Alex Massie

The Malignancy of Ed Balls

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I've only just got round to reading Ed Balls' piece in the Observer in which he argues that Britain should be more protectionist in europe. Of course that's not quite what he says, but "revisiting" the question of the free movement of peoples across the EU is essentially a protectionist measure.

Anyway it reminded me of Evelyn Waugh's response to the news that Randolph Churchill had successfully had a benign tumour removed: "It was a typical triumph of modern science, to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant, and remove it."

This is a little unfair on Labour since it had other achievements to boast of. Nevertheless, it seems typical of Balls' malignancy that he should disown such a benign, even honourable, part of Labour's legacy. Granted, Labour were taken by surprise by the number of eastern europeans who moved to Britain but, however inadvertently, the government did the right thing, promoting freedom and opportunity for millions. That's nothing to be ashamed of.

Over to Chris Dillow, arguing from the left:

First, insofar as there is a negative effect, Balls’ demand for immigration controls - which are, of course, emigration controls too - amounts to an attack upon the living standards of poor workers; Lithuanian incomes are only around half the UK’s. One might wonder how socialist this is.

Secondly, insofar as there is an effect, there’s a question for people like me who have been relaxed about the impact of migration upon host country‘s wages: if emigration raises wages, why doesn’t immigration reduce them?

Well, for one thing it does - there is a small adverse effect upon unskilled wages. And for another thing, there are selection effects. Immigrants fill jobs that others can’t or won’t do, so they don’t compete much with indigenous workers, and might actually raise their wages if there are complementaries between jobs - if, say, immigrant roofers allow native plasterers to get more work done. By contrast, emigrants are a more mixed bag.

I, though, would prefer to stress that we are talking small effects here. The debate about migration should not rest much upon its impact on wages. And if you are seriously worried about the living standards of working class Britons, immigration should, surely, be low on your list of concerns. Or am I being too technocratic?

Probably, Chris, probably. But I agree with you.

Balls, of course, is by temperament and inclination better suited to opposition than government as, I think, this manoevering suggests. After all, in opposition you can pretend that there's no difference between listening to people and pandering to them.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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