The east European elephant

Rolling post, begun April 2016
Last updated July 2017

Guardian letters: May 2017, June 2017, June 2017 (2) and July 2017 (Chris Hughes)

East European rough sleepers in London
Photo: Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard

Disturbing reports on the high number of rough sleepers in London could be seen to make a good case for the UK leaving the EU.

Most of the rough sleepers are from eastern Europe. Some are working but unable to afford accommodation and not yet eligible for government support. Many are not working. The police are having to deal with complaints of antisocial behaviour.

What did EU west European countries think would happen when they gave freedom of movement to poor east European member countries? Why didn’t the EU continue to allow partial membership until those countries’ economies had risen to western levels?

East European immigrants who aren’t sleeping rough in London are gathering in ghettos elsewhere, mostly working and paying tax, but seen as lowering wages, and putting stress on services such as schools and hospitals.

This is breeding resentment amongst the indigenous white working class, whose traditional Labour votes are being lost to the anti-EU right-wing populist Ukip party.

The UK’s EU referendum debate in the media is all about trade and jobs, but the elephant in the room is east European immigration.

People might be reluctant to say what they think about it for fear of being thought racist (or – just as bad, in some circles – politically incorrect). Of course, there probably is racism at play here. (See my analysis of racism, Colour me racist, blame my genes)

In any case, the referendum’s a secret vote!

Postscript 1: Enter the elephant

Now that the referendum date is in sight, east European immigration is in the news, as figures for EU immigrants are hotly disputed.

Postscript 2: ‘Horrible racist’ row

(The Guardian print newspaper didn’t report this, despite a full report on the Guardian website.)

Labour shadow education minister Pat Glass had been door-knocking in Sawley, Derbyshire with a BBC local radio reporter. Thinking that she was off-mic*, she said: ‘The very first person I come to is a horrible racist. I’m never coming back to wherever this is.’

The BBC said the man she was referring to later denied being a racist, but said that in his conversation with the MP he’d spoken about a Polish family in the area who he thought were living on benefits, and whom he’d described as ‘spongers’.

Glass’s lazy, right-on metrocentric view showed how she and her bien-pensant political class have ignored – and belittled – the genuine concerns of the white working class about east European immigration. Labour, with its unconvincing Remain campaign, ignores those concerns at its peril.

(* Another racism-related post-interview comment thought to be off-mic is described in my blog article about Aung Sun Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims, ‘Halo Goodbye, Suu‘. Suu Kyi made a racist off-air comment about BBC Today presenter Mishal Husain after losing her temper during a radio interview when Husain repeatedly asked her to condemn anti-Muslim violence. After the interview, she was heard to say: ‘No one told me I was going to be interviewed by a Muslim.’)

Postscript 3: Referendum result, 23 June 2016

Metrocentral London: Remain
Most of the rest of country: Leave


Postscript 4: post-result toxicity

The ‘toxic’ debate continues as metrocentric Remain intellectuals whine about the supposedly stupid people who ignored their advice. The poor whites, they say, were like Trump supporters, incoherently attacking the establishment like, they imply, a zombie mob shuffling out of their housing estates towards the ivory towers of metroland.

Those metrocentrics are really the stupid ones. They can’t accept the truth: that Leave voters had valid concerns about the impact on the UK of EU freedom of movement; and about loss of sovereignty. Being treated with contempt by the political class didn’t help – but their vote wasn’t an incoherent act of resentment at being overlooked. It was about issues – issues that the metrocentrics, in their lofty arrogance, chose to ignore.

At the post-Brexit conference for the UK Conservative party, new prime minister Theresa May (who had supported the Remain campaign, but has promised to implement Brexit) bravely confronted the sneerers. Pledging to crack down on immigration, she said that some people don’t like to admit that British workers can be out of work or on low wages because of low-skilled immigration.

Predictably, leading metrocentrics lashed back. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that May was fanning the flames of xenophobia and hatred. SNP member and Scottish assembly first minister Nichola Sturgeon said that May’s speech was the most disgraceful display of reactionary rightwing politics in living memory.

When those influential metrocentrics get off their high horses, stop defending their moral high ground and get back to thinking about improving society, they might want to consider that the problems and concerns experienced by the increasingly large precariat underclass can be resolved by paying all adult citizens an unconditional state income. (See my post, Robots could mean leisure.) This would, of course, require effective border control – which we can now have.

Postscript 5: by-election blues for Labour

The chickens came home to roost at a December 2016 by-election in deep-Brexit Lincolnshire. Having previously come second in this safe Conservative seat, Labour trailed fourth – behind Ukip.

On the same day, Welsh assembly first minister Carwyn Jones, the most powerful Labour politician in government, disagreed with the position of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who’ve defended freedom of movement.

According to a Guardian article, Jones said, ‘The danger is that’s a very London-centric position. That is not the way people see it outside London. London is very different: it is a cosmopolitan city and has high levels of immigration. It has that history. It is not the way many other parts of the UK are.

‘People see it very differently in Labour-supporting areas of the north of England, for example. We have to be very careful that we don’t drive our supporters into the arms of Ukip. When I was on the doorstep in June, a lot of people said: ‘We’re voting out, Mr Jones, but, don’t worry, we’re still Labour.’ What I don’t want is for those people to jump to voting Ukip.’

Exactly. (Except they already are.)

Postscript 6. December 2016 – priority anxiety

Labour cracks are widening on the tricky subject of immigration. Leader Jeremy Corbyn continues to downplay the issue (even as Labour voters continue to drift towards Ukip), and senior Labour politicians continue to focus on it.

Political big beast Andy Burnham, former shadow home secretary and front-running candidate for elected mayor of Greater Manchester, has joined Carwyn Jones in speaking up on the subject.

Writing in the Guardian, Burnham says that Labour’s collective failure to tackle concerns over jobs, wages, housing and education linked to migration contributed to the loss of the referendum.

Burnham talks of a ‘growing class divide’, with middle-class Labour Remain voters looking down on those who voted Leave as ‘uneducated or xenophobic’.

(Thats what I said.)

Stubborn metrocentric and shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Burnham had got it back to front, and was wrong.

Postscript 7: Ukip’s post-Farage farrago of fiascos disadvantages the dispossessed

The only good thing, from Labour’s point of view, is that Ukip, the party most likely to benefit from Labour’s metrocentric stance, is disintegrating following the resignation of leader Nigel Farage (the man the metrocentrics – with some reason – love to hate).

However, this is a bad thing from the point of view of the dispossessed underclass. Ukip, under Farage’s effective leadership, boosted the Conservative Eurosceptic pressure that forced then prime minister David Cameron to promise the referendum. An effective Ukip could have maintained the necessary pressure to ensure that that the intentions of the leave voters were honoured.

Prime minister May seems to mean well, but without the pressure that an effective Ukip could have provided, she might well follow Cameron into the Brexit bin, and the metrocentric remoaners wiil be free to dilute and delay the process – until all that’s left is a dog’s dinner.

However, May has held firm. In January 2017 she announced that Britain will leave the single market (the subject of much anguished hand-wringing amongst remoaners) in order to control borders and strengthen sovereignty. Good for her.

Postscript 8: April 2017 – Theresa May calls snap general election

UK prime minister Theresa May was on course for a sensible Brexit, having cruised past various Remoan obstacles, when she unexpectedly called a snap general election.

She said it was needed to ensure a smooth Brexit, but probably the real reason is that she wanted to take advantage of her party’s big polling lead before the economy tanks.

Ukip, having achieved Brexit, seems to have vanished up its own arse, so disposessed former Labour voters who want control over immigration will vote – Conservative!

Postscript 9: June 2017 – Theresa May loses majority

May unexpectedly lost her parliamentary majority. (Her general election campaign was rubbish, and Labour’s under Jeremy Corbyn was good.)

The Conservatives won the most seats in parliament, and May managed to get the support of the northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to give her a tiny majority. The DUP wants a ‘soft’ Brexit (including a ‘soft’ land border with EU member the Republic of Ireland). May would also need the parliamentary support of every Tory member, including the many EU remoaners.

With Brexit negotiations due to begin very soon, May’s pre-election ‘hard’ Brexit plan to leave the EU single market and exclude the UK from EU free movement may be abandoned.

White working class concerns about mass EU immigration might once again be ignored.

Postcript 10: July 2017 – Jeremy Corbyn sucks it up

Jeremy Corbyn, still leader of the Labour Party after his unexpectedly good performance in the general election, has shown surprisingly good tactical acumen by announcing that Labour would leave the EU single market.

Metrocentric remoaners who want the UK to stay in the single market, or, rather, simply to derail Brexit, dominate the vocal section of the party. But Corbyn is clearly thinking of the silent traditional Labour voters who voted Leave because of their concerns about recent mass immigration.

Good for him.

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