Yesterday Dave visited a Mini factory in Oxfordshire, as one does when one has to come across as a man of the people who feels their pain.
He then made a speech designed to reinforce that impression. With UKIP breathing down his neck, Dave knew exactly what he had to say.
“You go round factories in our country and half the people have come from Poland or Lithuania or Latvia… But as a country what we ought to be saying is ‘no’.”
Did you hear this, you prospective Tory-wreckers from UKIP? Dave doesn’t want any bloody foreigners here any more than you do.
Yes, but what about Dave’s more, shall we say, progressive constituency? Is this the message he wants them to receive? You bet it isn’t.
“You can’t blame them,” Dave hastened to add. “They work hard. They see the jobs, they come over and they do them.”
God forbid we blame foreigners, that just isn’t The Guardian way. Then whom do we blame?
It’s the fault of our schools, explained Dave plausibly, because British youngsters aren’t “fully capable” of holding down jobs. ‘Not fully capable’ means ‘fully incapable’ in political, in case you’re wondering. Like not being able to read, write and add up, while having a rotten attitude and no work ethic.
Add to this a welfare system discouraging work, continued Dave, and the problem is there in a nutshell. Also, of course – and don’t get Dave wrong – he loves foreigners, but there are just too many of those ‘hard-working’ Eastern Europeans here.
But being a prime minister who wants to stay that way, Dave can’t just identify problems; he must offer solutions. Decisive, intelligent, no-job-too-big-or-too-small solutions. Otherwise the natives will get restless and vote for Ed, even if this means cutting off their nose to spite their face.
Dave didn’t disappoint. Far from it – he offered not one, not two but three solutions:
“First, let’s get our education system right… Second, let’s reform the welfare system so that it doesn’t pay to be out of work. And third, let’s have sensible controls on immigration. Crack those three problems together [my emphasis] and we’ll create an economy that really generates wealth for our people.”
That’s it. Not a dry seat in the audience, deafening sounds of “hear, hear”. But the rest of us are ever so slightly confused.
‘Together’ is a good word in politics, however it’s used. We all adore togetherness. But does it really apply, in essence and not just in sound, to the problem at hand?
Let’s imagine a plausible timetable for Dave’s tripartite programme, back to front. How long will it take to introduce ‘sensible controls on immigration’? What will it take?
As the people Dave mentioned specifically come from EU countries, they have a legal right to work here. For that to change so must our relationship with the EU.
Britain will have to demand controls over her own borders, and something tells me those chaps in Brussels just may say no. What then?
Why, have an immediate in-or-out referendum, or at least threaten to have one. Assuming that Britain wins the resulting standoff and stares the EU down, and this isn’t a safe assumption by any means, how long before we can drastically reduce immigration?
At least a year, I’d say. So that’s Dave’s third point taken care of. One year, more probably longer, most probably not at all. But do let’s be optimistic and agree on 12 months.
Next point, reforming the welfare state. Compared to the previous task, this one is a doddle, it could be done in one fell swoop. Just announce that as of next month able-bodied young people won’t be getting any state assistance. Job done.
Or is it? We’re after all talking about millions of people, most of whom aren’t ‘fully capable’ of working for a living. Are we going to let them starve? Of course not. We’re going to train them, which brings us to Dave’s Point 1, getting ‘our education system right’.
How long will this take, assuming (and that’s another unsafe assumption) that we remove all the stops, reinstate grammar schools, introduce a voucher system, attract good teachers by paying them more and so on, whatever it takes?
With the best will in the world, even in theory it’ll be impossible to see any positive and sizeable results in less than a generation, more likely two, educational cycles being what they are. But let’s again be kind to Dave, let’s say 20 years.
This leaves a gap of at least 19 years between slamming the door into those Eastern European faces, reforming our welfare and producing in sufficient numbers those willing and able to work.
If we accept Dave’s figures at face value, then half the labour force will disappear from our factories for almost two decades. This means at least half of our factories, and probably more, will shut down. So when those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed youngsters are ready to get jobs, there won’t be any jobs for them to get.
There’s got to be something wrong with my calculations. Surely our venerable PM can’t be so cynical, brazen and lightweight as to say such things with no hope of ever making them come true? Don’t bother answering.