I was in Poundland on Boxing day for the post-Christmas sales. Everything was reduced to 50p and I had queued up for nine hours from midnight to buy a few packets of Werther’s Originals as belated Christmas presents for my ten grandchildren. For the first hour I was on my own but then another bargain hunter arrived and took his place in the queue behind me. I turned to greet him and was astonished to see that it was none other than the secretary of state for business, innovation and skills – Vince Cable.
“Hello Vince,” I greeted him, “what brings you to Poundland?”
“I’m after the Werther’s Originals,” he said.
“So am I,” I replied.
As the night wore on the queue got longer and longer until there were several thousand bargain hunters outside the store. It looked like there was going to be a massive scrum when the shop opened its doors. Vince clearly thought so as well, for an hour before opening time he turned to me.
“Listen Kevin,” he said, “why don’t we form a coalition. When the doors open you hold everyone back and I’ll dash ahead and bag all the packets of Werther’s Originals?”
“That sounds like a good idea Vince,” I replied, “this queue is starting to look like the expected queue at Dover on January 1st when the whole of Romania and Bulgaria are allowed to come and live in Britain.”
“You say that as though you don’t agree with immigration Kevin,” Vince looked offended.
“It’s not that I don’t agree with immigration,” I replied, “it’s just that we already have 2.39 million people out of work and on benefits, there are no jobs for the people already in this country so goodness knows what 30 million more people will do.”
“We don’t know how many will come,” Vince scoffed, “I’ll be surprised if it’s more than a handful.”
“There are over 200,000 Roma already settled in Britain,” I replied, “the rest live in extreme poverty in Eastern Europe, there might be millions of them who come.”
“And what if there are?” Vince challenged me, “they are all decent hard working people.”
“But aren’t our courts already inundated with gangs of Roma thieves from Romania who target elderly people at cash point machines across the Midlands,” I replied, “and haven’t our judiciary, such as HHJ Morris, the Recorder of Lincoln, warned Romanian criminals not to come to Britain?”
“You make it sound like they are all criminals,” Vince scoffed, “many will come here to find work or for benefits, housing and healthcare.”
“But there aren’t any jobs,” I played Devil’s advocate, “and even if they do get jobs they’ll take them from someone who is working already, forcing the person they replaced onto benefits – even Cameron – your coalition partner, says it’s economic madness.”
“The Conservatives are in a bit of a panic here because of UKIP,” Vince sneered, “reacting in the way they are, it is not going to help them politically but it is doing a great deal of damage”
“How is it doing the Tories damage?” I pressed him.
“Freedom of movement is an absolutely basic principle of our membership of the European Union,” Vince explained, “and the Tories can forget the proposed immigration cap of 75,000 a year from the EU, floated last weekend by Theresa May, the home secretary. It is not going to happen and Nick Clegg has made it very clear it is not going to happen. There is a bigger picture here. We periodically get these immigration panics in the UK. I remember going back to Enoch Powell and the ‘rivers of blood’ and going back a century there was panic over Jewish immigrants coming from eastern Europe. The responsibility of politicians in this situation when people are getting anxious is to try to reassure them and give them facts and not panic or resort to populist measures that do harm.”
“How and why has Nick Clegg made it clear that a cap on EU immigration is not going to happen? I was intrigued.
“He wrote an article for the Sunday Times which said that “Sticking a big no-entry sign on the cliffs of Dover may be politically popular, but at a huge economic cost. What would happen if tonight every European living in the UK boarded a ship or plane and went home? Are we really that keen to see the back of Spanish lawyers, Dutch accountants or Finnish engineers? Do we want the NHS to fall over and the City of London to grind to a halt? The issue is the biggest dividing line in politics today and plans for a cap are arbitrary, pointless and distracting.””
“So the Liberals won’t agree to any cap on European immigration?” I asked.
Not only that,” Vince replied, “we want to remove all immigration controls for countries like China and India – and the whole of Africa – as far as we’re concerned – the more immigrants who come to the UK – the merrier!”
“But that isn’t coalition policy is it?” I asked him.
“There is quite a lot of tension around the issue in the coalition,” Cable admitted “just as there are big differences over fairness, tax and immigration – and we as Liberals are finding being in power extremely difficult.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“For nearly a century we Liberals have been a meaningless, marginal, joke of a party free to adopt a raft of ridiculous but worthy policies,” Vince explained, “now that we’re in power and our policies are being put into practice it’s often embarrassing to see just how useless, impractical and destructive they are.”
“Like an open door policy for thirty million Romanians and Bulgarians?” I suggested.
“Precisely,” Vince agreed, “in the good old marginal opposition days we could have suggested in a Liberal way that the whole of Eastern Europe could come to Britain, safe in the knowledge that our policy could never be implemented.”
“But now it looks like it will be Vince,” I replied, “and in a week’s time the whole of Bulgaria and Romania will arrive at Dover. How will you and Nick be able to sleep at night after practically destroying our country?”
“We’ll sleep fine,” Vince smiled, “thanks to the fine old Liberal tradition of not taking one jot of responsibility for the consequences of our rash and foolhardy actions.”
At that moment the Poundland doors were opened and, sticking to the plan, I held back the crowd whilst Vince dashed over to the till area and, much to the dismay of the other bargain hunters, scooped up the entire stock of Werther’s Originals.
I met him as he emerged from the shop, flushed with triumph and weighed down with two enormous carrier bags stuffed full of packets of the granddad’s sweet of choice.
“I only need ten packets Vince,” I took out a five pound note and offered it to him, “you can keep the rest.”
“You can get lost Kevin,” Vince scoffed, “I’m keeping them all for myself.”
“But Vince we were in a coalition,” I protested, “I thought I could trust you.”
“So did David Cameron,” he replied.