London Diary: UK is ‘full’, says Rishi Sunak

The proposals being discussed include raising the primary income eligibility threshold for a skilled worker arriving in the UK from £26,000 to £40,000, and banning extended visas for graduates

British PM Rishi Sunak
British PM Rishi Sunak

Hasan Suroor

Britain is full and those wishing to move here to work or study should brace themselves for new tough visa rules. This is the message from Downing Street as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak prepares to respond to growing pressure from his party’s right wing to scrap all immigration routes after official figures revealed that net migration has hit an all-time high of 745,000 last year.

The proposals being discussed include raising the primary income eligibility threshold for a skilled worker arriving in the UK from £26,000 to £40,000, banning extended visas for graduates and further limiting the number of family members people can bring.

Another controversial move under discussion is scrapping the immigration route that allows foreigners to be hired to meet shortages in professions such as caregiving, engineering and construction.

Workers from developing countries including India are most likely to be affected if the proposal goes through. Immigration minister Robert Jenrick supports putting an overall cap on immigration. He has promised to bring forward a “serious package of fundamental reforms to address this issue once and for all”.

Well, we have heard this one before.


Booker Prize losing steam?

The Booker Prize, arguably the best-known literary prize in the English-speaking world—especially India on account of prior Booker winners Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy—appears to have hit the skids judging by the popular response to this year’s Booker titles, including the winner of the £50,000 prize, Paul Lynch’s Prophet Song.

Earlier, Booker longlisted books would fly off the shelves, but this year there have been few takers for even shortlisted titles, while sales of the winning title have been particularly disappointing.

Salman Rushdie  (Photo: DW)
Salman Rushdie (Photo: DW)

The Bookseller, the bible of Britain’s book trade, has described this year as the ‘slowest-selling shortlist period’. On an average, a measly 2,123 copies of the six shortlisted authors’ novels have sold per week since September when the list was announced.

In contrast, last year an average of 8,631 books were sold each week during a shorter period. No shortlisted Booker book has ever sold fewer than 2,500 copies a week since The Bookseller began compiling records.

Incidentally, the book that has sold the most is not Prophet Song but Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting. Literary opinion over the former is sharply divided and it was not the jury’s first choice.

Canadian novelist, Esi Edugyan, who chaired the jury, said it needed to “revote and revote and revote and revote” before settling on Murray’s book.

According to The Times literary editor Robbie Millen, Prophet Song is ‘fatally uninterested in history or politics; it lacks any fresh insight into how democracies succumb to dictatorship’. Its pages, he wrote, ‘are littered with grand-sounding but empty philosophising’.

While other critics have been more generous, the ultimate test of its success will be how well it does commercially.


A protest march in London against the BBC’s alleged anti-Semitism, 26 November 2023.
A protest march in London against the BBC’s alleged anti-Semitism, 26 November 2023.

BBC in a pickle over the Gaza war

As the propaganda war over the British media’s coverage of the Gaza war escalates, the BBC has been accused of “muzzling” Jewish voices on its staff, even as its Palestinian and Arab employees believe its reporting has a pro-Israel bias.

Many Jewish staff members defied official guidance to attend by far the biggest ‘antisemitism’ rally held in London. Apparently, the management was against their participation.

“BBC News romanticises Hamas and its supporters and has the audacity to tell its Jewish staff not to protest about it,” one anonymous Jewish staffer told the Mail. BBC denied this, and said “antisemitism is abhorrent”.

Meanwhile, many of its non-Jewish journalists are reportedly “crying in lavatories” over concerns that the BBC is treating Israeli lives as being “more worthy” than Palestinian ones, The Times reported.

They have pointed out that words such as ‘massacre’, ‘slaughter’ and ‘atrocities’ were frequently used in reference to the Hamas attack, but Israel’s actions weren’t described using a similar vocabulary of outrage. There has been criticism that the BBC risks “tying itself in knots” in its attempt to satisfy both sides.


Whitewashing a racist culture?

A BBC presenter of Sri Lankan origin has called the working environment at the corporation “uncomfortable” for non-white staff. Nihal Arthanayake, who presents a daytime show on Radio 5 Live, has said working in an “overwhelmingly white” environment is affecting his mental health.

“[What’s] really affecting me is that I walk in and all I see is white people. The hardest thing is to walk into a room, look around and [realise] nobody looks like you,” he said, addressing a journalism diversity conference.

“I’ve seen a lot of people leave this building because they couldn’t deal with the culture”, he added. When he raised the issue, however, his colleagues denied racism and thought he was protesting too much.

And finally, an official inquiry into the British government’s handling of the Covid pandemic revealed that Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer at the time, wanted to “let people die” as he focused on protecting the economy.

“Rishi thinks just let people die and that’s okay. [It] all feels like a complete lack of leadership,” said Patrick Vallance, former chief scientific adviser to the government, quoting Dominic Cummings, the then PM Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser. Sunak has denied the allegation.

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