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

Getty.
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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.