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?

Thursday 7 July 2016

The UK needs to make an informed choice

Timothy Garton Ash wrote in The Guardian, Saturday 25th June, under A Farewell to Europe. He stated the beginnings of the EU and some of its current issues go back a long way. In 1989 the Berlin wall came down. ‘As their price for supporting German unification France and Italy pinned Germany down to a timetable for an overhasty, ill-designed and overextended European monetary union. As a result of their liberation from Soviet communist control, many poorer countries in eastern Europe were set on a path to EU membership, including its core freedom of movement. And 1989 opened the door to globalisation, with spectacular winners and numerous losers.’ Back to the workers living in social housing in my earlier post.

Ash commented further: ‘The eastward enlargement of the EU in 2004 was followed by a large westward movement of people and … 2 million of them came to Britain. …pressures on public services – and on housing stock in a country that for decades has built far too few homes – have been felt acutely by the less well-off… Their concerns are widespread…Unfortunately populist xenophobes such as Nigel Farage exploit these emotions, linking them to subterranean English nationalism.’

Where is Farage now? Living off the earnings of his German-born wife now he’s stood down as leader of Ukip? He’s helped bring the country out of the EU and he’s gone very, very quiet. He isn’t the only one demonstrating far-right views. Marine Le Pen speaks a similar language in France, Geert Wilders, Dutch politician and leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, wants Turkey to remain outside the EU. He tried to work with Le Pen, right-winger Strache, for the Austrian Freedom Party, Salvini, heading up Italy’s Lega Nord – The Northern League, and Gerolf Annemans of  Belgium’s Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest). The notion was to form their own parliamentary group in the European Parliament. The Greek Golden Dawn and Poland’s Congress Party were not included so no new party was formed. Now, in the USA, we have Trump showing his true hand. I will not repeat his vicious attack on a variety of peoples but in the view of Ash: Wilders, Le Pen et al are ‘…trumpery European-style’.

Back to the effects on Britain. Farage is a millionaire. Having brought us out of the EU I am sure he won’t suffer personally. As Ash writes ‘We will pay the economic price for years to come. The costs will probably fall especially hard on the less well-off who voted for Brexit.’ And why did we have to have a referendum? Jeanette Winterson writing in The Guardian, also June 25th, ‘What did surprise me was that Cameron and Osborne would risk the first full-power Tory government in decades on a gamble with an unelected cartoon character from a time-warp. Nigel Farage is ridiculous. But he has won. There was no need for a referendum. What was needed was a firm cross-party consensus explaining why the EU is not the problem facing Britain.’ 

As people having been moving since the fall of the Berlin Wall we have had migrant workers in Britain for many years. We rely on them. What we haven’t had is reasonably-priced housing, council housing to replace those sold off under Thatcher and proper funding for the NHS and state education. It seems to me the choice made by 52% of the voting population to leave the EU was a bad one. But where were the facts? Who knew what they were voting against? Voting against a lack of good, affordable housing and employment opportunities should be aimed at a British elite. Not the EU. 

We may actually have more immigration, not less, now that France is suggesting we roll back the borders from Calais. We may become a much smaller economy, especially if Scotland votes to leave the UK.  As Polly Toynbee wrote in the same edition of The Guardian ‘Soon those leave voters will find they were swindled. The foreigners will still be there. No new homes, hospital appointments or nursery places freed up by a migrant exodus.’
‘…Future US presidents will fly over us to the EU.’ Toynbee puts the blame squarely at Cameron’s feet and echoes Winterson’s surprise at Cameron and Osborne’s stance. ‘But in the end it was (Cameron’s) government’s relentless small-state austerity that tilled the ground for popular rebellion… He closed the Sure Starts, libraries, leisure centres and day centres that once held communities together. He accelerated right-to-buy so close-knit estates lost a third of flats, sold off to private landlords to fill with exploited migrant men. He is slicing away the lifeline of tax credits.’

And we have come out of the EU because of this? I doubt the EU made the decision for all the above closures, the rise of private landlords and abandoning the tax credit system.
As I write Farage is no longer on our screens, Cameron has resigned and Osborne isn’t on the ballot papers for the Conservative party leadership. Boris Johnson was speaking in the House of Commons only hours ago stating that migrant workers were welcome. Yet two weeks ago he was fighting to leave the EU, won, and at the same time lost. To Michael Gove.  

One chink of light in this shocking, confusing fall-out is that should Theresa May become our next PM she has said she wants a Britain for all strata of society not just for the elite. Let’s hope she is our next leader. I don’t vote conservative but she is the most sensible choice and as a country we need to start making sensible choices again. First inform the people so they can make an informed choice!

A let down

                                                  After the Brexit Vote

We were on holiday in Guernsey, a non-EU bailiwick of the UK, for EU referendum day.  Our postal vote, sent in on June 3rd, stated we wished to remain. I hardly slept the night of June 23rd, too eagerly engaged with the BBC news as the votes came in. Yes, even Guernsey is not beyond the reach of the internet. Indeed signals were excellent. But the news, at 4.40 a.m., UK time, showed Brexit was winning by a million votes. Birmingham, predicted to vote Remain, did not follow anticipated voting patterns. We were OUT of the EU.

Ian Jack, Guardian Opinion, June 25th, wrote ‘Just as the pound was reaching its peak, Iain Duncan-Smith said: “Turnout in the council estates is very high.” It was about a quarter past ten.’ (Fifteen minutes after the polls had closed and the BBC’s live EURef programme had started its overnight broadcast.)
To my mind that comment about council estates seemed very class-ridden. Ian Jack said canvassers for Remain had told him “The Greens got the Tube stations, Lib Dems did the shoppers, Labour went “round the estates”.’ 

So Britain still has council estates? I thought social housing had been all but demolished, during Thatcher’s reign, to around 10% of former council-owned housing stock. Yet now the council estates' vote seemed so pertinent in the EURef. I D-S had hit on something. Ian Jack quoted Michael Sandel, an American political philosopher, on the British working class. “The sources of their dignity, the dignity of labour, have been eroded and mocked by … globalisation, the attention that is lavished … on … financial elites.” The working classes had plenty to protest about.

Jack continued: ‘On Sky TV Michael Gove spoke of how his father’s fish business in Aberdeen had been “destroyed by the European Union.” In fact, a report in The Guardian showed that the senior Gove had sold his business rather than closed it.
Believe Michael Gove if you will but since this article was written he has already managed to get Boris Johnson out of the running for Conservative Party leadership and gone against his own words – he had said he wouldn’t run for party leadership.  Yet he is, today, a fortnight after votes were cast, hours away from being second in the running for PM. Theresa May is way ahead in the votes for party leadership - and she voted to remain. Thank heavens for small mercies. May might be one of the few adults around capable of running the country since EURef.

On the same Saturday Philip Aldrick, writing in The Times stated ‘British industry has been left reeling by the European Union referendum result as fears increased that carmakers based in the UK and big aerospace companies such as Rolls-Royce and Airbus would transfer work abroad.’ Those companies used to be based near the school where I taught; it had a non-privileged intake. Some reports say such areas are worse off now than in the Depression of the 1930s. How will Brexit help those people who have already suffered from unemployment and worsening prospects? If big companies move off our shores working class labourers will have fewer choices after Brexit than before. Did Michael Gove point this out  to voters in his rush to greatness? Derby-based Toyota has likely had the go-ahead to build new hybrid cars scuppered since EURef. Again it will be workers in these industries who suffer the most. It’s the poor what gets the blame.

Back to The Guardian. John Harris said the ‘...signs of discontent have been obvious for years... In Peterborough in 2013 we found a town riven by cold resentments, where people claimed agencies would only hire the non-UK nationals who would work insane shifts for risible rates.’ He continued ‘Last year 3.8 million people voted for Ukip. The Labour party’s vote is in seemingly unstoppable decline… Jeremy Corbyn might be seen as that problem incarnate. The trades unions are nowhere to be seen, and the Thatcher-era ability of Conservatism to speak to working-class aspiration has been mislaid.’

The working classes feel let down and the referendum gave them voice. Sadly as the country makes plans to leave the EU it seems their lives will likely be further blighted. Their issues are closer to home. Leaving the EU will make things harder for them, not easier. Did Brexiteers know what they were voting for? What now for the impoverished living in council housing? They have suffered from austerity, reduction in local services, underfunded schools and a stretched NHS. Will leaving the EU help their plight?