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Our Australia

I have not lived in Australia, apart from the twelve weeks in 2017 that I spent in a glass-tables-and-beige-carpets serviced apartment in Canberra, for more than seven years. A lot of Australians live overseas for a while, but this is an unusually long time: I made friends in London with people who did their mid-twenties year or two then went home. Seven years has a different character to it. Most of the people I know who've stayed away that long have no particular intention of going back.
Still, we all miss it, with varying degrees of longing and desperation. It would be nice to have a day to mark that homesickness which isn't also the day that marks Indigenous dispossession and heartbreak. When a well-meaning local thinks to wish you a happy Australia Day, you reply with an Oh..., and as much of an explanation as you have the energy for. It would be nice if you could just smile and dream of pavlova. It's not that you need a state-sanctioned day to miss your home. But if…

Never tweet #1: regional migration, refugee quotas, class war

New concept: instead of tweeting, which raises everyone's blood pressure and is pointless, I am just going to do posts every so often about things on Twitter and in the news. If they don't occupy my brain for long enough to be worth even a short post at the end of the day... I will just not share my opinion about it! Radical!

Immigrants to the regions: The Sun got a briefing that Priti Patel is going to introduce use her new (sigh) "Australian-style points based immigration system" to encourage settlement outside London, or, in their words, "push migrants to Northern towns". Everybody gave pretty much the quotes you would expect - Diane Abbott said it was unworkable and illiberal; Lisa Nandy said the north is sick of Westminster gimmicks. The basic idea is better than those critics suggest, and it's something I argued for in my last report at Global Future. But I also made a point there of stopping to highlight that you can't really force people to l…

Eight features of an 'Australian-style immigration system' that Boris Johnson should adopt

Originally a post for the blog at Global Future, where I worked.

Since Boris Johnson used his first appearance in Parliament as PM to declare his intention to create an “Australian-style points-based system” for immigration, there’s been plenty of discussion about just what that means. The Migration Observatory has the best rundown of what the Australian system actually is, while Jonathan Portes and Marley Morris provide useful analysis of what Johnson’s enthusiasm for it might tell us about future British policy.

The common theme in most commentary, unfortunately, is that the new prime minister doesn’t exactly know what he’s talking about. The “Australian-style system” may be more a PR move – in focus groups, members of the public often mention an Australian system as their model of a controlled approach – than any very specific policy commitment. Certainly the main feature of true points-based systems – de-emphasising the need for a job offer – doesn’t seem to be part of what Johnso…

Bob Hawke built the Australian economy and the Australian Labor Party. RIP.

Neither of the claims in my title are particularly controversial. But it's worth keeping a sharp focus on just how important they are. Bob Hawke has, I think, a good claim to being a unique figure on the left in Western politics - certainly in the 'Anglosphere' politics that, in Australia, we mostly pay attention to.

Here is inequality in Australia and the United Kingdom since the 1970s.

Obviously if you look at the US the story is even worse. Australia was far from immune to problems of poverty and inequality, and they have certainly got worse since. But we just didn't experience skyrocketing inequality in the 1980s in the way that America and Britain did.

The reason for that is summed up in one of Bob Hawke's last public statements:
It is a blatant denial of history for Scott Morrison to allege that the Labor Party cannot manage the economy when he knows the design and structure of the modern Australian economy was put in place exclusively by the Labor Party. In…

Abolish the Home Office? Scattered extra thoughts

I've written something for the blog at work about whether abolishing the Home Office would be a useful step in reforming Britain's disgraceful immigration policy. Take a look here.
If we had seen years of increasingly liberal Home Secretaries unable to stop the tide of outrageous and cruel actions in the Home Office, we could say with confidence that the bureaucratic culture was the culprit. What we’ve actually seen is the opposite: years of draconian Home Secretaries, deliberately tightening immigration policy for political ends. Without a seachange in the attitudes of politicians, reshuffling the responsibilities of the Home Office isn’t likely to achieve much. Here are a few additional thoughts I didn't put in, either because they're slightly off-topic or because they're very much personal views not those of the organisation.

1. The British slogan, obviously, was inspired by the American 'abolish ICE', which had basically the same genesis as a way of tyi…

Abolishing the Home Office won't fix Britain's wrong-headed and cruel immigration policy

Originally a post for the blog at Global Future, where I worked.

If you spend much time following immigration issues on social media, you may have come across a new slogan: “Abolish the Home Office”. Usually attached to a news article documenting another immigration policy outrage, it’s a demand that these injustices aren’t treated as isolated incidents but as signs of a rotten culture.

The phrase had been floating around earlier, but has taken off in the UK since Jon Stone, a journalist at The Independent, started a Twitter thread of news stories about scandalous behaviour at the Home Office in January. It is regularly updated with new examples – with rarely more than a few days between them.

It’s valuable to remember that these scandals have emerged from deliberate government choices – like the steadily expanding hostile environment – and aren’t isolated mistakes, as ministers would have us believe. So to some extent, the slogan is understandable. But we should be sceptical about wh…

Labour know keeping free movement is the right choice – it’s time for them to be open about it

Originally a post for the blog at Global Future, where I worked.

Should the Labour Party back free movement? It’s a festering dispute inside the party. Its 2017 manifesto committed to ending free movement, and many MPs feel it’s necessary to avoid antagonising immigration-sceptical, often Leave-voting Labour voters in marginal seats. But a majority of the party’s membership base think that free movement has benefited Britain and that its abolition would be an unjustifiable rollback of migrant rights.

So it’s not surprising that the leadership has been inconsistent and indecisive on the question. The arrival of the government’s immigration bill – the legislative instrument that will end free movement – raised the temperature. Labour initially proposed abstaining on the bill at its second reading in January but reversed course after a social media backlash. Now the wound has been reopened by the leadership’s decision to whip in favour of the cross-party ‘Common Market 2.0’ – which would…

Of course they're charlatans!

Disclaimer that there is no hot take lurking here. This is just a short reflection on something I've been finding strange this week: why is everyone so depressed about Brexit?

Obviously Brexit is terrible, and you might think the last few weeks have made no-deal or some other bad outcome more likely, and fair enough that people are sad about that. But what I have in mind is something closer to exasperation. It's a fed-up-and-defeated type of Brexit depression, whose target is not so much the fact that Brexit is happening as the fact that politicians on both sides are revealing themselves as dishonest, cowardly, partisan intellectual lightweights.

I'm not going to labour the explanation because you'll be familiar with the idea. Ministers, ex-ministers and shadow ministers routinely say things that suggest they don't know or care about the details of the issue they've been aggressively arguing over for three years. Backbenchers, by and large, are even worse - wit…

Does The Independent Group really have an Anna Soubry problem?

Awkwardness struck almost immediately when Anna Soubry joined The Independent Group. The day before, the original members had sadly proclaimed that they hadn't left Labour - it had left them. But any notion that TIG is some kind of Continuity Labour, abandoned by the Corbynite left, didn't survive contact with its new Tory members.
Ex Labour MPs in the Ind Group grimacing as Anna Soubry praises the coalition government and George Osborne — Rowena Mason (@rowenamason) February 20, 2019 This got widely seized on as exemplifying the deep problem at the heart of TIG, namely that it doesn't have much concrete policy platform and its members disagree about a lot of seemingly core issues.

I am sceptical. It will obviously be a challenge to build TIG into a unified party with someone like Soubry in it. But if it's a really significant challenge, that's nothing to do with Anna Soubry in particular - it's just an indication that the group's whole political strategy m…

Putting the £30k threshold under the microscope

Originally a post for the blog at Global Future, where I worked.

If there’s one thing everybody knows about in the government’s Immigration White Paper, it’s the proposal to extend the existing £30,000 salary threshold to EU workers. The Cabinet is so divided over it that the White Paper was continually delayed, and still being edited the night before its release.

Reading between the lines of that dispute – or indeed just reading the briefings coming from across government – we can be pretty confident that £30,000 is Theresa May’s preferred threshold. Employers, in turn, have very clearly expressed their fears about the labour shortages it might create.
So why is the PM so keen on £30,000? Well, if you look across the White Paper for a justification of the idea, you’ll find just one attempt at an argument – and it’s pretty flimsy.

Here’s the extent of the government’s defence of the £30,000 level in the White Paper:
“The MAC noted … that £30,000 is the level of household income at whi…

Why does 'realistic politics' pay so little attention to political reality?

There's an interesting discussion about childcare policy on this week's Weeds podcast which got me thinking about, obviously, the way we debate immigration policy. You can listen to the whole thing if you're interested in childcare, but what leapt out to me was Matt Yglesias's description of Elizabeth Warren's childcare policy:
"When you get bills like this - it's very ambitious, probably too ambitious to be enacted, and also not a fully-fleshed out view of how the world should work, exactly, and I'm increasingly uncertain exactly what to make of it" I was thinking about this recently in the context of James Hathaway's proposal about how international refugee policy should work. Hathaway has been thinking about this for a long time and the details are complicated, but the basic picture is a binding burden-sharing system along these lines:

Administration would move from national governments to the UNCountries would have mandatory quotas, for bot…

Javid’s tough talk on citizenship is a threat to Britain’s diverse society

Originally a post for the blog at Global Future, where I worked.

Shamima Begum, the so-called ‘ISIS bride’ who has leapt back into the spotlight because she now wants to return to the UK, has never held a passport from any other country. Britain is a signatory to a UN Convention meant to stop governments making people stateless. So how can the Home Office deprive Begum of her British citizenship, as ITV News reported on Tuesday it has done?

Citizenship and statelessness law is extremely complex. Particularly at this stage, when we don’t know the government’s detailed legal reasoning, it’s not really worth non-experts trying to get to grips with all the legal nuances. But what we can say with confidence is that this would not have happened if Begum was from a white British family rather than an immigrant household – and that the law in this area, thanks to its discriminatory effects, undermines meaningful integration in the UK.

The basic position of the government seems to be that Begu…

EU immigration: the government’s no-deal plans would create chaos for millions

Originally a post for the blog at Global Future, where I worked.

Last night, while the Labour Party was conducting a dramatic about-face on the new immigration bill, the government quietly released its plans for EU immigration if we leave the EU without a deal.

The government’s position on this issue has been extremely unclear for many months. During her testy session with the home affairs committee last October, immigration minister Caroline Nokes said that in the event of a no-deal exit employers would have to treat newly-arrived and already-settled EU citizens differently even though she agreed it would be “almost impossible” for them to do so. Sajid Javid publicly corrected Nokes the next day, and she subsequently wrote to the committee to clarify that what she’d said was not accurate.

So a more thorough statement of what the government’s plans actually are is long overdue. Unfortunately the policy is still quiet on vital details and would almost certainly cause disruption to the …