Friday, 21 December 2012

When Jingoism Goes Bad

All but the most heavily sedated amongst you will have noticed that something has gone a bit wrong with the economy in recent years. It has gone so wrong that even our leaders in Westminster have been informed, and they have told us that they want to make economic recovery the government’s number one priority. You would think that this desire was shared by the people of Britain, who are the ones which are suffering, after all. The evidence sometimes suggests otherwise.

Yesterday, Transport Minister Simon Burns caved in to a local campaign and ruled that the Port of Dover cannot be sold to foreign owners, despite those prospective owners offering to inject £10 million immediately, followed by £1 million a year for five years into the local area. This is investment that the area, which suffers high levels of deprivation, desperately needs. Surely, if investment of this level is to be turned down, then the local objections must have been compelling, right? Prepare to be disappointed.

We learn from the Ministers rejection decision that the objections raised concerned “security, immigration and its [the ports] historic significance". We can immediately write off the concerns about security and immigration as obviously idiotic. UK law, regulation and enforcement would still apply to the port if it were in private hands, just as they do now. Nobody was proposing selling off the border agency, only the port they were policing. This leaves ‘historical significance’. It is here that the whole affair becomes embarrassing.

Historical significance boils down to something like ‘Dover is a symbol of British pride. We won’t let it fall in to the hands of dastardly foreigners’. The campaign was led by that well known maritime transport expert Dame Vera Lynn. Dover’s Conservative MP, Charlie Elphicke was actually happy to give the following quote:

 “The port of Dover is the gateway to our nation and should be forever England as much as Stonehenge and Buckingham Palace. The whole community is absolutely delighted that it won't end up owned by the French or the Chinese or anyone else”

What magnificent economic logic we see displayed there. What difference would the nationality of the corporate owners of a port make to the gateway of the nation? Well, they’d pay to spruce it up a bit for one thing. Britain benefits hugely from foreign investment, usually with no complaints. Do people think that if the port facility was sold off then some foreign country would dismantle the white cliffs of Dover? Perhaps they think that the immovable port could somehow be outsourced? Or, more realistically, are we looking at a case of self harming jingoism?

There is a serious point here. Investment in infrastructure like the Port of Dover is vital if we want to begin growing the economy again. Real people’s jobs and prosperity depend on us taking mature and adult economic decisions. Sadly, the decision making process in Dover more closely resembles this:

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