Reid: on horns of migration dilemma

John Reid, home secretary, has certainly taken the bull by the horns in the potentially explosive national debate over immigration.

By suggesting that an independent committee would recommend an “optimum” level of migration, he has put the notion of setting a limit on numbers entering the country squarely on the political agenda.

As a neophyte in matters of immigration politics, I must be careful how I tread. Nonetheless, on one level, I find the idea of a limit on migration slightly absurd, not to say of dubious morality.

For one thing, having once opened our doors, how can we now regulate the flow of people from other European Union member states – including, but certainly not restricted to, Polish plumbers – coming to live and work in this country? We might deny workers from Romania and Bulgaria the same access, but what about member states where access has already been granted?

Then there are asylum seekers. Would they be included in any system? If so, what would happen to deserving cases once available numbers had been exhausted? If they are not included, wouldn’t that further undermine the concept of a limit? The ebb and flow of asylum seekers is by definition unpredictable.

None of this is to deny that Mr Reid’s initiative makes excellent politics.

The use of an independent body to recommend “optimum” levels could help to take the heat out of a damaging issue on which Labour really cannot win.

Meanwhile, the whiff of migration limits has gone down well with the tabloids. “John Reid has some nerve,” proclaimed The Sun in its leader. What Labour home secretary in our age could afford not to treasure such coverage?

Better bitta butter

I fear for the future of England’s market towns in the 21st century. Sometimes their main function seems to have been reduced to providing identifiers on those flag of St George banners that are so much a feature of contemporary England football internationals.

So it is heartening to report on a flying early-morning visit to Tiverton on Sunday. Not only did the main shopping streets contain plenty of outlets selling attractive and distinctive goods, but – glory be! – we even stumbled on a café prepared to serve us breakfast before 9am. What is more, it was delicious.

There was just one mildly disappointing aspect to the whole saga: the butter, in what I had thought was the heart of dairy country, came from Ireland.

Petrol pump blues

One further consequence of a weekend at the wheel was that I noticed that just about every service station I came across, apart from the mom ’n’ pop outlets in the back of beyond, were selling petrol at 99.9p a litre.

Seemingly nobody wants to be the first to cross the dreaded £1 a litre Rubicon. Will such resolve survive the news that BP is shutting down its Alaska oil field? No doubt we will find out soon enough.

Infectious fun

There are 1,867 shows in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which proclaims itself the world’s biggest arts festival.

However, as culture vultures arrive in the Scottish capital, there are concerns that nothing on offer will quite match the real-life court drama of the Tommy Sheridan case, which has just ended with the Scottish Socialist firebrand winning a £200,000 defamation award against the News of the World.

One show that may come close is a play called Parasites, a black comedy set in a failing university department of parasitology.

This was given an airing at the other end of the M8 in Glasgow on Monday before hundreds of scientists attending the International Congress of Parasitology.

That sounds like a nice idea, even if post-Edinburgh marketing plans

seem fundamentally flawed: the work’s producers say they plan to take the show on a tour of failing universities.

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