The Left’s extreme attachment to the principle of free movement of people speaks volumes about whose interests they really serve
This, by trade unionist and Blue Labour activist Paul Embery, really gets to the heart of the modern metro-Left’s extremist stance on immigration and free movement of people within the EU, so divorced from the fears, priorities and aspirations of the Labour Party’s traditional working class base:
“Access to the single market and freedom of movement are inextricably linked, and it would be wrong… to put the economy anything other than first,’ Diane Abbott told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.
Leaving aside that there is, in fact, no inextricable link between access to the single market and free movement (she may be confusing access with membership), what is most striking is that Abbott’s argument here – that everything must be subordinated to economic imperatives, that policies must ultimately be judged not by their impact on society or quality of life but according to whether they boost GDP or make someone somewhere a fast buck – is the very embodiment of market-obsessed Thatcherism.
Abbott isn’t a Thatcherite, of course. Anything but. She is, on virtually all things, on the side of the angels in a head-to-head with Thatcher. Yet it is weird how, when it comes to the subject of immigration, she and so many others on the Left are willing to suddenly embrace the philosophy of a woman they have spent their lives opposing.
When did it become the norm for the Left to put the demands of the market above what was right for wider society? To allow the dictates of the balance sheet to trump all? To know the cost of everything but the value of nothing?
When Thatcher closed the mines and destroyed whole communities, didn’t she do so because she wasn’t prepared to ‘put the economy anything other than first’?
We can argue until the cows come home about whether particular policies or strategies do indeed bring economic advantages. But, for the Left especially, that should never be the sole consideration – and certainly not when those policies or strategies give rise to profound consequences for society.
It is certainly very telling when the Left pivots from disparaging corporations and viewing business as evil (their standard M.O.) to fawning over multinational corporations and anxiously tending to the every care and concern of their CEOs.
I noted this point over two years ago:
Isn’t it funny how the voice of big business – usually the object of scorn and hatred from the left – suddenly becomes wise and sagacious when the short term interests of the large corporations happen to coincide with those of the Labour Party?
Labour have been hammering “the corporations” relentlessly since losing power in 2010, accusing them of immoral (if not illegal) behaviour for such transgressions such as not paying enough tax, not paying employees enough money, paying employees too much money and a host of other sins. In Labour’s eyes, the words of a bank executive were valued beneath junk bond status – until now, when suddenly they have become far-sighted and wise AAA-rated pronouncements, just because they have come out in support of Britain remaining in the EU.
(In fact, I wonder whether the Left’s eagerness to talk about the economics of immigration is actually a classic piece of misdirection designed to sway conservative or swing voters; that in actual fact, they don’t give a hoot about the economy but rather want to ensure maximum immigration levels for cultural and political reasons that they dare not speak out loud. Why else would Diane Abbott of all people, hardly the sort of person who you would picture fretting about a multinational corporation’s labour costs and investment decisions, be speaking about economics, well outside her comfort zone?)
Embery is quite correct, though – the Labour Party did indeed once value additional metrics beyond raw GDP when evaluating public policy. This formed a large basis of their objection to Thatcherism, bordering on hatred. (While this blog remains convinced that the Thatcher reforms were entirely necessary and hugely beneficial on the balance, it must be acknowledged that too little was done to ameliorate the harsh impact of deindustrialisation on many Northern, Welsh and Scottish communities – the Left actually has a valid critique here, and a reasonably strong moral point).
Yet large elements of the Left, driven mad by Brexit, now seem willing to squander any moral high ground they may once have held by openly contradicting their former principled critique of the Thatcher government. According to the new post-Brexit leftist playbook, Thatcher was completely correct to sacrifice close-knit industrial communities in order to save the overall British economy. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, after all, and if a few livelihoods have to be crushed in order that the City of London continues to prosper then so be it. These are strange sentiments indeed to hear emanating from people who usually won’t shut up about how kind and compassionate they are.
It continually astonishes me that so many leftists – the type of urban, metro-left progressive who wear their political opinions like this season’s latest fashion and consider themselves to be super woke and compassionate – can be so callously disregarding and downright heartless when it comes to acknowledging legitimate concerns about immigration from an important segment of their collective movement.
And yet it should not be so surprising. Britain’s membership of the European Union, and free movement of people specifically, has greatly benefited this class of people – the young creative professionals working in the city and the Labour MPs who share the same outlook. These people have an extremely consumerist outlook on politics, always asking what their country or government can do for them rather than dwelling on their own responsibilities and obligations as citizens.
They are sworn adherents to the politics of Me Me Me. And a super-streamlined process for moving to another European country for work is to their great benefit, while the fact that many of the people for whom they claim to speak probably do not have glittering international careers in their future barely seems to register. This isn’t compassion – it is pure selfishness.
Embery goes on to make this very point:
How depressing it has been to witness so many on the Left fall into the trap of defending free movement almost unconditionally, presenting it as some kind of advancement for working people. One wonders whether they have ever stopped to ask themselves why the multinationals are so enthusiastic about it. In this case, they are guilty of defending a system which, in the quest for greater profits, commodifies humanity, uproots families and fragments communities. When that happens, the bonds of solidarity, mutuality and community are weakened, and instead we get loneliness, alienation and atomisation. ‘Migrants are not to blame,’ the free movement defenders will often retort. Well, of course they aren’t. But that was never the argument. It’s as meaningless as saying ‘The unemployed are not to blame’ as a response to opposition to unemployment.
A few other brave souls, such as Richard Johnson, have dared to tentatively make the same criticism of the Left:
People’s concerns about immigration haven’t been invented out of thin air. The real experience of immigration in Britain since the EU expanded into Central and Eastern Europe has been one of rapid change, over which people have felt little control. As Geoff Evans and Jon Mellon have shown, the salience of people’s concerns about immigration has closely tracked actual levels of net migration since 2004. Areas which saw the fastest increases in migrant populations were more likely to vote Leave. In areas where the migrant population increased by 200 percent or more between 2001 and 2014, there was a 94 percent chance of voting Leave.
[..] To oppose new controls on immigration is to speak for, at best, the 4 percent who want higher immigration and the 17 percent who are satisfied with current levels. It is not a 48 percent strategy; it is a 21 percent strategy. Too many in Labour seem to want the party to become the Lib Dems of c2005 – one which appeals to liberal, university-educated, cosmopolitans in big cities and university towns. It’s a fine strategy, but only if you want to win 60 seats in Parliament.
All too often, working class people only now exist in the eyes of the Labour Party to be used as convenient props when a political attack on conservatives needs to be made. The progressive left will happily get all weepy about the impact of gentrification and “social cleansing” on working class people, but then treat those same people like lepers if they dare to offer any political ideas or opinions of their own – especially those relating to Brexit and immigration. And almost nobody calls them out for this rank hypocrisy.
Thanks to Paul Embery for having the courage to do so. We may come from opposing sides of the political spectrum, but Embery clearly believes strongly in self-determination and the idea that British democracy should be accountable first and foremost to British people, not transnational elites or Labour’s progressive clerisy.
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