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Home > Politics

Guess who's back...

Stephen Byers returns to the fray with a raft of brilliant policy ideas stolen from the plot of Bladerunner.

2 August 2003

It's odd to think it now, but one of those most-hotly tipped to be the next New Labour prime minister was Stephen Byers. You recall Byers: the guy who claimed to have bagsied 2.2bn from the Treasury for the trains (he hadn't). Who claimed his press chief has resigned (he hadn't). Who responded to the Potters Bar bloodbath with a load of impenetrable nonsense. Who stood by Jo Moore following the 'bury bad news' stuff.

So how is Byers attempting to recover his political future? Apparently, he follows Blair in branding as well as policy, and thinks that Sticking To The Shittiest Of Your Guns is the way to recoup favour.

And so this week, we get him addressing the Social Market Foundation, a right-wing think-tank, or, as they put it a 'source of innovative economic and social policy ideas'. Here's what he says:

    1) We should all be legally obliged to carry state identification cards at all times.

    2) Sick asylum cheaters to be denied medical attention.

    3) If you visit the country for a wedding or a funeral, you leave a deposit and collect it while leaving, bereaved / elated.

    4) Universities to be fined if they don't 'keep check of overseas students', even if they have visas.

    5) 'Squads' to 'target' companies looking for possibly-illegal employees and issue spot fines of 2,000.

*Wait*. Keith Joseph would have blanched at this. Le Pen might put it a little more tactfully. Banana dictators, admittedly, would say to hell with it. But it still needs backing up. It's obvious that these intrusive, complicated, racist proposals will be costly in the same way as refugees can be (Byers's embarkation rules alone would cost 20m a year, say). How to justify it,

Well, Byers is absolutely clear on this. 'It is clearly the case that many of Labour's traditional supporters are those that fear immigration the most,' he says. Those who are concerned 'that in some way their national identity is under threat'.

He's saying it's okay, because it's vote-grubbing, then? A little fellow like Byers might think that this will wash, but a Master Of Spin like Blair is too astute to push that kind of guff, surely? Hardly. At the monthly press conference this week, Blair's chief objection to ID cards were based on logistics and cost. We don't just want 'a quick fix' to the immigrant problem, he said.

Blair and Byers. Still cheek-by-jowl. The next election to be fought on who's the harshest on refugees. Time for a Kennedy to start saying a few things that make people say 'that Charles Kennedy makes sense.' Or 'He might be a boozer, but that Kennedy's no racist.' Or 'That Kennedy is the opposition - I'm
voting for him.'

Kennedy, why so quiet?


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