Firing the fired

"You're Fired": apprentice regurgitated

For a show with a fairly simple premise – people trying to sell things – The Apprentice includes a fair whack of self scrutiny. We’ve got Alan Sugar weighing the contestants up, we’ve got contestants weighing themselves up (“I’m the reflection of perfection”), we’ve got a portentous voiceover throughout the show, and we’ve got a camera which forces us to hate everyone in it.

But it’s not enough to have an episode cut into bite-sized pieces, or even auto-digested: now it’s regurgitated in front of a live audience as a comedian sorts through the vomit with a novelty toothpick. This last bit is called “The Apprentice: You're Fired”.

The BBC2 spin-off is a "friendly" retrospective discussion in which the hapless contestant gets ripped to shreds all over again, only this time he has to pretend he's enjoying himself.  It looks like an odd experience for him, similar to a parent-teacher evening or perhaps a visit to a consortium of therapists. He’s so utterly the most powerless person there, and everyone talks over him, about him, trying to work out “what went wrong”. He's the butt of all the jokes – often much sharper than Alan Sugar’s put downs – but can’t fight his corner like he can in the boardroom, only grin sheepishly.

The worst thing, though, is that they’re not even all professional, legitimately superior business people. Half are amateurs or comedians (although they all wear suits). This leads to cutesy-mean, completely unanswerable remarks, like Jenny Éclair’s whimsical observation to fired contestant Michael:

"I don't know much about business, but I think sometimes, maybe, getting the taste right for a sauce is quite important."

Thanks Jenny, good to get a fresh opinion.

Last week the parent/teacher evening theme was carried further with a head boy-like contribution from Tom Pellereau, the previous Apprentice winner. In sharp contrast to the hapless Michael, he’s “doing really well”, a shining example to everyone: cue sage approval from the panel. Depressed, Michael gives up trying to get the conversation onto equal terms. The familiar therapy/school speech rhythms get to him, and he starts to apologise.

"I agree, I wasn't tough enough. I didn't fight my corner"

That's ok, Michael, that's ok. They gracefully accept his apology. They make more jokes. They look slightly uncomfortable. He gets a free toy at the end. It's actually very entertaining.

Dara: probably evil, Getty images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

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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