Sunday, 20 August 2017

Paid repatriation

The notion of paying people from the Commonwealth - and even their descendants - to leave the UK has raised its head again. John Rees-Evans, a candidate for the leadership of UKIP, has proposed paid repatriation of Indians. It is all very reminiscent of the 1960s, when Enoch Powell suggested a similar scheme for all immigrants from the Commonwealth. Ironically (or cynically?) he had been responsible for encouraging immigration of specialists, as a 2011 briefing paper recounts:

In 1963 the Conservative Health Minister, Enoch Powell, who later led the call for stricter controls on immigration, launched a campaign to recruit trained doctors from overseas to fill the manpower shortages caused by NHS expansion. Some 18,000 of them were recruited from India and Pakistan. Powell praised these doctors, who he said, 'provide a useful and substantial reinforcement of the staffing of our hospitals and who are an advertisement to the world of British medicine and British hospitals.' Many of those recruited had several years of experience in their home countries and arrived to gain further medical experience, training, or qualification.

Powell was not alone. A considerable body of fellow-Conservatives, the Monday Club, had a policy on immigration which called for:

  1. Scrapping of the Commission for Racial Equality and Community Relations Councils. 
  2. Repeal of the race relations laws. 
  3. An end to the use of race or colour as criteria for the distribution of state benefits and loans. 
  4. An end to positive discrimination and all special treatment based upon race or colour. 
  5. An end to all further large-scale permanent immigration from the New Commonwealth. 
  6. An improved repatriation scheme with generous resettlement grants for all those from New Commonwealth countries who wish to take advantage of them. 
  7. The redesignation of the Ministry of Overseas Aid as a Ministry for Overseas Resettlement.

Though the Monday Club was eventually disowned by the Conservative party, it included at its peak at least thirty Conservative MPs and more than a dozen peers. several of whom are still active. Few have publicly renounced their Monday Club views as one-time secretary to the group John Bercow has done.

It seems that Mr Rees-Evans's ideas are too extreme even for UKIP. One hopes so. If Mr Rees-Evans or Anne-Marie Waters should win the prize of UKIP leadership, and thus a guaranteed platform on BBC as well as other media, then the immediate prospects of race and foreign relations in the UK are dire.

We will probably not return to being the welcoming, state of the 19th century as described by veteran socialist Ruth Brown in an often-cited paper of 1995. However, we have survived "swamped by immigrants" scares before and will do so again.

In keeping with its role as the 'workshop of the world', Britain long enjoyed a reputation as a liberal provider of refuge and political asylum. The British ruling class had little use for immigration controls for most of the 19th century. The 'free' approach to immigration flourished in the heyday of free trade, as British capitalism expanded to the four corners of the globe. During the boom years of the industrial revolution British capitalism lapped up labour with an insatiable thirst, if only to throw workers back into unemployment in times of slump. Britain's bosses showed little interest in the national or ethnic 'character' of the labour power which they sucked into the expanding British economy.

However, by the turn of the century Britain clearly no longer 'ruled the waves', its industry increasingly undermined by cheaper imports from abroad. The end of the 19th century was marked by deep economic depression and political crises, as huge price rises led to massive cuts in virtually all workers' standards of living, and rising unemployment forced millions into abject poverty. The working class responded with the explosion of 'new unionism', embodied in the strike wave which swept Britain in 1889, involving thousands of women and immigrant workers.

Sadly, the heroic struggles which characterised this period of 'new unionism' proved to be shortlived. The ruling class fought back, and against the background of working class defeat the first law aimed at controlling immigration into Britain was introduced. The 1905 Aliens Act introduced by Balfour's Tory government had an overriding advantage for the government and the ruling class as a whole. It institutionalised the idea that immigrants alone were responsible for the rapidly deteriorating conditions which most workers were suffering.

The introduction of the act was accompanied by a rise of anti-Semitism, led by the gutter press, against the growing numbers of impoverished Jewish refugees arriving in London's East End. In parliament Tory MPs whipped up an anti-Semitic frenzy. One even likened Jewish immigration to the entry of diseased cattle from Canada. Jewish refugees were simultaneously accused of taking British workers' jobs and of living on welfare, in the same racist--and self contradictory--mythology which opponents of immigration continue to employ against migrant workers today.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Paki-bashing refers.

One wonders why men of Muslim sub-continental origin have become associated with organised sex-trafficking of young vulnerable girls. These associations seem to come in waves. There was a spate of "Irish tinkers" being implicated in various scams, and long before that, prostitution in central London was said to be controlled by Maltese families.

In cases like Oxford, Rochdale, Rotherham and Newcastle I suspect that what has happened has been something like a dam bursting. Police and social workers have long known that grooming for sex has gone on, but have been unduly afraid of seeking prosecution because of fears of being labelled racist - or of the sheer amount of evidence which needed to be handled. Once one crown prosecutor had taken the plunge, the rest felt free to follow. The result is that the involvement of Muslim men in this shameful business has been highlighted.

Why did men of Pakistani and Bengali descent get involved? It has been suggested that it is because Islam is more protective of its young women than nominally Christian Britain, and that the Old Adam seeks an outlet. However, the same could be said of orthodox Judaism and there have been no reports of sex-rings in Childs Hill or Cheetham. Besides, it seems to me that Muslims here are regressing to the secular mean. I believe the truth is more prosaic and down to opportunism. In the big towns and cities in England outside London, the mini-cab trade has come to be dominated by men from the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. This gives plenty of scope for the criminally-inclined to pick up and transport their victims. Not having been stopped by the authorities at an early stage, the information about easy pickings no doubt spread to other area by word of mouth through clans and extended families.

If social workers and those in charge of children's homes had been more vigilant, and those who had gone the extra mile, reporting abuse to the police, had been listened to, we would not have reached this dire state.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Unilever cut the mustard

The news that regulatory approval had been given to the conglomerate Reckitt Benckiser (of which Reckitt & Colman was once a major component) selling its remaining food businesses to McCormick caused me to check whether Colman's Mustard was part of the sale. McCormick is the US firm best known over here for its ownership of Schwartz herbs & spices. Fortunately the long-established British brand stayed in (part) British hands because Unilever had bought all the Colman's side of the business in 1995.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Imperial symbols more important than health and safety?

When I learned of the Daily Mail's (and, it appears, Theresa May's) diatribe against the very sensible measures to protect the hearing of those working on the renewal of the Elizabeth tower, my mind turned to the needless deaths resulting from the gilding of Petersburg's St Isaac's Cathedral.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Discrimination in IT

An American academic contributed to the Google misogyny debate on The World This Weekend last Sunday. She blamed the decline in the UK IT industry on our failing to recognise that women could program.

I feel that was too simplistic. As I wrote in a comment on Peter Black's blog in response to another suggestion for our loss of a lead in various aspects of computing:

We were still pioneering computer developments into the mid-1960s - and US was never far behind anyway. After the war, Turing had continued to work on computing at NPL and others from Bletchley Park took their expertise into industry and academia. So while they may not have been able to publish, nothing was lost - apart from the electronic valves from Colossus!

Three things did for us in my opinion: a) the Americans were better at marketing their machinery (sales to the big retail banks were key); b) they used the embargo on sales to iron curtain countries to their advantage; c) they maintained indirect government support for their industry while Mrs Thatcher and Michael Heseltine abandoned ours.

I am glad that she placed on the broadcast record that the civil service agreed on equal pay for general service grades in the 1950s (though she did not realise that it would take about five years to achieve!) well ahead of other institutions*. However, she seemed to believe that machine grades, which were excluded from the 1954 equal pay agreement, incorporated computer programmers. In fact, the definition covered typists and, later, the people who pushed buttons and loaded paper tape and punched cards into computers. Programmers were drawn from executive grades, where equal pay certainly did apply. Now, here, I believe, is the insidious sexual discrimination which the American advocate missed. In order to be considered for direct entry as an executive officer, at least two GCE 'A' levels were necessary. It is now public knowledge that examination boards applied a fudge factor to girls' GCE results to pull them down to the same level or below those of the boys. In turn, this would have reduced the field for recruitment into data processing, where there was already a bias towards men. This was a shame, because I can vouch from personal experience that the women could at least hold their own with the men in civil service IT. One imagines the situation was similar in commercial computing.

On the subject of discrimination, Britain's ICT had a policy of excluding Jews from visible positions, because they had some lucrative contacts with Middle Eastern nations most of which had even stricter anti-Jewish policies than obtain now. I recall that it was a sore point with the IBM people we met in the 1960s.

*According to research by an academic Liberal Democrat, this advantage has been lost after the Thatcher/Heseltine reforms, which outsourced most traditional functions as well as allowing individual departments more freedom in setting pay rates.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Electrification follow-up

If you agree with me that Chris Grayling's decision to stunt rail electrification is a step backwards, there is a petition at which has at the time of writing attracted three-quarters of the signatures needed to elicit a response from government. (If there were a further 90,000 we could even achieve a parliamentary debate!)

Some wit, but no humour

John Galsworthy, who was born 150 years ago as of yesterday, has fallen out of favour of late. He dealt with social problems in novels and particularly in his plays, which were a critical and occasionally commercial success in Edwardian times. He had a sense of irony, but his lack of humour probably militates against revivals of Strife (1909), and Justice (1910), which would otherwise strike chords today. (Winston Churchill, then a Liberal minister, admired Justice.)

The novels making up The Forsyte Saga have never been out of print and perhaps we may yet see a dramatisation which combines the best and eliminates the drawbacks of the centenary BBC production and the 2002 ITV version.