From economics to the England football team: Immigration is a scapegoat for everything

The real reasons for our economic, social and sporting woes is not unfettered immigration: it's bad management and dishonest politics.

Immigration: the movement of people into a country to live on a permanent
basis. It is incredible how many issues in society are related to this one
phenomenon. Think of any commonly recognised problem in modern
Britain and you can almost be certain that immigration will commonly
feature among its popular causes.

Why is employment so hard to find? Immigration. Why are there so many cases
of benefit fraud being reported? Immigration. Why is there a lack of social
cohesion within our working class communities? Immigration. We are
partaking in a pantomime society with an anti-immigration call-and-response
between the politically right-wing and the population as a whole.

Why is it done? To mask more fundamental issues within our economy and
society, issues which are far more politically and intellectually challenging to resolve than merely capping the number of
foreigners to enter our shores. The result? A society where immigration is
a scapegoat, to be held aloft and royally lambasted whenever something goes
awry on our otherwise ideal island.

The past week has seen evidence of this in the form of a national emblem
which is adored more than any other: the England football team. As you may
be aware, the Football Association has recently established a committee to
investigate why, simply, we are so terrible at football. Two of its
members, former England manager Glenn Hoddle and England defender Danny
Mills, have since bestowed upon us their initial opinions on where
the fundamental problem lies. You guessed it: immigration.

Hoddle and Mills have both claimed that to improve the England team's
fortunes we must limit the number of foreign players Premier League clubs
can play, thus ensuring that English players receive more playing time and
are able to develop their abilities on the pitch. Hoddle articulated his
stance in these terms: "We have to be ruthless in this. We have to be
thinking about English, English and English again."

With the scapegoat of our society illuminated once more, it has cast into
shadow the more fundamental reasons for our footballing failure. A lack of
high quality youth coaches, adequate pitches, and a mind-set based around
nurturing young talent provide the crux of why we haven't seen players with
the technical abilities of Xavi, Iniesta, Ozil and Pirlo grace our national
crest. And while our current mentality continues, we will merely have to be
satisfied with the lumbering exertions of Rooney and Co.

England has 1,178 UEFA "A" level coaches, which on initial inspection
sounds a satisfactorily high number. However, when we look at other
nations, namely Spain and Germany, who are presently the most feared sides
in Europe, this figure becomes pathetically inadequate. These countries have
12,720 and 5,500 "A" level coaches respectively, dwarfing our meagre sum.
This is comparable to leaving school children without a teacher and
expecting them to perform well in exams, and then keep on improving as they
take more of them.

We attribute our lack of success to foreign players and thus assume that
the most vital years for a footballer are the ages 19-23, when they are
first emerging as potential first team candidates. This needs to change. By
the age of 20 most of these individuals are experienced footballers, they
have been playing since they were kicking an oversized ball around their
back gardens at the age of 6 or 7. Those 14 years, from 6-20, are far more
crucial than what happens after. These are the formative years for a player,
when they shape and hone their technical abilities; match experience merely
adds gloss to an already manufactured product.

Moreover, by limiting foreign players are we not just dealing with a
symptom of these structural problems, not the cause? Maybe so many players
are being imported precisely because England doesn't produce enough young
talent. We need to rethink our perspective, and to do this we must reshape
our political thinking, by refuting the divisive, damaging rhetoric of the
political right.

Immigration is blamed by the Conservative Party and the right-wing media,
both implicitly and explicitly, for many of our economic woes. One of the
most extensively disseminated is that immigrants "steal our jobs," that
well-qualified, honest, British individuals cannot find work because Poles,
Pakistanis and Palestinians are satisfied with a lower standard of living
and therefore are willing to work for less.

The solution? Cap immigration of course.

Casting a veil over any sinew of logical economic thinking, David Cameron
and the Conservatives have peddled this policy up and down Britain, from
the Pennines to the white cliffs of Dover, and even across our shores to
Brussles on a number of occasions.

In footballing terms, this solution would have the same effect as the
Premier League pledging to cap the number of foreign players. The result
would be limiting the influx of players such as van Persie, Ozil, Suarez,
Vidic, Oscar etc. who have made the English Premier League the best in the
world. There are many foreign leagues where there is this situation, with a
low proportion of foreign players, such as the Bundesliga. But would you
rather watch the Premier League or German football? I know what my answer
would be, and I expect yours is similar.

David Cameron's immigration cap poses a similar problem for our economy. By
limiting immigration we face a lack of ingenuity, innovation, skills and
investment, all of which will contribute to make our economy weaker, not
stronger. David Cameron exclaims that the Conservative Party is a party of
business and economic growth, yet has set on a course to create a
Bundesliga economy.

"We would all be in jobs though, just like German footballers are in
Germany" is surely an adequate defence? Once again however, this is
immigration-blame distracting from genuine economic issues and solutions.
If the Premier League had more teams, more spaces for domestic players to
occupy, then individuals, both foreign and domestic, could co-exist in a
high-quality, nationally balanced organisation. Now, although this almost
certainly won't happen in terms of football, a similar situation could
feasibly be enacted in terms of economics, a seemingly radical but
historically proven plan: the creation of jobs.

A focus on investment and a moderation of austerity could create the jobs
necessary to produce a harmonious, innovative economy incorporating both
domestic and immigrant workers. This is the alternative plan that David
Cameron so sweepingly rejected, as himself, his government and the
right-wing media set up a smokescreen of immigration-blame to justify their
economically crippling measures.

In modern Britain scapegoating immigrants is the solution to everything and
yet the answer to nothing. To bring about genuine change to solve
profound economic problems we need to start treating a fundamental lack of
jobs, rather than sensationalised myths. In realising that immigrants are
not the problem we may just get better at football also. We can only hope.

Sam Bright is Editor at the non-affiliated political website Backbench

Compared to Germany and Spain, our capacity to nurture home-grown talent is lamentable. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sam Bright is editor of the political website Backbench

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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.