Only a fiver now - but what long-term cost?
Show Hide image

Immigrants help UK PLC - whatever Labour says

Miliband is acquiescing in a rightward-shift in political rhetoric on immigration.

“We were wrong not to ensure there were maximum transitional controls when new countries joined the European Union in 2004,” Ed Miliband says. “We won’t make that mistake in future.”

Get it? Labour is saying sorry for its record on immigration. As with those notorious mugs, its motivation – to undermine Conservative and Ukip claims that it is weak on immigration – is obvious.

To Miliband, “the reason we were wrong is that working people were seeing dramatic changes in their communities that were not planned or properly prepared for.” The government was lamentably unprepared for immigration from the eight new members of the EU - it predicted net inflow of 13,000 a year, when over four times that number came. But consider this: had transition controls been imposed on new EU members in in 2004 Brits today would today face higher taxes, worse-funded public services, a higher national debt or, most likely, a toxic cocktail of all three.

Between 2001 and 2011, European arrivals contributed a net £20 billion to UK PLCAnd the crux: immigrants from the ten countries that joined the EU in 2004 – the same ones who Miliband expresses regret at Labour not imposing migration controls on – contributed a net of £5 billion to the economy. Really the figure is even higher - £10 billion, the report reckons - because the costs of armed forces, defence and government do not rise in proportion to a bigger population. So a larger population means more people to spread the costs around.

It has become conventional wisdom that not imposing transition controls was folly. And certainly more could have been done to improve infrastructure and public services in areas in which immigration was greatest. But this failure does not mean that allowing immigrants from new members of the EU was a mistake. Labour's decision to be one of three EU countries, along with Ireland and Sweden, that did not impose transition controls meant that the UK was ideally placed to attract the most skilled workers of the new EU members. And the notion that EU migration is singularly responsible for driving down working-class wages is nonsense: the squeeze on working-class ages is about decades of technological change and globalisation, not whether Poles did not have to wait seven years before being free to work in the UK. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research have found that the 2004 influx to Britain depressed real wages over the long run by 0.36 per cent. Clamping down on immigration is fool's gold that will not help the native British working-class; improving education and skills would. 

The unfashionable truth is that the UK now needs immigrants more than ever. An Office of Budget Responsibility report two years ago bluntly spelled out the choice facing the UK. All other things being equal, the OBR predicted that high net migration would result in public sector net debt at 73% of GDP by 2062-3. With zero net migration it would double, to 145%, compared to 79.1% today. This is because immigrants are hard-working – those who arrived since 2000 have been 43% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits – highly educated and are more likely to be of working age than the native British population. It is no coincidence that as the Conservatives have moved ever further away from their pledge to reduce net migration beyond 100,000 – the most recent annual figure for net migration was a cool 298,000 – so growth has returned to the economy, nor that the economy is doing best in the capital, where immigration is highest. You can have a “clampdown” on immigration or you can have economic growth – but no one has worked out how to have both.

Parts of Labour's immigration policy - especially the emphasis on increasing and strengtehning the minimum wage and an increase in border staff - are shrewd. But the failure to challenge myths about the impact of EU migrants ultimately means that Labour has acquiesced in a rightward shift on immigration. The party has bought into the notion that immigration is inherently a problem, regardless of its economic effects; taken to its logical conclusion, such thinking leads inexorably to Brexit.

Failing to challenge the status quo on immigration has seemed expedient. But Labour has stored up trouble for its next government: it will be compelled to act on immigration, even if economic damage is the result. Ukip could come second in close to one hundred Labour seats in the north, and would love nothing more than a Prime Minister Miliband over-promising but under-delivering on immigration.

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

Getty
Show Hide image

The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era