Liberal Villain of the Month: Greg Dyke

by Stephen Tall on September 20, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf villain greg dyke

Greg Dyke

Chairman, Football Association
Reason: for proposing immigration restrictions on non-EU footballers

When in doubt, blame the foreigners. It’s an attitude I expect from some on the unthinking right (and indeed left). But somehow I hoped better of Greg Dyke, a one-time Lib Dem member and donor. Yet he too has now joined the evidence-free clamour for English football clubs to bar footballers from beyond the European Union because immigrants.

“The rules say elite non-European players – the very best – should be allowed to come in and we agree with that. What we are saying is there are a lot that aren’t [the very best], that don’t play that much and do take squad places, and a lot particularly in the Football League disappear after a year or so. The system doesn’t work. What we are saying is, ‘Let the best players come in but give the rest of those squad places to young English kids’.”

Who could be against English clubs bringing on young, home-grown talent? Not me. But his argument is shoddy. Who, after all, decides which non-EU players count as mediocre? Surely that should be up to the clubs themselves, not the FA. And that the restriction can apply only to non-EU nationals will necessarily discriminate against footballers from poorer nations. Besides, what’s to stop the clubs simply topping up their stock of ‘mediocre’ players from the EU if they really want to?

As Len Shackleton has persuasively argued:

Why should interest groups like the FA be allowed to influence immigration policy? The argument that English workers perform better when protected from competition from immigrants, many of whom are ‘mediocre’ anyway, might be used by every occupation if we accepted Mr Dyke’s dubious logic. I’ve known some pretty duff non-EU academics working in UK universities, but I don’t argue that we should keep them from applying for jobs here. We have some pretty duff academics of our own.

Every year about 200,000 Brits go abroad to work, and I think it’s great that they can do so. Most come back here much better for the experience. Why don’t any significant numbers of English footballers do the same? At the same time, about 200,000 come here to work and if they can do jobs as well or better than our natives, good luck to them. They benefit themselves and, to an extent, our economy. The net immigration figures which politicians are so concerned about are largely the consequence of big numbers of incoming students and family reunions: few of our emigrants leave to study or join families. A rational immigration policy would look at the overall picture rather than trying to outguess the market in determining which type of workers (including footballers) to let in.

Nor is there any evidence that the presence of foreign footballers negatively impacts the English game – see, for instance, Ben Southwood’s review here.

I’ll leave the last word to Roberto Martinez, manager of my team Everton:

“I don’t think having quotas is the best way to develop young English footballers, which is something all clubs want to do. The best way to do that is to develop the game at Under-16 to Under-19 level.”

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.