Little platoons of small boats?

Published: Sat 18 March 2023
Updated: Mon 20 March 2023
By steve

In Markets.


Small boat crisis

Rishi Sunak made a pitch for the next election by making five promises. Four of them are the sort of vague political promises that are so familiar that it’s impossible to exactly what they were. I’m sure that making everyone better off, and giving more money to the NHS were in there somewhere.

One of the was to stop the ‘small boats’ which are the mode of transport of choice of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants alike, these days. There are technical nits which are easy to pick with this promise. A few years ago small boats were not an issue, but only because illegals came in on the back of a lorry. Stopping the lorry trade created the small boat crisis, so you could say it really was a mess created by the current government, but only in terms of its form, not its substance.

Anyway, putting some specific promise about small boats seems odd in juxtaposition promises to fix truly big problems (like the NHS). It’s like having a bucket list which comprises being sent into orbit, visiting the south pole, meeting the Pope and getting a bottle of milk from the Co-Op. I got thinking about this, and suddenly realized that

  • this is not a list of the most important problems to fix. It’s a list designed to get him re-elected. Getting re-elected is always prioritized ahead of actually making things better.
  • Rishi’s election strategy is driven by people like Lynton Crosby and Isaac Levido who got Tony Abbott elected by promising extremely harsh treatment of those who tried to migrate to Australia on small boats.
  • It’s pretty clear that either the small boats will not stop (more probable) or they will stop, but those who would have used them find some alternative route: microlight aircraft, gyrocopters? This simply gives more ammunition to fire at ‘lefty lawyers’ and civil servants who won’t get with the program, so that Rishi can go into the election demanding a bigger mandate. It’s like abortion in the US. No party wants to change anything, because as long as the issue remains live it’s a huge generator of electoral donations,
  • the fact that the campaign is so quixotic and that it gets so much newsworthy pushback (from Gary Lineker, amongst others) is a huge benefit, because it keeps news about NHS waiting lists and decades of real wage stagnation off the front page. The mainstream can only cover a couple of ongoing issues at a time, and as long as everyone is cheerleading (or booing) a barmy project nobody will think too closely about the tough problems (like getting UK performance in developing maths skills in schools into the top 25 countries globally).

For those who didn’t get the title, ‘little platoons’ was how Edmund Burke, the ‘father of the Conservative Party,’ referred to institutions like the church, local community and family, that bound men together and were bulwark against radical impulses that resulted in the French Revolution.

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