How to Take Back Control, one street at a time

9th December, 2021

We are not going back to the same old broken model with low wages, low growth, low skills and low productivity, all of it enabled and assisted by uncontrolled immigration.” — Boris Johnson, October 6

“British meat producers have begun sending carcasses to the EU for butchering and then shipping the meat back to the UK, after post-Brexit staff shortages led to the culling of more than 10,000 healthy pigs.” — Financial Times, November 2

It seemed like a good idea at the time. As my neighbours and I talked on the doorstep, we all agreed how moved we had been by witnessing the grandeur of Brexit Getting Done, not just once, but good and hard every week or two.

Then there was an evening at the community centre watching that old movie, Passport to Pimlico (1949). The film’s conceit is that a small part of postwar London is discovered to be part of the late medieval Duchy of Burgundy and, thus, exempt from the tyranny of the ration book. Jolly good stuff.

And then, after a little too much booze at the bonfire night fireworks display, the whole neighbourhood agreed it was time for the Oxford neighbourhood of Jericho to declare independence. Get Jerxit Done! The next day, through the mulled wine headache, I tried to remember the details. Something something take back control . . . something something restrict immigration . . . something something high-skill, high-wage economy. How hard could it be?

Step one, obviously, is sack the cleaner. She’s very lovely, but she’s not local and allowing her to vacuum the house and change the bedsheets in a completely uncontrolled way was enabling a low-skill economy. I told the children to get busy. They objected that scrubbing the toilets would divert them from A-level maths and GCSE physics, and that training in STEM subjects was crucial to the development of a high-wage, high-productivity economy.

I could not deny the truth of this, but those lavatories weren’t going to scrub themselves. I returned a book advance to my publishers, telling them I didn’t have time to write it. Instead I devoted a day a week to getting the house spick and span. There are pros and cons to this. We have less money now, true. But because I am cleaning the house for free, measured output per hour of paid work is actually up. And the loos are spotless.

More tricky is what to do with Grandad. His dementia is pretty bad these days, but because most of our neighbours are researchers, it’s proving hard to employ any of them to help him eat and get dressed. Hopefully my wife will be up to the challenge. The family gossip is that he did once change her nappy, so fair is fair.

Some people with a political axe to grind blame this situation on our post-Jerxit immigration controls. That’s clearly Remoaner nonsense. This is a global issue; all over the world, women are quitting their jobs to look after elderly relatives. My wife having to do likewise has nothing to do with Jerxit, unless of course it is all about creating a high-wage, high-skill economy, in which case it’s what we planned all along.

There is, admittedly, the difficult issue of food. None of us actually knows how to pluck chickens, although Nigel at number 12 is having a jolly good try. He is a barrister, so it’s an unusual use of his time and talent, but his chicken-plucking-productivity is on the up.

Meanwhile we have cut through the tiresome old red tape and arranged to have some nutritious protein wafers delivered from a new Silicon Valley start-up. Made from ocean plankton, they say. That is what a high-wage, high-productivity economy looks like! (Palo Alto, I mean, not Jericho. But we’ll get there.)

When I say the protein wafers are “delivered”, obviously that part is a bit tricky since we started demanding visas from anyone coming down Little Clarendon Street. The upside is that on this side of passport control, the neighbourhood is traffic-free and delightfully walkable. The downside is that all those boxes of Soylent Green get dumped in a big pile of wet leaves by disgruntled delivery drivers, and the wafers go soggy.

We are trying to sort that out. Delivery drivers need a concession from the business and skills office (but that’s Nigel and he’s busy with the chickens) plus a visa from the home affairs department (Jenny at number 3, but her broadband is down and the engineer doesn’t have a visa). Lest we drown in the uncontrolled flow of Yodel drivers, all the permits expire on Christmas Eve. For some reason we haven’t yet had many applicants.

If Johnson was correct when he compared immigrants with intravenous drugs, I suppose these transitional snags are the painful withdrawal symptoms. Cold turkey, if you like. Not that I am confident about the turkey this Christmas. Nigel has one strolling around his garden but he says he has no plans to pluck it: it’s intimidatingly big. If we could cosh it then get it outside the Little Clarendon Street roadblock, we might find an itinerant butcher and offer them cash in hand to dress it for Christmas lunch.

Otherwise I suppose that while we wait for our wages to rise, a decorative arrangement of protein wafers will look festive. A high-productivity Yuletide awaits!

Written for and first published in the Financial Times on 12 November 2021.

The paperback of “How To Make The World Add Up” is now out. US title: “The Data Detective”.

“One of the most wonderful collections of stories that I have read in a long time… fascinating.”- Steve Levitt (Freakonomics)

“If you aren’t in love with stats before reading this book, you will be by the time you’re done.”- Caroline Criado Perez (Invisible Women)

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