Bernard Manning, R.I.P.

The Pakistani parliament mourns the passing of the politically-incorrent comic and David Miliband co

Of the Queen’s Honours list, Reactionary Snob noted: “If you listened very carefully you could actually hear Blair pulling out the pin of the hand grenade last week... this was going to cause a shitstorm, and a shitstorm it has caused.”

He was of course highlighting the decision to honour Salman Rushdie. Reactionary Snob goes on to take apart Pakistan’s religious affairs minister’s condemnation of the honour in language too graphic to be repeated here, though still worth a look.

Over at Times Online, Daniel Finkelstein called the decision to knight Rushdie a “bold and correct one” and has emailed a petition off to the Number 10 Downing Street website. He said: “I think it is important that we show that we are not prepared to be cowed by this sort of threat.”

The petition will be put up as soon as it is accepted and reads: “We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to accept our congratulations for recommending to the Queen that Salman Rushdie receive a knighthood.”

Iain Dale's reaction to the furore was entitled “Salman Rushdie Does Not Deserve a Knighthood But He Must Keep It” and concluded with a bold statement: “Perhaps our response should be to cut off all our millions of pounds of aid to Pakistan until this minister is sacked from the Pakistani government.”

Another controversial figure who made the blog discussion boards this week was Bernard Manning - who wrote in his own obituary he was pleased he was not going to the same place as “the po-faced, politically-correct brigade.”

Following Manning's death on Monday, Obsolete wrote: “On hearing of the sad news, the Pakistani parliament immediately adjourned the session and called for a motion on declaring an official day of mourning, which was passed unanimously. The Pakistan religious affairs minister, Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, was one of the first to eulogise about Manning's demise:‘He may have been politically incorrect, but at least he didn't BLASPHEME like that bastard Rushdie. I call for any suicide bombers who might have thought of targeting Manning's funeral to instead hold their laughter.’”

David Miliband launched Defra’s Carbon Calculator this week, with a short movie explaining how it was done. He also honestly provided us with his results: “My individual footprint (for personal not ministerial energy, electrical appliances and transport) came out at a respectable three tonnes, though when the rest of the family were included we were a bit above average thanks to a couple of long-haul flights.”

Unfortunately, Defra seem to have under-estimated the amount of interest in carbon calculation as too many people tried to use it and the server crashed. I wonder if it can calculate just how much energy was wasted by PCs trying to access the site.

Alun Davies AM has been recruiting Welsh politicians for the annual Parliamentary Shield – a football match played between political representatives of the Home Nations, sponsored by McDonald's. Check out Blamerbell’s fantasy Welsh team here.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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