It’s immigration that’s the sincerest form of flattery

TheresaMayBritain must be doing something right, judging by the swarms of Europeans dying to settle here.

The widespread belief is that migrants are attracted by our generous social benefits. Some no doubt are, considering that the average salaries even in some EU member countries fall short of our welfare generosity.

That, however, doesn’t explain all those French fund managers inundating my part of London or hundreds of Italian restaurateurs whipping up pasta sauces or thousands of Polish plumbers fixing leaky taps all over the country.

Those people come to Britain looking for opportunities, not hand-outs. They must feel they stand a better chance of succeeding here than, say, in France. They have a point.

Our economy is fundamentally as unsound as everywhere else in the West: aggregate global debt of £120 trillion is a millstone bound to sink the world economy sooner rather than later. But meanwhile day-to-day life continues.

And for someone seeking economic success British life is better than anywhere else in Europe. We’re being throttled by red tape, but the noose isn’t as tight as in most EU countries. Our labour laws may be restrictive and counterproductive, but less so. Our unions are powerful but not omnipotent, as they are on the continent. Our taxes are extortionate, but not as much.

What’s sauce for the goose of individual migrants is also sauce for the gander of capital immigration. Foreign investors know it’s easier and more profitable to do business in (or from) Britain than in any other European country.

Immigrants, individual or institutional, know something about Britain we ourselves often fail to appreciate. For all those things that attract them to Britain have the same root: our state is marginally less meddlesome than anywhere else in Europe.

That’s why our economy is doing better than in most EU countries, even though our workforce is less educated than in France and less conscientious than in Germany. Now, having read Mrs May’s rousing speech, I wonder if she realises this.

I don’t share the enthusiasm about her speech gushing off the pages of Tory newspapers. I tend not to be impressed by rousing orations with populist overtones, those rich in demagogic generalities and poor in detail.

Mrs May reaffirmed her commitment to the nation state, which is commendable and would be even more so if this sentiment weren’t of such recent provenance. During the referendum campaign, Mrs May supported the idea of dissolving sovereign British nationhood in a wicked European entity. Better late than never, but forgive me for thinking that it’s not her convictions but political expediency that has changed.

The rest of the soliloquy was a throwback to Disraeli’s one-nation Conservatism, but with the modern, socialist touch of squeezing the fat cats and transferring their ill-gotten gains to the working stiffs.

Most worryingly, Mrs May obviously forgets what attracts foreign labour and capital to Britain. She seems to think there isn’t enough state interference in the economy, rather than too much. The state, she thundered, “must be prepared to tackle the unfairness and injustice that divides us…”

Some details would have helped to assuage the fear that what we’re observing is the socialist wolf in Tory clothing. The only way for the state to enforce levelling (which is what ‘tackling unfairness and injustice’ traditionally means) is to nationalise, or at least subjugate, the economy, mandating higher wages and imposing punitive taxation on the more talented and enterprising.

Yet no details were forthcoming – just general waffle with what to me sounds like sinister overtones. This was exacerbated by a promise to sort out any “boss who earns a fortune but doesn’t look after [his] staff”, which is a stock threat of any socialist government. Its only known result is to destroy economic growth while massively empowering the state.

Mrs May’s sole policy enunciated so far is putting workers on corporate boards, a practice that has proved disastrous in France, among other places. This isn’t sound economics; it’s populism on wheels.

The only detail that stood out in Mrs May’s speech was her promise to make sure that people living in rural areas would get “a decent broadband connection”. That was rather too much detail: one would expect Her Majesty’s First Minister to outline strategic initiatives, rather than promising to install broadband, fix the plumbing and make sure the wiring for electric ovens is in place.

That old saw of putting paid to tax avoidance also got an airing. Mrs May didn’t suggest that she was aware of the legal difference between avoidance and evasion, which is unfortunate.

Tax evasion is against the law. Running one’s business and personal affairs in a tax-efficient way isn’t. Going after people and companies that save money legally is a proven way of forcing talented businessmen out and turning foreign investors away. But Mrs May doesn’t seem to mind. She’d rather make populist noises appealing to the baser instincts of man, such as envy.

Then Mrs May wants to get rid of low interest rates that penalise savers. They also boost business activity, and one would like to know what relative weight Mrs May attaches to the two desiderata. That information wasn’t proffered.

All in all, your normal political speech long on image, short on substance. There’s no reason to panic yet – but then neither is there any reason for effusive enthusiasm.

1 thought on “It’s immigration that’s the sincerest form of flattery”

  1. Apparently she said that we must remember the good which government can do.

    Missing the point that the ONLY good government can do is to limit the harm it does.

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