If non-EU nationals have to earn £35,000 to work here, my sex life is over

People earning over £35,000 do not cavort with the abandon of those earning less.

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A friend emails me a petition to sign. This happens fairly often. No petitioner considers a petition valid until I have added my electronic John Hancock to it; indeed, the government threshold, if you look closely at the rubric, explicitly states that, of the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger the chance of a debate in parliament, “one must be that of the critic and columnist Nicholas Lezard”.

It is a heavy responsibility to bear, and right now I am busy agonising over whether Kanye West should record a tribute album to David Bowie. There are valid arguments on both sides, you see.

Actually, this petition (not the Kanye one) is important, and is about another threshold: that of the minimum £35,000 a non-EU citizen will need to earn before being allowed to work in the UK. It has been sent to me by, as it happens, a non-EU citizen, living in the UK and earning, I suspect, less than £35,000.

I declare an interest: I am very fond of non-EU citizens in the UK living on less than £35,000, or at least the ones I’ve met. I do have a problem, however, with non-EU citizens living in the UK who earn more than £100,000, which I admit is a more or less arbitrary figure, denoting the boundary of (in my mind at least) obscene wealth, or, put another way, more than enough to live on.

But I look on it as a no less arbitrary figure than £35,000, and what I’m doing with my figure is saying, “Steady on, don’t be greedy.” What the government is doing with its arbitrary figure is saying, “You have no right to exist in this country,” and I’m not even sure if what that means is, “We don’t give a shit about anyone earning less than £35,000 per annum whichever country they’re from, and frankly, even £35,000 is pretty shameful as salaries go.” Yes, we get the message, loud and clear. (That the government already breaks and will continue to break this rule when it comes to recruiting cheap labour for the NHS, for instance, does not seem to bother ministers.)

Well, as I said, I’m very fond of non-EU nationals earning less than £35,000 and living here. Indeed, they would seem to be fond of me, in more than one case inviting me to bed. In fact, I have slept with more non-EU nationals earning less than £35,000 than I have with women who were privately educated – and I am a product of the private education system in my own right (though I genuinely and deeply want private education to be abolished, root and branch, in this country, holding it to be the source of a huge amount that is wrong with it).

Sometimes I wonder why this should be. Two reasons: the first is that fewer women than men are educated privately. (The data is hard to come by, by which I mean I spent half an hour trying to tickle the exact figures out of Google, but got bored.) The second is that privately educated women are as appalling as privately educated men, and refuse to sleep with someone earning less than, say, £35,000 a year, or who want to abolish private education in this country, or who have a Z in their name and so are not properly English and may even have Jewish blood, which is unacceptable. (Let no one doubt for a second the way public schools in this country provide nourishing soil for such prejudice. I was reassured more than once, on school property, that while I may not be technically Jewish, I was “good enough for the ovens”.)

So I do a little thought experiment in which the proposed threshold has already come into force. I would not have met A, whom I introduced to the John Soane’s Museum and with whom I once went on a moonlit walk on Hampstead Heath, which is possibly the most romantic thing I have ever done. I would not have met ——, with whom I had what may well prove to be . . . Um, I think I’d better not finish that sentence. And —— would not have met ——, and married and produced their most excellent children. My own mother, it occurs to me, would have been barred. There are stories like these replicated all over the country. And this government, which seems to be on a mission to dream up at least two disgusting policies a day, would wish to extinguish the possibility of them happening again.

People earning over £35,000 do not cavort with each other with the abandon of those earning less. They weigh the options carefully and consider the consequences. In fact, I’m amazed that those who earn under £35,000 a year are even allowed to sign petitions.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 28 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Should Labour split?

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