Is the Barclaycard advert sexist?

ADgenda: this week's most offensive advert.

‘Tis now the season: sugar, spice and everything nice is the recipe for not only little girls and mulled wine, but also a hearty yuletide advert. John Lewis’ snowmen made the debut performance; funny how an icy embrace can warm the heart so. And of course, the heart strings are directly connected to the purse strings, so the industry has cracked the formula of a persuasive Christmas ad. But this Barclaycard ad took the sugar-and-spice formula a bit too seriously. Despite what you may think, Barclaycard, the recipes make up little boys and little girls do NOT influence what toys they want to get. That comes down to traditional gender roles - and that’s “roles”, not the pastry kind.

As an advert that seems relatively well thought through (I could’ve been entirely persuaded by the “flipping dogs” quip), it’s surprising that they could muddy the Barclays reputation further still. The father is shopping for his son’s present, when a Barbie approaches. Now, it’s already a dangerous area to slip in “they’re plastic” as an implied reason to disregard her flirting, but they then follow into the shark-infested waters of “on your bike dolly, it’s for his son”. Here is a newsflash, Barclays: there are no toys that are intrinsically boyish or girly. By perpetuating views like this, children are still discouraged from associating with things outside their gender frame. We still live in a world where boys can be punished for dressing up as girly things, and parents consult psychiatrists if they see their girls as “tomboys”. We have enough gender-related restrictions inflicted on adults; the very least we can do is not pass them on to children.

The Barclaycard ad. Photograph: Youtube.com
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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.