Saturday, 28 May 2016

This is not a migrant crisis

"This is not a migrant crisis" is the headline of a double-page spread in the latest magazine of Global Justice Now, formerly the World Development Movement, of which I've been a member and supporter since its inception some forty years ago.  The front cover of the magazine has a picture of the white cliffs of Dover with the slogan "# REFUGEES WELCOME" projected on them.

The double page spread  argues  that the genuine crises are: of war, of resource exploitation, of inequality, and of climate change.

Leaving the European Union will not solve any of these.

Indeed it is doubtful if leaving the EU will actually make much difference to migration into the UK either. As explained in an earlier post, those countries with access to the single market, such as Norway and Switzerland,  have to accept the EU policy of freedom of movement.  It is highly unlikely that the UK would, after leaving, be given more favourable terms.  And we are already in control our borders for immigration from the rest of the world - or would be if  Border Force UK were properly staffed, rather than starved of resources as part of the mistaken cuts in public expenditure.

So the main plank of the Brexit campaign, if not actually based on a lie, is at best based on very optimistic speculation on the terms of a post-Brexit deal for which there is little evidence.

But beyond the EU debate a rich, well educated and mature country such as ours should be both capable of facing the facts and playing a constructive part in trying to solve the real crises enumerated above. Rather than pulling up the drawbridge to tackle the symptom of these crises we should be devoting our energies, in partnership with others, to solving them.  Here Britain's achievement of reaching the target of 0.7% of GDP to be spent on reducing inequality between nations is something to be celebrated rather than resented.   More sincere efforts towards the use of renewable rather than finite  energy resources would be welcome, along with  co-operative efforts  to tackle climate change and diplomatic efforts to solve the causes of war and limit the trade in armaments.

 Even if and when  the severity of these crises is reduced, and that won't be overnight, people will still want to move.  We have to recognise that modern communications and relatively cheap travel  mean that the world is now the oyster for the many, and not just the privileged in developed countries.  Maybe Global Justice Now's enthusiastic embrace of the future is rather too "raw meat" for the electorate to swallow, but it is the direction in which  our politicians should be leading us, rather than cravenly trying to appeal to the baser "what we have we hold" instinct which so shames us a present.

Post script (added 4th June, 2016)  There is an excellent article on the refugee crisis by Giles Fraser in yesterday's Guardian.  It should be posted on every hoarding in the land. 



  1. I have tried to send you an email about SoF, but it seems your personal email is not accepting messages.

  2. it is the direction in which our politicians should be leading us

    Are politicians in a democracy supposed do what the people want them to do, or are they supposed to lead the people to do what they (the politicians) think the people ought to do?

  3. As I'm sure you'll appreciate, it's a bit of both.

    Most political activists have views ranging from visions of what an ideal society would look like to modest proposals on how to improve the present set-up. It is up to them to try to persuade the electorate of their chosen option - in other words to lead. The electorate, of course, has the final say on which option is chosen.

    To be successful - that is to take part in the government and put at least some of the ideas into practice - political activists, that is the parties, cannot afford to be too far in advance of public opinion, but do have a mission to educate that opinion.

    Unfortunately today the parties seem to have downgraded that leadership and educational role in favour of the Focus Group approach - tell us what you want and we will offer it. In other words, the balance has tilted too far, away from ideals and education, towards pandering to public opinion as it is.

    The situation is confounded by our inadequate electoral system, which means that to gain a share of government parties must pander to the views of the least committed in a handful of marginal constituencies.

    The essential solution to the problem is proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies.

    1. Well said Mr Wrigley. I am reminded of a saying of the late Tony Benn (with whose views I did not always concur - but do on this one) that he came into politics "to be a signpost and not a weather vane".

      There has always been a danger that politics is "transactional", meaning that a candidate will "cut a deal" with part of the electorate whereby they vote for him (or her) in return for a policy favouring that section. In the best of all worlds our politics would be high-minded and value-driven but at the moment we seem a long way from that.

    2. How true. It is very difficult to discern anything high minded or value driven on either side in the current EU debate (except perhaps for Michael Hesseltine on Radio 4's "Any Questions" last night.

    3. In the best of all worlds our politics would be high-minded and value-driven

      But what if your values are different from (perhaps even in opposition to) those of the majority of the electorate?

      Of course you can try to persuade them to change their values, but if you explain your values and why you hold them as best you can and they still disagree, then in a democracy, whose values should win: yours, or the electorate's?

    4. Here we come to the difference between a representative democracy and a plebiscitary democracy. In the latter I'm sure there would be a majority for capital punishment, locking people up and throwing away the key and various other unsavoury practices.

      In a representative democracy we select what we hope are "high minded and value-driven" citizens to make decisions on our behalf. Free votes on matters of conscience are the nearest we come to this in the UK. Our system would be much improved if our electoral system were more properly representative. At the moment we have given almost absolute authority to a party which is supported by barely a quarter of the electorate, and most debates in parliament have become a matter of crude point-scoring rather than serious attempts to reach an acceptable consensus.

    5. I'm sure there would be a majority for capital punishment

      Our system would be much improved if our electoral system were more properly representative

      So… would a properly representative system have a majority of representatives who were in favour of capital punishment, then, if a majority of the electorate are in favour of it?

      If not, what does 'properly representative' mean?

    6. It means we choose wise representatives to make public decisions on our behalf, once they have thoroughly examined and debated the pros and cons of each proposal. One of our problems at the moment is that our MPs are not representative enough. To put it crudely, most of them are foisted on us be the parties rather than selected by the electorate. Hence there is a limited range of views