‘Football teaches us about creating a thriving jobs market, but you can’t make people perform better simply by excluding the foreign competition’, says the newly re-elected Mayor of London.
I once went on a mission to charm Sepp Blatter, the Swiss lawyer who controls global football. I was ushered into his lair and found the ancient autocrat on a sofa, surrounded by statuesque blondes of possibly Ukrainian extraction. Stumped for something to say, I went for the old chestnut.
“Mr President,” I said, in tones of calculated self-deprecation, “how come England hasn’t won the Fifa World Cup since I was two? France, Germany, Italy, Spain — all our European rivals, but not England. What’s wrong with us?” Blatter figuratively stroked the white cat on his lap, and replied that it was very simple. The trouble with England was the Premiership, he said. You import all these players from around the world. It means that the local talent never gets the same attention, or the same investment. That’s the problem with English football, he said, and then I found that my time was up and that the blonde Ukrainian six-footers were heading me to the door.
I was much struck by his analysis, and relayed it immediately to one of my colleagues, an ardent Lefty and lifelong Arsenal fan. I wondered whether there could be a smidgen of truth in what Blatter suggested. Perhaps all these intergalactic imports — Brazilians, Nigerians, Russians, Croats, you name it — were depressing the growth of our autochthonous talent. Perhaps we should have some rule — as Blatter suggested — to exclude these superstars, or to limit their numbers, in order to protect and bring on the native English players.
My colleague sighed with the impatience of one who has heard it all before. Don’t be fooled, he said. The English Premiership is the jewel in the crown of global football. English teams are supported and followed by the entire planet. The Premiership is where the money and the sponsorship go, and of course Fifa is and always has been jealous of the commercial dominance of English football. That is why Sepp Blatter would like to see foreign players excluded from the English game — it’s a cynical ploy from a rival business interest. As for the suggestion that English players are being somehow suppressed or forgotten, nothing could be further from the truth.
All the big clubs have massive and well-funded scouting operations. They have all kinds of junior teams and missions to discover the potential of inner city kids. No, said my Left-wing colleague, he didn’t for one second believe that young English players would do any better if their foreign rivals were kept out of the market. Quite the reverse, he said. If anything, the foreigners helped to ginger them up and provide a high standard to emulate.
Oh, ah, I said, and accepted the wisdom of his judgment. I have been thinking about this argument over the past few weeks and months, because our number one priority as a society is to boost growth — and get people into work. Some readers may have been following the London elections, and will have gathered that we have fantastic plans to invest in transport, housing and regeneration schemes — projects that will cumulatively help create 200,000 jobs. We are building a platform now for a more successful and prosperous city in 10 and 20 years’ time: high-quality family homes, a better Tube network, new river crossings, orbital rail; and we are addressing the immediate economic problems by getting Londoners into work.
The trouble is — as many people have pointed out to me at street corners — that London’s formidable job-creating powers do not always seem to involve the creation of jobs for native Londoners. Go into any coffee shop and talk to the staff, listen to the voices on the building sites — and you will see how the city is working as a magnet for talent and energy from outside the UK, many from the countries that have recently acceded to the EU.
There are plenty of people who take a Sepp Blatter-ish line about this phenomenon. There are some who say the immigrants are simply too talented and energetic. I was discussing the problem with a group of journalists not long ago, when a Guardian man — a kindly and distinguished fellow — started heckling me. It wasn’t fair, he suggested, that indigenous Londoners should be asked to go toe to toe “with Polish graduates”. I see his point. I see the unfairness.
But we are forced to ask what is the alternative, and what is the best way forward for the young Londoners who are not finding the work that they need. I suppose we could try to protect them by constructing Blatteresque barriers and quotas — though we would almost certainly find that such moves were against EU law. But surely the best approach now is to look at every stage in the chain of causation that results in a young Londoner losing out, in the jobs market, to a contestant from abroad. We need to hear an honest and unflinching account from the employers: just why is it that so many individual recruitment decisions seem to go against young Londoners?
Why do immigrant workers seem to look at a job in McDonald’s or Starbucks as a stepping stone, while some who were born here apparently regard it as a dead end? Is the problem just to do with pay and conditions? Is it really true that immigrants will work harder for less? Is there really a difference in the “work ethic”, or is that an urban myth? One of my first priorities as re-elected mayor is to analyse and expose the roots of this problem.
I have already launched an inquiry into education in London, and we will now extend this to include all the failures of the labour market — all the reasons Londoners are not getting the jobs they need. We will simultaneously expand our apprenticeship programme by a colossal 250,000 — to give young people that vital experience of competing in a workplace. So far, 84 per cent have gone on to full-time jobs. But should we go for the Blatter solution, and haul up the drawbridge?
Against illegals, yes. Against talent, no. In football as in the economy at large, you don’t make people more competitive by excluding the competition. Source: The Telegraph.
The controversial Mayor has sometimes been at odds with his own Conservative party on immigration policy. Whilst the main Tory line is to reduce immigration, Boris favours an amnesty for illegal immigrants in London. Critics argue taht an amnesty would encourage more illegal immigration and allow millions to gain indefinite leave to remain (ILR) or UK naturalisation.
He said granting legal status to hundreds of thousands of non-tax paying migrants would add billions to the UK economy.
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