Monday, 1 July 2019

Beware the Brexit dogwhistles

Whenever a politician utters the words "Australian points based system" you know you're dealing with someone who has given the matter of immigration no thought whatsoever. Immigration, like any other policy area, is complicated and multifaceted. It's not as simple as checking papers at the borders.

Most illegal immigration in the UK comes in the form of visa overstays which means you need effective behind the border controls and decent detection systems. By placing onerous burdens on legitimate applicants you end up seeing less of the immigration you do want and more of the immigration you don't. You need a full spectrum of integrated policies where social services, GPs and environmental health officers are every bit as important as the border patrol in executing a workable policy.

This is actually where cuts to councils have caused serious problems. Councils no longer respond to noise complaints as seriously as they once did, which was part of a system of community intelligence gathering. Where you find antisocial behaviour, you find other forms of lawbreaking, including immigration laws. Decent enforcement of any policy starts and ends with local knowledge.

Then there's the old trope of slashing foreign aid. This is always a vote winner when chasing the hang em and flog em vote. Foreign aid, though, is a policy instrument. Its usefulness cannot be dismissed on the basis of some of the more egregious failures reported in tabloids.

For starters, if you want to address mass migration, as much as you have to look at the pull factors, you also have to look at the push factors, where as much as war and famine are major drivers, there is also the economic incentive. Our long term goal, therefore, should be international development and the expansion of trade so that those would would ordinarily migrate can find a living where they are.

This is where DfID has a vital role in supporting our trade policy where economic partnership agreements are every bit as important as Free Trade Agreements, and an important pillar in our soft power apparatus. Projects ranging from standards development, installation of mobile networks, road building and port dredging all play a part and provide lucrative opportunities for British services exports. As regular readers know, this is something I can speak about at length. It's one of the more interesting areas in trade policy even though it is overlooked and underestimated.

The UK is also at the forefront in a number of critical aid projects in combating crop blights - the kind that can cause famine and subsequently more migration. UK universities are extensively involved in helping to increase crop yields which also gives our own research enterprises the edge in that the intellectual property is quite lucrative.

Anyone can dig into the policy tombola and pull out a pleasing idea but modern governance is intricate, overlapping and very often requires formal cooperation through the respective international organisations like the FAO and WHO.

Of course, to the demagogue, none of this matters. It's all about vote grubbing so the lazy and superficial very often suffices. This, though, is perhaps why the Brexit Party has not made much headway. If you're pleasing the hang em and flog em brigade then chances are you're not pleasing anyone else. Populism isn't actually popular enough. It plays well with the home crowd, but it's never going to sweep them into power.

Of course, the case for foreign aid is undermined by the progressive left who don't see it as a precision instrument to be wielded in the national interest. Rather they see it as a slush fund for virtue signalling, firehosing cash at all manner of dubious causes from climate propaganda through to bailing out the Palestinians without asking for receipts. Until that stops, foreign aid will continue to be in the crosshairs.

But then as anyone who works in the sector will tell you, waste goes with the territory in that much of what is done is wholly speculative and the results are often mixed with no instant gratification. Many projects are working toward long term objectives. Arguably there is a lack of public oversight which makes DfID a cosy nest for a certain type of do-gooder who thinks DfID is and should be just another Oxfam type NGO. This is why there is an argument for it to be rolled up into the department of trade or the foreign office and make economic partnership agreements a central pillar of our trade strategy.

Without considered long term strategies anyone grunting slogans along the line of "slash foreign aid" or "Australian points based system" is someone who simply doesn't have policies. Slogans are not policies. This, though, is all that the Farage brigade is capable of. Though the Brexit Party is supposedly a new party, it's mostly the same people pushing the same old agendas. When it comes to actual policy the cupboard is bare.

That of itself is telling. The Brexiters have been so absorbed with leaving the EU for so long, they have no idea what they would actually do with that new found sovereignty or even what they would do differently. Instead, all they have is populist placeholders which would do little to save money, nothing at all to advance our international standing and do virtually nothing to curb immigration.

You would think that a party seeking power would have an idea what it wants and how to do it - but that's not how politics works anymore. Instead, politics is just about filling parliament with "our sort" as though a fresh batch of of intellectually subnormal grunters would be any better than the last. It still doesn't solve the central problem that you have a congregation of idiots fed into the Westminster machine and entrusted to make decisions in our name. Because it's a party system requiring conformity to narrative, it's only ever going to attract weirdos, social climbers and crooks. If you are at all a thinker, party politics is not for you.

Plenty of essays have been written in recent times how both the Tories and Labour are easily captured husks, detatched from their founding ideals, which is partly why they have both been appropriated by their lunatic fringes. These extremes run on dogma and emotion rather than vision and purpose. The same is true of Ukip 2.0. It was once a liberal enterprise with bigger ambitions for Britain but as Farage steered it on to the rocks of the immigration issue, it has now become a generic sceptical for right wing grievances incapable of filling the intellectual void. There is now no force in British politics with an intellectual foundation. Until that is remedied and we rediscover what the word policy actually means, our politics will continue to limp along without direction and not a clue between them.

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