Thursday, 14 July 2016

The New Yorker and a new government

The journalist John Cassidy, writing in The New Yorker the day after the EURef result, cut through the confusion with a clarity some of us may have struggled to muster. Even so it would be interesting to delve deeper and discover quite what Cassidy meant.
He began his explanation of the results as follows
     ‘The EU has never been particularly popular with ordinary people in the UK, particularly England.’

I wonder who he means by the term ‘ordinary people’. Does he mean people aged 18-65 who go to work every day? Does he mean folks in social housing or in privately-rented accommodation? Perhaps he means couples with two children with a financed-car and a mortgage. Or does he mean 50% of the population in twenty-thirty-years-olds who don’t possess a university degree? Presumably ‘ordinary’ doesn’t mean yacht-owning, privately-educated well-to-do men and women.  Other points he makes refer to deindustrialisation.
·          ‘Most commentators … were assuming …prudence and risk aversion would generate a swing in favour of Remain
·         The Remain vote was particularly weak in the West Midlands and the Northeast of England, two areas that have been hit hard by deindustrialisation.’

I was brought up in the West Midlands at a time when there was full employment. Since the days of Margaret Thatcher unemployment has risen and the area has never fully recovered from the demise of the great steel works. When I was growing up our high street had restaurants, Marks and Spencer and high-class boutiques. My family was protected from deindustrialisation as dad was a grammar school headteacher and my brother has worked as partner in a well-established Midlands’ law firm for decades. Friends of mine who still live in my home town talk about the numbers living there who are now on benefits. I never knew anyone on benefits when I was at grammar school in the Midlands. I only met benefits-users in my fifties - and that’s since I started living in prosperous Bath. But, yes, people living in post-industrialised regions have been finding life hard, probably since the 1980s.

Cassidy echoes points made by Prof Curtice of Strathclyde University as referendum votes were counted:
·         ‘The Guardian has published some telling charts … they show gaping class divisions. Those with college degrees tended to opt for Remain…The older and poorer you are, the more likely you were to vote Leave.
·         The British working classes and lower middle classes, particularly those living in the provinces, have delivered a stinging rebuke to the London-based political establishment’
Back to the West Midlands, again.

On another tack I believe Cassidy sums up the Farage-effect well:
·         ‘Although much of the immigration into the UK comes from outside of the EU the Leave forces were able to focus attention on the freedom of movement for workers, which is one of the founding principles of the EU
·         …economic anxieties … underpinned the political anger that fuelled the Leave vote. Nigel Farage … (was) able to exploit these economic worries, directing them against settlers and other easy targets.’
If life is hard you have to have someone to blame. Farage harnessed this need to accuse. 

Let’s hope Theresa May, our PM for less than twenty four hours, genuinely believes her own words. As she addressed the nation she spoke up for those householders who are ‘just managing’ in financial terms. Her speech outside no.10 yesterday, a few minutes after being asked by the Queen to form a government, sounded as though she would seriously consider those who were in insecure jobs. It appeared those who were struggling financially would be at the heart of her government’s policies. Cassidy, back in June, commented on inequality in Britain:
·         ‘…decades of globalization, deregulation and policy changes that favoured the wealthy have left Britain a more unequal place … the legacy of increased national inequality in the 1980s’
Back to Margaret Thatcher who, some would say, defined 80’s Britain. Cassidy also believes Cameron made mistakes:
·         ‘…the Remain campaign was uninspiring in the extreme
·         …it can be argued that Cameron’s mistake occurred as far back as 2013, when, in an effort to satisfy the Eurosceptics inside his own Conservative Party, he pledged to hold a referendum …before 2017
·         Steve Hilton, a former political adviser to Cameron, said “People have expressed real anger at being ignored by the system, and I think this is at the heart” of what happened
·         To get people to turn out and vote in your favour, you  also have to give them something positive to rally behind’

Instead of saying how awful it would be outside Europe the Remain campaign didn’t help themselves by making clear the positive advantages of Remaining.
Personally I am very pleased to see a woman in no.10. I don’t vote Tory but the current state of the Labour party means Theresa May might have little opposition, even with a tiny majority of 12, in the House of Commons. Come on Labour! I am so glad to see the destroyer of schools - Michael Gove - out of her cabinet. One can only hope that May will appoint Secretaries of State for Education and Health who do more than criticise hard-pushed professionals. John Cassidy has summed up the reasons the Brexit vote won. I hope Theresa May helps hard-working teachers, doctors, nurses, teaching assistants, carers, office workers, shopkeepers, bus drivers. These are the people I define as ‘ordinary’. Some of them will be doing more than ‘just managing’. Others will be suffering after years of “Austerity Britain.”
Everyone who works hard can do without the toxic criticisms of Gove, Hunt et al. My only worry is that, as Home Secretary, Theresa May rubbed up the police force the wrong way. If she considers them to be part of the non-elite and she wants to help them, plus others who work hard, she’ll have to put some of the compassion at the heart of Christianity into her politics. Her father was a vicar. Was he a compassionate Christian? If so has any of it rubbed off on her?

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