Under this rule, even Osama Bin Laden is British

Although to the outsider sometimes disturbing, I’m starting to see some comforting familiarity in Richard’s columns. Take this, from today:

“Some years ago, in the wake of the Afghan hijack fiasco at Stansted, I invented a spoof game show called ‘Asylum!'”

which reminded me of a story I’d previously touched on, in which Richard reminisced:

“Around the time of the hijack, I even invented a spoof game show called ASYLUM!, which is still doing the rounds on the internet.”

which made me think there might be more, and indeed there are, such as this gem:

“A few years ago, after the Afghan airliner hijack at Stansted, I invented a game show called ASYLUM! in which contestants from all over the world merely had to set foot in Britain to be showered with benefits, free homes and cars.”

or this:

“A couple of weeks after the Siege of Stansted, I invented a spoof game show called Asylum! Hijack An Airliner And Win A Council House.”

Although I still don’t find the concept amusing, I can at least now greet it as a part of the furniture – it’s an anecdote Richard and I share, because like him I know the punchline. Now, far be it from me, who has never invented a spoof game show in my life, to mock another man’s pride in what is clearly, to him, a beautiful child, but it seems to me that the punchline is somewhat flawed.

The thing about asylum, which should be obvious from the name¹, is that it is a type of refuge. We offer it to people fleeing persecution, war or threat to their persons. Such people tend to have trouble fleeing – if what your government really wants to do with you involves spark plugs and water, they’re unlikely to issue you with a passport or let you across the border as a substitute. If what you really want to avoid is your government having fun at your expense, a different tack must be taken. Since the legal ways are not options, the only options are illegal. The fact that you have needed to forge your passport or hijack a plane to escape almost guarantees you access to asylum – firstly because the fact you’ve gone to the trouble suggests something was up with you in the first place and secondly because, if your government did like you originally, they’re unlikely to look on you so kindly after you’ve been publicly on the run. Part of the problem with Richard’s putative game show, and his asides at Abu Qatada later in his article, is that asylum isn’t granted in these cases in spite of the illegal means by which the country was entered, but partly because of them.

The second problem again relates to the nature of asylum as flight from persecution, warfare, or threats to the person. All three of these make the hiring of a removal company to get your property out in good order, and the access to your bank accounts to do the same with your finances, somewhat difficult. Not only do you lose your country, livelihood and lifestyle, but you also lose everything you owned and had spent a lifetime building up. Even an asylum seeker who’d lived a life of Littlejohnian prudence and accumulation would arrive unable to support themselves. Throw in any problems with the language, the fact that qualifications may not be readily transferable and a sometimes unwelcoming local community and the alternative to a council house is homelessness and beggary. That is not my definition of asylum, and it is an unattractive alternative to winning Richard’s game.

Which is also a long way of saying that Richard’s prescience:

“It was supposed to be a joke but, as always, was based on fact. I can remember writing that none of the hijackers would be deported and they’d all end up living here permanently, courtesy of the mug British taxpayer.”

is not so prescient after all.

For Richard, this long interlude is merely a way of introducing his main subject, the ‘undesirables’ who were granted refuge. Now there are two obvious problems with this – the one raised above that hijacking a plane doesn’t make you an undesirable but merely someone desperate enough to hijack a plane, but also the simpler point that refuge is not immigration. The people who we would normally want to keep out, and Abu Qatada seems as objectionable as any, arrive fleeing persecution. To send them home is to condemn them to whatever it was they were trying to avoid. If that thing is sufficiently bad that we would take them if they weren’t ‘undesirable’, it is hard to see how we can morally send them back to it. To put it simply, there are some things you would not wish on an enemy. As soon as that’s the case, we’re stuck with them, and in our benefit situation previously outlined. It’s not ideal, but it’s the right thing to do.

Which brings us to:

“To add insult to injury, a panel of European judges has awarded Qatada £2,500 in damages for the brief period he spent in Belmarsh prison after 9/11.

Another ten foreign terror suspects held at the same time also received payouts ranging from £1,500 to £3,400 each.”

and the idea of the ‘right thing to do’. Having people such as Qatada, who we would normally send home but can’t, presents something of a problem. We need to find a way of preventing him from causing harm while at the same time being unable to deport him as we would normally. In such a situation, the Law is normally a good rule of thumb to follow. Were he not a refugee, but a UK national, he would be free to go about his daily business until he had done something which was against the law, be arrested for that illegal act, given an opportunity to offer a defence for his actions, and then tried in accordance with the evidence available. He wouldn’t just be banged up on the suspicion that he’d done something wrong before he’d had a chance to consider the charges. Were that to happen, he’d be entitled to compensation. Again, the facts that Qatada is here on a charitable basis and is not someone we’d have chosen to have on any other terms makes this compensation unfortunate, but those facts don’t make his claim for compensation any less compelling².

Which leads us to Richard’s crashing finale on who Britain should defend, citing the case of Binyam Mohammed:

“Binyam Mohammed is an Ethiopian citizen who was granted leave to live in Britain. In 2001, he decided he’d rather live in Afghanistan.”

Were these facts the case in full, Richard would probably have a point. However, I have not found anyone else asserting that he left to live in Afghanistan – Binyam himself says he went to see what the Islamic state looked like, and because he wanted to kick a drug habit away from his familiar haunts. He was arrested less than a year later, trying to return to Britain from Pakistan. Although born in Ethiopia, he’d lived in the UK since he was 15, and had been resident for 7 years. He’s worked here, paid taxes here, had leave to return here and was trying to return here. There is currently no evidence that he planned to commit any crime on returning. This is not quite the same as Osama Bin Laden, Richards reductio ad absurdum. This is just another example of someone who has been accepted under Britain’s protective umbrella  – and so someone who should be accorded the same treatment as anyone else under that umbrella, such as Richard himself. Again, even if we believe that Binyam is an ‘undesirable’, we would have reason to protest him being arrested without charge, tortured, detained without the access of a lawyer and slated to be tried in a kangaroo court that had the power of the death sentence. These are not things that should happen to someone Britain had offered to protect.

Fundamentally, this all comes down to the fact that foreign people are just as worthwhile as people who have always paid taxes here. You don’t buy fair treatment under law, you don’t buy the right not to be tortured abroad or have a foreign government persecute you. There are things that cannot be done to you, and that means there are things we cannot send foreigners home to have done to them and things that we cannot do to them here just because they’re foreign. That’s not the crazed punchline to a game-show themed joke, that’s consistency.

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¹ The derivation I have of it is from the Greek ‘sulon’, referring to the right of seizure, ‘a-sulon’ meaning ‘no right of seizure’. Even without this derivation, we have a long history as ‘asylum’ as a practical synonym for ‘refuge’, as in mental hospitals – refuges from mental illness.

² As a slight aside, it’s worth noting here that this has nothing to do (as Richard suggests in: “And until Britain repeals the pernicious ‘yuman rites’ act, here they’ll stay, indefinitely.”) with the Human Rights Act. Rights to asylum and treatment on reception are enshrined in international law and rights to a fair trial are traditional and would be mourned by Richard if they were ever threatened.

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Labour have said the unsayable on migration. But do they really have the guts to crack down?

As Melanie Phillips says, the backlash for Phil Woolas’ comments on immigration over the weekend was somewhat predictable.

“These remarks immediately detonated the expected explosion from the usual suspects. Labour MPs postured, unions fumed, the race lobby had to lie down in a darkened room. With his ‘potentially inflammatory’ remarks, Woolas was pandering to xenophobia and ‘Right-wing extremists’.”

Not quite for the reasons she suggests though. Were Woolas’ comments restricted to:

““In times of economic difficulties, racial stereotyping becomes stronger but also if you’ve got skills shortages you should, as a government, attempt to fill those skills shortages with your indigenous population.””

all we would have is a doctrine of despair and defeat – we act now against those that weren’t born here lest we be racist later. Or, to put a more positive spin on things – the Government should limit immigration now instead of risking the public taking things into their own hands. Deeply depressing though this is, it isn’t so much ‘playing into the hands of the right wing’ as ‘folding in the face of the right wing’.

Instead, I think we can safely say that the reason that ‘the race lobby had to lie down in a darkened room’ was that Woolas was making the link at all. While this is the sort of rhetoric which will win easy friends, Woolas’ powers to limit immigration are incredibly limited. There are a few sources of immigration: those who marry British nationals (which you couldn’t reduce without imposing miscegenation laws), those accepted as refugees (which would require either opting out of the UN Convention relating to the State of Refugees, or an end to war and natural disasters), international students (the one cash cow universities have to cover their costs), migration from Europe and migration from outside Europe. Assuming Phillips is not looking towards an exit from the EU as a solution to our current economic malaise, we’re looking at around 100,000 work permits issued each year, most of which are for periods of less than a year. The work-permit system, as was, was a market-driven way of filling jobs with workers. The current centrally driven points system aims at doing the same thing. The generalised scheme of Woolas’ would be to upskill the unskilled indigenous to reduce the need for immigrants, presumably on the assumption that employers find it easier to import a ready trained immigrant than train a new one¹. Phillips’ scheme is to make it harder to get benefits, presumably meaning that already skilled unemployees will have to work rather than starve.

The backlash comes because Woolas’ argument is predicated on allowing Phillips’ and Phillips is a bigot. Woolas’ council of despair is that if we aren’t seen to act on immigrants, columnists like Phillips and the readership that listen to her will lash out against guests in our country. Woolas deserves a lashing, because so long as you fail to stand up to people like Melanie Phillips who offer nothing but fear and aggression, you give them the debate by default.

Phillips offers no argument here that multiculturalism is a bad thing. She says it is unnecessary (because cutting benefits will solve the problem), that it is ideologically driven and that it sets communities against each other. The first is ridiculous, the second circular (you need to accept the government is malign for the ideology, which is malign because it’s of the government), the third anecdotal with obvious counterexamples. The rage at multiculturalism is little more than a tenet of faith. Telling is the emotive

“Ministers claimed immigration would boost the economy and produce a more tolerant multicultural society  –  without ever asking the electorate whether it wanted its country transformed in this manner.”

The question is of national identity: do we define ourselves in terms of shared values or ethnicity? In seeking to oppose freedom of movement and settlement, she’s opposing aspiration, hard work, the right for people to pass on earned benefits to their children, to live with their families and to settle in communities they’ve made their life in. These are all values one would expect to be native to her, her readers and their conception of the nation. How then is she defining it? The only other groupings she makes reference to are ethnic and religious.

She’s perfectly right to suggest that it is not bigoted

“merely [to] seek[s] to preserve national identity and social cohesion”

you don’t get social cohesion by labelling a section of the population as “demographic suicide”². You get it through working through differences by looking to the common values that define the community as a whole. Values she denies. Woolas admits the government has made mistakes in integration policy, while Phillips allows only the one, the “literal changing of the face of this country”³. For her, the project could never work, it was never anything more than miscegenation. That’s all that British jobs for Britons means when you place it in the context of “no less than 70 per cent of that increase will be made up of immigrants” (the context for which we can find here).

This is not a national identity I recognise. This is monstrous. Let the backlash continue.

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¹ How this sits with the Mail’s current campaign to make things easier for small businesses is unclear.

² Demographic old age and senility are presumably preferable

³ If anyone wants to draw the literal face of the country, I’ll start a gallery somewhere on the blog. Best one wins kudos.

My A to Z of thrift… (Or why every Lidl helps!)

A piece full of interesting things from Allison Pearson, which is a relief in a week so far filled largely with comment pieces on Peter Mandelson¹.

“I send my warmest wishes and several thermal vests to Anne, who has turned off all the power in her flat and is living by candlelight after getting a string of bullying demands from the appalling energy supplier npower.”

A fascinating anecdote: it would be nitpicking of me to point out that this is only tenuously related to the Credit Crunch as it is either a) the result of error on npower’s part, or b) the result of high global commodity prices rather than a lack of liquidity in the financial markets. So I won’t – I am sure we can let it through on grounds of family resemblance: as the Crunch worsens, we will all be switching off the power rather than pay npower. Anne Myall is thus ahead of the curve, and is some sort of heroine.

As it transpires, this is exactly the thinking:

“I suspect Anne won’t be the last to make a stand. One thing is clear amid the smoking wreckage of the banking system: the era of Competitive Consumption is over.”

thus introducing a previously unsuspected link between Myall’s electricity bills and competitive consumption. Now Anne foreshadows an era in which we will all be switching off the power, rather than pay npower for the electricity we consumed competitively. While on our two foreign holidays.

Now I fully realise this is meant to be a humourous piece, so I can’t expect it to hang together as if it were a cogent article. So what does it matter if the first half doesn’t sensibly introduce the second? And why does this sort of frippery come under the purview of a blog looking at fear and despair?

Humour’s interesting because it rests on common assumptions – the absurdities have to be accepted as such by the audience if the punchline is to work. As a result, in telling the joke the joker reveals a lot about the world of themselves and their audience and the ideas that inform it. The ‘A-Z’ approach allows Pearson to touch on all sorts of themes dear to her reader’s hearts, showing us all sorts of interesting things.

Such as the premise:

“With two million headed for the dole, bragging about two fancy foreign holidays a year will be socially unacceptable.

Please welcome, instead, the age of Competitive Thrift.”

Bragging is fine, and previously bragging about consumption was fine. Now we’re all going to be poor, it’s distasteful (although it wasn’t when it was just other people who were poor). Which is one worldview.

Or take the acceptance of the consumerist ideal of beauty:

“without our expensive cosmetics, we’ll all be looking as rough as Amy Winehouse the morning after”

Note that the cosmetics are all that’s standing between you and [for the sake of this article, the unarguably unattractive] Amy Winehouse, when not looking at her best. Which, even controlling for humorous exaggeration, is a dark view of women². See also the laughs garnered by the suggestion that women were ever stupid enough to wax.

Or the rather revealing comment on Nookie:

“Cheapest form of home entertainment. Could even lead to pleasing surge in declining British birth rate. “

Which on the face of it doesn’t work – having a baby is a very poor solution to having too little money. To have ignored this would seem to suggest that the first sentence was there in service of the second and that we’re suddenly into a point about identity and national identity. Why is this lining silver: because more British babies will be born, the British standing in stark contrast to the ‘Afghans on benefits’ which appear later.³

I could go on: there’s the snobbery of the ‘Lidl’ comment (we used to do it previously but felt it was beneath us), the tortuousness of ‘Rationing’ (an exciting new game show with a title unrelated to its subject matter), the strangeness of a taboo on It girls in a newspaper obsessed with celebrity, and so on. But I won’t. Even if you accept the premises, a joke can go on too long.

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¹ To summarise: the Mail is not a fan

² Sorry to get all Marxist on you, brothers and sisters, but here’s a silver lining: the potential for tighter consumer spending to emancipate us from the fashion-beauty-media complex. The lie that you need products to make you look beautiful is one that generates misery for profit in a way unparalleled by anything short of the arms industry.

³ For those not convinced this is a race thing, try replacing ‘Afghans’ with ‘scroungers’ – suddenly we have a point about the welfare state and not one about immigrants.

As £170,000 a year is spent on an Afghan single mother… A story that sums up the howling insanity of modern Britain

Just so we’re under no illusions, Richard Littlejohn has nothing but respect for people seeking asylum

“Let me make it clear, I don’t blame anyone for coming here to make a better life.”

it’s just that

“we get more than our fair share”

You see, it’s about fairness.Why should

“those in secure employment [who] are pulling in their horns in the face of soaring food and fuel prices and the mounting burden of taxation”

watch while the government spends their money on asylum seekers who

“would clearly be happier in a country with which they were more culturally aligned”?

Where do we start? Well, here’s the definition of ‘refugee’ (a word Littlejohn studiously avoids, in favour of ‘asylum seeker’, a phrase which implies the prefix ‘bogus’ by long association):

“owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

[Source: UNHCR, Convention relating to the status of refugees, 1951 modified in 1966]

And, just for completeness, here’s a table with the number of refugees given asylum by the UK in 2007, set against the number refused by the UK and the number accepted by other selected nations.

Granted Asylum 3,800
Granted Exceptional Leave to Remain 2,335
Refused Asylum 16,755
Total refugees in UK 299,700
Total refugees in Pakistan 2,033,100
Total refugees in Tanzania 435,600
Total refugees in Chad 294,000
Total refugees in Iran 963,546
Total refugees in Ecuador 264,907

[Sources: above line, Home Office, below UNHCR]

I think that probably covers us – what we’re actually talking about is offering sanctuary for people who are being persecuted, we have an ‘open door’ policy which refuses admittance to around 73% of those who ask to come in and, as a result, end up with less than as sixth as many refugees as Pakistan (including considerably less Afghanis). This is a matter of human decency towards the world’s worst off, fair shares should not come into the discussion – but since he’s brought it up: we don’t allow in as many refugees as we could, our burden is a lot lighter relative to the size of our economy than it is for many countries and the real question should be ‘shouldn’t others be doing more’ and not ‘can we get away with doing less because that would be cheaper’.

But then, Littlejohn isn’t really interested in fairness. If he were, that question above would have been quick on his lips – he could have had a pop at the French (151,789 according to the UNHCR figures) and hailed a plucky British second place in the EU humanitarian admissions stakes. I doubt he would have suggested more money to help Chad, but maybe we’d be lucky. Instead, the ‘fair share’ is forgotten as soon as it’s mentioned.

He’s also not actually that interested in the government misspending our money as such – the headline is a world away from ‘Housing allowance blunder costs rate-payers 170k – give us more oversight of spending by bureaucrats’.  If this were the issue, the column would not hinge on an anecdote about a single council interpreting a regulation in a way he himself does not understand.¹ This is a localised error, not an example of systemic misspending. As such, it doesn’t serve to introduce government misspending as a theme. Which is just as well, since instead of picking up that theme, he immediately goes off on a tangent about immigration.

This tangent is introduced quite well, suggesting that, in fact, it isn’t a tangent at all. We have an immigrant, clearly doing better than the average Briton, who is completely unrepentant. We get the ‘like winning the lottery’ quote three times, just in case we missed it – these people are laughing at us. The focus shifts immediately from the council and onto the accidental recipient of their bounty. That this immigrant should be an Afghan, who are all here under false pretences (the Taleban of 2000 and the subsequent war are forgotten while Littlejohn remembers a criminal act eight years ago²) and only leave their mountain paradise because they fancy a council house from which to plot their latest international terrorist atrocity, only makes things worse. Meanwhile, you and I can’t get houses, because

“Mass immigration is one of the main reasons we have a housing crisis”

(Not the Tory sell off of council stock or any subsequent government schemes to promote take-up by tenants, nor demographic shifts towards one-person houses. Just in case you were wondering.) It’s immigration that is the problem – that we should be spending any money at all on refugees is a waste when all they do is sap our resources.

When the  well rehearsed argument about government spending does arrive, it’s to drive home this central point – immigrants per se are just another example of government mispending, and one we can’t afford at this difficult time.

To compare the care of those fleeing death and persecution with

“pulling in [our] horns in the face of soaring food and fuel prices and the mounting burden of taxation”

would be bean-counting of the most despicable kind were the motivation for it not so painfully obvious. The hijackers, the terrorists planning atrocities, the spoof game show with its wearying predictions of people outstaying their welcome, the fatherly concern about ‘cultural alignment’: dressing it up with the faint understanding of “I don’t blame anyone for coming here to make a better life” doesn’t wash. This is odious. The only thing worse than the fact that propaganda like this can find a publisher in this day and age is that it can find an audience. If we really are “all going to hell in a handcart”, columns like this are what’s paving the way.

¹ He’s not the only one. The Local Housing Allowance (LHA), as described here, does not, to me at least, appear to have a weakness for paying above market rents built in. My best guess is that the Broad Rental Market Areas do strange things when you’re looking at houses for 7 in West London. However, since the BRMA offers an upper limit to the allowance, not a full entitlement, something has clearly gone wrong somewhere in the application.

² Note that Littlejohn also fails to question whether they might have committed the hijacking in 2000 because they were desperate to leave the land of their birth for one “with which they were more culturally aligned”, probably because he means this in the apartheid sense of the phrase, rather than the self-determining one.