Friday, 29 November 2013

Thickgate - the floppy-haired dog that didn't bark

I'm not sure that I agree with this analysis of Boris Johnson's skillz - 'In his recent speech, Boris Johnson demonstrates a first-class mind - such a mind being one that tells its audience what it wants to hear.'

As far as I can judge, tailoring your message to what your audience wants to hear is merely an entry-level requirement for being a politician - a skill that separates those engaged people who actually get themselves elected to positions of power from the ones who just shout at random strangers in the street, or write huffy blog posts about the state of the world.*

What elevates Boris Johnson from being merely an average politico has less to do with him adjusting what he says to fit his audience's prejudices than with his ability to turn himself into a resilient brand. Consider what happens to politicians who lose control of their self-branding. In a disputed incident, former Government Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell was alleged to have unguardedly called police officers 'plebs.' I don't know whether he used that word or not, but the mere suspicion that he had was enough to destroy his brand and force his resignation.

Mitchell only had to be suspected of being an out-of-touch elitist, sneering at ordinary people, to be ejected from his job and to gain the dubious distinction of having a "gate" attached to his troubles. Over a year after that brief incident, "Plebgate" is still a thing.

Compare and contrast with that indisputably privileged member of the elite, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, who can get away with saying that if you're not rich, it's probably because you're thick. And say it in a scripted, rehearsed speech delivered to a audience, with reporters in attendance and without even the excuse of being provoked by an (allegedly) obstructive jobsworth at the end of tough day in the office.

Will people still be talking about "Thickgate" in a year's time? Almost certainly not. Concerted demands for the mayor's resignation are conspicuous by their absence, as are apologies, or furious denials. There's just a cross headline in the Mirror, a bit of teasing in the Mash and some tut-tutting from Nick Clegg, whose own political brand is so borked that his disapproval has all the stopping power of a limp lettuce leaf. It'll all be forgotten in a week. Real power means never having to say you're sorry.

In fact, never mind being sorry, the usual suspects were even able to praise the mayor's 'knack for the arresting phrase' and commonsensical reiteration of 'what everyone outside the Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought already thinks anyway', without apparent embarrassment.

All this for a speech that could be reduced to the cretinous taunt 'if you're so smart, how come you ain't rich?', without much loss of meaning, subtlety or coherence. It doesn't take a first-class mind to flatter a tribal audience with partisan platitudes. It does take a first-class mind (or a first-class team, to give due credit to the publicists, speechwriters and assorted public relations professionals responsible for creating and operating the lovable animated character known as Boris™) to create a larger-than-life media personality  who can say things that would get lesser politicians sacked, then shrug them off almost effortlessly.

Unlike the hapless Godfrey Bloom, Johnson and his team have learnt the art of political kung fu. Instead of trying to resist the things that might floor them, they roll with them. Where Andrew Mitchell pushes with all his might against the accusation that he might ever use an elitist word like "pleb", the members of Team Johnson have embraced their man's privileged background to manufacture a genial, tousle-haired, Bertie Wooster-meets-Brideshead Revisited Great British Eccentric™ who says 'gosh' a lot. We'd be no more surprised or shocked to hear that Boris™ had used the "P" word** than we would to find out that his life was organised by an urbane manservant who was forever getting him out of comic scrapes. Boris™ seems more or less invulnerable to attack - to watch facts, criticism and anger slide off his 'lighthearted' persona is to watch the smoothest political operator we've seen in these islands since Teflon Tony lost his non-stick coating.

It's an impressive display of style over substance and, so far, it's proved almost as tough for Johnson's opponents to separate what he actually says from his carefully-cultivated cuddly persona as it has been to separate the destructive activities of his City gambling chums from the socially useful bits of the financial system. It takes a first class-mind to generate the sort of useful confusion that lets you declare a cynical, corrupt, failed and bailed financial system to be some kind of triumphant success story, praise the people who crashed and burned it as demigods before whom we are unworthy, insult anyone too poor or powerless to answer back, then walk away, not just unscathed, but with your reputation as some kind of national treasure apparently intact. What a piece of work.

*OK, I plead guilty as charged.

**And not just in his capacity as a classicist.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Meanwhile, in other news...

... California's Chihuahua bubble looks set to burst:
Abandoned chihuahuas are apparently a problem in California, the land of second-guessing dog owners. So many people abandon Chihuahuas that California shelters are shipping the small, emotionally manipulative dogs to New York, claiming that Chihuahuas are an in-demand breed in New York because prospective pet owners are jammed into tiny apartments and don't have the space for a quadruped companion any bigger than a coffee mug. Unfortunately, New Yorkers may be just as fed up with Chihuahuas as their West Coast counterparts.
Back here in Airstrip One, Ingsoc and the ubiquitous telescreen have finally arrived, 29 years later than predicted:
David Cameron might be rather surprised to hear that he's heading a socialist administration, though. Personally, I'm delighted to hear that Samsung is apparently an arm of the British state, as I was under the distinct impression that the nation had long since sold off everything of value, then bought a load of useless overpriced tat, (like the Royal Bank of Scotland), as if Britain was some sort of spectacularly hopeless eBay trader. Finding out that we actually own something valuable should be a tonic for the nation...

Teasing aside, I'm assuming that 'England' translates as 'Britain' and 'socialist' means something untranslatable to Americans, so I'm filing this one under "divided by a common language."

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Velvet Divorce, 2014? I think not...

Only an idiot would go to Wikipedia for the straight dope on a contentious current issue. So here's your Idiot's Guide to the likely outcome of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Even after taking the usual pinch of salt with my porridge,* if I had to bet on the result, my money would be on a "no" vote.

That's just my back-of-the-envelope, analysis-free prediction, not a comment on the respective merits of the yes/no arguments, which are too muddy with unknowns, complicated webs of relationships, potential unintended consequences (of the status quo, as well as of change), path dependency and partisan noise for a non-expert Sassenach to step into - I'm not that much of an idiot.

Not quite the ultimate in lazy blogging (I did google a couple of actual polling sites, too) but still pretty much the penultimate in lazy blogging.

Still, if we pretend for a moment that our Idiot's Guide is also a Lonely Planet Guide, another quick dip into Wikipedia's polling summaries suggests to me that the Catalans might dragging the Kingdom of Spain into the divorce courts well before the partners in the UK's occasionally rocky marriage get serious about dividing up the wedding presents. And given that Madrid, unlike Westminster, doesn't even seem to be playing lip-service to the Catalans' right to self-determination, it looks as if Iberian affairs will be getting pretty acrimonious next year.

Embittered supporters of the status quo in Westminster might cut up rough over who gets to keep stuff and might try to make things as difficult as possible for an potential independent Scotland ('if you're going to be like that, you can look after the Royal Bank of Scotland - I never liked the bloody thing in the first place'), but at least no Westminster politician (at least in my hearing), has recently declared that the Scots shouldn't be getting a vote on their independence unless the rest of the UK gets to vote on it, too. Sounds like fighting talk to me...

With my hostage to fortune now bound, gagged and securely chained to the radiator, my work here is done.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Celebrity gossip

Snarking aside there's a serious - if unoriginal - connection between all the noise being made about the Reverend Paul Flowers, late of this parish the Co-Op Bank, and Boris Johnson's lafferble demand that we humbly recognise the inspired leadership of the rich and powerful as the only source of any prosperity which might trickle down to the ungrateful proles.

The underlying assumption in both cases, is that the prosperity and success of organisations and nations depend entirely on the innate superiority and führerschaft of the glittering people at the top.

The Reverend Flowers didn't have the right stuff, therefore the Co-Op Bank crashed and burned. But the extinction level event that hit the Co-Op was the decision to merge with the Britannia, which was already in place before the scapegoat du jour was appointed. The liner was already heading full steam for an unavoidable collision with the iceberg when Flowers took the helm. A more experienced captain would have hit it just the same.

Conversely, if the Britannia deal hadn't gone ahead, the Co-Op might have been doing very nicely, thank you, in which case you could have put a monkey on a stick in the chairman's office and the we'd all still be admiring über-monkey's inspirational leadership skills.

But what about the people who OK'd the Britannia deal? If Flowers wasn't to blame, surely better leadership from his predecessors would have saved it? Well, I don't hear any noisy suggestions that those decision-makers lacked the qualifications or banking experience to be making executive decisions in a financial organisation. And is any individual executive rushing to take sole credit for the merger decision? Unsurprisingly, no. But even if we did try to point the finger, I doubt whether we'd discover a sole executive culprit and not just because success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.

As I've noted, there was a long list of top names attached to the Britannia deal before anybody noticed how pear-shaped it already was. The people in the executive conference room may have been qualified and experienced, but that didn't seem to immunise them against poor collective decision-making and groupthink.

So why imagine that superstar captains of industry are keeping the boat afloat without any help from the rest of the crew? Especially when captains regularly ignore lookouts warning of icebergs ahead.

Never mind BoJo's assertion that if we'd all just shut up and let the top monkeys get on with running ruining things, everything would be just spiffing. Maybe if we started listening to and empowering the people at the coal face, somebody might actually notice when the pit props start collapsing. But that's unlikely to happen while the "news" agenda is dominated by noisy gossip about which top monkey's bottom is currently warming a cabinet or boardroom seat and which bad monkey has had the key to the executive banana cupboard taken away. Which is probably why beneficiaries of the status quo are rather keen on the deafening stream of trivia - it drowns out talk of real change.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

But tomorrow I shall be sober

Everyone's had a lot of fun pointing and laughing at the substance-fuelled meltdowns of Toronto's rogue mayor and the 'crystal Methodist' former chairman of the Co-operative Bank.

But maybe we shouldn't be laughing too loud. These two might be in the spotlight of public ridicule, but being out of your tree on illicit drugs is at least some sort of explanation for bizarre behaviour and terrible judgement.

The Reverend Paul Flowers became chairman of the Co-Operative Bank on 29 March 2010, after the disastrous decision to merge the Co-Op Bank with the troubled Britannia building society had been made. Co-operative Financial Services chief executive David Anderson, CFS chief financial officer Barry Tootell, CFS chairman Bob Burlton, supported by the CFS board, were among those who steered through the merger, despite having the cautionary example of the sub-prime-fuelled global financial catastrophe fresh in their minds and, presumably, being aware that 'Around 25% of [the Britannia's] mortgage lending is non-traditional business such as sub-prime, self-certification loans and buy-to-let, much of it through its Platform Home Loans subsidiary' (as the Guardian noted at the time).

As far as we know, none of these people had the excuse of being off their heads on illegal substances when they took the decision that effectively destroyed the Co-Op. Flowers, who at least had the excuse of chemically-impaired judgement, seems to have destroyed nothing but his own job, social standing, dignity and - potentially - his liberty.*

On to mayoral matters and London's own comedy mayor didn't, as far as anyone can tell, have the excuse of taking any psychoactive substances when he wrote:
It is my duty to stick up for every put-upon minority in the city – from the homeless to Irish travellers to ex-gang members to disgraced former MPs...

...But there is one minority that I still behold with a benign bewilderment, and that is the very, very rich...

We should be helping all those who can to join the ranks of the super-rich, and we should stop any bashing or moaning or preaching or bitching and simply give thanks for the prodigious sums of money that they are contributing to the tax revenues of this country, and that enable us to look after our sick and our elderly and to build roads, railways and schools.

Indeed, it is possible, as the American economist Art Laffer pointed out, that they might contribute even more if we cut their rates of tax; but it is time we recognised the heroic contribution they already make. In fact, we should stop publishing rich lists in favour of an annual list of the top 100 Tax Heroes, with automatic knighthoods for the top 10. 
I can't help thinking of one of Winston Churchill's famous - if probably apocryphal - put-downs (which I've helpfully adapted into the form of a mayoral rap-battle):
Boris Johnson: Rob, you're drunk!
Rob Ford: And you are an asshole. But tomorrow I shall be sober. 
Rob Ford's extreme behaviour is easily explicable, given his history of substance abuse. Boris - as far as I know - has no such excuse for being such a nasty piece of work.

*David Anderson went on to join John Lewis as a non-executive director and here's useful round-up of some of the other people who are probably glad that the Reverend Flowers is now attracting all the Co-Op Bank-related headlines.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Pop will eat itself

Popular music has been stuck in a rut since the 1990s. So has fashion. The kids are dressing like their parents and listening to music their parents would like. At least according to Rick, who wonders what the apparent fossilisation of youth culture means:
What does this all mean? I really have no idea but it does feel like yet another Back-To. There have been a lot of them recently. We are going back to 1938 levels of income distribution, back to a time when profits took the lion’s share of GDP, back to a time when charities, rather than the state, were expected to provide for the poor, back to lower economic growth. And back to a time before rock n roll when sons dressed like their fathers. All of which makes me wonder whether the postwar world, with its high wages, increasing equality, high economic growth and rock n roll revolutions every few years, may turn out to be a historical blip.
In other words, the strange death of youth culture is the canary in the coal mine. Kids no longer have more cash to splash than their parents did. Inexorable political, economic and technological forces have destroyed full employment and secure employment. With no higher education, you can avoid massive debt, but you're left with meagre job prospects, or alternatively, you can get qualifications that come chained to a massive iron ball of debt. These trends look set to continue. Your only hope for the future is to conform, keep your nose clean and your head down, and hope that your boss never finds out about the time you confessed on Facebook that you love playing in a band with your mates almost as much as you hate your stupid day job.

Great. Can I just kill myself now?

A clear-headed assessment of the irresistible forces shaping the future, or sad donkey economics? Today, I feel like being a glass half full person, not because I've turned into a Carney groupie, but just because I'm getting tired of the crushing weight of gloom. Here's an alternative explanation (which may be just me whistling in the dark, but what the heck). Youth culture was never quite as revolutionary or liberating as its hype and it's now growing old, getting sick and succumbing to its internal contradictions:

1. Youth culture was never quite as great as the bits we remember.

It seems to me that eras are defined retrospectively and selectively. The iconic images and selected highlights of the 1960s, for example, obscure the rather less exciting reality of being a child of the '60s:
For instance, in Britain with almost 60 million people, less than one million bought the best-selling single records in a week, while over 20 million regularly tuned in to watch The Black and White Minstrel Show on TV...

...It is popularly believed that the Beatles were the unbeaten kings of the charts with 22 top ten hits; but Cliff Richard had thirty eight. South Pacific was top selling album for 46 weeks. Two versions of The Sound of Music occupied the charts for over five years and sold more copies worldwide than the Beatles’ top seller, Abbey Road.

While miniskirts were an iconic image of the times, outside London and the major cities they were slow to catch on. It was not as easy for young people who were not rock stars to acquire cocaine, cannabis and LSD as is assumed, or as is the case today
2. Bright colours look brighter against a drab background.

The generation of parents who grew up wearing the conventional uniform of respectable adulthood and were truly baffled and outraged by their kids' alien dress, music and hair and are mostly dead or in retirement homes by now. Many parents of today's teenagers remember defiantly waving their own rebellious youth culture in the face of the stuffy adult world, as did many of their parents before them. Young people entering a rebellious, oppositional subculture is now seen as a normal (if not quite universal) rite of passage and, with each generational iteration, the process loses a bit more of its novelty and edge.

3. Fake authenticity fatigue.

We've seen plenty of yesterday's hell-raisers morph into establishment-friendly national treasures and grow old, along with the youth industry itself, which is now a mature sector of the economy. From the start, the industry that invented the teenager has co-opted, assimilated, re-packaged and commodified bits of folk culture, street culture and counter cultures for re-sale back to its chosen demographic and has manufactured its own teen-friendly product when the seam of authentic got too difficult to mine. Maybe this established process is becoming increasingly hard not to notice.

4. Kids dressing like their parents? What do you expect, now that parents dress like their kids?

Off duty, at least, many adults dress however the hell they like and diversity is a tough look to define yourself against. Back in the '90s, an older colleague in an insurance office told me about an incident from the 1960s, when one of her male colleagues was summoned to see the boss and sent home in disgrace for having dared to turn up for work in a pale blue shirt, back  in the days when 'white collar job' meant exactly that. These days, you just can't rely on the new boss to be a stuffed suit any more, even if the new boss is functionally the same as the old boss. You could up your game from cloth to ink and try to hack your parents off with a tattoo, but since this would make you precisely as wild and edgy as Samantha Cameron, or David Dimbleby what, honestly, would be the point?

5. Did youth culture really power the sexual revolution?

Well, it gave a few alpha male peacocks more opportunities to get laid, but changing sexual mores had more to do with women's access to more reliable contraception. Not playing Russian roulette with the creation of a new human life is one heck of a big deal. It also takes two to tango and the liberation of the female partner (which lagged behind the 'liberation' of male chauvinist pigs boasting about how many chicks they'd bedded), owed more to feminism and progress towards relative female economic independence. Perhaps youth culture did help gay liberation on its way, but Quentin Crisp* was no youthful spring chicken when he achieved iconhood and Roy Jenkins (whose contribution to gay liberation and the 'permissive' society was still making Daily Telegraph columnists harrumph when he died in 2003), was no rock star.

6.  Who says youth culture can only ever be about fashion and new music genres?

Maybe there's a problem of definition here. OK, so let's accept the proposition that the generation of innovative music genres has dried up, but maybe kids are just spending more time on other things - social media, computer games, whatever?

7. Hollywooditis.

OK, they might have nothing to do with proper young musicians trying to produce something new and original in the back bedroom, but Simon Cowell and the other gatekeepers of mass popular entertainment have a lot to answer for. The process of producing a crowd-pleasing big hit suffers from the same constraints as producing an expensive Hollywood blockbuster.

 The studios don't want to lose a lot of money, so they too often play it safe with high concept, focus groups, re-writes to eliminate the challenging and difficult bits that bummed people out in the test screening, squeezing the very last drops out of a profitable formula or franchise, or 'reimagining' one that was popular back when we were kids, rather than risking anything crazy like being new, or different. The resulting product is too often bland, safe and derivative. Rather like a musical product moulded under pressure, in the glare of the TV lights and quality-controlled by a crowdsouced focus group of phone voters.

8. A (fake) working-class hero is something to be.

Rock n' pop made stars of people from poor and ordinary backgrounds, to be sure, but it wasn't all social mobility. If you didn't really struggle your way up from the wrong side of the tracks, you could always wrap yourself in a proletarian rebel attitude as easily as putting on a distressed leather jacket, like Mr Bob Geldof, alumnus of the fee-paying Blackrock College. 'Well, then what can a poor boy do. Except to sing for a rock n roll band' sang the comfortably middle-class Mick Jagger, having considered and rejected alternative career paths involving study at the London School of Economics, followed by a possible stint in politics or journalism. The Beatles didn't have to fake their street cred - except for John Lennon who wasn't quite the working class hero. Music's still a route out to something better - it was, for example Radiohead's way out of the ghetto of Abingdon independent school (current fees £15k for day pupils, £28k for boarders).

Among the poor boys and girls made good, there were also rich kids, dressed down in faded jeans and estuary English. There still are, although most of them don't bother with the mockney accents any more.

I don't want to be completely cynical and negative about youth culture - enthusiastic youth fandom has done a lot to break down barriers and to raise the status of people who've been discriminated against for just being themselves - inspirational female, black and gay artists who have commanded not just acceptance, but respect, and who have recruited new foot soldiers to the struggle of making the world a better, saner, less arbitrary, more open-minded place. And there's nothing wrong with the musical genius who creates an insanely catchy pop song that's never going to change the world except by making it a fun place to be for the next three minutes.

But did we really have a rock n' roll revolution every few years?  If we did, most of these revolutions seem to have shared one slogan - 'the revolution will be marketed.' The rebellious attitude that was going to change the world was quickly turned into product. My parents went to Woodstock and all I got was this lousy Che Guevara T-Shirt. But never mind if the last generation of youth heroes sold out, kids, there'll be a new one along any minute ... who'll also be flogging jeans to fill their pension pot in a few years time. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Today's kids face a difficult future, which, if current trends continue, could contain more stifling conformism and less spontaneity and social mobility. But no trend lasts for ever and maybe this one is itself a mere blip within a bigger, more positive trend. And, perhaps, the apparent stagnation of popular culture is less the expression of the current societal malaise than the fulfilment of a pop culture prophecy. Pop has finally eaten itself.

*For the sake of balance, I should acknowledge that Crisp isn't everyone's idea of a national treasure.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Covered by the Aspiration Association

Your car breaks down. There you are, stuck on the hard shoulder, in the pouring rain, miles from home. But it's OK, because you've got roadside recovery, provided by the AA (the Aspiration Association - not to be confused with another recovery organisation with a coincidentally similar name).

You ring the emergency number and explain that the mechanism that used to make you mobile is broken and has ground to a halt. At last, after a long wait in the rain, you spot a shiny new AA van, which pulls over in front of you. Out climbs Dave, a smartly-dressed mechanic, who immediately locates the source of the trouble:
'It's your aspiration, chief. We get this all the time - lucky it's easy to fix. Your problem, see, is that you settled for a bog-standard, mid-range hatchback, when you should have been aspiring to excellence. Take me, for example - I've always aspired to have a nice motor and it's always worked for me. These days, I only use a good, solid Range Rover , still in warranty, or an armoured, custom-built Jaguar XJ Sentinel with a supercharged 5 litre V8. I don't touch anything conventionally aspirated no more, me. And do you ever see me stuck by the side of the road, going nowhere? 'Course not!

Anyway, it's been a pleasure chatting, but my work here is done, so if you'll excuse me, I'll be on my way. You know how it is, busy, busy, busy, always more people to help. Drive carefully, now...'
Before you have time to say 'But the car's still still broken down!', Dave's back in his cab and the recovery van has pulled out into the traffic, its dwindling tail lights quickly lost in the rain and spray.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Thomas Friedmanbot - now available on Facebook

Remember when The Daily Mash announced that 'Facebook is to replace users’ boring posts with exciting fictional versions'? Real life hasn't quite caught up with the Mash yet, but you can now save yourself the trouble of posting endless updates on the incredibly fascinating story of your life and every day to day event in all its minute and tedious attention to detail by going to the web site "What Would I Say?"

The site will autogenerate new Facebook status updates for you, based on your past posts, so freeing up hours of time in which to have an actual life. And it gets better. As Will Oremus discovered, by chopping up your dull old updates into a surreal, semi-coherent stream of consciousness, the bot doubles as a pretty good substitute for the Thomas Friedman Op/Ed generator:
I'm thinking of people using social media privacy. This is either that, or this is dead. Driverless planes should be fun nonetheless. This is making nachos and running around the World Trade Center.
Just send your autogenerated insights along to The New York Times for twice-weekly publication and wait for the cash to roll in.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Even the scrap paper are full of gold

The inner design of the [Burj al-Arab] hotel is full og [sic] gold, luxury and a ghastly sight. Whatever the huge pillar in the lobby, doorknob, tap, ashtray, hat-and-coat-hook, even the scrap paper are full of gold.
So that's the classy joint where Rupert Murdoch's former Muckraker General hunkered down for her well-earned break from the hard slog of serving up lashings of hot sleaze, hypocrisy and corruption for the edification and titillation of the Great British Public.

An artificial island, topped by a bling-encrusted, environmentally catastrophic monument to excess, built by exploited near-slaves, which generates more sewage than the local infrastructure can cope with.* With an epic backdrop like that, not to mention the Downton Abbey-style horsey hob-nobbing with the Chipping Norton Set, the story of Rebekah's journey** from ordinary schoolgirl in an ordinary comprehensive to manipulative movey-shakey media monster, looking down from her gilded cage on the crashing waves and desert below has "blockbuster" written all over it. Pure docudrama gold - pass the popcorn.

*Other opinions are available - as far as my seven-year-old son's concerned, because the Burj al-Arab stars in one of National Geographic's breathless, amazing-fact-filled, megastructure documentaries it must, by definition, be built of solid awesome. It's only strict policing of screen time that's prevented him from recreating the whole damn building in Minecraft.

 **It's a media cliché that that every "human interest" story is a "journey" of some sort, but in this case it's the real deal.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Migration Watch - sweating the small stuff

We've had roughly four million immigrants under the previous government - two-thirds of those were from outside the European Union ... since 1995, they have made a negative contribution overall.

So the verdict for non-EU is that the benefit to the exchequer is minimal or negative ...if you take the whole of the EU [the benefit was] clearly positive. 
Sir Andrew Green, of the pressure group Migration Watch, responding to a study by University College London, which concluded that immigrants to the UK since 2000 have made a substantial contribution to public finances.

 Interesting, that word 'minimal.' It's slipped out before when Migration Watch debated immigration. Here's the conclusion of a 2007 Migration Watch briefing paper:
Conclusion 20 All three methods recently employed in the UK are approximate but they all point in the same direction - namely, that the benefit of large scale immigration in terms of GDP per head is minimal. Indeed, all major overseas studies of large-scale immigration involving mixed levels of skills, such as we have in the UK, find that its net effect is very small in comparison to GDP.
If the net effect of large-scale immigration is 'minimal' or 'very small' in comparison to GDP, why invest so much time, money, organisational effort and emotional energy in campaigning against it?

I wonder whether Sir Andrew's career history has anything to do with it. As a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, he must have had to spend years networking with vile, oppressive, misogynist, theocratic autocrats with a terrible human rights record, pretending that we have some sort of common "shared values" with a regime utterly opposed to the concepts of democracy, tolerance, pluralism and fairness that we in Britain are ostensibly supposed to cherish, (or at least aspire to).

You must have to bottle up a lot of rage after years of dealing with a regime like that and the experience is bound to colour your attitude to foreign cultures. Perhaps Migration Watch is best understood, not as a reasoned reaction to mass immigration, but as an emotional ketchup burst from a man formerly tasked with the dirty job of sucking up to tyrants in order to lubricate the free flow of oil and arms contracts.

Maybe the problem that needs tackling here isn't immigration, but helping former ambassadors to repressive regimes to decompress and deal with the enormous load of unexpressed fury and cognitive dissonance they must have built up in post.