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.

HEINZ BAUMANN/GALLERY STOCK
Show Hide image

With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad