Here’s to happy endings

As the old trope goes, I have been completely vindicated; you have been cleared; he has been whitewashed . . . I think that sums up the points of view on Muir Russell's Climategate report that came out on 7 July.

A difference of opinion on a similarly titanic subject was taking place between the Israeli ambassador to Britain and the judge George Bathurst-Norman. Bathurst-Norman said in court, as he presided over the trial of five activists charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage at an arms factory, that "hell on earth would not be an understatement" to describe the life of Gazans during Operation Cast Lead, in which hundreds
of civilians died under Israeli bombardment.

The ambassador begged to differ, saying that the case showed it was "not a great era of the British justice system". An interesting conclusion to reach, given that he was not present for any of the trial.I was, though, and it was fascinating. Someone described it as being "like one of those Hollywood films". Even the judge agreed, telling the jury at the end that he hoped they had been interested by a case which was quite out of the ordinary.

For four weeks, the jury had listened to the defence argue that the arms factory that was attacked, EDO MBM, was manufacturing arms in Brighton and breaching UK guidelines by shipping equipment to factories in the US which were then exporting them to Israel.

The jury heard about events in Israel and Palestine; they heard from the defendants about what they had done and why. After hearing all this, they decided that, yes, the defendants had really believed that by doing what they did - by breaking into the EDO factory and smashing it up - they would be helping to prevent greater crimes: the breaching of arms export regulations and the deaths of Palestinian civilians.

And boom, writers such as Melanie Phillips leapt on the case as a shining example of judicial anti-Semitism in a way that must have been bewildering to the jury. The Palestine issue was important, but I'm pretty sure they acquitted the activists also because they were not particularly convinced by the testimony of EDO MBM's managing director, Paul Hills, who was a rubbish witness. He denied that the firm had supplied components to Israel; yet I heard him say in court that it might very well appear to an observer that it is manufacturing arms parts that are being used in Israel.

And if EDO MBM were ever proven to be evading UK licence requirements, Paul Hills could face up to ten years in prison (last year, five people convicted of similar offences were all given two years and upwards). The campaign in Brighton has been trying to get an investigation going for years, but the police have refused. This was the central part of the case, but to read some of the reports on the internet, you would never have known it.

In other words, the effort seems pretty hopeless. These two things - Climategate and the EDO trial - will eventually appear as just small paragraphs or footnotes in two of the biggest stories of our age.

I'd like to imagine that both those bigger stories will have happy endings, with everyone turning off their lights and Israelis and Palestinians holding hands. But we can't even agree on how to write the footnotes.

This article first appeared in the 19 July 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Godless Britain

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Why Theresa May is wrong about immigration

The inconvenient truth: migration helps Britain.

Immigration is a disaster. Well, Theresa May says so, anyway.

May’s speech to the Conservative conference is straight out of the Ukip playbook – which is rather curious, given that she has held the post of Home Secretary for five years, and is the longest-serving holder of the office for half a century. It is crass and expedient tub-thumping (as James Kirkup has brilliantly exposed). And what May is saying is not even true. These are saloon-bar claims, and it is striking that she should unleash them on the Conservative party conference.

“When immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society,” May says. Yet, whatever she might say, racism is on the decline. The BNP’s vote in the general election collapsed from 563,000 in 2010 to just 1,667 in 2015. Research by Rob Ford has revealed that the nation is becoming far more tolerant to marriage between races: while almost half of those born before 1950 oppose marriage between black and white people, only 14 per cent of those born since 1980 do. And between 2011 and 2014 (when the figure was last measured), the British Social Attitudes Survey reported a decrease in self-reported racial prejudice, from 38 to 30 per cent.

May also said: “at best the net economic and fiscal effect of high immigration is close to zero.” This is another claim that does not stand up. An OECD study two years ago found that the net contribution of immigrants is worth over £7bn per year to UK PLC: money that would otherwise have to be found through higher taxes, lower spending or more borrowing.

May also asserted that “We know that for people in low-paid jobs, wages are forced down even further while some people are forced out of work altogether.” This ignores the evidence of her own department, who have found “relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives from the labour market in periods when the economy is strong.” An LSE study, too, has found “no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services.”

The inconvenient truth is that rising net migration is both proof of, and a reason why, the UK economy is doing well. As immigration has increased, so has growth; employment has risen, including for Britons. This is no coincidence.

To win the “global race”, a country needs to attract skilled immigrants who work hard and put in more than they take out. That is exactly what the UK is doing: net migration has just risen to 330,000, a new record. As a whole these migrants “are better educated and younger than their UK-born counterparts”, as an LSE study has found. In the UK today there is a simple rule: where immigration is highest, growth is strongest. The East Coast and Cornwall suffer from a lack of migration, while almost 40 per cent of a immigrants live in the thriving capital.

Lower immigration would make the UK a less dynamic economy. Firms in London enjoy a “diversity bonus”: those with an ethnically diverse management are more likely to introduce new product innovations, and are better-able to reach international markets, a paper by Max Nathan and Neil Lee has found.

Puling up the drawbridge on immigration would have catastrophic consequences for UK PLC. The OBR have found that with zero net-migration, public sector net debt as a share of GDP could rise to 145 per cent by 2062/63; with high net-migration, it would fall to 73 per cent.

So May should be celebrating that the UK is such an attractive place to live, and how immigration has contributed to its success. By doing the opposite, she not only shows a lack of political leadership, but is also stoking up trouble for the Prime Minister – and her leadership rival George Osborne – during the EU referendum.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.