Cameron in trouble? Oh, please. . .

Until someone can show me that the Prime Minister has broken a law, I'm happier not to join in all t

Write about the impact of the current situation on David Cameron, suggested the editor. A friend sent me an email too, a Labour friend, half-teasing but half, I think, seriously. What does it all mean? Are we living through the end of Cameron's term in office?

The second question is a fitting contribution to John Rentoul's wonderful blog at the Independent ("Questions to which the answer is no"). The things we are learning about the practices at News International are disgusting; those involving the Metropolitan Police Service are frightening; and both are rightly the object of a judicial enquiry. But the idea that the Prime Minister is damaged because he once employed someone who may be found guilty, at a future date, of a crime which he previously denied committing to the Prime Minister, strikes me as extraordinary. There are consequences to demanding that we all accept moral culpability for the actions of our friends, ones I find abhorrent. I'll come back to this.

The nadir of political debate last week was on Tuesday afternoon, when it became clear that last September the Prime Minister's chief of staff had told John Yates that no, the Prime Minister did not want to be informed about something Yates had learned about his investigations. This was the "tipping point" according to the twitterati - my timeline erupted in a frenzy of "This is serious, Cameron in trouble" wishful thinking. I'm sorry? The Prime Minister should have stuck his nose into an active police investigation? Or at least he should have wanted to be briefed about where it was heading? In order to do what, exactly? My friend Tim Montgomerie is entirely correct about this. The scandal would have erupted had the Prime Minister attempted to interfere in such activities. Police investigations should not be controlled by the occupants of political office.

Ah, you will say, but what of the Prime Minister's "judgement", that he employed Andy Coulson at all.

Let's leave to one side the hypocrisy that the loudest cries on this matter come from a politician who employs Tom Baldwin, formerly of News International and accused of, er, interesting journalistic tactics. Take Keith Vaz at his own self-estimate, that he is a humble tribune of the people, and ignore the serial accusations of corruption which he endured in the last parliament. Pretend we have the memory span of a fruit fly, and forget the previous administration's employment of Alistair Campbell. Don't, whatever you do, remember the death of David Kelly, or wonder at just how genuine is the outrage of these Labour politicians. From tragedy to farce: learn to accept Chris Bryant as a serious political force, and wipe the image of him in his Y-fronts from your mind. Just because the last Labour government was a seething pit of mendacity and smears, just because they employed a man that a civilized society should shun, doesn't mean we can ignore their accusations now.

But what is this "judgement" we are supposed to practice, with regard to our friends? I have had an image in my mind all this week, a picture from the National Gallery, attributed to the workshop of Durer, called "The Madonna With The Iris". It's an example of a hortus conclusus, a Virgin in the Garden. The picture compels me because I find the concept - purity from intact isolation - horrific.

You can remain immune to the actions of your friends - by not having any. You can be pure in this world, you can maximize your degrees of freedom - by living alone. To love and be loved - to live as a social animal - necessarily entails fewer degrees of freedom - but much, much more joy.
If the loss of degrees of freedom, inherent in having friendship, is worth anything at all - and I'm pretty sure that it is - then such friendships are not to be tossed aside at moments of personal difficulty. A friend's value is neither a function of his purity nor his utility. His "value", of course, is his love, albeit a different form of love to that which binds us to our other halves.

To be banal: even if a friend were charged with a venal offence, he would still be welcome to my house for dinner - the great crime of which the Prime Minister stands accused being that he had Coulson for dinner, after he left his employment.

I told you, editor, that I cannot produce prose to match the hysteria we're living through. But until someone can show me that the Prime Minister has broken a law, I'm happier not to join in all the shouting, particularly not when I see the company I would be keeping. I'm not on Keith Vaz's side, or Alistair Campbell's side, on many things. Certainly not in matters of political ethics.

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Most Leave voters back free movement – you just have to explain it

The argument during the referendum was never about free movement, but about immigration in general. 

This week, a piece of YouGov polling flipped on its head a widely held belief about the public’s attitude to immigration in the context of Brexit. The headline question was:

“In negotiating Britain’s departure from the European Union, do you think our government should offer EU citizens the right to travel, work, study or retire in Britain, in exchange for EU countries giving British citizens the same rights?”

Of the respondents, 69 per cent, including 60 per cent of Leave voters, responded that they should.

The poll has been overlooked by the bulk of the press, for whom it contradicts a very basic assumption – that the end of free movement, and the implicit acceptance of the narrative that high net migration had strained services and wages, was an electoral necessity for any party wanting to enter government. In fact, the apparent consensus against free movement after Brexit owes much less to deeply-rooted public opinion, and much more to the abject failure of progressives and mainstream Remain campaigners to make the case for it.

“If you’re explaining, you’re losing,” goes the old maxim of political communications. And this is accurate if you inhabit a world of tight, professional politics and your job is to capture votes using already widely understood concepts and a set of soundbites. So much of conventional political strategy consists of avoiding difficult or complex subjects, like free movement. This is especially the case if the exact meaning of the words requires defining. The job of radical politics is to change the terms of the debate entirely. That almost always means explaining things.

The strategy of Britain Stronger in Europe during the EU referendum campaign was a case in point. It honed down on its key message on economic stability, and refused to engage with the migration debate. As a result, the terms of the debate were set by the right. The argument during the referendum was never about free movement, but about immigration in general. If YouGov’s polling this week is correct, a majority of the British public support free movement – you just have to explain to them what it means.

That distinction between immigration and free movement was pivotal in the referendum. Immigration is a big, amorphous concept, and an influx of people, covering far more than Britain’s relationship with Europe. It makes an excellent scapegoat for the government’s failure to provide housing and public services. It has been so expertly blamed for bringing down wages that this has become received wisdom, despite almost nowhere being true. Free movement, on the other hand, can be understood more easily in terms of rights and security – not just for migrants in the UK, but for British citizens and workers.

As YouGov’s poll question explains, free movement would be a reciprocal agreement between post-Brexit Britain and the EU, enhancing UK citizens’ rights. We would get the right to live and work freely over an entire continent. Even if you might not want to exercise the right yourself, studying abroad might be something you want to preserve for your children. Even if you might not retire to France or Spain, you might well know someone who has, or wants to.

Perhaps most importantly, free movement makes British workers more secure. Migrants will come to the UK regardless of whether or not free movement agreements are in place; without the automatic right to work, many will be forced to work illegally and will become hyper-exploited. Removing migrants’ access to public funds and benefits – a policy which was in the Labour manifesto – would have a similar effect, forcing migrants to take any work they could find.

At present, Labour is in danger of falling into a similar trap to that of the main Remain campaigns in the EU referendum. Its manifesto policy was for an “economy first Brexit”, in other words, compromising on free movement but implying that it might be retained in order to get access to the single market. This fudge undeniably worked. In the longer term, though, basing your case for free movement entirely on what is good for the economy is exactly the mistake made by previous governments. Labour could grasp the nettle: argue from the left for free movement and for a raft of reforms that raise wages, build homes and make collective bargaining and trade unions stronger.

Making the case for free movement sounds like a more radical task than making the case for immigration more generally – and it is. But it is also more achievable, because continued free movement is a clear, viable policy that draws the debate away from controlling net migration and towards transforming the economy so that everyone prospers. Just as with the left’s prospects of electoral success in general, bold ideas will fare better than centrist fudges that give succour to the right’s narratives.