James Moore: Willie Walsh is right, but it’s about immigration so don’t expect action soon

Outlook

Venturing into the political arena on any issue is a big risk for businessmen, let alone choosing one of the most contentious of the day, which is what Willie Walsh has done on the subject of immigration and border security.

Mr Walsh loudly complained yesterday about the visa requirements imposed on Chinese tourists by Britain. Aboard the first British Airways flight to Chengdu, the chief executive of its parent IAG (which also owns Iberian) unfavourably compared the costs (and difficulties) faced by Chinese visitors to these isles with those seeking entry to Europe’s border-free Schengen agreement zone.

Britain also imposes transfer visas, and Walsh says he would have got flights to an important hub within the world’s most dynamic economy going earlier but for the visa problem.

A major reason for that problem is, of course, the sclerotic bureaucracy of the British state which has a long and inglorious history when it comes to holding back trade and economic growth.

But, although Mr Walsh didn’t spell it out, it’s at least as much a result of our highly charged immigration debate, which is what prevents any action being taken to remedy the situation and makes visitors from China and beyond feel less than welcome when arriving on these shores.

The vast majority of new immigrants to this country come from Europe, and despite what some people would have you believe, that would be the case even were we to abandon the European Union. The free movement of people within the continent comes as a consequence of our membership of the European Economic Area and, as such, applies to such non EU states as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, at least if they want to retain access to the single European market.

But there’s little enough that can be done about that, so to look tough on an issue that is largely out of its control, our Government instead choses to make life difficult for visitors from outside of the EEA.

If the rhetoric of our politicians doesn’t put visitors off (and there is some evidence that it does, harming growth and jobs in the process), that surely will.

There is a high economic cost attached to this, and it doesn’t just affect Mr Walsh (who also rightly bemoaned the continuing gridlock surrounding the proposed third runway at Heathrow). It is also, for example, making the people who operate the successful network of Japanese car plants in the UK feel twitchy, and will damage our chances of attracting foreign investment generally.

The net effect will, of course, be fewer British jobs for British workers, but that message is simply getting lost amid the clamour.

Examining Labour’s promises won’t help

There was considerable froth yesterday about whether the Office for Budgetary Responsibility should cast a dispassionate eye on Labour’s spending commitments and (so far) it doesn’t look like this will happen.

This actually suits both sides. The Chancellor doesn’t want the OBR to pour cold water on his claim that Labour will plunge Britain back into the red, so he won’t let it happen. His shadow is probably relieved because he can accuse his opposite number of running scared, even though he is probably just as nervous as his opposite number about what the OBR might say, were it to be called in.

In the meantime we have lots of gimmicky policies from all the big guns: tax breaks for marriage that won’t be worth all that much, free school meals for very young children even if their parents are millionaires, expanded childcare provision for working parents (with responsibility dumped on schools, as if they didn’t have enough to worry about).

When I suggested that the Institute for Fiscal Studies might like to pick up the baton instead of the OBR, I was told this wouldn’t be possible. A shame, but you can understand why.

The IFS guards its political neutrality jealously, and if it were asked to run the slide rule over Labour’s plans, it could get drawn into a fray it understandably wants no part of.

So we’ll just have to wait until the three main parties’ manifestos are released, when the IFS will run the slide rule over all of them. Of course, the IFS and the OBR can only work with the information they are given.

And in the absence of genuinely fully costed plans (where, for example, are the Government’s proposed £25bn of future spending cuts coming from?) the whole debate is a little pointless.

Tesco’s tablet designed to cure its own ills

Is the average British family going to spend Christmas Day cuddled up around the Hudl? Tesco is certainly hoping so, with yesterday’s launch of its oddly named attempt to crash the tablet computing market.

The Hudl has been billed as the grocer’s answer to the iPad, but it’s hard to see why.

The iPad is a masterpiece of design, as even Microsoft sort of admits with the ads it is running Stateside in a despairing attempt to persuade people to buy its “Surface” as an alternative  (those horrible panels on the screen explain why that’s not going to happen).

The approach of the Hudl, at least if the pictures are borne out by the reality, is more utilitarian. It comes in four not particularly attractive colours, but is priced at £119, which puts it in the same ballpark as Amazon’s Kindle Fire. It also has more storage space and Google’s whizzy Android operating system to further help its pitch.

But this isn’t really about technology or even burning a hole in Amazon’s UK sales.

It’s more likely about creating a noise and cutting a PR dash in the hope that the Hudl will get people put off by the slapdash service at some of its dowdy UK stores coming back in to try one.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Administrator

£13000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about custom...

Recruitment Genius: Dialler Administrator

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Main purpose: Under the directi...

Ashdown Group: Contracts Manager - City of London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Contracts Manager - City...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms