Even by the usual standards of Home Office casuistry you’d have to go some to top Liam Byrne’s current article on Comment is Free, which he also manages to drop right in the middle of week long debate on the politics of race and identity.
Deporting illegal migrants is not populist, apparently, its ‘progressive’ - and to prove the point he notes that:
Immigration is either one or two on the public’s issue list, depending on which poll you read.
…which looks rather like a populist argument, doesn’t it.
It’s also, apparently, definitely NOT ’some kind of craven pandering to a tabloid agenda’.
So we can be sure that Liam hasn’t noticed today’s headline in the Daily Express, ‘55,000 Migrants Claiming Benefits’.
Of course, as is invariably the case when it comes to the screamsheets, things aren’t always quite what they appear, as once one gets past the usual tendentious bollocks at the start of the article:
AROUND 55,000 East Europeans who have flooded into Britain to work are getting millions of pounds a year in benefits.
More than one in 10 Lithuanians, Poles - like those pictured arriving at London’s Victoria coach station - and others are receiving state handouts.
One finds that the actual breakdown of benefit claimants from Eastern Europe is…
35,448 receiving child benefit at up to £17.45 a week…
…which is, of course, a universal benefit paid to all families with children under the age of 16.
According to the most recent statistics from HM Revenue & Customs, 7.4 million families currently receive child benefit for a total of 13.2 million children, and as one suspects that the figure of 35,448 cited by the Express is the number of children for which child benefit is being claimed and not the number families making claims, this amounts to a staggering 0.26% of the total number of children for whom child benefit is paid.
Wow, that’s really going to put the system under major strain.
17,512 getting tax credits which could be between £1,365 a year for a single worker and £5,300 a year for a couple with children.
The operative phrase here being ‘worker’ as someone doing a low paid job.
There are also 353 in line for income support (at £57.45 a week), 859 in line for jobseeker’s allowance (also at £57.45 a week) and 32 in line for state pension credit (at £43.55 a week).
So, out of 510,000 migrant workers who’ve entered the UK from Eastern Europe since 2004, a whole 1212 are currently unemployed and ‘in line’ for receiving welfare benefits… possibly… maybe… look, what ‘in-line’ actually means is not that they’re actually receiving benefits but that they’ve made a claim which has been allowed to progress through the system to be assessed, i.e. they’ve not been turned down automatically as being ineligible for benefits outright.
Council housing is also being provided for whole 128 migrants and local authorities are providing housing support for a further 524 - one would guess this to mean simply helping them find somewhere to live.
So a quick bit of maths shows that out of 510,000 migrants, less that 20,000 are receiving, or might receive work-related benefits, leaving 490,000 out there working in Britian’s economy, generating profits and paying taxes, give or take any that couldn’t find suitable work and have since gone elsewhere.
Still, I suppose ‘490,000 Migrants Pay Income Tax’ is not the kind of headline that fits the prejudices of the Express and its readers.
But that’s, to some extent, by the by as what Liam’s talking about is illegal and not legal migration and the craven pandering to a tabloid agenda in the latter area is already done and dusted in terms of the restrictions that will imposed on migration from Bulgaria and Romania when they joined the European Union.
So why, pay tell, is taking a tough line on immigration a ‘progressive’ policy?
Well, according to Liam its because illegal immigration is not a victimless crime, in the sense that it support exploitation by unscrupulous and conniving businesses and an ‘industry’ in people traffiking run by organised group.
So it’s not a victimless crime, but in the main it’s the illegal migrants who’re the actual victims, here.
So the logic here seems to be that a tough policy on immigration is progressive because it enable us to deport the victims.
Looking a little further down the article we find a few more examples of the government’s ‘progressive’ approach to immigration.
Crimestoppers will help us take information from the public.
Or as Stalinists used to call it ‘denunciation’…
…a much bigger detention estate will mean more can be held
More detention centres… and to cap it all…
…we will consult on how to keep to a minimum abusive judicial review applications that simply frustrate legitimate deportations.
There’s a Latin phrase that leaps to mind here… ah, yes! Habeas Corpus. Yes our wonderfully progressive government is looking for a way to restrict the right of habeas corpus in immigration cases.
All wonderfully progressive, eh? And don’t think that Liam’s finished yet…
Together we have to find a solution to a big problem. Remittances from foreign workers are second only to foreign direct investment in value for the developing world. But for European nations, committed like us to international development, we need help from states taking back their own people who are here illegally. Providing passports and permission to return is one of the single biggest barriers to removing immigration offenders.
As Labour thinks ahead, the global challenge of migration is perhaps one of biggest issues that has changed since we took power. The 1997 manifesto devoted 135 words to immigration. But, in the months to come, we shouldn’t be afraid of arguing today’s policy with confidence. It is rooted in a fairness that is fundamentally Labour.
What’s particularly irritating about this article is not only the obvious absurdity of trying to sell a policy in which the ‘victim’ (as identified by Liam) may be first denounced to the state, then incarcerated, denied their rights under habeas corpus and finally deported on the basis of it being [allegedly] progressive; but its complete and utter banality.
One gets the definite sense that it really doesn’t matter what the policy is, it could just as easily be the restoration of hanging, the use of torture, the reconsitution of the Star Chamber or the cancellation of Christmas, somewhere along the line a colourless drone of junior minister will be despatched to tell us that we’ve all got it wrong and the policy is really ‘progressive’, ‘fair’ and ‘rooted in Labour values’ as if, on hearing that, we’ll all just think to ourselves, ‘Oh well, that’s alright then’. The one consolation here is that at least Liam doesn’t use the dreaded ‘m’-word, modern, although he does get pretty close to it at the end by talking about immigration as one of biggest issues that has changed since we took power.
A genuinely progressive policy on immigration has to begin with the question, ‘why are people coming here illegally in the first place’, to which the answer is the same that it always was - to escape poverty and try to build a better life for themselves. (The clue’s in the name, economic migrants).
Economic migration is driven, unsurprisingly, by economics and, more particularly at the present time, by the manifest failings of the much-vaunted doctrine of globalisation, which far from offering free and open trade and, therefore, prosperity, for all, has been for the most part a one-way street in which developing countries have been forced (with their arm pushed firmly up their back) into adopting a uniform package of economic ‘medicine’ by the IMF and World Bank consisting of financial austerity, privatisation of key industries, public services and utilities and the opening of domestic markets to exploitation of Western corporate interests while America and Europe continue to play the same old game of protectionism, subsidies and self-interest.
Even acts of apparent philanthropy are locked firmly into the preservation and promotion of corporate interests and corporate capitalism. Bill Gates may be committing part of his personal fortune to tackling the spead of HIV and that age old killer, malaria, in Africa but look a little more closely and you’ll find that Bill’s largesse comes at a price; the unquestioning acceptance of the WTO’s TRIPS agreement on intellectual property, of which one of the main beneficiaries just happens to be Microsoft - another major supporter of and beneficiary from TRIPS, unsurprisingly, is ‘Big Pharma’.
The progressive way to tackle the issues of economic (and illegal) migration is not by more draconian law and tighter border controls - as ever these are only the symptoms of the problem - but by tackling its main causes; poverty and lack of economic opportunity, at source.
It is the simplest of equations to understand - many, if not most, of the people we’re now trying to deport would have had no need to migrate to the UK in the first place if only they could have made a decent living for themselves in their country of origin.