Thursday, 21 May 2015

Stop exploitation of unskilled labour... by confiscating wages!

I am sure plenty of people who didn't vote Conservative have had this feeling in the last fortnight, but then perhaps not. It is like having your head slowly but firmly submerged under water as you nod glassy assent. Dim and distantly through the water, dull Muzak further soothes you, an affectless, martial swing burbling interminably. You think vaguely of twisting or writhing, but there's nowhere really to turn.

It was that feeling that came over me today as David Cameron talked warmly across all news outlets about a few little things he plans to pop into the Queen's speech this year. Just a few treats as thanks to the public for his surprise majority.

The government would, he promised, tighten up the law - hardly lax now - on illegal earnings. Illegal in the sense of being earned by people without legal work permits, mind. Nothing about tax. That can wait. These illegal earnings are made by the dreaded "unskilled" - those sleepless undead yawning out of the scorched Krajina and intent on devouring our beleaguered benefits system. Fortress Welfare looks on and trembles.

Cameron will provide the police with sweeping powers to confiscate the wages of the lowest paid and most vulnerable people in the country. Never mind the gang masters. Never mind the traffickers. Never mind decent labour market regulation or the living wage. We need to "make Britain a less attractive place to work illegally." It will soon be such a noxious swamp that he might just get his way.

The logic of Cameron's position is basically simple: there is nothing you can do about employers, but you can punish workers. In his experience, the poor saps will basically take any shafting he can throw at them. It is probably mildly bemusing, but he is hardly going to question it. The PM has also had alarming fits of economic illiteracy in the past - like the time he politely suggested all indebted Brits pay off their credit cards at once. Never having wanted for much, perhaps it doesn't occur to him that demand is something that can be effectively stamped out when people have no cash. Here it is similar: apparently immigration puts a strain on welfare. No, it doesn't. Immigrants - like them or not - contribute more than they take out, by the billions. Unemployment and low wages put a strain on welfare because both reduce the government's tax intake.

Surely the Queen - lovely old dear that she is; that definition of haute bourgeois civility - won't swallow it? But what if even the Queen wants to send them home?

This nasty consensus is not just nasty - it is also a farce. Attacking immigrants and/or the 'elites' who cater to them is a sort of wilfully blind fury, in which everyone gets to be angry and at the same time avoid taking real action. It is a fetish. Belief that immigration is an apocalyptic force allows people to simultaneously conceal and revel in their own political impotence. It is nihilism dressed up in vaguely Chiliastic, cultish frenzy. And I suppose that dull ringing in my ears stems from the same place.

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