Monday, 1 December 2014

The Idiocy of Tory Immigration Policy

Tory policy on immigration is idiotic. It has now forced David Cameron into a position where he is increasingly backed into a corner of having to argue for Britain to leave the EU, but it is also making Britain into a pariah state as far as the rest of the EU is concerned. The positions being adopted are not defensible.

In his speech, last week, Cameron argued that any EU citizen, coming to Britain, would have to pay tax and National Insurance contributions, for four years, before they were entitled to any in work benefits. Think about the logic of that. National Insurance is supposed to be what it says – insurance. What other kind of insurance is there where you pay your insurance premiums, but are not then entitled to claim under the insurance policy? If people could only claim, from say a car insurance policy, after they had paid more in premiums than they needed to claim, following an accident, there would be very few people who would think that this was reasonable. Yet, that is exactly what the Tories are now proposing. If you want to encourage people not to pay insurance premiums, and to operate illegally, the fastest way of achieving that is to tell them that they cannot even claim against their insurance policy having paid into it!

In the past, such changes have been a means of introducing further restrictions on the ability to claim these benefits by UK citizens. That has to be the case, otherwise, it means that Britain would be discriminating against other EU citizens living and working in Britain. That directly contradicts the principle of a single market. According to the euroseptics, what they really object to is not the idea of a single market, but the political aspects of the EU. That is dishonest, because its impossible to have a single market, without at least political agreements that enforce a set of common rules for that market. A basic requirement of a single market is that the same rules should apply throughout it, but Cameron's proposal amounts not just to different rules, in one part of the market compared to another, but different rules, for some participants, in that market, compared to the rules, applied to others, not just in that market, but even in the same workplace!

Over the last 40 years, the process has been to bring about such a single market by harmonising many of those rules, to create such a level playing field. It has been done by reciprocal tax and benefit regulations between EU countries. The Tories are making Britain a pariah in that context, because, the necessary corollary of these changes will be that other EU countries will impose similar restrictions on Britons working and living in their countries.

The consequence will necessarily mean that existing single markets will be broken apart; participants in each national market will seek various forms of protection, against competition from other national markets, be they lower rates of taxation, the lifting of regulations over health and safety and workers rights, or outright import restrictions; this economic nationalism will fuel nationalistic ideology even further, so that the same kind of process, of increasing division and fragmentation, seen after the introduction of devolution in Scotland, will intensify; the logical conclusion, especially when global economic crises occur, will then be for that economic nationalism to spill over into political nationalism, trade wars turning into shooting wars, as happened, for example with the Cod Wars between the UK and Iceland in the 1970's.  In other words, it is to set in place the same kind of trajectory that was established in the period ahead of World War I.

For example, Cameron has argued that EU citizens who have not found employment in Britain after six months should be deported. Besides the fact that this is a crazy notion that would require literally tens of millions of pounds to try to enforce, for very little saving, given that most EU citizens, who come to Britain, do so to work, it must also instil panic in the minds of all those Britons who have retired to Spain, Portugal, Italy France etc. All of them could, therefore, be equally told to leave by the governments of those countries, in a tit-for-tat response to the mean spirited attitude of the Tories.

After all, every UK citizen, over retirement age, in accord with those reciprocal arrangements cited above, gets free health and social care in Spain and other EU countries, to the same standard as their own nationals. If Spaniards are told, by the British government, to leave, because they have not found a job, or are told that, despite paying UK taxes and national insurance, they cannot claim the benefits that insurance is supposed to cover, why would not Spain equally ask Britons to leave Spain, why would not Spain insist that Britons living in Spain, had to pay for their healthcare rather than it being provided free by the Spanish state?

There is a very good argument for getting rid of in-work benefits that would remove this problem. The system of in-work benefits is bureaucratic and costly, and acts to subsidise cheapskate, poorly paying employers. If all of these in-work benefits were scrapped, and replaced with a minimum wage that was high enough to cover all of the expenses of the average worker, then not only would this save all workers a considerable amount in tax, but it would remove the issue about foreign workers being paid in-work benefits out of the taxes of British workers.

Another of Cameron's idiotic proposals is that EU workers, working in Britain, will not be able to send child benefits back home to cover their living expenses. Yet, we are told that one of the major objections against immigration is that it places burdens on the UK health and education services. Surely less burden is placed on those services if migrant workers children continue to live, be educated, etc. back home, rather than take up room in British schools and so on.

But, why should not migrant workers be able to claim such benefits for their children, wherever they are living, if those workers are paying tax and national insurance to be able to receive them. The corollary of Cameron's proposal is surely that British workers, who go to work in some other EU country, and who, therefore, are not paying tax to the British government, should also not be able to claim child benefits for their children living in Britain. On what basis is it fair that a Polish worker paying tax to the British government cannot claim child benefit from the British state, but a British worker who is not paying tax to the British government, and may indeed be paying tax to the Polish government, can claim child benefit from the British government?

If all EU governments adopted such a cock-eyed proposal it would mean that migrant workers could not rationally claim child benefit at all, because it would be denied to them by the host government on the basis that Cameron is proposing, and would be denied them by their own government, because they were not paying tax to it, and so had no right to claim benefits from it! This already applies to a certain extent in that if you are out of the country for more than three months, you lose your right to free treatment on the NHS.

The real answer to all of these arguments is to truly have a single market across the EU, which requires that market to have also a single currency, a single fiscal policy and authority, as well as a single set of rules and regulations that apply to all capital and labour operating within it.  Contrary to the claims of the euroseptics, a single market requires the establishment of a political union, of a United States of Europe.  It would require a common set of regulations over retirement ages and so on, as well as of benefits.  If such benefits were paid out of a single state fund that would be a start, but for Marxists there can be no confidence in a capitalist state, including a European capitalist state. A better solution is for workers to create their own social insurance funds, as they began to do in the 19th century, via their trades unions, their friendly societies and co-operatives.  That way they can control those funds, and use them to further their own interests in opposition to the interests of capital and its state.

The euroseptics want to restrict the free movement of labour, but not the free movement of capital.  That is because they are the advocates of capital, particularly small capital, as opposed to labour.  But, even in respect of the interests of small capital, their policy is shortsighted.  Take something like the reliance of British farms on migrant labour.  If that is cut off, the immediate effect might be that crops do not get harvested.  Or to do so, might require much higher wages to be paid, possibly beyond what is then profitable for those farms.  The effect is then not to raise UK wages of agricultural workers, but for those farms to go bust, unable to compete in an EU let alone global market place.

The consequence then is that as the migrant labour could not come to where the capital is in the UK, capital moves to where those workers are.  It means more capital invested in agricultue in Rumania, Bulgaria and so on, and then the agricultural products are then imported to the UK, acting as a drain on the UK economy, both because it has to pay for those imports, and because it has lost the tax revenue it would have received from the labour and capital working on those farms.  The next step from a nationalistic, euroseptic viewpoint is then to respond to this situation by demanding various forms of protectionism for British agriculture, for import controls on European agricultural products and so on, which sets in place the kind of trade wars, leading to shooting wars, cited above.

Cameron and the Tories are clearly running scared, as they haemorrhage votes to UKIP. They are coming out with policies that are totally idiotic and geared to try to out-UKIP UKIP. That will never work. Just as the introduction of devolution strengthened the SNP, and hastened the tendency towards nationalism and break up of the UK, as recent events have demonstrated, so attempting to undermine UKIP by adopting ever more strident nationalism will only strengthen those tendencies, leading down an inexorable road to where the Tories will have to propose an EU exit, that would be devastating for Britain, and even worse for British workers.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Labour leaders also have no backbone when it comes to standing up to nationalism. They showed that in relation to Scotland and the SNP, and they have shown it over the Emily Thornberry fiasco, and now they are showing it in relation to UKIP, and the Tories slide towards nationalism. The Tory Party have reacquired their tag as the nasty party in Britain, but increasingly that is being transformed into a tag for Britain in Europe, as Britain is increasingly seen as narrow-minded, jingoistic, mean spirited and self-serving. That the Tories should follow that path given their history, and given that those characteristics are typical of the small capitalist class it is based upon, is not surprising. But, its time that Labour stiffened itself up, before it slithers along with the Tories into that nationalistic cesspit.

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