Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday 6 September 2006

Blame low wages on globalisation not immigration, says Cameron

(See the UPDATE at the foot of this post)

Speaking to business leaders in Mumbai during the second day of his India visit, Conservative leader David Cameron referred to depressed towns in the UK:

"... where the winds of globalisation feel like a chilling blast, not an invigorating breeze."


"So we can't just celebrate the benefits of globalisation. We must also be honest about its costs, because the alternative is that people project their fears and anxieties on to other ethnic groups or other countries."

I certainly commend his effort to damp down the rise of anti-immigration sentiment in the UK, a phenomenon which rears its ugly head here from time to time and of late has arisen as a result of the high numbers coming from the new EU member states, about which little can be done in practical terms (even in Belgium, which strictly speaking currently has restrictions on granting work permits on such new arrivals, as do most others amongst the pre-2004 EU-15".

However I cannot really see the utility of making such a speech in India, of all places, specially having just officiated at the opening of a JCB factory in Pune; I don't imagine the whole production at this new factory is to be used within India or within the rest of the 'developing world', any more than the vacuum cleaners produced by Dyson in Malaysia are all used in that country. The message he is trying to put across is hardly likely to receive much of a sympathetic ear in Mumbai, notwithstanding the polite smiles at the speech of a visitor. Does David Cameron expect companies and workers in India or other rapidly-developing countries voluntarily to forego the benefits of having export-led industrial production or call centres within their borders? I used the word 'utility' earlier beacuse I cannot see the purpose of giving this speech to this audience, unless he intends it as a veiled warning that unless producers in India and other countries show restraint in competing with western industrialised countries, a new era of protectionism in the latter will be the result. Even if such a threat were real, does he really believe that some form of protectionism can ever be more than a stop-gap solution. Unless he tries to sell his message in the UK his speech in India sounds like a rather empty gesture - the wrong message to the wrong audience.

I don't doubt that David Cameron's message in India is intended to have a far more subtle and long-term political impact, specially back in the UK, but if there is a message it seems to me it must be a wake-up call to UK employers, employees and educators that our future lies in moving further along the track of technical and business innovation, not on some simplistic appeal for everyone to be nice to each other by agreeing not to compete with each other. I'll be looking out for future signs of where Cameron seems to be taking his party, in political terms, with speeches like this.

UPDATE: (Wednesday 6SEP06 16.50 BST) My post above was written based on the BBC article I link to above; it now seems to me that I was unduly harsh in my analysis, because it would appear that the quotes included in the BBC article were highly selective, almost designed to make Cameron appear out of sympathy with the very concept of 'globalisation'; however, there is here an edited video recording of the speech referred to above, which he gave in Mumbai yesterday, which throws an entirely different and much more balanced light on what he was saying, in my view.

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