Black humour in Scotland Yard?

The gathering of the clans

Glencoe was the sight of the massacre of the MacDonalds - so it was perhaps not the most prudent name for the police operation to manage demonstrations marking the convergence of G20 leaders on London this week. Black humour in Scotland Yard perhaps?

On the eve of the protests, Socialist Unity predicted police brutality. Recalling Gleneagles, John Wright wrote: “It was inevitable that there would be trouble, though it was not started by protesters... [w]hat began as a good humoured protest by a group of protesters, the self styled Clown Army, who many will have seen on demos up and down the country engaging in silly antics, soon gave way to ugly scenes of riot police charging into peaceful protesters lashing out indiscriminately”.

And as President Obama flew in and the crowds descended on the City, Anna Bragga at The Green Room was “shaken and appalled” by the policing, finding herself “condemned to a terrifying ordeal of being trapped in a confined space – a section of Princes Street - with an increasingly frustrated and angry group of protesters”. She concluded by calling on Green Party representatives to hold the Met to account for its poor handling of the day.

Not everyone was protesting against unregulated markets. Conservative Home posted images direct from the small but fiesty “pro-capitalist” counter demo. The banner asking “Who is John Galt?” held aloft by students from York University was thought witty by some, alienating by others. Meanwhile their comrades at Samizdata highlighted a study of free banking in 19th century Scotland, arguing that it illustrates a paradigm of the true laissez faire capitalism from which we have long since strayed.

Reactions to the summit were drawing a wry smile from Hopi Sen, who noted: “British Conservative Eurosceptics finding exciting new ways to contort themselves into admiration for the stance of the EUs most statist and regulatory governments,” while suspecting that their warmth towards the French and Germans would be fleeting. Hopi was among the legions of bloggers not invited to blog live from the G20, leaving a rather forlorn Tom Watson tapping away in the “vast airport hangar style media lounge” with little company...

For more thoughtful takes on the summit, read Obsolete on Brown's last throw of the dice and Andrew Brown on the Pope siding with the protesters.

What have we learned this week?

That Iain Dale is a quite wicked man - teasing his poor readers on April Fool's Day with a post claiming that criticism from bloggers (“whose boots I am not fit to lick”) has driven him to withdraw from the Orwell Prize.

Around the World

The Goy's Guide to Israel watched the inaugural session of the new Israeli government and analysed its players based on their choice of outfits, from Bibi's “disgusting spotted mauve tie” to Marina Solodkin's “delightful shawl”.

Video of the Week

This hand shot footage of clashes between police and protesters in the City reflects quite poorly on both.

Quote of the Week

“Oh, and then they trashed RBS. Nice one, guys! Destroy the institution that's owned by, uh, us. The taxpayer. Well done.”

Sadie Smith is unimpressed.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.