The left's capitulation to the right on the issue of free movement and immigration will be studied for decades to come. The latest political figure to throw his hands up in surrender to this reactionary Brexit onslaught is Vince Cable.
In a recent article in the New Statesman, Cable opines, "I have serious doubts that EU free movement is tenable or even desirable. First, the freedom is not a universal right, but selective. It does not apply to Indians, Jamaicans, Americans or Australians. They face complex and often harsh visa restrictions. One uncomfortable feature of the referendum was the large Brexit vote among British Asians, many of whom resented the contrast between the restrictions they face and the welcome mat laid out for Poles and Romanians."
What we have here are the politics of despair, wherein the former secretary of state for business is arguing that a key tenet of progressive politics is no longer support for the expansion of rights wherever possible for whoever possible, in the belief that it is more likely to lead to their expansion for all, but instead is about supporting the removal of said rights from those who currently have them in solidarity with those who currently do not. However even on the specific terms upon which Cable is arguing, he is factually incorrect. According to data compiled by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) that non EU migration to the UK is higher than EU migration. Yet regardless Vince Cable is now boiling the issue down to one of good non-EU migrants v bad EU migrants. Opportunism does not even begin to describe such a miserable exercise in political horse trading.
Cable also asserts, "British opposition to immigration is mainly colour-blind."
Well, yes, xenophobia and nativism are certainly equal opportunity pillars of exclusion, based on 'the othering' of those who happen to arrive from other parts of the world. But perhaps the most withering counter to such a facile point is that while not everybody who supported or voted for Brexit is a racist or a bigot, every racist and bigot supports Brexit. And why would that be? Could it be that they understand the symbiotic relationship between means and ends more than he does?
The question answers itself.
Vince Cable then goes on to write, "The economics are ambiguous. Seen globally, more migration is undeniably a positive. People moving from high unemployment, low productivity countries to areas of labour scarcity and higher productivity produce economic gains. But the benefits accrue mainly to migrants themselves (and business owners)."
This is where we get to the nitty gritty. And surprisingly for a man considered an expert on economics - though his support for Tory austerity while part of the coalition government contradicts this particular mantle - Cable fails to understand the role of aggregate demand as the primary determinant of economic growth and prosperity in an economy predicated on consumption. In other words, the more people spend in the economy the more the economy grows, and vice versa, which means that it is simply untrue to state that "the [economic] benefits [of migration] accrue mainly to migrants." Those benefits accrue to us all when it comes to the multiplier effect that any increase in economic activity and, with it, spending has throughout the economy as a whole.
What Vince Cable - perhaps out of ignorance, perhaps out of convenience - abstracts from his analysis, is the distinction that exists between economic growth and wealth redistribution. And it is the latter where the real problem exists in our society. In other words the so-called indigenous working class in Britain have been and continue to be victims not of free movement or migration, but of the maldistribution of wealth and resources that lies at the heart of neoliberal/Thatcherite economics. The crippling inequality that has and continues to corrode social cohesion in the UK is an indictment not of free movement or migrants but of successive governments that have been slavishly attached to magical thinking when it comes worshipping at the altar of the free market - a free market which a rising tide of human despair proves beyond doubt is anything but free.
But neoliberal economics not only reproduces and enshrines crippling levels of inequality within states, it also reproduces and enshrines it between states, which is where we come to the role of the free movement of capital in migration flows from poorer economies to their richer counterparts. Workers in poorer economies are merely acting in accordance with their natural and moral rights in seeking to support themselves and their families. If you wish to control such migration flows the only sustainable way is to deal with the 'push' factor responsible for compelling them to. This means the introduction of capital controls along with uniform wages and conditions for workers across the EU.
Capital is a social construct, yet under the rubric of the prevailing economic and ideological hegemony, we have been conditioned to accept that its free movement is compatible with freedom, and therefore completely natural that it should remain unfettered, while the free movement of human beings is not compatible with freedom and should not. In the interests of justice, not to mention sanity, we need to work towards a world underpinned by the reverse.
In the wake of the economic crash of 2007/08, caused when the contradictions inherent within said free market orthodoxy became insurmountable, the political centre ground, of which Vince Cable is a poster boy, proceeded to collapse. Its answer to the crisis was to make the crisis worse with the introduction of austerity, akin to treating a choking patient with strangulation. Resistance to austerity collapsed with Labour and Lib Dem capitulation to the Tory narrative that public spending rather than private greed was its primary cause.
Fast forward to 2016 and the narrative is now that the answer to the brutal cuts to public spending - and with them increasing demand on services - is to blame and demonise migrants. The othering of migrants that has ensued conforms to a template last seen employed by a resurgent right in the 1930s, during a similar period of economic crisis and dislocation, winning working people to the politics of exclusion and nationalism, and away from the politics of inclusion and class. It is a battle of ideas that the right is on the way to winning it would seem; its victory measured in the capitulation of an increasing section of the ideologically driven and centre left to its anti-migrant narrative.
"To live defeated and inglorious is to die daily." So said a certain Coriscan who led France on a crusade against the forces of reaction in the late 18th and early 19th century.
With his capitulation to the anti-free movement and anti-migrant assault from the right, Vince Cable joins the ranks of an ever-lengthening list of the defeated and inglorious in our time.Suggest a correction