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So you’d like to be a Politician?

Let’s all vote for Aunt Mildred

By: Chief Political Correspondent, ©2016 Laura Facebook. @Laurasweeplace


It starts at home, the desire.

Your Dad wants to kick all the foreigners out and put asylum seekers in concentration camps. Your Mum wants to hang TV licence-dodgers but thinks asylum seekers should get a fair crack of the whip. They both think social security benefits should be abolished. But they agree, HS2 is an expensive white elephant, and we should spend the money on bringing back National Service rather than on treating sick people in the NHS, who’ve brought their misfortunes on themselves

And there you are, deeply ashamed of your parents and having furious rows over the breakfast table that end with you storming off to your room and turning Rage Against the Machine’s latest free download up to 11.

At school, you’re bright and articulate, so they make you the House debating captain. You win a debate: This House Thinks Nelson Mandela Was the Greatest Human Being That Ever Lived! Clutching your three A-levels, off you go to University, where you join one of the student party political affiliates (not the Union – nobody is seen dead nowadays joining the Students’ Union) and the Debating Soc., where you meet Kevin, the love of your life.

Of course, you can’t join the Anarchists, or the Nationalists – their speakers have been deplatformed for having scary thoughts.

You’re doing a degree in Politics, or Economics, maybe English or History, in which case you’ll spend the next three years reading dozens of books and churning through online resources, writing gauche and poorly planned essays, attending lectures from top academics who’ve published actual books, suffering acute shyness through three hours of seminars a week; going on ‘boot camps’, arguing endlessly in pubs and taking part in debates.

At the end of your first and second years, you’ll be examined on your knowledge of the sources using your embryonic critical faculties; and in your final year, among myriad more essays, write an underresearched 12,000-word dissertation on the roots of women’s suffrage in C19th Bradford, and get a First.

In the long vac, you work as a volunteer at your local constituency association. You may be handing out flyers, making tea, delivering leaflets, stuffing envelopes, making tea, sending out emails and tweets, making tea, monitoring what’s trending. You may get to go around as a bag-carrier for the local MP on the stump, banging on doors and hearing why your MP is the biggest crook in Britain and the Bangladeshi family next door puts glass in the recycling.

So, there you are, a Politics graduate with a £50,000 debt to pay off. You could go on to do your Master’s degree, maybe study abroad for a year; that’ll be another £25,000 to find, but it’s vital experience in so many ways – or you could apply among thousands of others for an internship, working for a real politician at Westminster.

Say you manage to bag one. You’ll now be close to the Big Beasts of the political jungle – or maybe just a junior shadow minister or a humble backbencher. They all have sweaty, sweary offices of varying sizes in hard-to-find parts of the Palace, smelling like public-school of boiled cabbage and jockstraps, or spilling over into surrounding buildings.

You won’t be being paid, although you get travel and lunch expenses (might as well start as you mean to go on!), so you’ll live in a squat, a skip or somewhere while you learn the ropes: opening the post, making tea, stuffing envelopes (dutiful MPs do reply to those half-arsed online petitions by writing patiently back to serial protesters who get as far as adding their postcodes), answering phones, making tea and generally absorbing the febrile atmosphere of cut-and-thrust politics.

After six months of this, enlivened by the odd glimpse of Theresa May’s leopardskin Jimmy Choos clopping censorially down the corridor, leaving only a frown hanging in the air, the next step is to become a researcher.

This is what the Brightside website (‘the essential guide to careers, education and student life’) has to say about that: http://www.brightknowledge.org/knowledge-bank/social-sciences/careers-in-social-sciences/career-profile-parliamentary-researcher

Parliamentary researchers work for MPs. As the name suggests, a lot of their work involves research on a variety of topics, but they also:

  • write speeches, briefings and press releases
  • deal with letters from constituents
  • organize and attend meetings
  • monitor parliamentary business
  • manage other staff

Researchers spend most of their time in Westminster, but there will be some travel involved. They might sometimes have to work in the MP’s constituency, as well as attending party conferences, which take place in Autumn and Spring.

Researchers are also likely to have to work into the evening some of the time, since parliament sits as late as 10.30pm on Mondays.

From here, the brightest young stars may, having proved themselves capable and – more importantly – sound on party policy, be proposed by the organisers for the chance to stand for election, usually in an unwinnable constituency. Thus ‘listed’, they have to go through a rigorous selection process, run by a difficult clique of elderly local committee members.

Opportunities to stand for election for one of the established parties are rare – you may be stepping into a dead man’s shoes, or the sitting MP will have been encouraged to retire in advance of a General Election.You may be passed over for selection in favour of a completely useless man.

On the other hand, thanks to our archaic ‘first past the post’ voting, unless you are Boris Johnson there is little or nothing to be gained in a two-and-a-half party system from standing for any other party.

After two, three, five attempts, often in different parts of the country, if you’ve done as well as can be expected you may find yourself being nominated for a ‘safe seat’, one you really ought to be able to win (were it not for the minor difficulty that it’s not your party’s turn to get voted in and on top of the national swing away from you there’s a protest vote for UKIP in your constituency, that wipes out your majority before you’ve even opened your mouth to speak and lets your rival in!)

But at last, the Returning Officer announces that you’ve made it to Parliament, and the media circus enfolds you. Despite your years of making tea, it’s still all a mystery to be unravelled: alliances to be forged, tearooms and bars to be negotiated, people to be avoided or courted, obscure rules of etiquette to be obeyed, a maiden speech to be drafted, invitations to appear on Newsnight resisted. ‘Sitting as late as 10.30 on Mondays’ turns into sitting until 3 a.m. the rest of the week.

Although it’s expressly ruled out in the Bible, as a sitting MP you’ll be serving two masters: your constituents, and the Chief Whip. You now face five years perched on the floor of a crowded InterCity Virgin Pendolino train, toggling between your local constituency in some shuttered-up northern town, where you’ll be expected to live and educate your kids, if possible; and your overpriced bedsit in Pimlico, where you can’t be sure if you’re allowed to claim your TV on expenses or be crucified in the press. Your life reduced to the size of a laptop computer, you invest in a second mobile phone.

That expensive political education, when you were expected to think for yourself, now goes out of the window as you are brusquely shoved through the voting lobby in service of whatever half-baked policy the Cabinet Office has panicked-up in response to the latest headline in the Daily Mail. And your entire first year’s salary just neatly covers that student debt. But, you have your own office; your own intern: expenses! It’s just that it’s in the cellar and overrun with mice.

Your next step up the greasy pole is to become a PPS, a Parliamentary Private Secretary to a minister, or shadow minister. This is generally the route to becoming one yourself, eventually. Luckily, while reshuffles aren’t common, turnover among ministers is brisk, owing to the precarious nature of the business; rather like being the England football manager.

Your travel horizons now broaden out, as you’ll get to go on junkets to promote trade with Kyrgzystan and other places you’d never thought of visiting; you’ll still need to deal with the problem of glass in the neighbours’ recycling when you get back, while at the same time advising your minister on what to do about President Putin invading Poland. (This is where the degree comes in handy.)

Now you are a Minister of the Crown; your salary has increased to a princely £120 thousand a year, about one eightieth of the average salary of a FTSE-100 CEO who gets to go home at weekends. But you will be strongly advised by the readers of the Daily Mail not to accept it, as you are not really worthy of their hard-earned tax money at least until you have slashed the Disability Attendance Allowance to zero and forced some of the dead back to work.

Yes, your parents have become your constituents!

Promotion to one of the top offices means you have finally made it – Secretary of State, a team of smarmy, treacherous ministers under you, surreptitiously leaking to the press those Tweets you sent four years ago saying the new leader was a useless cretin and you thought Trident was an outdated military concept and a total waste of money, and now wish you hadn’t.

A top office can very soon lead on to top honours: a knighthood, the House of Lords (standing-room only) – membership of the Privy Council. And a lucrative revolving-door job to look forward to afterwards as a one-day-a-week consultant for Glaxo SmithKline or BAe will make up for some of the frustrations and disappointments with a decent honorarium.

The actual Prime Ministership however is out of your grasp, unless he has made a complete tit of himself by holding a hasty referendum on a complex issue nobody understands, but everyone thinks they do, and loses. Your colleagues are all variously flapping around looking immensely useless and/or culpable for the disaster; several have tripped over onto their swords, so it’s you who are dragged from hiding behind a curtain by the Praetorian Guard.

And there you stand, the PM at last, naked as the day you were born, hugging your Inner Intern at a hastily-erected lectern outside Number 10, trying desperately to think of anything to say that will unite the nation, end immigration at a stroke and frighten Mr Putin all at the same time.

Meanwhile, the press is more interested in speculating about what will happen to the Number 10 cat after the change of owner. Cats mean clickbait!

And the next day, as you book your trip to Washington to be instructed by the POTUS on your foreign and defence policies and not to oppose opening your domestic market to rapacious US corporations, you’ll still be expected to be on top of the vexed issue of glass in the neighbours’ recycling.

Yes, even the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is still a constituency MP, first and foremost.

So, to those angry, disappointed folk on your doorsteps, with your puzzled, thinning grey heads buried in the pages of the Daily Mail; you who like to claim along with Nigel Farage that our politicians have ‘never had a proper job in their lives’; unlike Farage, who, before he forged a career dishonestly drawing a generous salary and even more generous expenses from the very institution he is pledged to destroy, the European parliament, ‘worked’ in a ‘proper job’ as a ‘commodities broker’ (that’s someone who ensures third-world producers go hungry and consumers get fleeced, by rigging prices for his clients, the middlemen, to make their fortunes out of bulk shipping), I pose the question:

Would you rather the surgeon operating on your advanced neuro-blastoma had spent his apprenticeship and twenty or thirty years subsequently as a hod-carrier on a building site, or in a call-centre in Swansea? Is the girl or guy flying you and your kids and a bunch of drunks on a holiday charter to Torremolinos a better pilot for having first trained to fly a desk in the local JobCentrePlus?

So why do you expect your politicians to be, not expert politicians, but the assistant managers of building society branches, or the guy drinking tea who never answers the phone ringing behind the counter in Screwfix, or an Ofsted inspector, or the annoying Special Needs bloke operating the Stop-Go sign at the roadworks you’re stuck at?

Is it because you think ‘democracy’ means ‘rule by the masses’? Because it doesn’t.

Of course politics is a proper job!

UKIP. A shambolic, embryonic non-party born out of a generalised feeling of malcontent, a delusional belief that Aunt Mildred could do a better job of running ‘t country than someone who has spent thirty years actually learning how difficult it really is in the modern era; yes, Mildred’d regain control of our borders alright, she can knit a fence in a day.

Aren’t you possibly being a little silly to think this way?


Essay: Can you have ‘too many’ immigrants?

The migration of labour is as much subject to the law of supply and demand as any other area of the economy.

If there are jobs to fill, people will fill them.

If there are not enough native workers to fill jobs, people will be attracted to come from outside; benefiting both the immigrants, and the employers.

If there are not enough suitably qualified native workers, suitably qualified people will be attracted to come from outside, helping to maintain standards.

When there are enough workers to fill the jobs available, and enough suitably qualified people are in work, people will not be attracted to come from outside and will stop coming.

Faced with falling demand for labour, many migrants return to their home countries, or look to other countries where they can migrate to find work. Many native citizens also will be attracted to emigrate, to look for work in other countries.

It is a dynamic, not a static system, that operates as a natural response to economic cycles and local conditions.

In that sense, the idea that you can have ‘too many’ immigrants can only ever be true as a temporary state of surplus. The law of supply and demand in the labour market dictates that immigration must find its own level.

This basic principle has operated throughout the history of human economies.

Formerly, the driving force of migration was the pressure of population on agricultural land and the need to secure resources. The later growth of the production economy has made jobs the main driver of migration.

People will be attracted to areas of the global production economy where wages are higher and opportunities for advancement are greater than in their own countries. The growth of the consumer economy has made higher wages the subsidiary driver of migration.

The arguments put forward by people – many of them immigrants themselves – that there are ‘too many’ immigrants in Britain are based on two fallacies:

  • There must not be enough jobs to go round as there are people unemployed and therefore there is a surplus of immigrants.
  • The labour market is somehow static, so that immigrants who come to work never go home even when there is no demand for their labour.

The market requires a surplus pool of unemployed labour to function effectively. Surplus labour creates flexibility and introduces competition, raising standards.

Immigrants do settle, but we need to distinguish between different categories of migrant: the majority of migrants are transient workers, invited workers, students and tourists. Add to that, a virtually insignificant population of refugees seeking asylum; and a small number, perhaps a few thousand, of ‘illegals’ working in the Grey Economy.

In fact, each of these categories has its own niche in any economy. If there were no need of them, they would not migrate. Most successful countries in the world have a history of mixed immigration of this kind. Countries where there has been relatively little immigration over time are not among the world’s most successful economies.*

There is also a widespread and largely unchallenged belief that migration of labour has the effect of driving down wages for the native population.

This too is a fallacy. Migration is partly driven, as I have said, by the opportunity to earn higher wages in another country. Where migrants have to accept lower wages it is because employers are driving down wages; but they cannot do so to below the level of wages available in the migrants’ home countries or they will suffer a shortage of labour.

There is no evidence that unemployment in the native population is the result of ‘too much’ immigration. While the marginal price advantage enjoyed by immigrant workers may dissuade employers from taking on native workers, other factors such as willingness to do certain jobs and lack of suitably qualified candidates are more significant.

The well-intentioned imposition by Government of minimum wage levels that create a marginal benefit for inworkers has also helped to drive down wages to the minimum, making certain jobs less attractive to native workers with higher marginal costs.

Generally, as with any other area of the economy where the law of supply and demand operates, the price of labour is increased by scarcity and reduced by oversupply.

At the present time, while migrant numbers have increased, wages have also risen – by 2.4% in the year to July; 0.8% faster than the rate of inflation. This indicates that there is no oversupply of labour; in fact, it may be concluded that there are not enough immigrants!

And this is also shown by the continuing increase in the number of job vacancies at a time when unemployment is falling. In fact, unemployment has been continuously falling for the past seven years: another indication that there is no oversupply of labour in the jobs market.

Political attitude

The present position of the Labour party on the issue of immigration is a curious one. There is a split between the Parliamentary party and the rising membership, mainly of younger voters who support the leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn’s position on immigration is that he does not agree there are ‘too many’ immigrants, and does not wish to curb their numbers. In my view, this is the correct position.

How many immigrant workers have arrived, for instance, in Port Talbot, the town on the South Wales coast dominated by a giant steelworks whose future is under threat? Almost certainly none, as there is a closed community, no demand for labour and few possibilities of getting a permanent job. You would not go there.

But how many have arrived in London? That is where plentiful work is to be found; where semi-skilled labourers and service workers are prepared to endure Dickensian living conditions in order to obtain the benefits of marginal gains in income.

So the numbers of immigrants are self-regulating, controlled by the law of supply and demand, by local conditions, and by wages. There is no need for artificial quotas.

Mr Corbyn’s preferred policy is to move Government money into regions where high levels of immigration have put a strain on resources; to mitigate the effects on native populations. It is not a popular position even within his own party.

The parliamentary Labour party probably believes the same, that there are not ‘too many’ immigrants, but holds nonetheless to the view that the popular belief makes them unelectable, as the prevailing fallacy among mostly non-Labour voters in the country, who are in the majority, and whose swing votes are needed for Labour to regain power, is that there are too many immigrants.

They are therefore calling for a curb on immigration, even though they know it will have an adverse effect on the economy.

Why will they not instead try harder to inform the public of the truth? All the evidence points to the fact that migrant workers are in fact driving growth in the economy. Without them, the economy would flatline and many sectors such as health, care of the elderly, construction and transport would simply cease to function.

Economic facts, however, seem to be of little value to the majority of British voters, who find it easier to believe the narrative of sections of the media and of demagogic politicians, that immigrants are having an adverse effect on ‘our way of life’; whatever they mean by that.

What many people refer to is not ‘immigrants’, but ‘foreigners’. Much of the belief that there are ‘too many’ foreigners is emotional rather than factual, and is based on native insularity, protectionist tendencies and a false reading of history.

The media, too, has helped to perpetuate fallacies about immigration through their coverage of the ‘migrant crisis’ affecting parts of Europe and its presentation, often deliberate, as a threat of further excessive numbers of immigrants ‘invading’ Britain; although there is no evidence to date that they are.

Media presentation has helped also to create the myth of Europe as a dangerously dysfunctional entity ‘without borders’, open to all-comers; a manufactured narrative of a threat to Britain of being ‘swamped’ by surplus immigration, that in large part led to the ‘Leave’ vote in the EU referendum.

Everyone is an ‘economic migrant’ in one sense or another; we all locate ourselves where there is most opportunity to work and if possible earn a higher wage!

There may then be surplus immigrants in the sense that migrant workers often settle on a more permanent basis and are joined by economically unproductive relatives.

Settled migrants however will generally only import their relatives – a process quite strictly governed by the rules of the State – when it is economically feasible to support them.

It does not make sense to increase your costs in this way when there is a marginal economic benefit to be gained from repatriating your surplus wages to your relatives in your home country.

The idea that such ‘surplus’ immigrants are eating native taxpayers’ money by claiming benefits for no work is common, and popular. It should therefore be regarded with the greatest suspicion.

There is little evidence for ‘benefit tourism’. Anyone who has ever applied for benefits, whether in- or out-of-work, will know that lengthy, detailed and intrusive means-testing is the norm, creating a net through which very few who are not entitled to claim will pass.

Many people go along with the slogan of anti-immigrant populist politicians, that we have ‘lost control of our borders’. I have blogged previously that this is simple rhetoric. In what sense have we ‘lost control’? Only if you believe the fallacy that there are ‘too many’ immigrants!

It is a self-sustaining myth: the politicians are relying on the popular fallacy that there are ‘too many’ immigrants to make the idea that we have ‘lost control’ seem sensible, when it isn’t even true.

The idea of ‘losing control’ is obviously a powerful meme, playing on people’s natural fears of being ‘swamped’ or overwhelmed by external forces that they may not understand, over which they have no control.

Driven by insecurity and climate-change, so-called ‘economic migrants’ for instance have been moving northwards in great numbers out of the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region to seek work in Europe, and have found themselves mixed with refugees from war and insurrection in the Middle East and Libya. This apparent ‘threat’ to European stability has played into the hands of Eurosceptic populists.

The recent narrow popular vote in favour of leaving the European Union, with its core ‘Freedom of Movement’ charter, seems to have given some irrational elements the idea that they have permission to drive immigrants out of their neighbourhoods by violence. The country’s hostile attitude to immigration has been whipped up by some sections of the press and opportunistic demagogic politicians.

In fact, control is already built into the law of supply and demand, which states that immigration must find its own level.

Convincing people of the sense of this counter-emotional economic argument in favour of even higher levels of immigration at a time of rising demand for labour and an ageing native population is vital, both for the sustained growth of the economy and the security of the country.

*Japan may be suggested as a country where there has been little immigration but economic success. This was true up until the 2000s and the rise of the Chinese and Korean economies. But Japanese success was not built on innovation. “For most of the 1990s, Japan was the second richest large economy in the world—richer than Canada, Britain, Germany, France and Italy. It is now poorer than all of those economies except for Italy.”



Why the Bad Guys are winning

A four-year-old boy in nursery school draws a crude picture which his mother says is of his father cutting up a cucumber in the kitchen with a large knife. On another page are some abstract scribbles in orange crayon.

What’s this? Asks a kindly nursery assistant in a video clip, brandishing an actual cucumber.

‘A cucurbum’ replies the nervous small one.

OMG! Consternation. Authorities must be informed, police called; the boy is threatened with referral to a de-radicalisation programme; the mother is hauled up for questioning; many agencies are involved, veiled threats are made to take the woman’s children into care.

Oh, sorry, after lengthy explanations, we thought he said ‘a cooker bomb’! #wrysmile. (Only, there’s been no ‘sorry’.) (Guardian report, 29 September)

Weirdly, the picture bore no resemblance whatever to ‘a cooker bomb’. It was all in the frenzied imaginations of a terrorised group of slightly dimwitted nursery assistants and council staff, none of whom to this day believe they did anything wrong, other than to terrify a small child and his family.

After all, they are protecting our streets from four-year-olds armed with garden vine-fruit.

And then there was the primary schoolboy who, when asked in class where he lived, replied ‘A terrorist house’.

Resulting in all hell breaking loose.

Oh, sorry, hours later – you meant a ‘terraced house’! Silly us! #wrysmile.

In all, 19 children below the age of criminal responsibility were referred for questioning to panels empowered to force them to shop their parents and siblings to the plod, and undertake de-radicalisation programmes last year. A tiny number, compared with the unfolding social disaster of these programmes, designed by well-meaning ‘experts’ who don’t really have a clue what to do.

All over the country, teachers are being asked to carry out covert surveillance on the attitudes, speech and behaviour of Muslim pupils; even in class debates, any propensity to test-out ideas or question orthodoxies is being regarded with the utmost fearful suspicion.

Is it any wonder some resentful teenagers are becoming driven in on themselves, ripe for radicalisation? It’s us who’re doing it to them!

Added to sometimes over-authoritarian parenting at home, the nervous ultra-conservatism of the immigrant, this secondary layer of excessive paternalism pushed on them by the State is not offering them any alternative way to develop.

The lunacy of teachers who report small children for totally innocent ‘signs’ that they are being radicalised at home results from the fact that they have themselves been threatened with prison if they fail to report even the slightest mistaken image or phrase encountered in the nursery or the classroom, should anything go wrong. It’s an umbrella programme called ‘Channel’. (What sadist thinks up these sinister names?)

This is totalitarianism beyond anything we have experienced since the Second World War. But it’s not just in the nursery we imagine we can predict future criminal tendencies: psychologists, it’s reported, are expressing profound misgivings over the pseudo-science behind predictive tests linked to adult de-radicalisation programmes in prisons.

It appears the ‘tests’ were produced by prison-service staff on the basis of just twenty random interviews with Muslim prisoners convicted of terrorist affiliations (most refused to cooperate), and have never been subjected to peer-review in scientific publications, as they are officially ‘secret’.

Actually, say the psychologists, they are probably just bollocks; like those online tests you take to see if you’re autistic, or compatible – whatever.

I’ve blogged a couple of times about the self-styled ‘paedophilia expert’, Texan ‘Dr’ Joe Sullivan, who makes a living going around the world training police forces in how to spot potential paedophiles in advance of them offending from the clothes they wear, and ‘certain tattoos’.

While not wishing to detract from the seriousness of the endeavour, and the underlying problem, I mean, come on! Of course, you can tell a witch by whether or not they own a cat and if they float when you chuck them in the lake.

This stuff is as bad as the early days of predictive text on your phone; or the voice recognition software that, when I first encountered it fifteen years ago, kept assuming I was hoping to book tickets for a show in ‘Chelmsford’ because it had no reference to the large and agreeable Regency town of ‘Cheltenham’, 100 miles away, where I lived.

It’s baloney!

And all this Stasi-style surveillance, known as the ‘Prevent’ strategy, is seemingly being directed solely at Muslim families desperate to find some point of integration within British society.

What a disastrous failure of the imagination this represents; an inadequate and inappropriate, unresearched response, dependant on poorly trained amateur detectives; a sign of panic and confusion at the top; of an increasingly paranoid and fearful public.

I’m not sure we really are like that, though, are you?

When the bad guys don’t even have to explode a cucumber to sow fear and division, it means they’re winning. We have to be able to do better than this.




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