Stunned as a drug mule

My eyelid spasm seems to have cleared up, my noddy head tick is abating and I now have only the dear

Okay, if a B&B shower has a switch and two dials, would you also expect a toggle? – a secret, unfindable toggle? - to be involved in producing hot water and therefore preventing hypothermia and/or trench foot? I’m just asking – nothing to with my life, or the fact that I can have no sensation below the knee.

Dear reader, what can I say ? It’s been a busy fortnight. Two telly things, three radio things, two tent-based readings and an amount of travel that would stun a drug mule. Although, for those of you who are interested, my eyelid spasm seems to have cleared up, my noddy head tick is abating and I now have only the dearlordspareme head shaking manoeuvre – which sadly often intervenes just when someone is asking, “Would you enjoy more pudding?” or “Can you take these spare crates of Pringles?” or “Should I put my hand here and insert tab 3b into slot 6?”

As intelligent and comely folk you’ll realise that being a writer doesn’t just involve sitting alone in a tower crafted out of endangered species and scribbling. We now have to be physically manifest. This reminds our publishers we exist and assists our little books in going out and prospering. It is, of course, very pleasant for a turnip like myself to end up having media conversations with grand people like Chris Smith and Naomi Klein and Shashi Tharoor and Mariella Frostrup – all of whom were entirely pleasant - unless I suddenly recall that I’m a turnip and have to stab myself with a fork to prevent laughter and/or fainting from compromising my performance. If I think of myself as representative of sensible people I know, then I can feel I’m on steady ground and not either suffer from an absurdity-induced migraine or disappear up my own importance. Although that last sentence may indicate I already have. And occasionally I get to bang on about allowing people to enjoy the arts, get near the arts, or just be able to read a book if they want.

The festival scene feels much more familiar – if no less unreal. Charlestone was lovely: insightful and charming audience – some with fetching hats - sunshine in the garden, the welcoming big house to peer at while wondering how the Bloomsbury Set ever got any writing or painting done, given their apparently insatiable need to jump whatever they fancied. My admiration for J. Maynard Keynes is only increased by the knowledge that he undoubtedly developed some of his ideas while any number of people were humping his leg like ill-disciplined beagles.

And then on to Hay-on-Wye, the mystery shower toggle and the usual joy of sipping tea while adrift in a quagmire. I can see my breath – it’s May and I can see my breath. I’m still breathing? Oh look, there’s Jimmy Carter – shorter than I’d imagined. I imagined Jimmy Carter ? When ?

Well done to all three of the Hay audiences I encountered from 8.30 am to 8.30 pm – and all of the others who made it through - huddled there, listening and giggling and sneezing. The ability of British people to support literature, in spite of a virtual media blackout on matters bookish and in the face of long-distance travel, floods, tempests and shuddering tents never fails to inspire me. Hay and its many subsections is, of course, famous for paying most participants with things, rather than money. The effect is much the same as finding a number of quite affluent strangers have guessed what you’d like for your birthday – vaguely charming and yet…

You can see AL Kennedy in action at the Edinburgh Festival

A year on from the Spending Review, the coalition's soothsayer has emerged to offer another gloomy economic prognosis. Asked by ITV News whether he could promise that there wouldn't be a double-dip recession, Vince Cable replied: "I can't do that.

Getty
Show Hide image

Leave will leap on the immigration rise, but Brexit would not make much difference

Non-EU migration is still well above the immigration cap, which the government is still far from reaching. 

On announcing the quarterly migration figures today, the Office for National Statistics was clear: neither the change in immigration levels, nor in emigration levels, nor in the net figure is statistically significant. That will not stop them being mined for political significance.

The ONS reports a 20,000 rise in net long-term international migration to 333,000. This is fuelled by a reduction in emigration: immigration itself is actually down very slightly (by 2,000) on the year ending in 2014, but emigration has fallen further – by 22,000.

So here is the (limited) short-term significance of that. The Leave campaign has already decided to pivot to immigration for the final month of the referendum campaign. Arguments about the NHS, about sovereignty, and about the bloated bureaucracy in Brussels have all had some utility with different constituencies. But none has as much purchase, especially amongst persuadable Labour voters in the north, as immigration. So the Leave campaign will keep talking about immigration and borders for a month, and hope that a renewed refugee crisis will for enough people turn a latent fear into a present threat.

These statistics make adopting that theme a little bit easier. While it has long been accepted by everyone except David Cameron and Theresa May that the government’s desired net immigration cap of 100,000 per year is unattainable, watch out for Brexiters using these figures as proof that it is the EU that denies the government the ability to meet it.

But there are plenty of available avenues for the Remain campaign to push back against such arguments. Firstly, they will point out that this is a net figure. Sure, freedom of movement means the British government does not have a say over EU nationals arriving here, but it is not Jean-Claude Juncker’s fault if people who live in the UK decide they quite like it here.

Moreover, the only statistically significant change the ONS identify is a 42 per cent rise in migrants coming to the UK “looking for work” – hardly signalling the benefit tourism of caricature. And though that cohort did not come with jobs, the majority (58 per cent) of the 308,000 migrants who came to Britain to work in 2015 had a definite job to go to.

The Remain campaign may also point out that the 241,000 short-term migrants to the UK in the year ending June 2014 were far outstripped by the 420,000 Brits working abroad. Brexit, and any end to freedom of movement that it entailed, could jeopardise many of those jobs for Brits.

There is another story that the Remain campaign should make use of. Yes, the immigration cap is a joke. But it has not (just) been made into a joke by the EU. Net migration from non-EU countries is at 188,000, a very slight fall from the previous year but still higher than immigration from EU countries. That alone is far above the government’s immigration cap. If the government cannot bring down non-EU migration, then the Leave argument that a post-EU Britain would be a low-immigration panacea is hardly credible. Don’t expect that to stop them making it though. 

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.