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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As we reach the 50th anniversary of China's Cultural Revolution, are we seeing echoes of Mao?

With the official verdict being that Mao was “70 per cent good, 30 per cent bad”, his legacy is never far from the mind of today's politicians.

The Great Hall of the People on the western side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing is normally the scene for formal occasions, such as the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress. In early May, however, it resonated with singing by a group of young women, 56 Flowers, at a concert staged by an organisation calling itself the “Propaganda Department Office of Socialist Core-Value Propaganda and Education”. Tickets sold for up to £200.

The repertoire of the singing group was of a kind heard only rarely in China today. It consisted mainly of anthems from the Mao Zedong era, among them “Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman”, which compares the chairman’s thinking to “the sun that never sets”. The maverick politician Bo Xilai used such songs in his campaign to challenge the central leadership earlier this decade but he is now in prison, serving a life sentence for corruption.

The singers, who describe themselves as “the socialist band fallen from heaven”, wear the sort of scarves worn by Young Pioneers in the Cultural Revolution that Mao launched, 50 years ago this month, to shake up China and assert his leadership.

Some other songs praised the current leader, Xi Jinping, but the event was determinedly retro, demonstrating nostalgia for the era before China embarked on its race for economic growth and before society modernised. In a country where the leaders shape history to their purpose, this was a distinct political statement, and that the performance was permitted at all raised eyebrows among China-watchers. There was even more puzzlement when the organisation that put its name to the show turned out not to exist. Speculation spread that the whole thing had been staged by opponents of the current leadership in an attempt to embarrass it.

While Mao remains the biggest figure in the narrative of the People’s Republic, his three decades in power were marked by killings on a huge scale and the repeated use of terror, ending with the ten-year disaster of the Cultural Revolution. His heritage poses a problem in a country with a vastly changed society that has little affinity with the rampaging Red Guards. The Communist Party-run state needs the Great Helmsman at the centre of its history and its conquest of power. But the kind of nostalgia peddled by 56 Flowers has little relevance in China today, where materialism is more important than Maoist Marxism and where the pressing issues are how to deal with a mountain of debt and reduce excess industrial capacity.

In an unprecedented move in mid-May, the party newspaper People’s Daily ran a severe condemnation of the Cultural Revolution as a grave mistake. However, Mao’s body still lies embalmed in Tiananmen Square, his head is on the banknotes and the official verdict is that he was “70 per cent good, 30 per cent bad”.

Mao launched the movement that convulsed his country after a politburo meeting on 16 May 1966, which identified “representatives of the bourgeoisie who have sneaked into the party, the government, the army and various spheres of culture” but were merely “a bunch of counter-revolutionary revisionists”, aiming to instal “a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”.

The man who had led the Chinese communists to power in 1949 had been feeling disgruntled. He had been marginalised by his lieutenants Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping following the collapse of his attempt to industrialise the country in the Great Leap Forward at the end of the 1950s and the ensuing famine, which some estimate to have killed more than 40 million people. Mao was nearly 73 but he was not yet ready to be kicked upstairs into a ceremonial post.

Rousing himself for a final power play, Mao launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to assert himself, to destroy the Communist Party’s “bourgeois” bureaucracy and to give China a shake-up as he led the nation’s young people on a crusade to “destroy the old”. Once more, he ruthlessly turned Chinese against Chinese to consolidate his power and to pursue a supposedly revolutionary adventure.

The effects were, as with earlier initiatives, catastrophic – politically, economically and socially – above all, for the many millions who suffered death, injury, torture and deprivations. The party, the army, schools, universities and practically all other institutions were caught up in the maelstrom.

The wrecking of the regime’s control mechanisms cleared the way to the economic reform that was officially approved by Deng after Mao’s death in 1976, as Frank Dikötter shows in his magisterial new book, The Cultural Revolution: a People’s History, 1962-76. But loosening control is the last thing that Xi Jinping has in mind. Since taking power in November 2012, he has pursued a crackdown on dissent and is centralising authority in a way not seen since Mao. At the same time, and in the lead-up to a crucial party congress at the end of 2017, he is trying to use his campaign against corruption to root out opponents and change the way that China works.

Some commentators have described it as a new Cultural Revolution, even though the attempt to impose draconian control from the centre under Xi hardly chimes with the Red Guards’ invocation to “storm the fortress” and destroy the centres of authority. Still, there are echoes of 50 years ago. In a speech published this month, the president denounced “careerists and conspirators” who were undermining party governance.

“We . . . must make a resolute response to eliminate the problem and deter further violations,” Xi added, in a tone that Chairman Mao might have used. The context changes but China’s leaders have always been adept at finding adversaries to be used to advance their own ends – though what happened under Mao should stand as a warning of where witch-hunting can lead.

Jonathan Fenby is the author of “Will China Dominate the 21st Century?” and “The Penguin History of Modern China”

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