Monday, March 07, 2016

Not the worst of both worlds

I have been running a "Worst of Both Worlds" series of posts on this blog about arguments presented by both "Leave" and "Remain" supporters (one of each) which are nonsense.

It seems only fair that I should also run a "Not the Worst of Both Worlds" post about two people, one on each side, who have been unfairly attacked for giving straight and honest answers to difficult questions, and had their words twisted to make them look stupid.

I have always thought that Rudyard Kipling had a point when he included in the poem "If" the line

"If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools"

There is a reason that people often jokingly define a "gaffe" as being when a politician accidentally says something true.

All too frequently when someone tries to engage in an open and grown-up way with a complex issue, people notice that this includes recognising something helpful to the other side only to be met with a childish chorus from journalists or their opponents of "Gaffe! Gaffe!"

And ironically in the past few days this has happened to two people on opposite sides of the EU referendum debate - Stuart Rose and Boris Johnson.

Stuart Rose was asked by a Labour MP what would happen to wages in the event of Brexit and whether, if we restrict freedom of movement, we “could see an increase in wages for low-skilled workers in the UK”.

The easy "politician's answer" would have been to bat this one away with a response like "Nobody can be certain what the overall impact of British exit from the EU would do to wages," which would not have been a lie.

But Stuart Rose, to his credit, tried to give a grown-up answer to a complex question.

He began his reply with the following honest admission: “If you are short of labour the price will, frankly, go up. So yes. That’s not necessarily a good thing.”

Cue torrent of half-witted cries of "Gaffe" and "This person is so out of touch he thinks it's a bad thing if wages go up" and hardly anyone was listening to hear him continue

"At the moment we are seeing one-way traffic because our economy is growing and the European economy has had a very tough time. There will probably be a point in five or 10 years’ time when it goes the other way and we will want to go the other way and we will all want to work in Europe. So let’s not shut the door before we see that we want that opportunity for our children and grandchildren.”

And hardly anybody stopped to think through the whole of the point Lord Rose was making. If you cause a shortage of labour and as a result the price of labour goes up, that may for obvious reasons be a good thing for the people who are paid more, but what are the other effects of your labour shortage? What happens to the employers, who may be private businesses or public services, who cannot recruit enough workers? What happens to the people who need those public services and the customers of those businesses?

Longer waiting lists, worse service, and higher prices.

THAT's what Lord Rose was saying, not that high wages are a bad thing in themselves., and any reasonably intelligent person who was actually paying attention should be able to see it.

As John Renoul wrote in the Independent, here,

"Instead of engaging with these important questions, Lord Rose’s opponents shouted “Gotcha!” and went back to accusing David Cameron of running “Project Fear”."

Then exactly the same sort of thing happened the other way round when Boris Johnson was interviewed on the Andrew Marr show.

Johnson admitted that the shock of exit might produce a period of, quote, "dislocation, uncertainty and job loss".

To be precise he said it "might or might not" cause job losses, which was a reasonable acceptance that there would be risks and opportunities that need to be balanced. 

Cue raft of "told you so" comments.

It's going to seem like a long time to 23rd June ...

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