Off Message: The Brown ultimatum

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things

“Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.”

A landmark speech intended to encourage debate on the skills shortage perhaps? Or utter nonsense, spoken by a walrus in a successful bid to steal, and eat, some baby oysters?

When the prime minister uttered what will surely become his legacy statement, the ‘Brown Ultimatum’, as it were – “British jobs for British people” – few commentators bothered to register what a serious, not to say mad challenge that would be to implement, although some did point out that his suggestion was likely to be illegal.

Sadly, nothing focuses the mind like power. So, with one eye on the historical records, Gordon Brown no doubt felt duty bound to come up with a soundbite he could call his own. After all, it had looked for a while like Tony ‘Cheshire Cat’ Blair had bagged all the good ones.

But where Blair’s particular Wonderland was all inclusive and welcoming about finding the keys and throwing open the doors to much needed skilled and non-skilled migrants, it seems Brown has taken on the gruff role of Walrus and is intent on bolting the door (not to mention the oysters). He has stepped Through the Looking Glass into his own little world – a closed world of super surveillance, ID cards, biometric testing and stealth taxes.

Taking the biscuit

Blair was straightforward, if not blinkered, and while he may have dithered, he was clearly his own man, living in his own little world, making his own (often foolish – Iraq, on-the-spot yob fines, etc) decisions. Brown’s lesser imagination, however, seems to have been swayed by the surreal baying of the tabloid press and its relentless quest for ‘jobs for our boys’ (or should that be fellas?), endless stories of single-parent spongers and asylum seeking ‘dole cheats’. And this strangely arcane and irrational ranting seems to have culminated in the introduction of the new rules for migrant workers, and the welfare-to-work scheme. Two initiatives that really do take the nonsensical biscuit. Only this shortbread snack doesn’t have ‘eat me’ written on it, but ‘get lost’.

The welfare-to-work programme has been devised to get our very own – that is British – workshy infidels back into work (Personneltoday.com, 29 February). By stopping benefits, which, on the face of it, seems to be an entirely commendable idea. After all, we don’t want people living in the ‘lap of luxury’ at the taxpayers’ expense, do we? That simply wouldn’t do – just ask the Queen and her extended family.

But does the single parent, who through no fault of their own, ends up on benefits in the first place then loses their benefits because they ‘refuse’ to work – on account of having children to bring up, perhaps – deserve to be left destitute? Of course not. Yet this ‘lucky’ parent might eventually be forced back to work on account of the new points-based system for migrant workers.

Migrant workers, come to the UK to – now let’s have a deep think about this work. That’s why they’re called migrant ‘workers’. And by all accounts they work very hard once they get here.

This hard work benefits UK plc by plugging skills gaps in the lower reaches of various industries, such as hospitality, construction and retailing. The migrant workers come here, they do a job, they leave. It’s not rocket science. It’s cleaning, plumbing, waiting tables, and a myriad of other jobs that home-grown ‘talent’ tends to ignore.

The UK is undoubtedly a place where nothing is as it seems the mythical, mystical land that is irresistible to jobseekers of the former Eastern Bloc and as alluring as ever it was to the inhabitants of the former colonies of the British Empire. A land where the streets might as well be lined with gold, such is the ridiculous wealth that’s piling up on our shores. And as the shiny monuments to our weird world of rampant consumerism continue to grow ever upwards, who is it that ensures the equally shiny and important occupants can get what they want when they need it, that they have a comfortable place in which to do their thing and an even more comfortable home in which to relax for a few hours at the weekend?

Well, whisper it quietly, lest the Jabberwocky awakes, but these places are held together by the migrants and the transient Brits in it for their own short-term gain, which ultimately works for the long-term benefit of the nation.

Yet the nation makes it harder and harder for employers to use these seemingly limitless pools of talent, by littering the landscape with bureaucratic barbed wire and legislative landmines, all designed to trip up the ill-informed employer and explode the aspirations of the would-be worker.

But while HR benefits from more legislation as employers will always need someone to explain what on earth is going on (Personnel Today, 13 February 2007), where’s the payback in piling up the red tape around the ankles of those least able to deal with it? Surely this tactic will only serve to reduce the legitimate workforce, thereby pushing up salaries for the reduced available workforce and opening a very big door for the easy exploitation of the weak by unscrupulous gangmasters.

Back to class

Brown may not have the maniacal grin of Blair, but this blubbery walrus seems intent on creating a multi-tiered (class driven) economy of haves and have nots, and taking what’s yours (through hidden taxes) while your back is turned.

It may well turn out that these laughable initiatives merely prove the old sour-puss actually has a sense of humour. But it certainly demonstrates a tacit acceptance of the existence of a real underclass in the UK – an underclass Brown wants to see step into the breach as the pool of migrant labour dries up, but an underclass he is clearly keen to keep in its place.

“The time has come,” the PM said, “to talk of other bits

“Of sealing borders, savage tax, and all the jobs for Brits.”

Not quite Lewis Carroll, but equally nonsensical.

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