Better buy one quick. I hear there's a quota.
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Labour's anti-immigrant mug: the worst part is, it isn't a gaffe

The party is under fire for its latest round of mugs. But the problem is bigger than a bargain-basement bit of crockery.

Labour has come under fire from its own activists after releasing a branded mug that promises “Controls on immigration”. The troublesome cup is being condemned as unspeakably naff at best and outright racist at worst.  The worst part is, it isn’t a gaffe.

A Labour spinner tells ITV News, not unreasonably: "Labour has five election pledges. This is one of the election pledges." To which the only response is: yes. That’s exactly the problem. Five years after Ed Miliband was elected on a promise to take Britain to the left, and three years after telling the New Statesman that this was a “centre-left moment”, the only one of Labour’s pledges that excites anyone is a pledge to "control immigration".

The case for Labour’s defence is this: large majorities of the public think that immigration is out of control. Labour’s biggest mistake according to the average voter wasn’t the war in Iraq – it was the party’s failure to manage migration. That’s why, when asked to describe New Labour’s biggest mistakes during that first debate, Miliband settled on immigration. That’s why he promises to “bear down” on immigration, and his party’s latest fundraising wheeze is to sell mugs promising illusory “controls” on migration.

That’s why, privately, Labour strategists are relaxed about a few bruised feelings among lefty activists on Twitter.

Just one teeny-tiny fly in the ointment: it doesn’t seem to be working. Increasingly rancorous language about migrants and benefits has done nothing to secure Labour’s increasingly alarming position in the polls. If anyone can be said to have “won” from the party’s vituperative rhetoric, it is the surging Greens. 

The big problem for Labour is that the party obviously doesn’t believe what its saying; Miliband looks uncomfortable and unhappy whenever he attacks immigration, and its actual policy – a two-year wait before any new arrival can claim benefits – won’t do anything to turn migrants away.

It’s the promise of work, not the United Kingdom’s less-than-generous welfare system, that attracts newcomers to Britain, and as anyone who has tried to come to Britain in recent years, the United Kingdom already has fairly stringent controls on immigration. My colleague Anoosh recently interviewed Miwa Hirono, a globally-respected academic, who is now being deported as a result of those same laws. And as NS political editor George Eaton has noted, the higher migration figures of recent years are actually a sign of economic success, not failure, on the part of government.

Worse still, the only way that Labour can actually achieve its headline policy – of “controlling” immigration – is to leave the European Union, with all the possible consequences for the British and European economy that would have.

Frankly, Labour has two choices. It can make a brave argument for the benefits of an open economy and the value of migration – as Alex Salmond did in his recent interview with our editor, Jason Cowley – or it can continue to go down the Ukip path of promising ever greater barriers on migration, and even more punitive measures for the people who make it past those barriers.

The trouble with going down Ukip’s path is, eventually, you have to have Ukip’s solution, because if immigration really is as bad as Ed Miliband says it is, the only way is Brexit. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics. 

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North Yorkshire has approved the UK’s first fracking tests in five years. What does this mean?

Is fracking the answer to the UK's energy future? Or a serious risk to the environment?

Shale gas operation has been approved in North Yorkshire, the first since a ban introduced after two minor earthquakes in 2011 were shown to be caused by fracking in the area. On Tuesday night, after two days of heated debate, North Yorkshire councillors finally granted an application to frack in the North York Moors National Park.

The vote by the Tory-dominated council was passed by seven votes to four, and sets an important precedent for the scores of other applications still awaiting decision across the country. It also gives a much-needed boost to David Cameron’s 2014 promise to “go all out for shale”. But with regional authorities pitted against local communities, and national government in dispute with global NGOs, what is the wider verdict on the industry?

What is fracking?

Fracking, or “hydraulic fracturing”, is the extraction of shale gas from deep underground. A mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped into the earth at such high pressure that it literally fractures the rocks and releases the gas trapped inside.

Opponents claim that the side effects include earthquakes, polluted ground water, and noise and traffic pollution. The image the industry would least like you to associate with the process is this clip of a man setting fire to a running tap, from the 2010 US documentary Gasland

Advocates dispute the above criticisms, and instead argue that shale gas extraction will create jobs, help the UK transition to a carbon-neutral world, reduce reliance on imports and boost tax revenues.

So do these claims stands up? Let’s take each in turn...

Will it create jobs? Yes, but mostly in the short-term.

Industry insiders imply that job creation in the UK could rival that seen in the US, while the medium-sized production company Cuadrilla claims that shale gas production would create 1,700 jobs in Lancashire alone.

But claims about employment may be exaggerated. A US study overseen by Penn State University showed only one in seven of the jobs the industry forecast actually materialised. In the UK, a Friends of the Earth report contends that the majority of jobs to be created by fracking in Lancashire would only be short-term – with under 200 surviving the initial burst.

Environmentalists, in contrast, point to evidence that green energy creates more jobs than similar-sized fossil fuel investments.  And it’s not just climate campaigners who don’t buy the employment promise. Trade union members also have their doubts. Ian Gallagher, Secretary of Blackburn and District Trade Unions Council, told Friends of the Earth that: “Investment in the areas identified by the Million Climate Jobs Campaign [...] is a far more certain way of addressing both climate change and economic growth than drilling for shale gas.”

Will it deliver cleaner energy? Not as completely as renewables would.

America’s “shale revolution” has been credited with reversing the country’s reliance on dirty coal and helping them lead the world in carbon-emissions reduction. Thanks to the relatively low carbon dioxide content of natural gas (emitting half the amount of coal to generate the same amount of electricity), fracking helped the US reduce its annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 556 million metric tons between 2007 and 2014. Banning it, advocates argue, would “immediately increase the use of coal”.

Yet a new report from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (previously known for its opposition to wind farm applications), has laid out a number of ways that the UK government can meet its target of 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 without necessarily introducing fracking and without harming the natural world. Renewable, home-produced, energy, they argue, could in theory cover the UK’s energy needs three times over. They’ve even included some handy maps:


Map of UK land available for renewable technologies. Source: RSPB’s 2050 Energy Vision.

Will it deliver secure energy? Yes, up to a point.

For energy to be “sustainable” it also has to be secure; it has to be available on demand and not threatened by international upheaval. Gas-fired “peaking” plants can be used to even-out input into the electricity grid when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind is not so blowy. The government thus claims that fracking is an essential part of the UK’s future “energy mix”, which, if produced domestically, will also free us from reliance on imports tarnished by volatile Russian politics.

But, time is running out. Recent analysis by Carbon Brief suggests that we are only have five years left of current CO2 emission levels before we blow the carbon budget and risk breaching the climate’s crucial 1.5°C tipping point. Whichever energy choices we make now need to starting brining down the carbon over-spend immediately.

Will it help stablise the wider economy? Yes, but not forever.

With so many “Yes, buts...” in the above list, you might wonder why the government is still pressing so hard for fracking’s expansion? Part of the answer may lie in their vested interest in supporting the wider industry.

Tax revenues from UK oil and gas generate a large portion of the government’s income. In 2013-14, the revenue from license fees, petroleum revenue tax, corporation tax and the supplementary charge accounted for nearly £5bn of UK exchequer receipts. The Treasury cannot afford to lose these, as evidenced in the last budget when George Osborne further subsidied North Sea oil operations through increased tax breaks.

The more that the Conservaitves support the industry, the more they can tax it. In 2012 DECC said it wanted to “guarantee... every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK”. This is a sentiment that was repeated yesterday by energy minister Andrea Leadsom, when she welcomed the North Yorkshire decision as a “fantastic opportunity” for fracking.

Dependence on finite domestic fuel reserves, however, is not a long-term economic solution. Not least because of the question of their replacement once they eventually run out: “Pensions already have enough stranded assets as they are,” says Danielle Pafford from 350.org.

Is it worth it? Most European countries have decided it’s not.

There is currently no commercial shale-gas drilling in Europe. Sustained protests against the industry in Romania, combined with poor exploration results, have already caused energy giant Chevron to pull out of the country. Total has also abandonned explorations in Denmark, Poland is being referred to the European Court of Justice for failing to adequately assess fracking’s impact, and, in Germany, brewers have launched special bottle-caps with the slogan “Nein! Zu Fracking” to warn against the threat to their water supply.

Back in the UK, the government's latest survey of public attitudes to fracking found that 44 per cent neither supported nor opposed the practice, but also that opinion is gradually shifting out of favour. If the government doesn't come up with arguments that hold water soon, it seems likely that the UK's fracking future could still be blasted apart.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.