Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

The government’s start to 2024 shows how desperate it is

From pints of champagne to a war on foreign students, it’s more dismal stuff

Image: The New European

A Happy New Year to you all – and especially to the media and PR professionals working for the current government. 

Now you are back at work, the fightback can begin – it may be the ninth or tenth fightback but still you have a few months to turn around the deservedly bad poll ratings of the current  dreadful prime minister and his cabinet, as well as putting all the opposition parties on the back foot. 

I know that as career civil servants that will not be how the work is explained to you but that is what your political bosses want to happen, desperately. Just how desperate they are and how much total guff they will demand that you publish and spin for them can be measured by the stories that the government tried to push to the top of the news agenda over the Christmas holidays. 

First, we had the joy of knowing that we will soon be able to buy champagne in pint bottles. This one was, however, nothing more than a smokescreen. For a start no one wants pints of fizz, no one makes them, and it is doubtful many of France’s fine champagne houses will put in a new production line at enormous expense just so they can supply a vanishingly small market in England.

You might have been able to get away with this one if you had decided to introduce 500ml bottles. But that isn’t quite a pint, and the far right would have screamed betrayal – which is what they should be doing now anyway

Because the real news that the “pints of fizz” announcement hid was that the government was forced to make an inevitable volte-face on Jacob Rees-Mogg’s wet dream of a return to imperial measures. A humiliating backdown on a policy that should never have been suggested, on the grounds that it was plain stupid, no one wanted it and it would have led to endless mess, cost, and confusion. 

But the PR professionals still had to push out press releases claiming this was a Christmas triumph and a seasonal gift to the nation.

Then we had the news that the UK was joining Horizon+ and Copernicus, which is, of course, a lie.  The UK is rejoining the schemes after four completely wasted years because belonging to them is a no-brainer. We should never have left in the first place. 

It was the idiotic incompetence of the Johnson administration which got the UK suspended until it agreed to obey the law and honour the treaty it had negotiated. 

Remember the oven-ready deal? The one that meant there was no border down the Irish Sea and if there was one you could ignore the form filling and throw the paperwork in the bin, as promised by one Boris Johnson PM?

After months of threatening to tear up the oven-ready deal immediately after it came into effect, the new government of Rishi Sunak managed to negotiate the Windsor Framework, which meant that it promised to actually abide by the treaty and implement the rules and regulations it had negotiated. Hey presto, the EU let the UK back into Horizon, only for Rishi Sunak to waste further months arguing about the cost and threatening to go it alone with a rival UK scheme. A threat that no one even bothered pretending to believe. 

So, we have rejoined something only the stupidity and incompetence of the Tories meant we left in the first place. Another triumph.

Then we had the PM himself announcing that from now on most foreign students won’t be allowed to bring family members with them when they come to the UK to study. This was announced as a massive success in the fight against immigration, but of course it is no such thing.

Foreign students support the UK’s further education sector with huge amounts of money, they pay far more than UK students to study here. Which is just as well as the money that universities get for UK students has not increased for years and many would go bust without the foreign money that their worldwide reputation attracts

Also, those foreign students spend three or more years learning British ways, buy British products and hopefully become anglophiles for life. They then overwhelmingly return home, get good jobs, buy British and send their children here to study too. 

We know that 97% of them return home because we have the statistics to prove it – not something the government seems to have noticed. The rest stay legally because we want and need them to stay. Illegal immigration by errant students is almost unknown. But now we have told millions of potential students that we hate and fear them so much that we would much prefer it if they went somewhere else. 

A godsend for the increasing numbers of European universities which offer courses taught in English, not to mention Ireland, America, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.  Meanwhile, British university vice-chancellors will be desperately trying to persuade foreigners to send their children here, or they won’t be able to balance the books. Another gift that will keep on giving, or in this case taking much-needed money from our education system.

So, the government has seriously threatened the viability of the university sector for no gain whatsoever, has with its tail between its legs slunk back into Horizon and Copernicus, and has invented a new bottle size that almost no one can or will want to produce in order to hide the retreat on imperial measures. 

Oh, and on Tuesday it announced that it had fulfilled Sunak’s pledge to clear the asylum backlog, only for everyone to immediately spot that there were still more than 4,500 active cases in that backlog. The Tory right, meanwhile, were furious – or were they gleeful? – that clearing the backlog meant 50,000 asylum claims haad been quickly granted.

Please spare a New Year thought for the poor civil servants pushing out this rubbish. It must be soul-destroying enough to have to pretend that there are actually any Brexit benefits or Sunak achievements without having to write press releases about completely illusionary ones. 

Read more from Jonty Bloom on substack

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.