Pick for Britain!
…as long as you’re not from the UK. How the government has gaslit British workers
About a year ago, I was slowly decomposing in a flat on the Old Kent Road. I was at a very loose end and beginning to contract that complex lockdown disease of inertia, ennui and itchy feet. Bored, frustrated, and in my case severely underemployed. I was however still essentially of sound mind and sound instincts. Then I found myself gaslit.
What better than to get fit and healthy types up to their knees in patriotic soil, feeding the nation, digging for victory?
I’d never really understood or cared about the concept before. Gaslighting had always made me think of Regency chaps in stove pipe hats, waving exceedingly long burning tapers, on Carlton House Terrace. Granted, it was a phrase deployed by my more mindful friends that I had noted. I had noted and I had ignored. Recently though, I thought I would look at the literature, and it seems that the phycological device, famously named after Alfred Hitchcock’s 1944 masterpiece Gaslight, is associated with the behaviour of individuals. What I can see now is that it has become a basic method of governmental control.
My own experience is specific, but the nation’s is general. I return to last May and to the chaotic pit of my Bermondsey digs. The government launched its great campaign to get people working in the fields, Pick for Britain. How Churchillian, how ripe for an art-deco poster campaign, how Blitz spirited it was. I had been sceptical of the initiative in the first place, after all it is always wise to doubt the sincerity of any government programme.
Then the government rolled out Prince Charles to endorse the project, he gave references to the Land Army, my initial scepticism was blunted. Surely the government wouldn’t be so cynical as to inveigle Clarence House into a dodgy scheme?
The National Farmers Union was raging at full halloo. Food rotting where it was planted, something, as they say, had to be done. What better than to get fit and healthy types up to their knees in patriotic soil, feeding the nation, digging for victory?
Initially it seemed a great idea, working the fields, healthy, strenuous, purposeful. Getting out of the urban dead zone of London SE1, into the countryside. OK, so I would have to work all the hours God gives me. Ok so the pay would be minimal. OK, so I’d be living in a caravan. But a few months of hard physical work would shake the middle-aged cobwebs from my mind and a good few middle-aged inches from my waist.
It became clear that the system was designed to make it ridiculously hard indeed for UK citizens to take part
The scene had been set: there was no pasta; loo roll was a distant memory; supermarket shelves were empty; panic strode the land. Worse, food would go to waste, the country would starve, and farmers would go out of business. The only thing that might forestall this disaster were plucky Brits (or the preferred choice, migrant workers on a government scheme that was getting very unpopular with the general public given the restrictions being imposed on international travel for everybody else).
I, alongside tens of thousands, joined the scheme that purportedly wanted 70,000 to take part. I found out fast the there was no such desire. On the day that it launched, the website crashed. When it stuttered back to life it became clear that the system was designed to make it ridiculously hard indeed for UK citizens to take part.
Farms demanded unpaid training schemes of two weeks – to pick fruit! People, even those who lived nearby, had to live on site. Rent would be paid to the farmer. Jobs were advertised in Bulgarian and Romanian rather than English on many of the portals that we were directed to. To match that, was the constant drip, drip, drip of the commentariat and agricultural experts telling us that we were not up to the work, and only cheap migrant labour could do it. The government had to continue their migrant Labour scheme, UK workers were useless, lazy, good for nothings. In fact, so bad are we – and so good are they – that the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) to import workers from countries that had far lower Covid controls in place must not be scaled down, but scaled up.
The government had to continue their migrant Labour scheme, UK workers were useless, lazy, good for nothings
Of course, it worked. Only 5-10 percent of the 70,000 required labourers were sourced from the UK. The lobbying got stronger. In December, the government announced that SAWS was to be “extended and expanded for an additional year”, tripling the previous requirement. When this announcement was made, “Pick for Britain” was still, at least officially, in the mix. “In addition, the government alongside industry will build on this year’s Pick for Britain campaign” it said. It would, “actively promote the recruitment and retention of domestic seasonal workers in 2021”.
Last week the government, very quietly, dropped Pick for Britain. On the website it took the time to thank, “all campaign partners who supported this project, as well as to the growers, recruiters, retailers, and other industry organisations.” Oddly enough, thanks were not given to the thousands who applied and were rejected and through failing to jump through the hoops, set so high, had already been the useful idiots. We had proved that British workers were not up to scratch.
The key psychological point was proved. The failure of Pick for Britain was our fault. The original plan could continue. Migrant workers from countries on the Amber travel list are on the list of acceptable workers.
Defra has not commented on how much this all cost, in fact it has not commented at all.
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