I've just finished listening to this week's edition of Radio 4's current affairs panel discussion programme "Any Questions?"
As ever with these things, there's much more heat than light, especially when the more politically skillful members of the panel jerk the audience's chain, as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (on migration) knows how. This bout was recorded at Keele University and students are more likely to applaud generous impulses, since they are not yet faced with the practicalities of paying for them as well as supporting themselves and their families. Which is why Harold Wilson reduced the voting age to 18.
It seems to me that UKIP, here represented unofficially by Christine Hamilton, who did her best but is perhaps too straightforward to wrestle with weasels, still has something to learn in how to present its policies.
1. A referendum on Europe: it's a democracy issue.
Debate on this is usually misdirected into claims about the supposed danger to British jobs etc if we left the EU. Every point made against withdrawal should be turned back with the comment:
"What you are saying should be part of the debate the country should have in a referendum campaign. Let the people decide. It's all very well for us to rush into the Middle East and destabilise their regimes in the name of democracy, yet when it comes to our own country, suddenly you think the people should have no say at all in who ultimately governs them. If you're right, then the people will vote your way. Do you really believe in democracy, or are you afraid of it?"
2. Immigration: the need to distinguish between asylum and economic immigration.
This debate is swiftly twisted into accusations of insularity and racism. Seal off that tactic fast by saying that in genuine asylum cases, there's no objection. Then the word "economic" needs to be introduced, early and repeatedly. Economic immigration is subject to economic arguments.
If low-paid labourers are brought into this country, then it is unlikely that the taxes they pay will be enough to fund the social benefits (education, health etc) to which they and their families will rightly be entitled (it's a disgrace to suggest that we should deny them such benefits, as the Tories have proposed).
And then there are the other people who stay unemployed, underemployed or underpaid because of economic immigration. The more of them there are, the more it's going to cost us. The net effect is a permanent imbalance in government finances and the country is going to get deeper in debt. It's an economic issue.
If we want to spend money on the low-paid, we'd do better to spend it on training and rehabilitating the people here who should be in full-time, reasonably-paid work.
And we need businesses that will employ them. Where are the politicians who should have defended our economically vital enterprises? Here in Birmingham, we've lost HP Sauce to the Dutch, Cadbury's chocolate to the Americans and less said about what happened to our car plant the better.
Too many professional politicians don't have a clue about economics. The banks turned on the taps, and instead of investing directly into British businesses, we poured billions of private money into raising prices in the housing market and speculating on share prices. The people who work for banks made out like bandits. Then the system crashed and now we're pouring billions of public money into the banks, and many of the bandits are still there.
Maybe some think that the battle is lost already and we're busted. But if they think it's inevitable that the country's going to get poorer, why bring in even more poor people?
This is happening at a time when there is increasing economic inequality in this country, and that's partly because of wages being held down by making workers compete desperately with each other, both here and with their counterparts in other countries that don't have to pay our welfare costs.
We're not getting this point across in political circles, because the Left sees the poor as their natural voters and the Right is happy to depress wages to maintain corporate profits and executive bonuses. We're not "all in it together"; but they are.
But it's going to unravel, anyway. As a portion of the population draws away from the rest in wealth and income, they will be less and less inclined to pay for everyone else. At one level, there will be the tax avoiders - look how broadcasting and football stars organize their finances to pay as little tax as possible - and at a higher level there will be the tax refugees: Monaco has become a Tower Hamlets for billionaires. The Tax Justice Network may find the trillions in cash that has fled offshore, but good luck with calling it back.
So the people who will pay will be the people who don't earn enough to pay for clever schemes to avoid the taxman, and aren't rich enough to leave the country. The income of the middle class will be sweated, and by printing money to cover its own debt the government will steal the spending value of middle class savings.
And the poor will be ground down further as the money dries up. Already they're having their benefit cut if there's a spare bedroom in the house, and children with learning disabilities are finding it more difficult to get funding for transport to take them to school. It's hard at the bottom end, and getting harder.
Economic immigration is an economic issue. Let those who are for it explain how it will benefit the country as a whole, not just some business owners and some calculating politicians.
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