Yet another Tory Party pressure group emerged this week. The ‘New Conservatives’ launched earlier this week, presenting its 12-point plan to deal with immigration. More of that later.
The ‘New Cons’ join a growing number of Tory varieties. Off the top of my head, I can think of the European Research Group (ERG), The Northern Research Group (the NRG), the National Conservatives, One Nation Tories, the Common-Sense Group, the Conservative Democrats Group, the Net Zero Group, and the Boris Johnson fan club (Okay, I made that one up).
This new mob of Tory MPs, around 20 of them, appear to be a one-issue organisation for now, but if their intention was to help Rishi Sunak, then they may need to think again.
In a nutshell, that twelve-point plan that I mentioned can be summarised in seven words – ‘HOW TO KILL THE ECONOMY STONE DEAD’.
The New Conservatives remedy for the challenge of 400,000 job vacancies that currently exist in the UK, north of 150,000 of them in the care sector; to the problem of an ageing population that is going to get much older over the next decade; to the skills shortages that we have in key industry sectors; to the Universities difficulties in attracting enough students to stop them facing financial ruin; and to farmers complaints that they can’t get anyone to pick their crops is – wait for it – to make it even more difficult for foreign workers willing and able to do those jobs or take those University places from coming here. Genius. Why didn’t the prime minister think of that?
In a sense, Sunak has only got himself to blame for allowing the immigration debate to be taken over by economic- illiterates. He has allowed his Home Secretary to create a dog-whistling narrative that offers impractical solutions to a somewhat invented problem. He has compounded this with his Small Boats pledge, and his support for £169,000 flights to Rwanda for illegal immigrants.
In failing to have a grown-up conversation about immigration, Sunak is unable to articulate the economic necessity of Britain having to rely on foreign Labour – not just now, but for many years into the future, probably for all-time.
Like it or not, many over-50’s have taken themselves out of the workforce, following an enforced ‘mini retirement’ through multiple lockdowns during the pandemic. They put their feet up, and they liked it. There is little any government can do to attract those experienced workers back into the employment market.
The skills shortage in many key industry sectors, including construction, health, and engineering, cannot be solved overnight, and is an issue that has become worse due to the poor transition arrangements that were put in place by the government during the Brexit negotiations. This simply compounded a lack of investment in skills, education, and training since 2010.
Plans to turn this around are being discussed, with T-Levels and apprenticeships on speed part of the governments answer. But this is a long-term solution to a NOW problem. In other words, its no help to the immediate economic crisis the UK is facing.
Then there are the jobs that Brits don’t want to do. Hospitality, agricultural, care. The New Cons solution? Pay people higher wages to do these jobs. The issue – well, even they can’t say what an increased salary should be, such a move would be inflationary, and at a time when their bottom-line already looks as if it will fall into the red, many businesses would be unable to afford higher pay, even if it were the answer.
But, of course, it isn’t. Most Brits aspire to careers beyond pea-picking, arse-wiping, and washing dishes. Of course, some Brits not only do these jobs, but go on to forge great careers within agriculture, care, and hospitality. But let’s be honest, there are a shrinking number of folk who see their futures in any of these sectors.
Only for the immigrants who have chosen to come here to work – and the vast majority of migrants are economically active, whatever Suella would like to tell you- we would have an even worse health service, a multitude of homes for the elderly having to close their doors, even less fruit being picked, and even more hospitality venues closing their doors.
Over 2 million foreign workers help to keep this country moving. Ship them all back from whence they came – or to the paradise that Braverman says is Rwanda – and the UK would not just be in trouble, it would be finished.
The New Conservatives feel a bit like the old ones. They have identified a problem that isn’t really a problem, and they have suggested a solution that would actually create one.
Good job we got Brexit done, hey!