This week, a politician told a lie. The politician was a woman called Karen Buck and she was speaking at a meeting in Islington. The Government, she said, doesn't "want Muslims living in central London".
She wasn't, it turns out, speaking on its behalf. As shadow Work and Pensions Minister, she was speaking, or meant to be speaking, for the Opposition. But what she said was – though perhaps this isn't quite the word to use – a big, fat porkie pie. The Government doesn't not "want Muslims living in central London". It just doesn't want poor Muslims living in central London.
To be fair, it doesn't really want poor Sikhs or Hindus living in central London either. Or poor Christians, Jews or Jedi. It doesn't mind if they win the lottery and want to live in a whopping great mansion in Kensington and Chelsea, but it doesn't want the taxpayer to help them to live there, or even in a two-bedroom flat. The Government thinks it's unfair that the taxpayer should pay the high rents of whopping great mansions, or two-bedroom flats, in central London, when people who've got something to do with alarm clocks can't.
So the Government is capping the level of housing benefit available to people who aren't very good with alarm clocks, to a level that's much lower than the normal cost of renting two-bedroom flats in central London. The people who are bad with alarm clocks will have to move out of the centre, perhaps even further out of the centre than the people who are good with alarm clocks, which doesn't really help the people who are good with alarm clocks, though it might make them feel a bit better. But it does mean that the rich people in central London won't have to look at poor people any more, and that there's more space for rich people to come in.
The Government wants lots of rich people to come in. It wants rich Muslims, rich Hindus and rich Sikhs. Some people might say that what it really wants is rich people who sometimes go to their local Anglican church, and who won't make a fuss about the importance of "multiculturalism", or demand that their local council puts on festivals for Diwali, or Eid. But they might also say that the Government knows that when it comes to rich people, you can't be fussy. You just have to take what you get.
So, in the new immigration rules, announced this week, the Government has decided to keep things simple. If you want, for example, to come to Britain as a beauty-salon manager or a takeaway chef, then you'd probably better forget it, unless someone wants to pay you the kind of salary that people don't usually pay a beauty-salon manager or a takeaway chef. But if you have lots of money, then it doesn't matter what job you're planning to do, or if you're planning to do a job at all.
If, for example, you're willing to keep £5m in a British bank account, then you'll be allowed to stay here for ever after only three years, which is two years faster than people who'd be willing to put the money in a bank if they had it, but don't. If you're willing to invest more than £10m, you can stay forever after only two years. Because if you want to show that Britain is "open for business", then you have to pretend that it's a club, and offer much better terms of membership for the people you really want to join than for the people you only quite want to join. It has to be a club like the Groucho Marx idea of a club, where you only want the people who don't really want to join.
If the rich Muslims (or Hindus or Sikhs) wanted to start up a little business here – if, for example, they want to open a takeaway, or a beauty salon – then that would be lovely, but they mustn't feel obliged. If they just want to keep their money in a bank, or spend it on handbags or cardigans, that's fine. If they want to spend it on a PhD, or maybe on a meeting with a member of the British Royal Family, that's also fine. The important thing is to have them here.
Luckily, they've already started coming. There has, according to estate agents, been a big increase in demand for "high-end" properties in places like Kensington and Chelsea. Some of the rich Muslims may be coming here because they're excited about the Government's new rules about being allowed to stay here, but they may also be here because they think it's a bit quieter here at the moment than in the Middle East. They may want to be somewhere where they don't think there's going to be a revolution. I think they're probably right that there isn't.
There probably isn't going to be a revolution, because people in Britain aren't very good at revolutions, and to have a revolution, as the so-called rebels in Libya could tell us, you have to feel you have some power. Poor Muslims (and Hindus and Sikhs) who are being thrown out of their homes in central London may not feel they have much power. Nor may disabled people who are having their benefit cut by a quarter, or young mothers who won't have anywhere to take their toddlers, or old people who won't have a daycare centre to go to, or young people who won't have a library. And nor may the people who are losing their jobs because bankers messed up theirs.
If your policy is to cut everything, you'll probably be quite keen on things you don't have to pay for which you think might bring growth. You don't have to pay for Muslim millionaires (or Hindu, or Sikh, or Jedi ones). And they might bring growth, though they also might not. The main thing is to get the message out. We don't give a flying fig about your values, or your loyalty, or your work, or your friends. Just let us gaze upon your cash.
The gold medals we can actually win
If there were Olympic medals in embarrassment, I have no doubt that we Brits would do rather well. It still makes me blush to think of the double-decker bus at the closing ceremony in Beijing, which had collapsing Heath Robinson-type panels, as if a self-destructing symbol of a far-from-efficient transport system was the best entertainment we could muster.
Events this week suggest that symbol might have been all too apt. Tickets for the Games went on sale on Tuesday, but the website handling them had a technical hitch. About 10 million bank cards were, initally, ineligible, since the system seemed to have been designed (perhaps on the same principle as the alternating number-plate system introduced to control Beijing's traffic) only for those whose cards didn't expire before August. Meanwhile, the clock, unveiled in Trafalgar Square this week for the official countdown to the Games, stopped within hours.
Those of us who are martyrs to the Circle Line, and to bus routes whose drivers seem to suffer from sudden random abduction, would like to think that the transport side of things will go better. We'd like to think that catering will be edible, streets will be clean and traffic will move. We'd also like to think that there will soon be peace in the Middle East. I know that "a man's reach", as Browning wrote, in a poem which will be displayed on the Olympic site, "should exceed his grasp", but I have a horrible feeling that the gap between "reach" and "grasp" might prove really rather big.
A right (and wrong) royal bargain
Kate Middleton is very pretty and very thin. She gives nice smiles. And she has parents who have an excellent eye for a merchandising opportunity.
Mr and Mrs Middleton have spotted a gap in the market for royal scratchcards, and things you might need to organise a royal wedding street party, like doilies, napkins and bunting. They have, however, drawn the line at mugs.
Luckily, Guandong Enterprises (not based in Berkshire) have made up the Middletons' lack. To celebrate "The Fairy Tale Romantic Union of all the Centuries", they produced a mug "crafted in the finest bone china", and featuring "an exquisite design of the happy couple with ornate gold detailing". A mere £9.99 (plus p&p) will, apparently, prevent future "disappointment and regret", which sounds to me like the bargain of the century, if not of human history.
The thin, smiley Kate nestles on the mug underneath a banner fringed with fancy leaves, and next to a photo of a smiling prince. Called, unfortunately, Harry. But, you can't blame the Chinese for thinking we all look the same.Reuse content