Free market capitalism, as any economics student will tell you, rests on the principle of free markets. Free markets mean the freedom of movement of capital and labour, interfere with the movement of either and markets fail to function as they should. Interfere with the freedom to move capital and investors become reluctant to invest, finance becomes expensive. Interfere with the free movement of labour and labour costs rise because there is a shortage of workers.
The European Union is perceived by the Left as a neo-liberal institution, as an organisation that promotes free market capitalism. The European Union is seen as an agency that promotes the free movement of capital and labour. The Left sees the EU as an agency that allows multi-national corporations to move money around without inhibition; it sees the EU a body that encourages the movement of workers, ensuring a ready supply of labour and the suppression of any upward pressure on wages.
The reasons why many working class people in the redwall of former Labour-held constituencies voted for Brexit, and then voted Conservative, are manifold, but they include the belief that the European Union was doing working people no favours. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of workers from Eastern Europe after the enlargement of the EU in 2004 brought a ready supply of labour for employers all around the country. The new arrivals were perceived by many British workers as people who would work long hours for low wages and who were reluctant to unionize. In plain terms, an abundant supply of European labour was felt to have kept down the wages of British workers.
Examination of immigration shows it to have brought many benefits, economic and social, but for those at the sharp end, it was not something that was welcome. To someone struggling to find a home, to pay their bills, to raise their family, the presence of strangers who ensure that wages will remain low is something that will arouse resentment and hostility.
To the Left opposed to the European Union, Priti Patel’s announcement today of strict controls on immigration will be a welcome development, particularly among working people. The barring of the issue of work visas for any position paying less than £20,480 will be particularly welcomed. It means the supply of workers will be less and wages will rise.
Like Rishi Sunak last week, Priti Patel this week is a prisoner of the demands of the redwall constituents. Without those Labour seats, the Conservative government would have no majority. Retaining government popularity has meant the abandonment of free market economics and the embracing of the policies of the Left.