Two announcements seemingly made out of the blue this week reminded me that politicians are very good at shouting about things that are at best symptoms of a wider problem, while completely ignoring the real issues.
The first came on Monday, with George Osborne’s announcement that fees on payday loans were to be capped. Very good you might say, but is this a solution to anything significant? The problem is not really the fees, but the scandal that so many are driven to take out these loans in the first place. If you do nothing to tackle the underlying causes, it doesn’t matter how you regulate these loans, people will still need to seek out alternative sources of finance, and payday loans – even with capped fees – will still be pretty bad news for most. So a solution to the problem should start with seeking to increase the number of secure jobs and the level of wages so that fewer people need to take out payday loans in the first place. Any discussion of that taking place? A bit from Labour maybe, but detail free and pretty weak.
The second announcement came today. Cameron has been all over the TV today talking tough on benefits for EU migrants. From what he was saying, you could be forgiven for thinking some sort of crackdown is about to take place, when actually, all he’s really talking about is at best enforcing the existing rules more effectively, and at worst just announcing what is already happening. This article from the European Commission is quite a good mythbuster of EU migrant’s rights to benefits. At the moment we also have the Government criticising Labour for a lack of transitional controls in 2004, and Labour criticising the Government for not extending controls for Romanians and Bulgarians which lapse on January 1st.
This is really all a side issue though. Without wishing to go all UKIP on you, the real issue should be about whether or not free movement of labour (and capital) within the EU is a good thing at all. I don’t think it is, because regardless of what you think about immigration in general ISTM that having no controls whatsoever about who can come here to work from 27 other counties is a very dumb idea. Surely each nation state has the right to decide who it allows to come and live within it’s borders? It might decide more migrants are needed, maybe less, but without free movement of labour, the ability to decide is removed from nation states. I can’t see that the benefits outweigh the costs.
These are two issues then that the main parties largely agree on (however much they pretend otherwise), and there is no discussion taking place about other alternatives. Energy prices is another example. You’d think there was a huge disagreement between the Government and Labour about how best to make them more affordable, but when you actually look at their positions, they really aren’t that far apart. A real solution would probably involve some new state energy company or total nationalisation, but this is never even discussed.
When you watch politicians debate on TV, what they’re arguing fiercely about is not over opposing visions for the country, but some minor administrative matters (e.g “You wasted £xm on this IT project. Well you’re wasting this much now”). It’s quite unedifying and largely prevents more important discussions taking place.
I don’t have a solution to this problem, it may be an intractable one. This is just an observation that, in the grand scheme of things, ‘big’ announcements like we’ve had this week are actually rather trivial, and despite the sound and fury in arenas like PMQs, the actual differences between the main parties are still incredibly small.