How to solve a problem like Europe

UK polls indicate the the EU in general is not a concern for most people. It doesn’t even make it into the top ten of priorities when deciding who to vote for. In fact, a YouGov poll shows that most people believe that Britain should remain within the EU.

The main opposition to the EU , it seems, is immigration. More specifically, how immigration impacts on jobs within the UK.

However, I don’t believe this tells the whole story. I think people in Britain understand the need for immigration in order to fill job vacancies which can’t be filled by people born in the UK. For example, vacancies within the NHS. In short, I don’t believe British people are against immigration full stop. I believe they are pragmatic. They understand the need for it, but don’t feel immigration works when anyone from within the EU can seemingly fill any job vacancy at any time.

With an ‘open door’ policy on immigration, people also question the access immigrants have to social housing and benefits.

As a result, people do support the EU but they don’t support every aspect of the EU. They want an EU which works for Britain and British people, but they don’t want an EU which fails them. This shows that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. That is to say, it is possible to support being a member of the EU without supporting every policy of the EU.

As a result, I believe we are left with three options. Firstly, we accept the EU for everything because, on the whole, it means Britain is arguably better off as a country. Secondly, we carry on as we are.

However, we can thirdly recognise where the EU is failing individuals and change those aspects of the union. And here is how I believe that can be achieved. It would require pro-EU parties within the EU to come together and agree on changes within the union. I have listed the changes as to how they would affect the UK.

1. Agree that all jobs should be made available to British citizens first for a period of time long enough to give British citizens a chance to fill that vacancy. Only when it is obvious that the vacancy cannot be filled by British citizens should it be made available to people outside of the UK.

2. Only immigrants who have filled a job vacancy under the new criteria should have access to social housing.

3. Freedom of movement within the EU should be allowed, even to live in the UK. However, a non-British citizen should live in the country for a considerable period of time, perhaps a year, before they can take a job ahead of a British citizen.

4. Only immigrants who have filled a job vacancy should be entitled to benefits.

The other options are to embrace the EU as a single country – a United States of Europe, with some laws and policies left to the individual states. So we begin to see people from other countries not as immigrants, but as people of the same country.

However, there appears to be little appetite for this around the EU from both politicians and citizens.

Alternatively, we can carry on as we are. But this would be to ignore the concerns of EU citizens and see an increase in far right support and anti EU parties. This will result in a disunited Europe with its citizens happy to leave.

Consequently, the only alternative left for pro-EU parties may be to unite in pragmatic change to how the union works.

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Aside

Mandelson & other critics looking at energy policy from wrong angle

Photo: Christian Guthier

Photo: Christian Guthier

The Guardian are reporting that Peter Mandelson has spoken out about Ed Miliband’s plans to freeze energy prices in 2015. According to the newspaper, Labour’s former business secretary has said that “perceptions of Labour policy are in danger of being taken backwards”.

However, Mandelson is wrong on his judgment of Miliband’s policy.

Energy is something we all need in order to be able to live from day to day. It is not a choice, it is a necessity. As a result, energy companies hold the power to increase charges without the consumer having the power to chose whether they want to use energy or not. Additionally, electricity and gas bills rise when people’s wages don’t.

Taking all of this into account, we have a situation where a vital product is required at a cost which is becoming increasingly difficult for people to afford. Indeed, for societies most vulnerable, a weekly choice has to be made whether to buy food or heat their homes.

And this is the big difference between energy providers and other businesses. Energy use is not a choice, it’s a necessity; energy is not a luxury, it is how we stay warm, cook our food and light our homes. And that is why Ed Miliband’s policy is not an attack on business, but protection for consumers.

Furthermore, it has to be recognised that the price freeze is for twenty months and is not going to be enforced long term. It wont even be for the term of the next parliament. During this twenty month period, the aim is to reform the energy sector to get a fairer deal for customers.

And this is what the price cap is ultimately about. A period of reform during which time Labour will be putting the breaks on what Miliband has identified as overcharging. This will also in a sense give something back to customers who may have, according to Miliband, been overcharged for energy.

Therefore, Mandelson and other critics of the policy are looking at it from the wrong angle. This isn’t an argument about business v anti-business agenda. This is an argument about the price we pay for basic human rights. The price cap is to support consumers on the constant increase in cost for a vital product. It is a short term measure, for long term reform. It is to send a message that things cannot go on the way that they are.

If you thought the Tories were out of touch…..

Tories looking increasingly out of touch. Photo: number10.gov.uk

Tories looking increasingly out of touch.
Photo: number10.gov.uk

During a time of increasing unemployment and people still struggling to pay the bills, you’d think that sorting this problem would be the priority of the Conservatives.

However, the reality is somewehat different.

Yesterday, grassroot Conservatives made a special trip to Downing Street to deliver a letter to David Cameron. The letter, signed by current and former local party chairmen, was not to urge Cameron to change his economic policy which is adversely affecting people throughout the country. It wasn’t to highlight that more and more people are being forced to use foodbanks. No, the priority for this group of Conservative campaigners was to tell their leader to abandon support for same sex marriage.

Perhaps then we might see Cameron’s backbenchers and cabinet members make living standards the priority for this government. Er, no. Because Tory MP’s have decided that they want to immerse themselves in a self obsessed, self indulgent row over EU membership.

The economic problems the country faces have found the Tories out. With people still struggling to meet the financial demands of everyday living, rather than looking outwards to address the problems people face, the Conservatives have decided to look inwards to address their own ideologies. This has resulted in a party which looks distant from the everyday problems people face. Furthermore, the Tories look more divided than ever with PM who looks too weak to even keep his own party together.

Consequently, this raises questions about the future for the Tories. A party with members who want to focus on a same sex marriage u-turn rather than jobs. A party which wants to talk about the EU rather than poverty. A party so divided that some are talking about a pact with Ukip. A party who’s divisions fail to inspire confidence and a party which is looking increasingly out of touch with the majority of the country.

Ukip – not so anti-immigration after all

Say Ukip and you will probably think of two things – the EU and immigration. If you vote for Ukip, then the likelihood is you want to leave the EU and want to see an end to so called open door immigration into the UK. Yesterday’s voting would suggest that those two issues are important for a lot of people in England.

Farage could struggle to convince Ukip voters in 2015

Farage could struggle to convince Ukip voters in 2015

It might then surprise a lot of Ukip voters to learn the immigration policy of the party. Yesterday during an interview with the BBC, Ukip’s spokesman confirmed what it says on the party’s website, namely, that their immigration policy is under review. He also added that their target of a 50,000 yearly limit on immigration would be too low with businesses within Britain urging them to double that figure. In short, even Ukip recognise that workers coming in from both within the EU and outside of it are vital for the UK economy.

So what did Ukip voters vote for yesterday? What do Ukip really stand for? Their immigration policy looks no different to David Cameron’s, who promised to get immigration numbers down to tens of thousands while remaining within the EU. So it’s hard to see what leaving the EU would even achieve for Farage and his party, given Cameron sounds equally as tough on immigration yet supports continued EU UK membership. Ed Miliband has said Labour made mistakes on immigration and the Lib Dems appear to be coming out against the levels of immigration we have seen in recent years.

As a result, one of Ukip’s main policies looks now to be very unclear. The party which prides itself on offering something different to the traditional big three looks increasingly similar. And if the majority of the UK aren’t anti-EU but anti-EU immigration, their argument for pulling out of the European Union seems pointless.

And that leaves a big hole for Ukip. Their policies elsewhere on a flat rate of tax, for example, will struggle to convince people. They are yet to discuss in detail what they will do with the NHS and education. If Ukip can’t win those arguments then they will struggle in the next general election. And if they can’t even convince people that they are the party who can control immigration, it will leave people asking just who Ukip are.