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Graeme Archer

Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.

My friend Bob sent me a YouTube link. He knows I suffer from “black dog” at times, but he’s also aware that I’ll avoid the gym as a result. He found a video where a depression sufferer explored how exercise had exorcised at least some self-invented daemons; Bob thought of me, and sent me it. The clip cheered me up.

Well, and who cares what Bob finds on Youtube? Only myself, I imagine. But what is the value of his action? What’s the precise contribution to the UK economy that resulted from my mood being higher, yesterday? (This is the time of the meteor at MegaCorp: it’s in the sky, now. It’s coming.)

If you find “How much economic value is caused by an act of kindness?” to be a stupid question – and it is – then you’ve put your finger on the problem of the Populist Right.

Because “Bob” isn’t “Bob”, he is, in fact, Robertas, a Lithuanian Londoner. (I changed his name to make a point that we’ll come back to later.) The Populist Right insists immigration can be controlled only by leaving the EU and imposing quotas – they call it a “points system.” Like most Populist Right bullet points, this is seductively attractive.

So let’s give it a go. Setting aside the benefit of my randomly-found friendship – though why should I? – what sort of committee would set these quotas? Over how many industries? Building, hospitality, banking? Clerical? Writing? Statistics? (Black) Dog-grooming?

Robertas is a personal trainer. Suppose he were to be admitted, under the personal-trainers-from-Lithuania quota (this committee would soon grow into a Ministry): what happens if he changes career? (In fact, his first job in Britain was driving a bus in Norwich.) Must he leave? At which government office would we require him to register this change? Perhaps he should carry a card?

Would the Points Ministry update the quotas, as happens with GDP? “We thought there was a trainer gap, so we increased the limit to 10,000. But after disappointing New Year’s resolutions, we’ve had to wind that back to 8,000, so 2,000 of last year’s batch must go. We will re-allocate three dozen to the bus service in Norwich, where matters have reached crisis point through some sort of totally unpredictable failure of state-planning.”

What about the British couples in Spain (my dream, my dream), all squillion of them? They would all have to leave, until our Points Ministry had established a bilateral agreement, somehow avoiding any mention of Gibraltar. How many retired Brits does Spain require? What about Germany? Somewhere in Lithuania there’s a 28-year-old Scotsman urging a fat guy to do another sit-up. Send him back.

Over time, I suppose, the ministries behind these bilateral intergovernmental agreements might come together, agree that defining completely arbitrary quotas is a waste of money and time, that it holds back job creation, and that we might replace quotas with, ooh, I don’t know, some sort of legally-established Union, within which citizens could live and work in one another’s countries. Oh.

So why is the Populist Right seductive, to gloomy casts of mind like my own? I’m a Conservative because on some fundamental, pre-cognitive level, I’d like things to change less quickly and less often. Part of me rages at change (ask my employer). That part is my gut, or, less organically, my id.

There’s nothing wrong with pre-cognitive gut instinct. The sin occurs only if that instinct is left unexamined; worse, if it’s acted upon at once. Proper, not Populist, Conservatism is our gut, mediated by the intellect of the superego and the practicality of the ego.

Populism, in other words, is the Conservative Party if we lacked both morality and pragmatism (those disgusting UKIP Euro-campaign posters). It is the politics of the id running wild, of the Forbidden Planet. Let’s space-travel to Altair IV and see how that’s working out for them.

To one town in particular, Thurrock, where this week Conservatives decided to emphasise the immigrant parents of one of their opponents, by putting out a leaflet describing a “Tim” as a “Timür”. Tim’s dad is Turkish, geddit! Wink! Nudge! Vomit.

I don’t know what’s more shitty; the obvious intent behind the leaflet (which makes Emily Thornberry look ingenuous), or the guff that the Tory MP came out with, to defend it. “What we’ve done is actually broadcast the fact that Tim is just as much a citizen with diverse roots as anybody else in this country. It’s probably going to do him a favour,” said Jackie Doyle-Price, to a roomful of day-old, mewling infants, who totally believed her, like, totally straight face. Shame on you, woman. Shame on you.

Some of you will be sneering “Metropolitan Liberal” at me; but you’re wrong. I’m a Suburban Bourgeois, otherwise known as a mainstream Tory (almost 50 per cent more Tory voters would be unhappy at a Coalition with UKIP than would be happy). Manage immigration the Prime Ministerial way, by reforming welfare; treat your opponents as the human beings they are; and don’t be controlled by your id.

Above all, resist the temptations of populism. As Morbius/Prospero, populist ruler of Altair IV discovered, there’s a reason his planet is forbidden. The lunatic must not take charge of asylum, or even the Ministry of Arbitrary Quotas.

12 comments for: Graeme Archer: Populism will eat ourselves: let’s not return to the Forbidden Planet

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