Wednesday, 9 November 2011
Hell Is Other People
The row of the week over the excess of comings over goings that have embroiled the Home Secretary, the former head of the Border Agency and others ought to be instructive for a number of reasons because it features so many of weaknesses and insanities of our present ways of government.
The special weakness is because of the media need for simplicity and to have issues put into slots and the equal need for politicians to deal with only one thing at a time because that is all they are able to do results in separation of related issues.
In fact it is all much more complex and is interwoven with a number of current other questions that are demanding attention. They may seem to be separate but they are not. The consequence is that what should be a seminar turns into something more like a student riot.
If you look at the question of airport capacity, hubs etc., the need for airlines to stay in business, the tourist industry, the higher education industry, employment policy, the benefits system and Europe, they all affect migration matters. We do not plough much money into real research, only into retailing recent history together with ideas and assumptions from the past.
For airlines to function, stay solvent and even grow they need passengers and airports. The more people they can put into aircraft and the more that can be moved cheaply through facilities designed for mass transport the happier they are.
As this is associated with top business people, but also families, ordinary working needs, with persuading large numbers that a holiday must entail flights and that the beaches furthest away are the most desirable it creates a large market. Moreover, all these people on landing in the UK want to be on their way as soon as possible.
This creates major political imperatives to subsidise airports and flying and in particular ensure easy mass transit at public expense on the ground and other communications. So the numbers become very large. When I walk along the road to town the vapour trails tell me that in the few minutes it takes there are thousands of people up there above me.
In the era of cheap oil and with the growth of mass air transport the idea that the tourist industry is a good thing has been an easy get out for trying to plan economic activity for many places. Clearly, those that are sandbars in the ocean unable to either grow or make anything will not be able to support more people without money coming in and being spent if the population can increase.
Most people in the UK have bought into the notion that tourism is essential to the economy and not simply an add on for quaint places and less populated areas. Because so many of us go to places which exist only by tourism it is easy to assume that it might be a good thing for us.
Similarly, the belief that any higher education is good so long as it is post 18 and attracts students has created a large sector for that purpose. This has gone beyond the point where the taxpayer can stand the racket, which leads to awkward choices. One is that the UK students might pay more another is to market UK provision to overseas students as desirable.
Clearly if large numbers of people are being invited in because we want or have come to need their money and some decide to stay it is not only inevitable but somehow seems unkind to insist on throwing them out once they have put in a lot of cash to keep us going.
Many foreign students are from nations with surplus males and their piece of paper will buy them at home only middling clerical work at best at local incomes. They will often have a single life in a corner in a crowded home somewhere where white collar jobs are short in supply. Little wonder that they like to stay in the UK, draw benefits when needed and can live free from the restraints of the home cultures.
Around a decade ago when at a meeting discussing the world environment the speaker talked about the “footprints” of major urban areas to indicate how much of the world’s resources were required to keep this city conglomeration or that alive. The subtext was that the uncontrolled growth of many areas was not sustainable.
There was one man who popped up to comment, one of the Prime Minister’s close advisers to declare that UK immigration should be unlimited and there should be no restrictions for all sorts of worthy reasons. That the UK has a large number of urban areas did not worry him, it would all take care of itself.
Later we had major reorganisations of government departments and a lot of work was devolved from the civil service to agencies of all descriptions. Many of these seem to be exercising power without responsibility so if the Borders Agency is doing the same it would be nothing new.
As the heads of so many of these bodies at present were appointed by the previous government then this will not help to try to brings things back together again.
Then there is Europe and the power we have handed to it and the added difficulties of trying to manage to deal with their policies and decisions. These have brought additional large numbers into the UK in recent years, substantially in the lower income levels.
Apparently, there has been a flood of Greek money into London in the past few months taking advantage of our arrangements for the better off to rescue their finances from the disaster to come. It is likely that we may have numbers of Greeks coming in to join those already here to follow the money.
Quite the worst event if international finances deteriorate will be the mass migration that the UK government and especially the opposition do not want to see. It is all those older UK citizens who went away to sunnier climates in the last couple of decades returning spent up, homeless and angry.
Will we welcome them in the same way that we do the tourists, the students and the financiers?