ against national debts, as we’re seeing in Greece. It’s not that by being outside the eurozone, we’re safe and dry. Remember Black Wednesday?

Yet, while Obama is busy tightening the rules across the pond, European leaders squabble and retreat to their national nests. The rhetoric of the 'national interest' is a smoke-screen behind which lies fear and ignorance. The real national interest lies in fair and transparent rules, not in protectionism. An enlightened leader should understand that the markets need tightening and that auditing of European member states would prevent crises such as that of Greece. Prime Ministers tend to think that they have a democratic mandate to do whatever they want. They confuse their party's line with what the people want. However, the interest of people in the UK or Italy are pretty similar. Pitting countries against each other only damages European citizens.

The European Parliament is the only democratically elected international body. It is where European citizens can make their voice heard. Alas, on today's political scene there are no De Gasperi, Schuman or Adenauer, only petty rivalries, inflated egos and hopeless incompetence. It is our democracy they are playing with under the pretense of working for 'the national interest'. This game of undermining Europe only means dwarfing Europe on the international scene where China, India and Brazil are growing in importance by the day. Keeping away from ‘Europe’ means keeping away from the place where the citizens' interest can be furthered. We are not safer outside, only ‘on our own’.

03 May 2010

Election 2010: Greed

There appears to be a general election, so I thought I’d join the mountain of information, misinformation and propaganda clogging up the media. I find a lot to dislike in most policies from all parties. Mind you, policies are at best a suggestion, rather than a programme, bearing no resemblance to the ‘finished product’ of implementation. Ideology having been long defunct, it is rhetoric that tells us more about a party than anything else.

Gordon is bitter, which means he's struggling to be positive and defend Labour's record in government. Clegg has been impersonating Obama more credibly than Cameron. The rhetoric is that of change, but with such an unfair electoral system, it’s difficult to believe change is possible without a hung Parliament. Cameron has lost his 'compassion' and, aside from trying clumsily to look like Obama, the only idea that comes across is that of a 'small government' and Britain keeping away from the rest of the world.

But there’s something much more problematic in this election’s rhetoric, which is more evident in the Tories’ narrative. It is an understanding of the world and Britain’s place in it grounded on dogmatism, ignorance, and fear.

The dogma of a smaller government

Government needs to be streamlined, but this should start at the central level rather than the local one, which has already been vexed in recent years. I doubt the Tories (or whoever) are prepared to face another winter of discontent and really cut central government, although the debt won’t go down on its own. Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is fine (I was advocating it with the Lib Dems long ago!), but it is nothing new. It has already been done by the Labour government, albeit often from a top-down approach. Reducing government needs to be done with a strategy in mind, not dogma. The key to the ‘Big Society’ is in local government acting as co-ordinator rather than main deliverer of public services. The private and third sectors can deliver good public services, but this requires effective regulation and transparency. Profit making should not trump upon the need of vulnerable people and the rights of service users. I shiver thinking of the privatisation of the railways. Will they do better this time?

An ignorant economy

Politicians are on the dock and rightly so for their disconnection from the population. They have been unfairly bundled up with the bankers, which will make regulation of markets hard to achieve. The problem with the markets lies in the lack of transparency and the sheer chutzpah of many in the sector selling rubbish products to clients whilst betting against them. It takes gutsy politicians to put in place sound controls.

Both Labour and the Tories prefer watching from afar thinking of their back garden and don’t realise that in finance it’s one green or brown field. Alas, Merkel has recently shown the same small-mindedness. Instead of being honest with her electorate telling them that rescuing Greece from the sharks of the market is in everyone’s interest, she talked tough and undermined markets’ confidence.

‘National’ politicians need to gain a better grasp of the economy, which, alas, doesn’t stop at the border. Instead of being inward-looking and fearful, our countries’ leaders need to work together to keep in check speculative financiers’ callous greed and dodgy practices. Toward the end of his life, Adam Smith was tirelessly telling government to regulate the markets. The markets are not virtuous otherworldly creatures behaving rationally for the common good. They are made up by people, who have a tendency to act like predators.

… more on this later.