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The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Why immigration is the only issue in this referendum

One issue has dominated the British referendum debate of the past few months - and that is immigration.
Those wanting Britain to remain in Europe have talked in vain about the economic aspects – people no longer trust economic arguments and forecasts or those who use them. Even references to “European bureaucracy” - which for so long has been the staple fare of the overwhelmingly negative British media coverage of European affairs – have been put aside in favour of a focus on immigration.

And it didn’t need last year’s pictures of the hordes of Syrian refugees crossing the Aegean or smashing Balkan border fences to make this the number one issue in the campaign. Four million English citizens had in Britain’s 2015 General Election given their vote to UKiP – the nationalist party – four times as many as had voted for the Scottish Nationalists (who had as a result gained 50 Westminster seats).  
Such, however, is the nature of the British electoral system (“first past the post”) that UKiP won only one seat!!! 

The electoral support should have been a wake-up call but one solitary figure on the parliamentary benches has given the political elite the excuse to ignore the increasing alienation of the (mainly) the English citizen from the democratic process….The media attention given during the decade to parliamentary expenses (and business corruption) was certainly one factor in this but the two main factors in this alienation have been -
- the continuing economic decline in so many parts of the country; and 
- the awareness since 2000 of a growing number of immigrants - even in these areas - with the low-paid being nudged out of jobs by those prepared to accept less; and pressure on public services already being starved of resources

Just three weeks ago, a short House of Commons Briefing Paper on Migration Statistics set out (in chart 5) the facts very starkly – net annual immigration to Britain was a tiny blip from 1930-1960; actually negative from 1960-80 and less than a few thousand in the 1980s….
Only from the mid 1990s did it start to rise – 50,000 in 1998. But in the next decade it shot up – to almost 250,000   

The 2004 enlargement of the European Union (EU) to eight Eastern European countries (EU8) generated fears of large flows of low-skill immigrants from Eastern to Western Europe. For this reason most Western European countries (EU15) imposed temporary restrictions to the free movement of people from Eastern Europe. But the UK (along with Ireland and Sweden) did not impose any such restrictions – as a result “the Polish plumber” became a bone of contention in the country….
Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were the key players at the time – and it is therefore odd to see them popping up this week to argue the case for “Remain”. Blair knows he lost all credibility during the Iraq war - but Brown does not seem to realise that his role in the final week of the Scottish referendum of 2014 finished him as a figure of influence   

Very few British journalists operate outside the “Westminster bubble”. John Harris is a rarity..... Some five years ago he started to go round the country and use video for carrying out sharp interviews with the public…to get a sense of their concerns......all of which carried clear warnings for the political elite. This article from February this year was a great summary of what he was finding…Just a few weeks ago, he ran with this warning…Today saw his final post - from the Labour stronghold of Stoke-on-Trent - where those canvassing what they considered to be Labour voters could find only an angry determination to leave the EU
Rather belatedly, a few politicians have been trying to address the concerns. But it is too late – the scale of disgust and anger of the public is simply irresistible….

update - a further development here - with an important figure conceding that Europe needs to change tack on free movement of labour...but such a change is totally impossible.....

Two weeks ago pundits were saying that "it would be OK on the night" - that voters would, in the privacy of the polling booth, vote remain. It is now obvious that the opposite is happening....My prediction is of a LEAVE VOTE winning margin of 7-8%. I may not be in the country - or been so for a few years - but the few reporters I trust have been on the doorsteps and in the (Labour) party rooms and have a very good sense of the mood........
Frank Field has long been a maverick voice in the Labour party but he has been one of the few to articulate grass-roots concerns….

update April 2017; and here's a great chart!

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