The Class Politics of Points-Based Immigration

JVL Introduction

The short, sharp intervention by A Very Public Sociologist shows the real drive behind the Tories’ immigration controls. We’re not moving to a high-wage high-productivity economy any time soon.

Rather, the crushing unemployment brought about by Covid-19 is to be used to force British workers into low-paid jobs that foreigners won’t now be allowed to take, if Patel has her way.

And Labour? Yvette Cooper committed Labour to pandering to the Tories, by agreeing to scrutinise their plans instead of having the guts and principle to reject them outright as  the miserable, anti-immigrant, anti-worker policies that they are.

This article was originally published by A Very Public Sociologist on Mon 13 Jul 2020. Read the original here.

The Class Politics of Points-Based Immigration

What was the main driver for the vote to leave the European Union? Trading opportunities? An end to European jurisdiction over British courts? Restored fishing rights to our coastal waters? No. It was immigration. Say it three times if you like. Leaflets with Nigel Farage posing in front of columns of refugees, leaflets with lies about Turkish accession to the EU, leaflets highlighting the country’s border with Syria. These fell on ground repeatedly ploughed by leagues of column inches and thousands of broadcast hours banging about the dangers of immigration, the crime it brings, the wages it undercuts, its drain on hard-pressed public services, the dissolution of community and dilution of Britishness. The main reason why Brexit is happening is because this went unchallenged by mainstream politicians and so-called opinion formers for decades. And this is what leaving the EU really means to millions of leave voters. Lift up the drawbridge, close the borders, and magically the country will simply become a better place.

The problem the Tories have is how do they deliver the Brexit promise on immigration but without disrupting those labour intensive industries that have come to depend on a ready supply of workers from elsewhere. The Coronavirus crisis provides a solution. Their so-called points-based immigration system begins with the assumption anyone coming here is not to be trusted. Their intent is either to soak up social security and free health care, or to steal jobs and force down wages overall. Imposing a points system eliminates this danger and keeps the undesirables away, while simultaneously keeping the equation of immigration = bad things going as a bogey to frighten the support with as and when it’s needed – like at election time.

Under the scheme announced by Priti Patel, once the transition period ends in December anyone wanting to live and work here must cross a 70 point threshold to be accepted in. Points are awarded for job offers over the minimum of £20k, ability to speak English, holding higher qualifications relevant to the position, and starting salary weighing in at £25k plus. In response, Labour pledged to scrutinise the proposals. Congratulations Yvette Cooper for bouncing the leadership into tacitly backing the Tories’ racial politics. What caught the headlines was the exclusion of care workers from the health and care visa, which was cobbled together after opposition to surcharges the government planned to level on NHS staff from overseas. As Patel said during her Commons speech, “At a time where an increased number of people across the UK are looking for work, the new points-based system will encourage employers to invest in the domestic UK workforce, rather than simply relying on labour from abroad.”

The slump and unemployment crisis allows the Tories to restructure the job market. Always contemptuous of British workers – the conditions attached to social security shows what they think of us – restricting access to the low pay for long hours care sector to prospective employees from outside gives our “spoilt” and “lazy” workers the kick up the arse they need. No longer are care jobs too good for sniffy Brits, no longer is the pay too low. The crisis in social care has been solved by crushing unemployment, not investment and the raising of wages. The same will be true of other sectors too. The so-called “jobs miracle” Dave and Osborne talked up really crammed as many people into as many low paid labour intensive occupations they could. These immigration plans, combined with Rishi Sunak’s policy to create even more jobs of the same ilk indicates Boris Johnson is carrying on where his unlamented predecessor left off. Far from protecting British workers, the Tories have no intention of replacing lost jobs like-for-like and are expecting care to take up the employment slack.

Forcing through these changes aren’t about to win the Tories the support of British and UK-resident workers moving into the care industry under the lash of economic compulsion. Nor are they designed too. The contempt our ruling class has for its workers is matched by the envy and fear millions of Tory supporters have of the young. Values survey after values survey shows all workers are less likely to be perturbed by immigration than the over 65s – starkly so where the young are concerned. Which is curious when you consider actual working people are, theoretically, competing with overseas workers for jobs and housing. Because something akin to a petit bourgeois consciousness is the default for the bulk of retired people, the twin promises of security and authority – as well as smiting scapegoats and confected agents of chaos – provides the safety feels. It addresses the anxiety underpinning their position in the world by directing it outward, which is then (seemingly) negated by keeping out the foreigners and giving the pampered youngsters a dose of real world medicine. The points-based immigration system is one such political technology for exploiting, solving, and exploiting these fears over and over again. It offers a sense that, perhaps, the clock can be wound back. Or at least the world can be paused.

This presents a problem for Labour so obvious even a right wing backbencher should be able to comprehend it. Accepting the government’s position puts the party in a bidding war with the Tories, and it’s one Labour can never win. Though, of course, it can alienate core supporters. Defusing immigration as a hot button issue doesn’t mean banging on about underfunded border staff or criticising the Tories for not running a tight enough ship, it’s refusing the ground chosen by the Tories entirely, challenging the myths, and taking on the scapegoating not from a position of liberal let’s-be-nice-to-everyone, but on grounds of solidarity, mutual interest, and opposition to divide and rule. Something approaching class politics, you might say. The chances of Labour breaking with the Tory consensus? Not great.

Comments (5)

  • David Townsend says:

    The emerging position of Starmer’s Labour on immigration was one of the key reasons I resigned my membership. It is evidence of a fundamental shift to the right and is incompatible with democratic socialism.

    The statement on the back of the Labour membership card is once again fast becoming a lie.

  • DJ says:

    Back to that thorny issue of Brexit on which the left were so hopelessly divided. I agree with the author that the issue of immigration is what swung it for the Brexiteers. They successfully tapped into a reservoir of anti immigrant sentiment which was heightened by the refugee crisis. Membership of the EU was portrayed as an existential threat to the “British way of life” because it facilitated a growth in migration of Muslims and Eastern Europeans into the UK. The sad fact is that some people on the left failed to grasp this. If only the vote for Brexit was based on a vote against neo liberalism and EU austerity. I also think the vote was an expression of British exceptionalism. A sense that Britain has stood alone before. Why do we need to be part of a declining Europe. A sense of pleasure in any misfortune experienced across the Channel. After all we are bigger than Europe because of our economic strength built on empire. Rule Brittania and we beat the Germans so why should be ruled by them. I think you get the drift. Socialists have ducked this deep seated sense of British superiority for too long!

  • John Hutchinson says:

    A recent article in the Washington Post argues that the international capitalist class is becoming increasingly vexed and frustrated by the severe constraints on global trade and travel caused by the current pandemic. It goes on to point out that the populist / nationalist leaders worldwide are mostly in rapid political decline, whereas leaders such as Angela Merkel, who was recently written off, has made a dramatic comeback in public esteem, not least because her administration has successfully brought coronavirus under control. Laisser faire capitalism requires unobstructed movement of labour as well as capital. This may provide opportunities to thwart any inclination on the part of the Labour Party incumbency to a supine acceptance of the prevalent “English Nationalist” tendency in the Tory party, as reflected in its current policies on immigration.

  • DJ says:

    Having read this article over and over again I”m still unclear as to what the author”s position is on immigration. We all know how adept the Tories are using anti migrant sentiment to pursue their agenda. The question is, are we for any immigration control or not? Wishing the issue away by talking about “class politics” without addressing something which divides people seems to be a”cop out”.

  • David Pavett says:

    I agree with DJ’s response. I can see no real point to this blog piece by
    Phil Burton-Cartledge. Does socialist intetnationalism mean that all control over large scale international population movements should be dropped? If so what should be the rights of new arrivals in a country and when should the kick in? Has the fact that “international” means “between nations” been lost sight of? The “no borders” argument wishes national juridictions, and therefore nations away. But (1) the reality of nation states and national democracy is not likely to be wished away so easily and (2) we need to ask who has the most to gain from the weakening of the political powers of national democracies. Just think about the way trade deals circumvent democracy.

    Phil B-Cs piece looks to me like just another example of left-wing sniping at Govetnment policy without being able to propose anything clear to put in its place.

    There is so much that is unclear in this piece that it is difficult to know where to begin. For example, is it “racist” to require those to coming to live/work in the UK to have a reasonable standard of English?

    Left thinking on this issue is all over the place as was shown by the division between the floor and the platform over “free movement” at the 2018 Labour Annual Conference.

    I couldn’t see that Phil BC clarified any issues or offered any solutions to the problems dealt with.

Comments are now closed.