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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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.