Thursday, 9 May 2013

Queen's speech: dog's dinner

Domestic public policy shouldn't make you too angry, really. At least in the developed world, where we've got time - and cash - to think things out. Football? Yes. World poverty? Yes. Tinkering with the machinery of the mixed economy? Not so much.

Yesterday's Queen's Speech (above) may, however, be an exception. For it contained immigration 'reforms' so crasss, so ignorant, so eye-wateringly, bladder-emptyingly turgid, messy, stupid and downright ill-conceived that any of us with a brief on the public policy circuit should be smashing up seminar rooms and howling at the moon. We're going to tut and write blogs instead, but there you go.

The speech from the throne contained some good ideas, though many of them will never be actually implemented - partly because the Coalition itself is running swiftly out of steam, and partly because they're not radical enough. Reforms to social care, trying to stitch the NHS and local authority responsibilities together, and increased probation for ex-offenders, come under this heading. 'Not bad: try harder' isn't too bad a summary of these well-intentioned proposals.

But when we get to immigration 'reform' - well, excuse my brevity, but the announcement was a turd. Doctors are to check immigrants' length of stay, and charge short-term residents. Councils are to give priority to local people for housing - though they're already allowed and encouraged to do this. Most absurdly of all, landlords are to check tenants' papers. So let me get this straight. A supposedly liberal-conservative government wants to create a new bureaucratic array, a ragged army of snoopers, checkers, form-fillers and listeners-in... All for absolutely no purpose whatsoever. For anyone who believes that a single one of these ideas will change one migrant's idea about coming or not coming to the United Kingdom is deluded. What counts on that front is work - its absence or presence both here and in people's countries of origin. Economic growth will both bring people in, and be boosted in its turn, by the arrival of hard-working foreigners. That's the crux of the matter, and that's why immigration has fallen recently. There's no evidence, and there never will be any evidence, to prove the contrary. Evidence-based policy? Cutting red tape? They've gone out of the window in order to placate Conservative fears about the rise of the anti-immigration United Kingdom Independence Party.

But it's worse than that, really. These proposed laws are ridiculous even given their own presumptions. Will GPs really want to see your passport? Who's to look at tenants documentation? Agents? Landlords? How will the Government check if you've done it? Will doctors or councils listen to what the Government says anyway? It seems unlikely that a doctor is going to be asked to turn people away, or make them pay, when they're acutely ill.

It's bad law gone wrong, with legislation lurching from the absurd to the absurdist. It's the unenforceable and ineffective 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act all over again, brought in at a time when sensible public health measures, from minimum alcohol pricing to plain tobacco packaging, are being left to gather dust on the shelf. The same amount of people will be able to come - in particular, from the European Union - and the economic and social determinants of people's movements will remain exactly the same as they were before this ludicrous set of non-laws were sort-of enacted. All in all, it's an indictment of our entire political culture that the laughter today has been limited to polite, behind-our-hands sniggering.

Well, it's not sniggering that's coming from this blog, that's for sure. It's snarling.