In which I wonder if we’ve got it all wrong about… migration

We’ve made it to election week. Well done everyone who’s still standing. Even more well done if you haven’t started skipping past the politics section on news websites and turning the TV over every time a party leader appears. I seem to have got through the campaign without blogging about politics at all, which feels a bit wrong, but demonstrates, I think, the level of election weariness I’m currently running at. I describe myself as a politics nerd, but I’ve been struggling to get mentally involved with this campaign at all.

However, the election is nearly upon us so I think it’s probably time to engage nerd brain and get my politics on. This week will be all about the election. Well it will until Thursday – then it’s really all over bar the voting (and counting). So this Monday to Wednesday half-week period will be all about the election, and the first topic is… migration.

The in-bound element of migration is an area where we’ve really seen how a small party can set the political agenda if they are sufficiently focussed on one thing, and repeat that one thing often enough, while employing a ‘man of the people’ sort of vibe and holding a pint of proper British beer. The Tories and Labour are both keen to talk up how they would deal with immigration and the language is all about control, reduction and clamping down.

And I can’t help but wonder if we’ve got this fundamentally wrong. I don’t just wonder whether the main political parties in the UK in 2015 have got it wrong. I wonder whether actually the whole of the developed world has got it wrong right back to the birth of the UN and the drafting of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. What that document says is that people have the right to ‘seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’ It also says that a person has the right to not be ‘arbitrarily deprived of his nationality, nor denied the right change his nationality.’ What if in our most basic declaration on human rights we just said the people have the right to move across borders as and when they please? What if we established the right to migrate as a fundamental human right?

The urge to move to where you can best provide food, shelter and security for yourself and your nearest and dearest is a basic human urge. Whether we’re looking at the very first humans in Africa glancing at the big hill on the edge of their territory and wondering if there was more food and water over there, or at kids growing up in the countryside and moving to the city to find work, the reality is that from the very beginnings of humanity through to the present day we’re a species who move in search of sustenance and security. Why shouldn’t that be recognised in our most basic declaration of who we are and how we have the right to live?

Politically and ethically I think it makes sense too. The main driver of large-scale migration across national borders is inequality. People who are well-fed, comfortably-housed, and able to earn enough to maintain that situation are far less likely to move across continents. But if you made migration easier, surely that would change? Surely richer countries would be deluged with immigrants? Well maybe, in the short term. But in the longer term making migration easier, I suspect, would also make it less common. Stick with me – that’s not as bonkers as it sounds.

At the moment richer governments deal with migration by placing legal limits and controls on who can migrate into their countries. Dealing with migration is all about legislation, border controls, and refusing entry or removing people from the country. If governments were denied those options, maybe they’d have no choice but to deal with the fundamental inequalities that drive immigration. At the moment we’re able to pull up the drawbridge and close our eyes to poverty, violence, and anything else that goes on beyond our borders. If we were no longer allowed to do that we’d have no choice but think about how we actually make the world a more equal place. In the long term that means fairer trade and interaction with poorer countries, better peace-keeping, and a move away from the sort of foreign policy that creates and perpetuates inequality.

And yes, I know – I’m sounding a little bit ‘I believe the children are the future’, and I’m a stirring chord change away from waving my lighter in the air, but I’m not going to apologise for that. Moving around is something people have always done. I’m an economic migrant myself, and I simply don’t see why the fact that I was able to do that without crossing any national borders makes me intrinsically less of a threat than some guy cramming himself onto an overcrowded boat somewhere on the north African coast, so what I’d like to hear from the people who want me to elect them is a lot less about ‘control’ and ‘clamping down’ and a lot more about global equality and fairness.

And that’s my thought for today. Come back tomorrow when it’ll be all about tax, which is a really really fun topic. I promise it is.

In which I offer contemplative musings (and a leaflet-based points system) on how to vote

So this Thursday is election day in locations across the UK. I appreciate how some of you might have missed this exciting news nugget by doing things like living in other countries. However, here in the UK, we are in the grip of election fever. I’m sorry. That’s not right. It turns out I’m in the grip of  fever, but I’ve got antibiotics so I’ll probably be fine in a couple of days.

The local elections have, however, pretty much failed to raise an eyebrow, let alone a fever. The possible exception to this is in our esteemed capital, where they’ve managed to boil the whole business of local elections down to a simple act of trying to remember whether it’s the balding whingey one or the blond bonkers one’s turn this year.

Here, in the hotly contested political battleground of St Suburbans ward in Normal Town, we don’t have those easily identifiable political personalities to pick between. We also don’t have very much sense of what each political party stands for in local terms. A nice Labour leaflet about how the Tories are cutting tax for higher earners is all very well, but I’m not entirely clear how my choice of local ward Councillor is going to change that.

The obvious response to this problem is apathy. And I’m not going to spend too long arguing against that. I’ve never bought the notion that voting should be compulsory. That would just mean that a whole load of people who don’t know and don’t care get rounded up and shoved into polling booths. Frankly, if you’re not fussed enough to put an X on a sheet of paper without compulsion, I’m really not that bothered about you not getting your say.

However, I do think voting is important. People fought wars, threw themselves under racehorses and drafted lengthy parliamentary amendments for my right to vote, so, personally, I’m fairly commited to exercising that right.

Local elections are a conundrum though – if only someone provided a handy set of suggestions for how to select who to vote for. If only that existed in blog form, preferably in some sort of numbered list.

Well here you go. To follow this guide you will need to start by collecting all the random election leaflets off your doormat (or retrieving them from the recycling). We will be adopting a leaflet-based points system. This means that, in my case, I can disregard the Lib Dem and Green candidates straight away as they haven’t even managed to send me a leaflet. Tough break for them, but sometimes you do have to be ruthless about these things.

 

1. Candidates should be rewarded for detail

Detail is good. Detail is what makes the difference between an intention and a policy. Any sentence that starts “We would support…” or “We would like to see better…” should be viewed with suspicion. These sentences merely suggest a willingness to go along with someone else who could be bothered to do something about whatever the issue at hand might be. They don’t suggest definite actions. Look for the detail. They gain points for that.

At my house the Tory is doing surprisingly well – perhaps because he’s the sitting councillor he has more facts and figures about what he’s up to that most of the others. There’s an independent also scoring well. Labour and UKIP are poor so far.

 

2. Look for local policies

There is a tendency to view local elections as a mid-term referendum on the sitting government. This means that parties are tempted to pack their election literature with guff about national policy. Unless it’s a policy that can meaningfully be changed at a local election that’s all just leaflet space filler. Ignore it. If it pleases you, you can even put big red lines through all the stuff that local councillors have no influence over. So that’s everything to do with Income Tax, defence, the NHS, our membership of the EU and university tuition fees, gone. I should warn you, you might not have much leaflet left.

On my count – Tory and Independent are still in the lead. Labour have made a bit of a comeback. UKIP definitely trailing.

3. Be wary of lunacy

There is a certain sort of person who stands in local elections. Of course, I mean civic minded, hard working, community spirited people. There is then another sort of person who stands in local elections. The loon. With care you can spot them. I suggest starting with the punctuation and layout of the leaflet. Excessive use of exclamation marks, randomly placed capitalisation, a willingness to pop quotation marks around almost any word or phrase – all these are symptomatic of an overly excitable mind, and also of a person without a friend prepared to proofread their election leaflet. That’s the first sign.

Further evidence can be gleaned from the obligatory “About the candidate” section on the leaflet. Writing these must be hell – it’s like a personal ad designed to appeal to all ages, genders and proclivities. However, any mention of a self-consiously zany hobby should cause concern.

Don’t want to be cruel, but, from my leaflet selection, I think UKIP are definitely out of the running at this point. Sorry.

4. Oh yeah, and do you actually agree with any of the policies?

Some commentators would suggest you consider this first, but I find that thinning the leaflet pile on the criteria above makes this stage much more manageable. For me, I’m guessing this is where the Tory is going to lose ground.

 

So by my own system the candidate who wins my vote is an independent socialist called Peter. That’s a turn-up for the books. Without this, clearly deeply well thought out, process I’d probably have voted Labour or even for the leaflet-less Lib Dem, but the system doesn’t lie. Maybe Labour and Lib Dem will learn from this for next time.

So that’s me mused out for the day. Please do subscribe in one way or another if you like my occasional ramblings, and do join in the chat. How do you pick who to vote for, if you vote at all? Was it unfair of me to disregard the Green, when leaflet production really isn’t very green at all? Any improvements and amendments to The System will be considered.