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Monday, January 16, 2017

Brexit – The Revenge of the Great Ignored?

With Theresa May due to give a statement on Brexit tomorrow, I've been musing on how on earth we came to be on the brink of leaving the EU just four decades after overwhelmingly embracing the project.

Politics continues to be framed in the terms of “right” and “left” in our media and in many otherwise open minds. Has this simplistic division any meaningful currency in the UK today? Subdivisions, such as Kipper, Blairite, Thatcherite, Remainer, Brexiteer, Corbynista, Neo-liberal, Red Tory are applied to both Labour and Conservative alike, reflecting the fact that today’s political landscape has become increasingly incomprehensible.

The Brexit referendum could be the catalyst that finally destroys the already shaky left-right axis, and replaces it with something entirely different: the elite vs the rest. It really doesn’t matter if the elite are represented by, “the rich”, "liberals", "intellectuals", "career politicians" or what Rod Liddle scathingly labels the "faux left"; all of them are essentially people who are wholly insulated from the workaday tribulations of the hoi polloi, as they are either very well off or comfortably lodged in well-paid sinecures (for an explanation of the term 'faux left',  Rod Liddle’s book has a full chapter on the subject).

Both the Conservatives and, rather more, Labour, have been badly damaged by UKIP, who gave a voice to those whose unfashionable views have previously been ignored. Since that fateful day in June I have read many deep and learned analyses of the profiles of those who voted to leave the EU and those who voted to remain. The main thrust of these treatises has been that well educated people (with degrees or similar), the relatively affluent, the young  and those living in areas that already have an established immigrant population tended to vote 'Remain', whereas the less educated (read working class or stupid) less affluent (read poor) over sixty (read old) and in areas of low or with a recent influx of immigration (read white) tended to vote leave.

It's also true, I think, that those same treatises have all been written by ... the well educated and relatively affluent, as they held their noses at the unaccustomed stench of the great uneducated unwashed wafting into their pristine utopia.

The biggest losers from this shift in the political landscape are on the left. After years of being preached to by a self-appointed, self regarding cabal who pursue their own agenda under the guise of ‘representing’ the under-privileged, those 'under-privileged’ have woken up to the fact that their views are often diametrically opposed to those of the people who purport to champion them.

The scales fell from my eyes in April 2010 with Gordon Brown’s encounter with a ‘real’ Labour supporter, the redoubtable Mrs Duffy. The conversation went something like this:

Duffy: We had it drummed in when I was a child … it was education, health service and looking after the people who are vulnerable. But there's too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can't get a claim, can't get it.
Brown: But they shouldn't be doing that, there is no life on the dole for people any more. If you are unemployed you've got to go back to work. It's six months.

Duffy: You can't say anything about the immigrants because you're saying that you're … but all these eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?

Afterwards, in his car, Gordon was not happy with his encounter with this loyal Labour supporter. Rightly or wrongly, she expressed genuine concerns about whether benefits are being channelled to those in real need and the effect of unhampered immigration on her neighbourhood, employment, services and welfare. The leader of her Labour Party expressed his true feelings as soon as got into his car – unfortunately without removing his mic.

Brown: That was a disaster. Well I just ... should never have put me in with that woman. Whose idea was that? …..she was just a sort of bigoted woman. She said she used be Labour. I mean it's just ridiculous.

“It’s just ridiculous.” That pretty much sums up the metropolitan left’s attitude to anyone who doesn’t  subscribe to their view.

But maybe her view really is ‘ridiculous’. Immigration makes good economic sense, doesn’t it? Our population is becoming increasingly older as a result of improved health (good) and declining birth rate (bad) so we need the injection of fresh blood and willing workers. So, yes, economically it makes perfect sense … but culturally it may not, and other advanced economies have an aging population as well, and some, like Japan, take a very different view on the benefits of immigration. This from a Guardian article published in November 2015.

Taro Kono, the minister for administrative reform and head of the national police agency, said that relaxing immigration laws could help Abe reach his target of boosting GDP from the current 491 trillion yen to 600 trillion yen [5 trillion US dollars] by the end of the decade.

But the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, quickly dismissed Kono’s suggestion. “Foreign countries have undergone difficult experiences,” Suga said. “We should be careful about accepting immigrants.”

Government data released this week showed the number of workers in Japan is projected to fall by 7.9 million, or 12.4%, to 55.61 million in 2030. Its population of around 128 million will fall to 86 million in 2060, with the proportion of people aged 65 or over reaching nearly 40% of the total, according to government forecasts.

Abe, however, ruled out any significant change to Japan’s closed-door approach to immigration at the UN general assembly in New York in September.

“It is an issue of demography,” he said. “I would say that before accepting immigrants or refugees, we need to have more activities by women, elderly people and we must raise our birth rate. There are many things that we should do before accepting immigrants.”

And there in a nutshell is the clash, the rock and the hard place. Japan wishes to retain its culture and identity and fears that dilution of its population by foreigners will inevitably lead to a cultural loss – a loss too dreadful to be compensated for by purely economic considerations. Whereas in the UK and other western nations the mantra “It’s the economy, stupid” trumps all of that, and anyone concerned about the impact on cultural mores that they hold dear  are simply retarded bigots.

The economic argument is entirely rational to those who do not have to personally confront the wave of multiculturalism that has been thrust upon them. The great divide now is not between left and right, but between those whose affluence, education and background allow them to choose where and how they live – the socially and economically mobile - and those who are rooted, willingly or not, in the community where they are born, go to school, work, raise a family, retire and die.The Mrs Duffys of this world.

If you are a middle class, relatively well-heeled liberal (and I would guess that most readers of this blog, and indeed its author, fit that description to some extent) then multiculturalism may well add a little spice to enrich our lives. But we get to pick and choose how much seasoning we want to add to our time on this earth. Over the past couple of decades members of my family have made marriages with partners from China, Pakistan, India, America, Japan, Australia and some have taken citizenship in those places. We are an outgoing lot, and this international and interracial melange has been a wonderful, joyful thing. But on all sides it has been a matter of personal choice; there is no enforced adoption of alien cultures here, but on all sides acceptance, curiosity and an embrace of something new and exciting. These are marriages of culture as well as couples, and they work because the choices are theirs and theirs alone; not the result of political and social pressure.

But it's economic security, education and consequent social mobility that make all of this possible.

Now compare and contrast. I have moved further north recently, where the cost of housing and the cost of living are markedly lower than my previous area in East Anglia. I could choose to do that easily. But consider someone moving in the opposite direction. A family in the North-East may own a very smart home, worth, say £150,000. To move to the South East the same house would cost £350,000 or more. However attractive the job opportunities in the south may be, it’s going to cost them the thick end of a quarter of a million to move south in the pursuit of a better life. How can anyone on a modest income possibly make such a transition? Unless they are prepared to take the risk of a colossal increase in debt they are trapped where they are. That’s not so bad when where you are remains familiar and comfortable; neighbours, community, children at the same schools, shared values, common goals - the glue that binds us together. The shock of sudden demographic change, over which the existing community has no say or control, puts this stability at risk.

Boston in Lincolnshire, which had the strongest Brexit vote in the country, is a town where the share of eastern Europeans jumped from essentially zero in 2001 to the highest in the country by 2011. I have seen it argued that immigration has had no meaningful effect on jobs, as Boston has higher than average employment, and this is true, but consider the wages paid - these figures from BBC Newsnight website 16th May 2016:

The average hourly wage nationally is £13.33. Across the East Midlands, it is £12.26. In Boston, it is £9.13. On a weekly basis, full-time earnings are more than £100 a week less than the national average.

Boston, Lincolnshire
 As Boston's population grew by some 16% over ten years, and wages became depressed, people there and in nearby communities became understandably alarmed and anxious. They saw a town struggling with its influx of young eastern Europeans and worried about their GPs and schools' inability to cope, their jobs, their childrens' future and their own. Rental housing has sometimes seen a three bedroom house let to up to 10 transient workers each paying £60 per week, giving the landlord a return of £30,000 per year instead of £12,000. No-one blames the immigrants for coming there. If you're in your twenties and can earn ten times what you'd make at home, then putting up with living in a doss house for a few months is fine. It's not so great for the average indigenous family wanting to rent though.
To many of the Left, and indeed a fair slice of the Right too, multiculturalism simply means the new Afghani delicatessen that has opened in the High Street (at last we’re rid of that ghastly café, darling. Oh, and have you been to that new Polski Sklep? Wonderful!)  And indeed it is wonderful for the urban hipster. Here is a genuine review for a shop in Stoke Newington:

Now this is a funny little place. I don't know any other venue in London where you feel like you should apologise for speaking English. This really is a little piece of Poland. I don't think I've ever seen another person in here trying to order food in a language other than Polish. I keep telling the woman (In an exasperated but friendly way) look I don't understand what you are saying to me.
However I keep going back not just because it's like a little Eastern European holiday every visit, but because they have the best and best value deli on the street and they have cheaper vodka than Morrisons.Oh and the donuts aren't bad either.

Lovely, darling. Lovely. I’m sure Mrs Scroggins in Stoke on Trent would also love having a local shop where no-one speaks English.

A recent example of the disconnection between the liberal bien pensant and the general populus was the Nativity Play debacle at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Worcester. Here the well-meaning head teacher decided to levy a modest admission charge to help fund additional books for the school. Nothing wrong with that, you might say; a good idea in straitened times. Unfortunately she went on to make clear that the additional books were not for the benefit of all pupils, no; just for those pupils and parents whose first language was not English. Now, had there been a voluntary collection at the play I daresay that a good deal more would have been raised than the £1 per head at the door, but the imposition of a universal charge for the perceived benefit of a few didn’t go down well.

Many parents saw it as unequal and unfair, taking the view that whilst they would willingly pay up for the benefit of all, they’d rather not have a tariff imposed on them to be spent exclusively on someone else. These people are not bigots, well, most of them aren’t anyway – there’s always one or two on each side. Most people are generous and willing to help others, but from childhood we all have an inbuilt sense of “fairness”, and the perception that one section of society is being given some sort of preference over the another offends that sense of fairness to the point where they think – yes, but what about my family – what about me?

What about me?

What about me? That is the key question that has shattered the old order, and led directly to the rise of UKIP and, in the USA, the unlikely success of Donald Trump. The Labour Party has lost vast numbers of working people who should have been its core support, and now relies on a rump of the public sector workers and  unionised industries, plus the motley band of so-called ‘Corbynistas’.  The party could once count on the support of a large proportion of the naturalised immigrant population, but even this bedrock is crumbling.
So we come to the much maligned ‘uneducated white working class’ who along with the elderly are largely blamed by the remain camp for their defeat. Thick and ignorant or old, bigoted and feeble of mind and bladder. How ironic that the old thick retards who are now pilloried by the remain camp  for voting 'leave' are the very same people who, with hopes of a better future for them and their children, voted to endorse membership of the EEC four decades ago.

They voted 'yes' by a landslide - a huge margin; 67% vs 33%. Think about that if you're inclined to castigate the older generation as insular Little Englanders.

Pro- European Margaret Thatcher campaigning in 1975

The then leader of the opposition, Margaret Thatcher, argued passionately in favour of Britain remaining in Europe. Meanwhile, Labour were badly split over the issue. In 1975, as last June, the suspending of cabinet responsibility allowed senior figures to campaign against the government position. Tony Benn was a leading figure in the No camp, and was widely lampooned and demonised in the media at the time. This is an extract from a manifesto by Benn, republished in the Spectator on 18th January 1975:

But we must recognise that the European Community has now set itself the objectives of developing a common foreign policy, a form of common nationality expressed through a common passport, a directly elected assembly and an economic and monetary union which, taken together, would in effect make the United Kingdom into one province of a Western European state.

Britain’s continuing membership of the Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation and the end of our democratically elected parliament as the supreme law-making body in the United Kingdom.

Tony Benn as the Nigel Farage figure of his day - who'd have thought it, eh? Although I would be the last to credit Tony Benn with the gift of prophesy, it does carry an air of portent for the debacle that was to come forty years on. Benn was also concerned that Britain had to cut most of its trade links with the Commonwealth nations and replace them with trade deals with the EEC, potentially costing thousands of UK jobs and incurring a huge balance of payments deficit. Well, we still have that fiscal deficit today.

Interestingly, immigration was not an issue, mainly because the Berlin Wall and the rest of the iron curtain had yet to be breached, so eastern Europe  was not seen as a factor, and in any case 1975 Britain saw itself as a country in decline - why would anyone want to come here? Emigration, not immigration, was the problem!

Looks almost like a UKIP meeting - until you look closer

It's illuminating to see the roll call of those opposed to joining Europe. The No Campaign supporters included: Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Peter Shore, Eric Varley, Barbara Castle and the former Conservative minister Enoch Powell. The campaign was supported by the Democratic Unionist Party, the Scottish National Party, and Plaid Cymru. The TUC was vehemently anti-europe.

Despite the openly declared political ambitions that so alarmed Tony Benn, Enoch Powell and co. the electorate discounted them. Maybe they thought of them as pipe dreams, or ideal that would never come to pass. The EEC of that time was quite different from the EU of today. There were almost no guarantees of workers' or civil rights. Freedom of movement did not exist, nor was there an over-arching legislature forcing member nations' laws to conform.The Common Market was basically a TTIP type of trade deal which offered the UK opportunities to develop and expand its business with Europe. This is what was voted for in 1975, and essentially what the 'leavers' wish to return to, with the added benefit of restoring worldwide trade ties surrendered on the altar of Europe in the seventies.

The big change came when John Major signed the Maastricht Treaties, which essentially ratified all the things that Benn, Shore Powell Foot & co feared. Lisbon followed. We can be sure that Mrs Thatcher, despite her enthusiasm for trade and security co-operation with Europe, would not have gone down that road, as this report in the Independent makes clear. That said, Major did secure an opt out of monetary union, which has, and will stand us in good stead. The treaty of Lisbon in 2007 consolidated Maastricht with the earlier Treaty of Rome, but in reality it replaced an attempt to formulate a federal constitution, which was anathema to many member states. It's interesting to note the popular opposition to both treaties throughout Europe. A failed referendum in Denmark, and later a marginally successful plebiscite in France, revealed unexpectedly low support across Europe for unification.

Back to today. The working class chaps who have been doing up our new house are neither thick nor ignorant. Sure, they don’t have degrees in the history of art, media studies or glass and ceramics, but having left school at 16 they have completed apprenticeships or learned on the job and sat exams for trade related qualifications and, unlike many of their contemporaries who have been to ‘uni’, they have made a successful life for themselves - all homeowners in their twenties and, mortgage aside,  unencumbered by debt. These are not downtrodden workers. In fact their attitudes to work, wealth and property are more in tune with middle class values, so Mr Corbyn's style of left wing politics is meaningless to them. They don't see themselves as exploited vassals living in some Victorian hell hole - they're doing OK, ta very much.

Under Corbyn, voting Labour is no longer a default position for the many of party’s traditional northern and midland supporters. They are not economically hard pressed, they are not old, they are not stupid. They are self-reliant, work hard, make good money … and with example of nearby Boston in mind, aren’t too keen on having their ambitions thwarted by a Latvian or Slovak chap offering to repair my roof or fix my heating cheaper than them.

Yes, our home grown working class tradesmen tend to be just a little right wing and  (whisper it) given a nudge they might even mutate into Tories! Why? Because although they care about the NHS and good social care etc, they see these as a given that will be maintained by governments of either stripe. They really don’t care if the railways or NHS are privatised, just as long as they work. They’ll pay their taxes and vote, but they’ll vote for whoever promises to deliver what they want, beyond the basic services. And what they want isn’t necessarily what our political leaders and their confidantes want, as the Brexit vote made quite clear.

Eddie Izzard  appeals to the working class
Personally I think the vote to leave was a mistake. On balance, the UK was exceptionally well positioned within the EU anyway, and thankfully not saddled with the Euro and its woes. Cameron would have done better to emphasise the positive position that we enjoyed instead of embarking on a doomed 'renegotiation' with people who didn't believe for one minute that the UK would vote to abandon the EU project. But I accept that I could be wrong.

However some of the most vocal advocates of remaining left me dismayed - no, aghast. They might as well have been campaigning for leave.

For example, our fishing industry has been in decline for many years, and the EU quota policies in this area were demonstrably bonkers, requiring any non-quota fish to be dumped, dead, into the sea. The fishermans’ pro- Brexit flotilla heading to parliament up the Thames was headed by the left’s favourite bogeyman, Nigel Farage & Kate Hoey, the Labour MP (forty years ago it might have been Tony Benn!).

What ensued?

Geldof's charm offensive
The unedifying sight of the millionaire ‘Sir’ Bob Geldof on a boat stuffed with his equally well-heeled sycophants hurling abuse and flicking V signs at men who saw their livelihoods threatened by the EU. I wonder how that played with the average working man in South Shields, yet to decide which way to vote? This Daily Mirror article (in fulsome support of Sir Bob) shows how it went down with their readers – read it and then scroll down to the comment.

Then the BBC’s Question Time team chose Eddie Izzard to champion the Remain cause. Quite why it was thought that a transvestite in a full make up and a pink hat would win the day with a welder from Scunthorpe is anyone’s guess. Mind you, Eddie isn’t the only one to favour ladies’ clothing – Bob Geldof clearly takes his fashion cues from Sybil Fawlty when it comes to headgear.

Bob Geldof's fashion guru?
And as for the so-called “project fear” where Mark Carney, George Osborne, Cameron and the rest  promised fiscal Armageddon. Well, to those who held their cultural heritage and community dear, it was a price worth paying – and frankly, they didn’t believe them anyway. The intervention of US President Obama, telling them that if they refused to toe the EU line, then Britain would "go to the back of the queue" in negotiating any trade deals with the USA was a huge mistake for the Remain campaign. Nothing like an overweening foreigner issuing threats to make the average Brit dig his heels in.

Major figures from the Right and Left combined in a rare show of unity to promote remaining in the EU. The Left saw leaving as a betrayal of a great ideal, the loss of something precious - the eventual creation of a supra national whole where everyone could live and work under one benevolent communal administration, where everyone’s rights would be respected and upheld and the faux-left’s ideals would prevail. It has to be said that the behaviour of their representatives since the vote goes somewhat against these utopian ideals. The reliably repellent Ricky Gervais remarked on “The Last Leg” show that if the warning ‘do not drink’ was removed from bottles of bleach for a year and the referendum re-run, then Remain would win by a landslide.

Yeah, very witty, Ricky. ROTFL

Yet it appears that the people who failed to turn out to vote (or even register to vote) are probably Ricky's fans; mainly the ‘right–on’ younger voters who seemingly can broadcast millions of disgruntled tweets and organise on-line petitions after the event, but find placing an X on a slip of paper quite beyond their capabilities. It has been estimated that only 36 per cent of people in the 18 – 24 year old category voted in the EU referendum, partly because many didn't even bother to register. Maybe the bleach bottle warnings for stupid people are meant for them, Ricky?
The Right of course were primarily concerned with the economy, the potential loss of trading rights, especially in the financial sector, exports being hit hard, rising unemployment and falling revenues to cope with it. In short, a financial maelstrom. You might have thought, given the figures above, that the older, more conservative voters would have heeded them. Wrong. This was primarily a cultural, not an economic decision, and only UKIP fully grasped that fact. UKIP by the way will now wither and die, as they too fail to grasp the changes in today’s electorate. They are a one trick pony, and now they are like all the other parties – flailing around looking for a reason to exist.

The one factor none of the campaigners or political parties considered was that one simple question that many voters wanted answering, after all the hot air, argument, insult and wheedling … What about me? Yes, yes, yes, I hear what you’re saying, I get all of that, but what about ME?

WHAT ABOUT ME? A very simple question from the uneducated masses who simply want a decent life. A pity none of the liberal pro-europe campaigners thought it worthy of an answer.

So, in essence the blame for the defeat of the Remain campaign can be largely laid at their own door. They viewed the question entirely from their own perspective, and either ignored or treated any alternative view with contempt. Their only argument seemed to be "we know what's good for you, vote our way or you'll regret it". Hardly the portrait of the sunlit uplands that the pro-europe campaign presented in 1975, is it?

Even now they just don't get it. Every week some pompous ass, very often a "celebrity" will sound off about how, were the referendum re-run today, the result would go 'their way' as people realised the disaster waiting over the horizon. I rather think that in view of the insulting and degrading language that they employ to describe those who voted 'Leave', another resounding "up yours" is the more likely outcome. A little understanding and practical help could have tipped the balance, but sadly the intolerance of those who preach "tolerance" the loudest meant that would never happen. And the voters knew it.

To finish off, consider this amusing little poem/grook by Piet Hein. Yes, I know I've quoted it before.

His party was the Brotherhood of Brothers,
and there were more of them than of the others.
That is, they constituted that minority
which formed the greater part of the majority.
Within the party, he was of the faction
that was supported by the greater fraction.
And in each group, within each group, he sought
the group that could command the most support.
The final group had finally elected
a triumvirate whom they all respected.
Now, of these three, two had final word,
because the two could overrule the third.
One of these two was relatively weak,
so one alone stood at the final peak.
He was: THE GREATER NUMBER of the pair
which formed the most part of the three that were
elected by the most of those whose boast
it was to represent the most of the most
of most of most of the entire state --
or of the most of it at any rate.
He never gave himself a moment's slumber
but sought the welfare of the greater number.
And all people, everywhere they went,
knew to their cost exactly what it meant
to be dictated to by the majority.
But that meant nothing, -- they were the minority.

 "... they were the minority." Until some clown thought a referendum was a good idea!