Analysis on the government’s strategy and the fact that some media outlets blaming immigrants for the policy of cuts. And why some sectors of the press would prefer to see a more confrontational and less constructive Brexit.
Marcos Ortiz F.
At a time when the UK is ready to leave the European Union, the role of the media is key. Their importance is equally fundamental in explaining what happens to public services and the strong pressures to which they are constantly subjected.
This discourse adopted by some major media is one of the points that the Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King’s College London analyses in this interview with The Prisma. A role that, in his opinion responds to economic rather than ideological reasons.
Author of a series of studies, columns and reports on Brexit, Professor Jonathan Portes also explains why the promises of the British regaining control are a fallacy. “We live in an interconnected global economy,” he argues.
What role do you think the media has played since the referendum? Have they understood what’s really happened?
I think the media have behaved more or less as you would have expected them to behave. But I think one of the big tests for the Prime Minister and government is how they prepare to say to some of the more extreme elements of the media, who I think are partly for ideological reasons but partly as a marketing tool frankly want the confrontation – and war with Europe. Want to see people storming out of talks, drama, and confrontation. Partly there is an ideological view in some sense of the media that we could be fighting, why are we negotiating with these people at all, we should just be storming out, but even more than that I think frankly it’s just driven by commercial imperatives. They think that it sells and that the more confrontational all these negotiations are, the harder the line that they take themselves and encourage the government to take, the more newspapers they will sell. I think on that level it’s quite cynical.
It is not at all surprising that some newspapers behave like that. What really matters is whether the government is ready and willing to phase down the newspapers and say no, that’s not how we want to do that. We want to approach this constructively and with a spirit of compromise. And we haven’t seen that yet from the government.
You’ve said there is narrative that’s made cuts possible, a strategy of media and government who say pressure is on public services due to immigration and not cuts. Can you explain that?
Over the last 5 or 6 years there have been quite significant cuts to some public services. Not all, but some public services. In particular, on a local level, funding to local authorities has been cut very severely. And we have seen very sharp pressures showing up on the NHS. Although the NHS funding has been protected in real terms relative to the population and relative to demands on the NHS, funding has been clearly inadequate. Not surprisingly people have seen a waiting list increase, pressure on general doctors has increased, theyhave seen cuts in their schools and so on. And those cuts are the direct responsibility of the government, which has chosen to reduce funding.
Without getting to the question of whether the government is right to reduce funding or not, those cuts did happen and they have had impacts.
The government and large sectors of the media have adopted a very specific strategy of seeking to deflect blame for the impact of those cuts on to immigrants. So every time that there has been a crisis in the NHS, for example, the government has rushed out another announcement purporting to crack down on immigrants’ or tourists’ access to NHS services.
So it has been some kind of strategy.
Some of those initiatives on their own may have made perfect sense in that it may be reasonable for the NHS to require certain people from abroad to pay for the services –I am not making a judgement about that– but there has been a political strategy to deflect the blame for the impact of austerity driven reductions in public services onto immigrants. And that is nonsense.
Because even if you think a few people do come in and have access to public services that they shouldn’t, that is tiny compared to the much broader set of pressures on public services. And of course we know that overall, EU immigrants in particular make a positive contribution to public services in the sense that they pay more in taxes relative to the amount of extra pressure that they place on public services.
So it is a misplaced narrative that immigration is responsible for the pressures that we see on public services, but it has been extremely convenient for the government that was very worried indeed that it would be blamed for the impact of cuts.
“Taking back control” is a phrase usually used by those who voted Leave. Will that ever happen?
No of course not. We live in an interconnected global economy. None of us has full control over our lives, that’s the nature of modern life. Equally no organization of government has full control over everything that happens within an organization or within our borders.
What Brexit is likely to mean is some redistribution of control over various things. How exactly that will pan out remains to be seen. There will be some things as a consequence of Brexit which are decided in Parliament rather than by representatives of the member states in Brussels and our representatives in the European Parliament. Whether that leads to individuals or communities feeling they have more or less control over things that affect their lives we will see.