08 June 2010

New Balls, please? No thanks

Michael Heseltine is not, and never will be, one of my favourite politicians, despite his legendary status in some quarters. Like Kenneth Clarke, he is a dodgy misanthrope sheltering behind a warm and cuddly public image. (Although to be fair, Clarke at least enjoys jazz, which counts for something).

However, Heseltine did produce a classic quote in the mid-1990s with his attack on the mention of "post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory" in a Gordon Brown speech. The line had been provided by Ed Balls, and Heseltine produced the classic putdown: "it wasn't Brown, it was Balls". Great days.

Ed has since gone on to produce a lot of Balls in his own right, but reached new heights of cheap right-wing punkishness with an extremely unpleasant Observer article where he says that:

Within the EU, free movement of goods and services works to our advantage. But free movement of labour is another matter entirely.

Why's that, Ed? Apparently because:

There have been real economic gains from the arrival of young, hard-working migrants from eastern Europe over the past six years. But there has also been a direct impact on the wages, terms and conditions of too many people – in communities ill-prepared to deal with the reality of globalisation, including the one I represent. The result was, as many of us found in the election, our arguments on immigration were not good enough. We faced rising anti-European sentiment with small parties claiming they could seal the borders.

Really, Ed? Has there been a massive negative impact on wages, terms and conditions of people? If so, how come every single empirical study of the impact of migration from the EU on UK wages and/or employment has found almost no impact - and in some cases positive impacts? I know this research extremely well - I've done some of it, in fact - and I also know that Ed Balls is talking out of his arsehole on this issue. Ok, the local level (Super Output Area) data is poor and there may have been adverse effects in a few areas. But if it was that widespread it would show up at regional or local authority level, or at local authorities - and it simply doesn't.

For sure there are some people experiencing poor working conditions - but that's nowt to do with migration. That's due to failure to regulate the labour market properly - for example failure to implement the EU agency workers directive (which Ed does mention to be fair.)

Migration has also caused pressure on public services in certain areas - but that's because the funding formulas are based on population size and demographics in previous years and don't respond quickly enough to population shifts. Again, Balls is shooting at the wrong target.

But I'd wager that his intention here isn't to present a balanced evidence base anyway. Instead, he's trying to exploit the meme that's emerged since the election that Labour lost because it wasn't tough on immigration (and welfare claimants). And trying to turn Labour into a reactionary Sun readers football-hooligan parody of what a left-wing party should be. It's not dropping all the way into the cesspit of the British National Party to be sure. But it is dipping a foot into that stinking morass of hatred and xenophobia.

In any case, free movement of labour is a cornerstone of the EU. Some countries (e.g. Bulgaria, Romania) are subject to temporary labour movement restrictions to be sure (in my view, unfairly - if a country's ready to enter then it should be a full member from day one). But the restrictions are meant to be just that - temporary. I'd have more respect for Balls if he was trying to go for a left-wing version of UKIP - suggesting leaving the EU. I wouldn't agree with him but at least it would be consistent But of course he doesn't have the balls to do that - he'd rather play to the galley in the most disgusting way possible.

Balls - and Andy Burnham, who has said very similar things - can go f*** themselves as far as I'm concerned. We have to hope and pray (even as atheists) that Eddy Miliband wins this leadership campaign. If not, I'm off to the Greens and fuck the Labour party. It can kiss my ass. This kind of reactionary shit from Balls is what no-one needs right now and particuarly the deprived communities whom he professes to be on the side of.

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