Phil Bennion MEP writes: It’s time we had a sensible, evidence-led debate on EU freedom of movement

Freedom of movement is one of the EU’s most cherished achievements. It has given millions of people the opportunity to work, study and retire across the continent and has brought huge economic and social gains.

But the recent debate has taken a serious turn for the worse. Both the Conservatives and Labour are dancing to the tune of UKIP.

It falls to Liberal Democrats to set the record straight and defend the benefits that freedom of movement brings, including for the 2 million or so British citizens who live across the EU. These are not just retirees in Spain or Portugal, but thousands of young people working and studying abroad.

Of course, EU freedom of movement shouldn’t mean freedom to access benefits without contributing through taxes. That is why it is right that the UK and other European governments are taking action to prevent any potential abuses and why we should work together at EU-level to look at areas which could be improved, such as the current proposal to extend home country responsibility for benefits from 3 months to 6 months. But we need to separate spin from substance. There is no hard evidence that benefit tourism by EU migrants in the UK is a widespread problem.

In fact, all the evidence shows that EU migration has brought huge benefits to the UK and has been a bonus, not a drain, on the Treasury. Yesterday, Chair of the Office for Budgetary Responsibility Robert Chote warned MPs that cutting net migration could lead to a huge increase in Britain’s debt. Meanwhile a UCL study has estimated that EU migrants contribute 34% more in taxes than they receive in benefits, and the Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates curbing free movement could cost our economy £60 billion by 2050 and increase public borrowing by 0.5%. These hard facts are probably what caused Theresa May’s report on EU migration to be mysteriously shelved. 

So let’s put things in perspective. UKIP said that 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians could come to the UK after January 1st. So far, the real number has been more like 29. And let’s not forget that many EU migrants are highly skilled workers doing vital jobs, including the 19,000 EU doctors that work in the NHS. That’s in addition to the thousands of seasonal migrants that are essential to market gardens and farms across the UK in areas such as Herefordshire and West Worcestershire.

It’s time we had a sensible, evidence-led debate on EU freedom of movement. Yes, let’s work together to tighten up the rules, prevent any abuses and respond to people’s concerns over pressure on public services and integration. But let’s not pander to UKIP and the xenophobic right-wing press by fuelling inaccurate stereotypes. We owe it to the younger generation to defend the right to freedom of movement and the countless opportunities it brings.

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40 Comments

  • And when will social cohesion become part of the Lib Dem debate?

  • “In fact, all the evidence shows that EU migration has brought huge benefits to the UK”

    Erm, not really *all* the evidence, is it. In fact there is also evidence that for those with lower skill levels, it has had a major negative impact on both unemployment and wages, as well as making entry-level jobs very difficult to come by for young people in certain sectors e.g. hospitality.

    We do ourselves no favours by offering these rather blasé statements about EU immigration while ignoring many people’s very genuine concerns about its effects. We need to be more hard-headed, offering practical solutions in terms of skills and training and enforcement of employment standards to ensure UK citizens are on a level playing field and not left on the sidelines.

  • The latest opinion poll shows we are at only 9% for the Euro elections and we are going to have to do much better than Mr Bennion’s comment here if we are to retain our MEPs come May.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jan '14 - 1:18pm

    It worries me that the liberal elite just don’t get the concerns of those lower down the pecking order, and just dismiss it as done here as irrational xenophobia. Sorry, but to me the stale lines in this article, which we’ve seen repeated again and again and again in Liberal Democrat Voice and similar places are just as much an indication of unwillingness to discuss these things in a sensible and rational manner as the UKIP and right-wing press approach. The result is a massive boost for UKIP as it makes it seem it is the only party which understands those concerns, it can then play the “We’re on the side of the people against the liberal elite” line, and use it to get support for an agenda where this is the surface, but underneath is something very different and just as elitist.

    When it’s written “And let’s not forget that many EU migrants are highly skilled workers doing vital jobs, including the 19,000 EU doctors that work in the NHS.” I don’t rejoice and say “Oh, how wonderful”. I ask the question WHY? Why aren’t we training people here to do those jobs? Is it that the elite here don’t want to put their hands into their pockets and pay for that training through taxation, so instead let’s go for the cheap option of importing labour trained at someone else’s expense? Is there a shortage of people who want to become doctors in this country? No, medical schools are overwhelmed with applicants, and have to use ridiculous and discriminatory means to pick from the surplus of those who want to do the job and are capable of it – and those means often involve discrimination, direct or indirect, against applicants from lower down the social scale.

    When it’s written “That’s in addition to the thousands of seasonal migrants that are essential to market gardens and farms across the UK in areas such as Herefordshire and West Worcestershire”, again I ask “WHY?”. Don’t we have people in this country who are desperate for jobs? Do these jobs require specialists skills that somehow you have to come from Eastern Europe to be able to pick up? Yes, I know the lines about British people lacking the work discipline it needs to do this sort of job, not only that, but in different areas I’ve experienced it. But that’s a problem we need to WORK on, not to sweep under the carpet with short-term solutions that resolve the symptoms but not the disease. Perhaps part of the reason for this lack of work discipline among British people is this readiness to write them off and import cheap labour rather than put some effort into developing it. So what is the long-term consequence on British society if we write off a vast proportion of the population as unemployable and don’t give them the opportunities past generations had to grow a sense of work discipline through these sort of jobs? Consider the tradition of
    Cockney hop-picking. Do you know how in working class communities the memory of such things and the sense of discipline and responsibility it developed is remembered to this day? The older generation whose own coming of age involved such things see the juvenilisation of their grandchildren through the denial of such things to them as part of the decline of the way society used to be that made it work out. The liberal elite know nothing and care nothing about this – to them Cockneys are just plebs, nasty xenophobic people whose readiness to vote for parties like UKIP indicates their unpleasantness, and how good it is to be able to replace them by imported foreign labour – Filipino nannies, Polish plumbers, and so on, who’ll work for a cheaper rate and won’t get uppity.

    So it’s not just about “benefit tourism” as is claimed in stale old articles like this. If you can’t think beyond that, you aren’t thinking deep enough. Your imported foreign labour working at rates no-one with a family here could consider may cut costs in one column on the national balance sheet. But what knock-on costs does it have on others? Maybe this indicates why decades of “the cuts” haven’t worked, why the savage cuts made by THIS government now which have caused so much misery have had such little effect on actual public expenditure. We look at the savings made in one place and say “job done”, we don’t look at the wider picture.

    It’s very easy to write a “look at me, I’m not a racist unlike those plebs and chavs I so despise” articles. It makes us feel good and liberal. It’s harder to think more deeply and ask uncomfortable questions which challenge our self-assumptions.

  • David Allen 16th Jan '14 - 1:40pm

    There is a dialogue of the deaf going on about freedom of movement at the moment.

    On the one hand, we have statements like “all the evidence shows that EU migration has brought huge benefits”, many of them emanating from Brussels. Such statements merely serve to alienate those who lose out from immigration, and throw away votes from those who think we are ignoring their genuine concerns.

    On the other hand, we have ludicrously restrictive proposals such as Cameron’s cap at 85,000 per year or UKIP’s five-year-benefits ban. This is just playing to the gallery with proposals that nobody else in Europe will accept, as Cameron must know. Restrictions at such levels really would deny effective freedom of movement.

    What we should be thinking about is a middle way, which acknowledges that immigration brings both benefits and problems. We should be talking, not about abolishing freedom of movement, but about exercising some level of constraint on the rate of that movement, to prevent sudden major population flows which cannot be readily accommodated by either the sending or the receiving nation. I am thinking in terms of figures like a quarter of a million or even half a million per year from a single EU nation. Such limits would not commonly come into play, but would still people’s worst fears about the possibility of massive inflows, like the Polish influx in 2004-5 or greater.

    If EU began negotiations on such a basis, then undoubtedly any final agreement would be a high annual limit. The nations whose inhabitatnts want to travel to the West and earn good wages would insist on that. But it does not follow that they should be allowed infinitely high limits. Sooner or later we shall see a really serious economic or inter-racial problem in one country, leading to massive pressure to flee the borders. The rest of the EU should not be placed in the position of having mandatorily to accept millions of internal economic refugees.

  • Matthew I think you really get the real issue, something many who blindly support mass immigration don’t.

  • I am not sure there are real differences in work ethics- just that migrant (and temporary-worker) culture is different to that of generations-settled people, regardless of the specific countries involved. I am British living in Eastern Europe, and when I am in my office on a Saturday the rest of the building is completely empty, rather than full of workaholic Slovaks as the popular view would suppose.

  • Matthew Huntbach has hit the nail on the head fairly and squarely. How are we going to get our MEPs re-elected with the current crop willing to make statements like the comment made by Phil Bennion above? And indeed, do they deserve to be re-elected?

  • @Richard S
    The difference between migrant (and temporary worker) and settled culture is more one of motivation and hence is a temporary effect that is only really seen in the first generation migrant/temporary worker. I’ve not seen any evidence that the offspring of migrants (ie. second generation) are significantly different to the settled culture in their attitudes and motivations to work.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jan '14 - 9:08pm

    George Potter

    You can get £8 an hour crop picking actually. That’s more than the minimum wage and more than the living wage.

    Care to try again about eastern Europeans undercutting wages Matthew Huntbach?

    No, why should I? You haven’t answered the questions I posed. Why are we satisfied with writing off people living closer and instead bringing in this imported labour? Sure, if I had £8 an hour to spend on workers, obviously I’d like to get better quality workers from abroad. If I can get bright, hard-working people from Eastern Europe, that’s good for me, yes. But what happens to the not-so-bright people here, who COULD do those jobs? Someone else’s problem? Well, WHOSE?

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jan '14 - 9:16pm

    Richard S

    I am British living in Eastern Europe, and when I am in my office on a Saturday the rest of the building is completely empty, rather than full of workaholic Slovaks as the popular view would suppose.

    Er, yes, but isn’t that because the workaholics have come to Britain etc, leaving the less able and less work inclined at home? The whole point of my argument was that I do NOT believe Slovaks are genetically harder workers than anyone else, and that therefore the argument that we just HAVE to import these people because no-one else can do it falls down.

  • Little Jackie Paper 16th Jan '14 - 9:17pm

    George Potter – Here’s an example from another industry.

    http://www.computerweekly.com/news/1280095601/Immigration-cap-will-not-stem-flow-of-IT-workers-to-UK-on-ICT-visas

    Whilst this might not be an EU example, given that all these qualified computer sorts can get £8 an hour casual labour on the crops, there isn’t a problem presumably. No race to the bottom there caused on the labour market supply side?

    George, with the greatest of respect (and just to be clear I do mean that) until the flow of people, as distinct from capital starts to look more symmetrical the EU (not just the UK) in its present form is not going to be an easy sell. The fact that granny on the beach on the costas gets a sunshine retirement out of it really is no consolation to those struggling for things like entry level jobs and housing. I am continually astonished by how many Lib Dems want to gloss over this.

    Spain it seems has already found the limits of free movement (http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-1440_en.htm) and politically one can not simply keep glossing over the economic dislocations in this picture.

  • @Matthew

    Yes, I am agreeing that there is not big difference in underlying culture.

  • @George -just because someone is offering to pay more than the minimum and/or living wages don’t mean that they are actually offering an appropriate wage for the job.

    As this is a seasonal job that is largely performed by migrant workers, we need actually to put the offered wage into the context of the wages a migrant worker would expect to receive in their home country and the expenses they would incur in taking up the job.

  • Little Jackie Paper 16th Jan '14 - 10:24pm

    Helen Tedcastle – There was something similar the other day on here. Skills in the vocational sense are only as good as the wider context. Skills ARE valued in society – a look at the Audi my builder drives speaks to that! But there is a wider context. In the past the route newly qualified tradesmen ordinarily looked to was new build. Very few did yellow-pages sort of work immediately. For a long time in this country we have had very little new build and that is a trend that has clobbered the trades. It’s not that vocational training isn’t taken seriously, it’s just that the lack of new build is a very real problem.

    Now, of course, there are a lot of people out there that don’t especially like new build (or at least don’t like it near them). I make no value judgment on the reason for the lack of new build trades work. I simply observe that the best roofing/bricklaying/plumbing skills in the world need an economy with some building in it and yellow-pages work alone isn’t enough, ‘value.’

    I understand that other countries have periodically faced the same issue so the UK is not alone here.

    Now arguably all these new-qualified tradesmen can all just head to other parts of the EU. Indeed I know a couple of people who went to work on the building sites in Spain in the good years there. But whether this is realistically open to large numbers of people seems rather less clear. Of course there is also the question of the wage differential between say a Bulgarian building site and one in the City of London. Indeed it is worth noting that the devaluation of sterling has had the effect of making the UK much less attractive than was the case a decade ago.

    The real fun and games starts if there is ever an idea of extending HE style fees/debt to courses outside of HE, but perhaps leave that can of worms alone here.

  • Matthew Huntbach – Brilliant post. The blind ideologues who put their faith in unlimited global migration should be forced to read it repeatedly until the penny finally drops.

    There is just one group of ideologues favouring unconstrained free movement who are perfectly clear-sighted. Those are the far-right “economic liberal” fundamentalists, who understand precisely what their aims are – to enrich the rich – and why unconstrained migration will achieve them. I copy here a previous post on this subject by Joe King (I assure you he was being entirely serious):

    “Inward migration clearly benefits the UK economy. …. What we are seeing is a Darwinian process. Those too lazy to work will receive fewer and fewer benefits, will be forced to live in cold and damp flats, and will have their life expectancy foreshortened. Those who work and contribute, the eastern Europeans, will thrive and have more children. This is the reality of life…. What we are witnessing today is a shift in thinking of what is moral and what is not. …. We in the Lib Dems should … stand by our principles, so that the best and the brightest from across Europe leave their own countries and come here, and contribute positively”

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-the-immigration-trap-2-37747.html#comment-276051

    I quote Mr King because his clear, raw honesty encapsulates the liberal fundamentalist case. It is a glorification of the race to the bottom. To help the rich get richer, we should search out and import able foreigners wherever we can find them, in order to shorten the lives of the hapless least competent Britons, who we will throw onto the scrapheap. In this brave new world, this is the brave new liberal fundamentalist morality.

    Mr Bennion, Mr Potter, Ms Tedcastle, are you happy to align yourselves with this new morality?

  • Little Jackie Paper 16th Jan '14 - 11:04pm

    David Allen – ‘ I copy here a previous post on this subject by Joe King (I assure you he was being entirely serious):’

    Joe King sounds suspiciously like Joking – are you sure that’s not you being wound up?

    Helen Tedcastle – Parity of esteem. OK – In 1972 my Dad was able to, on one production line wage afford housing, a car and a family. Esteem did not matter one jot – the fact that a wage did enough for him mattered. Now I am always guarded about seeing the past as a golden age. There never was a golden age. But the point is that hard work is not its own reward. A secure house, a car, a family – these are rewards. It’s not about esteem – it’s about income and getting on. Nothing new there perhaps, and I suspect that farming is perhaps not the best example of the points being made here. Education has not been devalued, labour has.

  • A Social Liberal 16th Jan '14 - 11:08pm

    Mathew Huntbach wrote

    “When it’s written “And let’s not forget that many EU migrants are highly skilled workers doing vital jobs, including the 19,000 EU doctors that work in the NHS.” I don’t rejoice and say “Oh, how wonderful”. I ask the question WHY?”

    The reason is historic and, in my opinion, has happened for two main reasons.

    *The underinvestment in the Tory era of government in various institutions but especially in the NHS resulted in an inability to replace the workforce leaving. When Labour took over there was a massive shortfall of nurses, doctors and dentists. Whilst they did initiate a massive training programme there was an immediate and massive shortfall which needed to be addressed and under the circumstances they did the only thing possible – recruit from abroad.

    *Until very recently we did not have the demographics to fill all the vacancies, both university places and in industry. We still have shortfalls in everything from scientists to engineers to the uniformed services. Those school leavers chose to do something else other than be doctors, nurses or soldiers etc and so in order to fill those holes we had to accept immigration.

    This was at a time before mass unemployment, which is a phenomenon (in its latest guise) of the late 2000s onwards. You don’t have to believe me – have a look on the BBC link below and play with the slider. Note the vast swathes where unemployment is below 2%

  • A Social Liberal 16th Jan '14 - 11:08pm

    Arghhhh – the link

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10604117

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jan '14 - 11:42pm

    Helen Tedcastle

    Once again, the emphasis is put on the academic route to ‘leading universities’ and insufficient attention paid to developing high quality vocational and skills-based education.

    Yes, but does it require “high quality vocational and skills-based education” to pick crops? How come Cockney kids in the past could pick hops without having to undergo a three year training course in hop-picking? The path you are suggesting does not seem to me to be doing anything to resolve the issue. The point is that in the past young people might have taken on unskilled jobs like this, and from that pick up a bit of discipline, the idea of hard work, keeping to hours, and this would serve them well if they wished to move on to more skilled jobs later.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of education, but rather we have developed an unhealthy culture where young people see the world largely as the entertainment industry paints it. So what they see as the norm for social behaviour is the behaviour they see of the media celebrities – largely loud, aggressive, self-oriented, and bringing large rewards for seemingly very little effort apart from developing a pushy character. We are also encouraged to develop this pushy aggressive character in order to become “entrepreneurs”, where an “entrepreneur” now seems to be not someone who has a passion for providing a useful product or service, but rather someone who through forceful character can persuade other to purchase useless products or services. The sort of pushy domineering self-oriented character we are taught to admire and aspire to become is not the sort of character who is of much use in most real jobs. Of course there are certain elite jobs where that sort of character prospers – but there simply aren’t openings for everyone to become top politicians and bankers (and I think these professions might do better if they weren’t so dominated by people with that sort of character).

    This is what I find employers at all levels are saying – too many of our young people have a serious “attitude” problem. They think life must revolve around them, so they won’t keep to regular hours, or follow orders, or do tasks they find a bit “boring”, or endure a little discomfort to get the job done. It’s what those who bring in foreign labour to do agricultural jobs say, it’s what those who employ graduates to do highly skilled technical jobs say. It’s what I find when I’m teaching students at university level – I reckon the biggest cause of failure is not lack of intelligence, but poor attitude.

    We need to find a way to resolve this. Instead it seems we are sweeping the problem under the carpet by bringing in foreign labour which has a better attitude, and insisting this is essential.

  • @Little Jackie Piper – Good reference to the widespread use of ICT visa’s by the IT industry. But the comments contain a gem of a FoI finding:

    “the UKBA … by their own admission … didn’t actually check the loss of revenue implications of policy with HMRC.

    Apparently they briefed Ministers but how thorough was that briefing given they do not even understand the revenue implications of their own policy?”

    So we can reasonably conclude that all those research reports that many have waved about claiming that immigrants are some sort of economic miracle workers, also fail to take into account the loss of revenue implications ie. the opportunity cost, and the real expenditure implications that Matthew refers to.

  • Little Jackie Paper: I can’t put my finger on the link quickly, but Joe King has been asked this question before, and he admitted that he chose a joky nom-de-plume, but assured his readers that his posts were not actually jokes. Have a click on the link I did give, and you can read his post in full. It doesn’t look like a joke.

    Some people do seriously believe in applying and rejoicing in the law of the jungle. This party should be appalled if it is on the same side of the argument.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Jan '14 - 12:06am

    Rebecca Taylor

    I do not think it is incompatible to say that we welcome people who come from other EU countries to contribute to society AND at the same time make sure we educate and train young people/retrain older people (if needed) so they have the skills that employers seek.

    Why should we educate and train people when it’s cheaper to bring in people from elsewhere who have already been educated and trained at someone else’s expense?

    I’m not laying all the blame for this on EU freedom of movement, I’m simply noting that the resentment Phil Bennion writes about may have causes other than the irrational xenophobia which he claims can be the only possible cause of it.


    You may not know, but the HR sector (my mum is an academic in this field) have been complaining for decades (before the 2004 accession of 10 new countries to the EU) of a skills mismatch that employers were suffering from.

    Given that I’ve been a university lecturer for 25 years in a subject where there’s a critical skills shortage (see here ), I’m well aware of it.

  • Little Jackie Paper 17th Jan '14 - 12:20am

    Roland – Thanks. I was a bit reluctant to put that up as of course ICT visas are not an EU matter per se (look up Posted Workers Directive for an EU matter that is relevant). I also understand that other countries’ IT industries have seen similar issues. And it is not new: I can remember IT being notorious for having way too many people entering the business as far back as the mid 1990s.

    But it does rather show up three important points. Firstly, there seems to be almost no cognisance taken of the opportunity costs here. Secondly, that is what our striving young now have to face to make a living. Third, and perhaps more importantly it shows the definition inflation of what skilled means. Indeed, a few years ago I worked in junior/mid admin levels and the office was heavily populated by Australians/South Africans and New Zealanders – are we short of junior admin people? Helen Tedcastle earlier talked about vocational skills not being at the forefront of decision-makers minds. It might be true, but I think that her thinking could easily be extended to, ‘entry/junior,’ people.

    If we don’t have large numbers of economically displaced young heading to Poland or the like then we don’t have a meaningfully reciprocal union. It is that simple. Now none of this necessarily means leaving the EU is a good idea. In 25 years time we may well have real-time translation technology that will do more for Ever Closer Union than any directive. Technology may well make free movement something accessible to more. But for now all we have are gaping asymmetries that are great for those with the capital to exploit them – rather less good for everyone else.

    I am often surprised by how little comment mode 4 provokes on the question of movement http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2010/february/tradoc_145756.pdf but that’s for another day.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Jan '14 - 12:28am

    Rebecca Taylor

    As British if teachers sat down and said “I don’t need to educate my pupils well because some better educated young people from another EU country will come and do the jobs that will need to be filled”.

    Philip Bennion mentioned two roles in particular, at opposite ends of the educational requirement scale – doctors and agricultural labourers. As I have already said, there is no shortage of people who want to become doctors and have the qualifications needed to do it, and there is no big training requirement for the casual agricultural labourer jobs. Therefore it seems to me to be entirely rational to ask “Why do we import labour to do these jobs?” instead of dismissing anyone who asks questions about it of being motivated only by xenophobia.

    It seems to me that the “sensible debate” that Philip Bennion calls for is being blocked as much by liberal fear of being accused of being “racist” as by misleading lines from conservatives.

  • Little Jackie Paper 17th Jan '14 - 12:29am

    Rebecca Taylor – ‘One example of this is that the UK now has a shortfall in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) graduates of around 30%.’

    I was wondering how long it would take for that to crop up – http://www.theguardian.com/education/2011/sep/08/job-figures-doubt-science-degrees

    I can’t link to the study because it is pay access. There might be issues of skills transfer and issues of SPECIFIC skills. That is not the same thing as a shortage at entry level. Try here too http://www.theengineer.co.uk/opinion/comment/skills-shortage-what-skills-shortage/1001144.article

    And if the Spanish wish to look at their relationship with British pensioners then that is a matter for them. See my earlier link – they have already looked at their intake of Romanians.

  • David, Jackie,

    Can I ask a question that is at the root of these discussions. Before doing so, yes I do use a pseudonym. The court joker was there to speak truth unto power, even if the truth is hard to internalise or immediately accept.

    The question I want to try to ask, and please do give your take on it too, is: ‘What is morality?’

    We humans have over at least 3000 years been developing these concepts, usually in the form of religious beliefs. ‘Thou shalt not steal, covet thy neighbours ass’ etc. These are both practical rules for living, and cultural memes regarding ‘morality’.

    Along comes Darwin and many of these ancient modes of thought are turned upside down. Memes are I suppose something akin to ‘thought genes’ We ourselves are merely the expression of codes on strands of DNA.

    Do we have a soul? I have no idea, I am agnostic on that, simply because you cannot prove a negative. It seems rather unlikely however, if it exists it should be measureable in some way using scientific instruments.

    So if we are expressions of DNA, and we know that with our relatively inbred UK population we have a preponderance of bad genes, surely it is more moral that a significant proportion of those are at least diluted. We should welcome a greater diversity of DNA combinations, where is the morality in bringing a child into the world with a higher than necessary probability of genetic defects? So that is my answer to people who complain about too much immigration. We are inbred, which is making us weak.

    The next point to address is what about our memes, given that our genes are not really worth keeping, when we think about the whole sweep of human evolution, they are a mere pin prick of virtual irrelevance.

    Our memes are heavily influenced by Judeo-Christian ideas, which themselves are an evolution of thoughts and moralities. Look at the difference between the old and the new testaments. And yet these ideas are just one set of many. In time, they will likely disappear, just as nobody believes in Thor or Zeus or Apollo any more.

    So, our memes are transitory. Pretty much irrelevant too in the scale of things.

    However genes and memes are closely coupled. Memes that encourage reproduction of genes are themselves also reproduced. We see that in the UK that the UKIP meme is growing rapidly, however predominantly amongst people who are past reproductive age (maybe not the men, although what self respecting woman of reproductive age would want anything to do with the typical UKIP male? Unless she is perverse enough to enjoy being told that she is a slut.) So the UKIP meme is not going to reproduce via genes, but by persuasion. In other words there is a limit to the rate that it can spread. We should really stop worrying about it, it will disappear soon enough.

    There is a meme/gene combination that is doing extremely well in the UK. It is growing at the rate of 80% per decade, over 10 times that of the general population growth rate. I am of course referring to the meme that evolved some 14 centuries ago and is busy spreading itself globally. Unfortunately for our Liberal Democratic meme, it is not compatible with liberalism or democracy.

    Just sayin’.
    Our Lib Dem meme has perhaps another 3 decades of life remaining, if current trends continue. Does that concern us too greatly? Everything is transitory in this world. In 4 billion years time the sun will expand and our planet will be burned up.
    Good night! (Apologies, I did not really answer my initial question. It is a bit late in the day for that.)

  • Genuinely, and with all respect to the posters here, we are ignoring the political strategies of previous governments.

    We can all agree to a certain extent that Margaret Thatcher threw the baby out with the bathwater when she destroyed traditional industries in her quest to defeat the unions.
    One of the main lasting legacies of that time was the demotion of apprenticeships – apprenticeships occupied that place inhabited by people who didn’t go to universities, or into banks, or, at the lower end, swept our streets.
    Thatcher herself stated that the 3million unemployed at that time should be rewarded for sacrificing their employment for the greater cause of Britain’s economic recovery.

    The Blair government had a definite policy of increasing the population – whether you believe that the policy was to gerrymander the electoral population, or to “rub the right’s nose in diversity”, or to “lower the cost of labour” – the losers under Blair were the same people who lost out under Thatcher.

    As a skilled tradesman I can only despair that a large section of society did not have the same chance of a full apprenticeship – as I did.

    Add to the above the imposition of John Prescott’s Pro EU Regional Agency culture and it became clear that the population of our cities became separated from their elected representatives – there was a positive discrimination towards cheap labour from Eastern European countries for political, as well as financial, purposes; our youngsters were left to rot.

    And yes, I am viscerally anti-EU – and I deeply resent people like Phil Bennion lecturing me on how good for us the EU is; good for him and his fellow bubble dwellers – but not all of us.

    @Matthew Huntback – Well said!

  • Andrew Colman 17th Jan '14 - 5:32pm

    Interesting that I have been branded a socialist for supporting freedom to travel (ie immigration). I remember the old days when millions were imprisoned behind the iron curtain and Berlin Wall. They risked their lives to travel. Politicians, particularly on the right called for travel restrictions to be lifted citing freedom of movement as a human right. Now the Berlin wall is a distant memory, right wing politicians have changed their tune, I have not.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Jan '14 - 5:39pm

    Little Jackie Paper

    I can’t link to the study because it is pay access. There might be issues of skills transfer and issues of SPECIFIC skills. That is not the same thing as a shortage at entry level.

    But I think that relates to what I was talking about. Rather than train people living here who are at least at the starting point, it pays employers to bring in people who have had the more specific training elsewhere and at someone else’s expense. Then we have people like Philip Bennion writing that this is all good and wonderful, and only a nasty xenophobic person could possibly think anything other than that. I’m not saying people with specific skills should never be imported, but I am suggesting we should ask WHY that is necessary. With medicine, for example, it’s a line I have been hearing for as long as I can remember, about how we need to bring in all these doctors from abroad. Is it really xenophobic and indicative of a UKIP-mentality to ask the question “Why can’t we train more people here to do that job?”.

    On the issue of whether there really is a skills shortage in STEM subjects, well for my own I referenced a paper in my message of 12.06am today, which very much said there is. There is the issue of why so many people with degrees in my subject can’t get jobs – that’s a more complex problem, although a quick answer is too many bums-on-seats low quality “IT” degrees, and the British idea that failing people is bad, so we end up churning out huge numbers of graduates who can’t do what one might suppose is the core topic of what they have a degree in. See what Jeff Atwood has to say on that.

  • @Andrew
    I think there is a subtle but important distinction between freedom of travel and what most people would regard as immigration. Implicit in the EU ‘freedom of movement’ that people go on about are the additional freedoms to reside and work anywhere in the EU.

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