Autumn curtain raisers to winter of discontent

After a month of gloomy previews the UK’s autumn political season is launched, with Gordon “now it’s personal” Brown going melodramatic and staging a cabinet show in Birmingham rep before the warm-up of the TUC annual conference. The unions are staking much on a revival of a spectacular flop with echoes of Shakespeare, a winter of discontent. For once, the programme notes from the right wing Daily Mail and centre left Mirror are chiming together, yes, it’s that serious. Conservative leading supporting player George Osborne comes out with an interesting one-hander, a clear warning to his fellow actors that plans for future Tory all-singing, all-dancing spectaculars face real cuts and may be assessed by an independent panel. Finally that fringe performer Frank Field comes out with a piece that many would like to perform but few have the nerve- a zero net cut in immigration. The season promises to be the most turbulent for a generation. But does the political hoop-la reflect reality among the people? Behind the political show boating lies real fear. “With inflation at 4.4 per cent, a 16-year high, workers are being given pay rises as low as one per cent while others receive no increase at all despite earning close to the minimum wage.”

A sharp cut in immigration is backed by 81% of Labour voters, 83% of Liberal Democrats and 89% of Conservatives, found the (YouGov) survey, commissioned on the group’s behalf by think tank Migrationwatch UK. Frank Field explains his plans

“The government would wish to ensure applicants’ qualifications were genuine. These workers would then be admitted, but only for a maximum of four years. They would come to the UK on that clear understanding. Employers would have to produce evidence that workers had left at the end of their contracts. No departure, no approval for new contracts.”

Can they really make companies responsible for this? Like many of Field’s ideas, these are too complex and have unintended consequences. But what this signifies is that a serious debate about immigration is over. All it’s about now is the best way of controlling it.

Overall, people are beginning to realise that a financial crisis is like floods. You can take emergency measures but they won’t stop it happening. And maybe you shouldn’t have been there in the first place, down in the flood plain of over-spending. We’ll be lucky to get through this winter without mass protests or worse.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London