Saturday, 23 March 2019

Kapow!

Welcome to Saturday Blog # 218, struggling to explore facets of  Power & Energy. If you're pro-Brexit you might almost stop reading now - though I always think it's a good thing to keep an open mind and then make an informed decision based on the arguments, so maybe stick with it.

I should have been in three places today: firstly at a friend-of-a-friend's wedding, secondly supporting my beloved Blackpool FC playing away at Bradford City (well done, Seasiders) and thirdly marching in London with a million-strong crowd campaigning to secure a people's vote on the Brexit fiasco.

Even if I had the energy required to participate in all three events, I don't have the power to be in more than one place at a time or to travel at warp speed from one engagement to the other and so I'm staying ensconced in the jewel of the north and bashing out this heartfelt reflection on the deepening Brexit crisis, surely the biggest issue facing this country since the second world war, a ludicrous scenario foisted on us by a self-centred and shockingly complacent Conservative administration under David Cameron. His clique's lack of forethought on the whole issue just beggared belief. There followed a campaign in which prominent Leave campaigners lied to the electorate to make the prospect leaving the EU a seemingly attractive one; and then ever since the narrow vote in favour of Brexit in June 2016 and Cameron's resignation, the replacement Prime Minister has allowed the process to be hijacked by right-wing anti-Europeans (the ERG and the DUP) who have effectively dictated the political agenda for the last three years by holding the government ransom. Of course Theresa May is struggling to get her deal through. Two thirds of MPs don't want Brexit at all because they realise how very damaging it is going to be for the country if we leave - and yet they are struggling with the legacy of Cameron's flawed referendum and the democratic implications of a narrow majority in favour of 'Leave', whatever people thought that meant at the time.

The more I've read, discussed and thought about it, the more convinced I've become that project Brexit - which you'll gather I regard as a huge mistake - is largely motivated by xenophobia in its various manifestations. Here's the reasoning behind that conclusion.

Firstly, of the 17 million who voted Leave in 2016 (that's less than a third of the adult population,  by the way),  the vox pops, interviews and surveys would suggest a significant percentage cited concerns over immigration as a principal trigger: 'they're flooding in', 'they're taking our jobs', 'they're exploiting our benefits system', 'they're scroungers' et cetera.

They are all quite emotive reactions and are at odds with the facts which are these: more people migrate into the UK from outside the EU than from within it every year; net migration into the UK from the EU is considerably lower than the base immigration figure because of the large number of UK nationals going to live and work in other EU countries; without EU nationals coming to work in the UK, many sectors of the economy would suffer acute labour shortages - the healthcare system, the catering trade, agriculture, light manufacturing; EU nationals contribute far more in terms of stimulating the economy, paying taxes and so on than they take out. All of this would change for the worse if there is any flavour of Brexit (hard, soft, indeterminate).

My friend Peter Statler recently posted a comment on another blog of mine to the following effect: the UK exchequer loses £35 billion every year in tax evasion by big companies and very rich individuals (HMRC statistic); it loses only a fraction of that, £2 billion each year, in benefit fraud (DWP figure). Interestingly, the government employs 4,000 to tackle the problem of benefit fraud but only 500 to address the much bigger issue of tax evasion.

Secondly, of the 17 million who voted Leave, many expressed the view that they don't like the fact we have to abide by laws and legislation 'imposed' by Europe and would like the UK to be in sole charge of its own laws again. They talk about the value of self-determination and sovereignty, about protecting British identity and tradition. I interpret all of that to boil down to them just not wanting to be part of the great European project, because when they are asked 'what EU legislation has not benefitted UK citizens?' or 'what legislative changes would you like to see reversed?' or 'do you think the French are any less French, the Germans any less German or the Italians any less Italian because they are in the EU?' there are surprisingly few answers of any substance (apart from the one on freedom of movement).

Finally, it is very much in the interests of the right-wing to push for a break with the EU (those nasty foreign bureaucrats in Brussels who have plans to stop the exploitation of tax loops by the rich - referenced above - and are pressing for a more equitable and socially responsible use of capital). The High Tories think they will find it much easier to re-jig legislation in their favour - and to the detriment of the mass of working people - if they only have to hold sway in Westminster and are not answerable to the very sensible social legislation that emanates from the EU on behalf of its citizens. They sell this concept to the constituencies by playing to an instinctual xenophobia, the 'make Britain great again' and 'we don't like it because it wasn't invented here' attitudes which justify themselves - quite dangerously - by suggesting Britain as a country would be happier, wealthier and would have greater political sway in the modern world if it were to 'go it alone', 'unshackled', 'standing on our own feet' and 'not having to pay into the EU club'.

That seems to me so much misguided blind faith in the face of all the informed opinion which suggests the economy will contract, international business - including finance - will move across the Channel (we are already seeing this happen) and Britain will end up as a poorer and more divided country with reduced influence on the global stage if Brexit is allowed to happen, deal or no deal.

The worst case scenario is that we are in real danger of ending up an impoverished European outpost, even eventually a Disunited Kingdom, with the possibility of the Scots (and maybe the Welsh) seeking independence and a rejoining of the EU and talk about the reunification of Ireland resurfacing. As such, Britain could turn into a country that people no longer want to flock to - then at least the fears about immigration that have driven so much of the Brexit debate will finally be a thing of the past, though it all seems a very high price to pay!

What had all this got to do with Power & Energy? you ask - and I hoped that was becoming obvious.

The saddest and most frustrating aspect of all of the shenanigans of the last three years is that the real problems facing Britain in the 21st century have very little to do with our relationship with the EU; they are much more structural to do with how we shape ourselves as a society (regardless of whether we are part of the project or not). The fact is we haven't done a very good job of it. That seems to me to be in part because there has been a lack of vision about how to shape the future for the greater good, in part because of the divisive and partisan nature of British politics, and largely because of the cynicism and greed of the ruling elite. The fact that public debate in the last three years has centred on whether we should be in or out of the EU rather than on addressing the real social and economic issues facing the country proves the point, I think. It is truly depressing to hear the number of people who say "I just want it settled one way or the other, I don't care which."

Those fundamental issues will still be there and will be harder to deal with if/when Brexit happens. The irony is that the one time 'the people' have been gifted the power to shape the future they appear to be backing a move that is likely to set the country back and not take it forward.


What is a poor poet to do while the Mother of Parliaments tries to figure its way through? Apart from supporting a revoking of Article 50 that is. Simply to use the power of words to try and distil the reality of the situation in the hope that it might help anyone reading or listening to see the situation in a different light. At a minimum, a more informed decision by the people ought to be permitted. Be energised, people. If more now wish to remain than to leave, then as some MPs have said it's time to abort the suicide mission with the permission of the people.

Here's this week's pithy piece of poetic observation...

That Brexit Psychosis
It's like electing
to have both legs amputated
(though there's nothing wrong
with either of them)
and then proclaiming stoutly
"we'll make the best of it
once we're standing
on our own two feet."

You have to laugh or you'd cry. It doesn't need to end this way. Be empowered, S ;-)
Reactions:

12 comments:

Steve Rowland said...

I suppose I'm a little disappointed that no one has commented on this blog to date (it's been up for 5 days now). With all the angst going down about Brexit this week I would have thought there's be some level of interaction....?

CI66Y said...

It's hard to disagree with anything you say there Steve. The right wing of the Tory party has never wanted to make a success of EU membership. It's been like a forced marriage for them. The DUP want out although the majority of Northern Ireland voted remain. Everywhere politicians and powerful interests have their own agendas. The Leave campaign was more energetic but certain prominent leave campaigners lied to country. It's an unholy mess and I, like you, hope we get a chance to vote again and vote down the proposal to leave because it would be a disaster on every level.

Anonymous said...

Brexit means Brexit! Leave means leave! It's the will of the people. I'm happy to leave with no deal whatsoever. I don't give a toss if we'll be worse off than before. At least we'll be masters of our own destiny again.

Rochelle said...

Well, Anonymous... I think Steve's poem could have been written especially for you!

Tom Shaw said...

For what it's worth, my perspective from across the pond is that folks in the UK just had a fit of pique, voted out for all sorts of different reasons (xenophobia among them for sure) and are kinda stuck on a moving stairway even though the majority now probably don't like where that's headed.

Anonymous said...

The whole fiasco angers me. I'm pleased we are still hanging on - hoping that parliament decides to give us another say and that Remain wins the day. Sad to say Steve, I think your take on xenophobia and your satirical little poem are spot on.

The Existentialist said...

What will be will be...

Anonymous said...

It's April Fools Day so our MPs are discussing the people's petition to revoke Article 50.

Anonymous said...

Beggars all of them. Some pushing their own agenda because they want power (Bojo and that Mogg creature). Some just defying the wishes of their constituents FFS. It's not on. Angry of Andover.

Anonymous said...

That Poetry Power graphic looks a bit dubious!

Harry Lennon said...

A brilliant read that. I'm one of the 52% who voted leave. I regret doing so now and I was on that people's march in London.

Nigella D said...

So Steve, we're still in the EU, there may still be Euro Elections next month and I suppose you must be feeling happier than when you posted this blog. I didn't vote in 2016 because I couldn't figure out what was best. I agree that staying in Europe probably would represent the best future for the UK but I'm not sure we can get there from where we are.