Monday, May 26, 2014

Euro NI: UKIP came 7th

So how did GB's main parties do over in the colonies - sorry, Northern Ireland, where the electorate are trusted to vote for people, rather than parties, and where the voters (not party officials) decide who gets elected?

I decided to eliminate those confusing local parties, and produce a short list based on Number 1 preferences:

#8Green Party10,598
#10Conservative Party 4,144
-Labour Partydid not run
-Liberal Democratsdid not run

So there you have it. The Tories were beaten into 10th place, behind UKIP and the Greens, with the Lib-Dems and Labour nowhere - literally!

Herr Farrage and the purple prose

Reply to a home office "go home" campaign
It's been a strange election campaign. Lots of things are wrong with the economy, with the country, with Europe, and with the world. And yet, to hear the media, you'd think that the only problem was too much immigration. But that nice, smiley Mr Farrage has a point, doesn't he? All those foreigners flocking over taking our jobs, when the country is full? And didn't the people vote for him - surely he's doing something right?

He's almost completely wrong - and wrong in almost all respects. Let me explain...

Yes, there are problems, but Immigration isn't the cause. On balance, Immigration is a good thing. And the down sides are not really problems with Immigration as such.

We have a falling birth rate, skill shortages in some sectors, and not enough workers to pay for pensions and healthcare for the existing workforce as it ages and retires. We need either a higher birthrate, or some immigration, or an extension of working life until much closer to death - basically a shorter retirement! Suddenly immigration may not seem such an unmitigated evil.

The figures show that most immigrants are young, healthy workers. They pay tax, and are not a drain on the NHS. Mr Farrage has admitted this - he even married one of them. But he says he doesn't care whether it costs the country money - he just wants to cut immigration. It seems that Immigration is more important than the economy!

But what about the supposed evils of immigration?

If Immigrants seem to be taking up the available housing, it is because as a country we have systematically under-invested in new houses. The consequences are devastating - housing price bubbles and collapses, a shortage of quality housing for locals and incomers alike, and inflated rents in the private rented sector. We need more (and better) housing, not fewer people!

If immigrants seem to be undercutting local labour, this is too often due to local employers paying illegally low wages to immigrants who are powerless to protest. Wages that will not give a local family an acceptable standard of living, but which can (if you're prepared to be packed like sardines into a privately rented doss house) allow migrant workers to barely subsist until they can qualify for family benefits.

Which brings us on to the problem of Immigrant Benefit Tourism. Again, not a problem with "hard-working immigrants" so much as a crazy benefit system that pays people to move to the country and NOT work. We need a rational benefit system, not fewer workers and taxpayers.

So if all this is true, why did Herr Farrage get so many votes? Why did the press parrot his story? Where were the alternative voices?

Another campaign lorry
I feel the problem is a catastrophic lack of leadership, and moral compass, on the part of the main political parties (only the Lib Dems made an effort). They all know the figures on immigration, and are aware of the balance of benefits and disadvantages. But they don't want to risk sending a "courageous" but potentially unpopular message.

Maybe they deserve the drubbing that Herr and Frau Farrage inflicted on them in England and Wales.

Of course, the press must shoulder part of the blame. We are supposed to have a free press, that will speak truth to power, and challenge hypocrisy and humbug. But too often we get a sleaze-obsessed group-thinking press pack, that churns the press releases it is fed, or follows the prejudices of wealthy proprietors (Murdoch and his ilk live on, untroubled, in the post-Levenson media). It sometimes seem that once one or two outlets have framed a story, the rest race to catch up, without challenging the presuppositions, or questioning whose narrative is being peddled.

During this campaign, nobody seemed interested in asking UKIP about their other priorities and policies (apart from cutting immigration at any cost). The coverage of alternative economic approaches was deafening in its silence. The fact that too many UK governments have been all too happy to use the EU as an excuse to pass legislation that was deeply unpopular at home was not mentioned. And nobody even asked, "What have the Europeans done for us?"

But now the question must be how will the political establishment respond - for respond they must. Will they trail in the wake of UKIP with an inward-looking "populist" message, that scapegoats the innocent and harms the economy? Will they try to out-UKIP UKIP themselves? Will they continue to pander to the UKIP "policy vacuum"? Or will they engage with the real problems that are driving the collapse in voter trust and the protest vote we saw last Thursday?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Charity begins at home?

Recently I noticed the Daily Mail had a front-page article calling for the UK Foreign Aid budget to be spent on flood damage within the UK. Today I realised they have made it into a petition! I'm slightly sickened that the opportunistic rabble-rousers at the Mail think it's appropriate to attack some of the world's poorest people in such an unnecesary way.

They are wrong, and here's why.

The UK is NOT facing a choice between supporting UK flood victims on one hand, and taking tiny steps to alleviate grinding third-world poverty and assist with natural disasters abroad on the other. We CAN do both.

Even if we need to cut SOME spending to afford the extra cost of the floods in the UK, does it really make sense to target something that gets less that 0.7% of the budget? After all, that is less than 70p out of every £100 of tax we pay. Surely there are budgets with more fat to trim?

If the Mail wants to pick on someone, why not campaign for the money to come out of MP's latest payrises or pensions, or from a tax on the businesses which made profits building in the flood plains in the first place, or from pay and bonus cuts for what are effectively "civil servants" running the nationalised failing Banks which got us into this recession in the first place, or maybe even a windfall tax on those who profited the most as the rest of us lost out, through falling house prices, real-price pay cuts, and austerity?

There is something unsavoury about journalists, exploiting the suffering of flood victims in the UK, to call for cuts on those who are even poorer, even worse off. We - even those in flooded areas - are still part of the world's richest 1%. If we in the West expect our 1% to shoulder their share of the burden, can we deny our responsibility to the World's 99%?
Surely the remaining 99.5% or so of the UK's budget can somehow stand the strain of solidarity with those among us who are in need?

(picture: Flickr user kilinochchi, some rights reserved)