I had intended to write something about animation today, but Farage presides over a UKIP conference as I write and the BBC ran a frankly scurrilous article in their web-edition about the scoundrel Palaiokostas this week. Both characters call for comment.
I think Farage gets a raw deal in the press. The impression is given that he is a racist , a sort of “BNP light”. This seems to be so wide of the mark as to be laughable, but the image somehow has stuck as nasty images tend to: do people not realise his wife is a foreigner?? Nevertheless, the image was not helped by a poster campaign during the last election, which led the Telegraph to say, “UKIP are not the fascist foot soldiers of the BNP. They’re worse.” The poster campaign called on voters to “Take back control” and nothing wrong with that. Indeed, the conservatives have been calling for the same thing- and for far longer! The tag line on the poster, which showed a finger pointing a la Kitchener, reads, “26 Million people in Europe and looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?” The problem is that this is a catchy question that does not really reflect reality. There are no British builders or stock-market analysts on the street, and despite the jokes, precious few european plumbers who have actually stolen british jobs. The miserable fact is that alot of British people don’t want the jobs that are routinely taken on by Romanians and Poles. A case in point would be the seasonal vegetable-picking in Lincolnshire which is now threatened because many of the temporary foreign workers have stopped coming, and the local Brits simply do not have the stamina or the will to pick peas in the frost. (think of Tess of the D’Urbervilles picking potatoes on the hillside after she gets dumped by Angel. No one seems willing to do this any more. It is still a part of our agricultural livelihood) A recent report from the NFU said that unemployed Brits were unwilling to get up at 6am. This is what the leader of the Framers’ union, Meurig Raymond, said, “The whole work ethic and discipline that is required with harvest work needs to be improved a lot in parts of the British workforce. It’s the benefits system and years of inactivity. They will do it for a few days, but they won’t continually stick at it. A lot of farmers are not going to plant next year’s crops if they are concerned they are not going [have the workers to] harvest them. It’s a huge conundrum.” That is quite a threat.
Expulsions and deals
The days of illegal foreign workers are largely over. Films in 2002 like “Dirty Pretty Things” exposed what had been happening in cheap hotels and at about the same time, the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett expelled 6000 undocumented migrants. Meanwhile, seasonal agricultural work relied heavily on illegal workers. They may have been illegal, but they were reliable, hard-working, flexible and cheap. More recently, a scheme that helped migrant workers exactly like these to secure legal jobs -and pay tax- working the land has been closed. Instead of singing in the streets because we have closed an immigrant loophole, we should, instead, be worrying about the loss of British jobs and the rise in the cost of home-grown vegetables and produce. Because the sorry reality is that without these workers, we cannot harvest what we have grown and farmers and farm-linked industry will go out of business. This has led to calls from the National Farmers’ Union and threats by local farmers to stop growing vegetables that are difficult to pick. If farmers stop growing stuff, we risk losing all the British jobs that are currently there to support that industry.
So, the 21,250 Romanians and Bulgarians that came to the UK every year under the scheme for a maximum of 6 months will no longer be coming. This scheme provided 1/3 of our current agricultural workforce. Instead, these same people can now look for longer-term employment as fully-fledged members in their own right of the EU. They no longer need this scheme to come here. The NFU had appealed, instead, to the government to extend the scheme to cover Turkey, Russia and the Ukraine, or to target students outside the EU, but insisting their immigration policy was sound, the whole scheme has been scrapped by the current Government.
This is madness. The immigration minister, Mark Harper, said about this, “Our view is that, at a time of unemployment in the UK and European Union there should be sufficient workers from within those labour markets to meet the needs of the horticultural industry.” But he is living in cloud-cuckoo land.
Harper got into trouble for suggesting that many disabled people were shamming, and lazy. Then he was discovered to have employed an unregistered immigrant.
Whoops! We might think of Hamlet!
For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petard, an’t shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon. 3.4
So, in a year when there have been bumper harvests in grain and brassica, there is every chance that next year Lincolnshire farmers will be producing less; we may even see the return of fallow land. We have come a long way from the self-sufficiency of the war years. UK prices have tended to rise above those in the EU and abroad, meaning that cheaper foreign food makes it into the supermarkets and on to our tables. The last 10 years, for example, have seen a 20% decrease in consumer demand for British vegetables. At greatest risk are things like cauliflowers, runner beans and pears. A shame, because I like pears, and not the huge imported pears, but the little British ones! A fear of genetically modified crops and the ban on pesticides, without providing a suitable and equivalent way to control and protect our crops has also had a catastrophic effect. Farmers in Brazil and Paraguay are not constrained by these rules and are doing much better. It’s not that we need to follow what the farmers are doing in South America – it’s that we need to stop bashing the people who are trying to do an honest job here in the UK.
I cannot understand how any Conservative government can preside over schemes to limit business by some bureaucratic bluster about immigration, or by some geographical boundary. Business thrives on merit and fair competition. If we need the best, we get it no matter where it might be.
This brings me to Mr Farage and the CAP, or Common Agricultural Policy. In simplistic terms, the UK pours £18bn into the CAP fund and takes rather a small handout while in contrast France contributes relatively little and takes alot. This seems unfair. But is it then appropriate to scrap the CAP and duck out of the EU? Actually, for all our griping, we depend quite a bit on EU funding. Without the EU subsidies, framers would be entirely at the mercy of the supermarket chains, and our farms are simply not up to that challenge. Also, the EU invests in the wider Rural economy.
The UKIP position on the EU is that our links with Europe would continue after we left, for the simple fact that the British market demands it. We buy more from the EU than they buy from us. “We should run our own country and our own agriculture,” says Farage. But our agriculture is in shreds from years of Brussels’ bullying and mismanagement. To add to the misery, we have shot ourselves in our bucolic foot to satisfy the media’s anti-immigration lobby. If we want to pull out of the EU, whether we wave a Conservative flag or a UKIP one, we need to get our farmers working effectively first!
But there is more than just preparation. The thorny issue remains immigration, and all the current parties assume the same solution – to close the door, or add a turnstyle. The problem with immigration is that people have become obsessed with numbers and have forgotten that they are really talking about people- and people who for the most part came here to work, bringing skills we no longer have, and need. It is not always easy to determine what you do not have, so blustering about arranging immigration to fill the “gaps” does not work. We have to change our way of looking at this issue completely.
To counter the threat of immigration, we need to think differently. We need to think less of letting people into the Uk and more of making sure that such people use their time here wisely while they are here, pay tax, learn english. Labour, we are told “oversaw the fastest and largest wave of immigration in this country’s history” but the Conservatives have not really changed this and both have focused on number-counting and bureaucracy, attacking those people who are documented rather than seeking those who are not. My great concern is that students, the most well-documented of the lot, face a misery of visa demands when many would happily pay a bond to stay here without the fuss for the duration of their academic career, and most plan to return home to take the skills they have acquired here back to their own country anyway. They face that visa- misery incidentally because they are well-documented and they are an easy target for a lazy inflated bureaucracy. What is needed are immigrants who will work hard and contribute to our society. If we give them a good example too, we will know that when they return home, they will take our values with them. This was the old theory of the Raj when we had a much more open-door approach and far less abuse, as well as far less resentment than we see today. A nice example of how the UKIP approach is distorted was a report in the Huffington post that wanted to see hypocrisy in the employment of East European canvassers who were working for a firm called “Fast leaflet” and who were caught delivering UKIP literature during the European elections. But, the fact is that these three east Europeans were working hard. I have delivered leaflets. I know how hard a job it can be! What is needed is a different perspective on the “problem”. Ideally jobs would be given to people in the UK, but if that is not possible, then it seems absurd that I should be constrained to offer the same job only to people in the EU. Why not offer it to people from Turkey or Russia who might be better qualified, or even to members of the Commonwealth to whom we really owe a great deal more, and with whom we share so much common history, though currently these people are geographically and politically challenged by their exclusion from the EU club. National borders do not make good business sense: instead, we should offer a job to the best person available, whatever background that may involve. Merit and excellence are the only way to ensure success. As for immigration control, what we need are less pen-pushers and more front-line security staff.
Parallels with school policy in the 1970s
The calls to throw immigrants out of the UK is a negative knee-jerk response and appeals to the baser elements in our society. Also, be in no doubt that it will lead to racism, if it is not racist in its basic call. It parallels the knee-jerk baying of the labour party in the 70s, that called for the destruction of the English Public school system in the belief that such destruction would bring equality, eradicate the class system and lead to an improvement in standard state education. The destruction of the Grammar school was the beginning of this negative crusade and we are still suffering the effects of this today. Comprehensive education has meant dumbing down in general, whatever social benefits it might offer in terms of integration… and that, only when it works as well as it can! Thankfully wiser minds have prevailed and today we are beginning to see a softening of the boundaries between the private and State sectors and the reintroduction of “selection”. A negative does not automatically usher in a corresponding positive. In all likelihood, destruction brings more destruction as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. What we need now is care and control. Not necessarily a knee jerk response, but considered action. Unfortunately, as we stand at the moment, Brussels does not allow us either care, or control, and this is not a UK problem alone. Most European countries realise we are in a muddle- too many people milking the system and not enough contributing. Back to simple farming imagery. You cannot have milk without a decent herd. A herd of cattle needs proper controls. I hesitate to use the term “cowboy” but if we do away with the fences, we are left with cowboys!
Greece and the BBC
Now, a few days ago, there was a lengthy article on the BBC website about Palaiokostas. This is a man who has been in and out of gaol, notably the infamous Korydallos Prison from which he escaped twice by helicopter and continued to live the life of Riley on the run, with an Albanian sidekick, Alket Rizai, robbing occasional banks, kidnapping industrialists and donating some of the money to the poor. The BBC played up the Robin Hood image but I think it needs to be checked. A man who robs you at gunpoint is still a frightening criminal and certainly to the bank clerk who is threatened. The bottom line to this surely is that “a thug is a thug”, and I have never had much time for Robin Hood.