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

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder