[personal profile] typisch
This is going to be a long post tying together many things I have thought and said over the past two weeks. People keep asking me "why?" and "what now?", and while I am no better a reader of the future tea leaves than anyone else, here goes.

How Did We Get Here?

Capitalism is broken - or, to be Marxist about it, is doing exactly what it was always going to do. The conflict between capital and labour is over, and capital has won. Overlay that with two other trends: first, the middle class, or the wealthy working class if you like, is dying - slowly strangled by automation, by globalisation, by disposable consumerism, by a society where it is no longer valued as it was. My hypothesis is that the world's supply of consumers has not kept up with its supply of workers, and while this has been a fantastic boost to many developed countries, it has also increased the stratification of wealth and raised expectations beyond which the current global economic system can supply. At the same time, the jobs of those who used to supply rich consumers are increasingly disappearing from rich countries. I don't think they are coming back, and we've yet to find sustainable, aspirational jobs as replacement. The jobbing economy offers great flexible work opportunities but again, any gains from efficiency go to the owners of capital, not the providers of labour.

Secondly, the young have been born into a world that offers them everything - chances our parents' generation would have (and our grandparents did) kill for: modern comforts, relative global security, a full belly. All they have had to give up is reasonable aspiration. We deny them the security of decent but unskilled work, and complain they won't push themselves through the insecurity - the coddled generation, not taking risks like us! But why? They will never buy a house, never feel secure in a job or even a profession, never be sure of their position.

(At this point it would be traditional for a left winger like me to mention Thatcher. As the architect of this system, she undoubtedly accelerated our movement towards it. And yet even without her, I think the writing was on the wall as soon as the Winter of Discontent and the Great Carter Failure were deep in the consciousness of the UK and US respectively. Looking at the Marxist critique, we would have got here anyway.)

And so along comes a spider: immigration. In truth just about as pure a win for the country as you could get - supporting our economy, our public services and enriching our food and culture (and often, sex lives and dating experiences). But, but but but. It increased competition in some areas – insert joke about Polish plumbers here – and in many cases drove up quality without a concomitant increase in prices, effectively reducing wages for those who had a good thing going before their arrival. They filled many agricultural roles, taking jobs away from the schoolkids and students who used to fill their holidays doing them – again, probably working rather more efficiently, with more dedication; in some cases, being exploited by (British) businesses, working under the minimum wage, undoubtedly undercutting British workers.

But then, these were always supposed to be transitory jobs. Before, in stage of life terms – each summer a new set of students appearing. Now, internationally – paid well compared to the East of the EU, people coming to save, and often leaving again.

The character of places did change. My home town was a place not unused to Polish people, given the many Polish airmen who helped win freedom for Europe in WW2, and the Polish Cemetery in still in the town (nearly 400 brave Poles were buried there, along with – for a time – General Sikorski, war time Prime Minister of Poland). And yet, my GP suddenly had its electronic appointment system in Polish as well as English. Tsykie and Lech beer appeared in Morrisons. People no longer spoke English in the market square. Friends of friends reported their jobs were uncomfortable and lonely, as the working language shifted to Polish. What is that worth? Internationalists like me celebrated the advantages, celebrated the transformation of the town revitalized by their activity and hard work and tax receipts. But others were never so sure. Taking their jobs. Destroying their culture. And, underneath it all, a loss of certainty, of primacy, of belief the country and its leadership was on their side.

Take back control.

The Meaning of Brexit

So, you take a lot of angry people who felt life was no longer theirs and the leaders no longer represented them. Fed lies and quite some truth about the role of the EU in all that, including the amount of money the EU “controlled”. Told that leaving would allow them to take back control – of the economy, of the borders, of their lives.

Offered the opportunity to give the establishment a bloody nose, they did. Offered the opportunity to close the borders, they jumped at it. Offered the opportunity to stop “sending 350 million to Brussels and spend it on the EU”, they voted Leave.

We knew – both the Remainers, and the thoughtful Leavers, that there could be a contradiction here. Only by a rapid ramp up of trade with the Rest of the World could the uncertainty and loss of single market access be compensated for. Some Leavers argued that this was a certainty, that the EU held us back in global trade terms, that all would be well. These voices have been very quiet these past days – probably because, as the UK enters economic turmoil of a kind that was wholly predictable, they fear the credibility of their arguments. A shame, because to my mind this is the only answer that’s left.

The “Norway” or “current Switzerland” models don’t work for the reasons people voted. They don’t “take back control”, and no amount of spinning will fix that. As it stands, we need a solution that has no EU say over UK borders, no money flowing to EU coffers, no role for EU lawmaking in UK legislation. That’s what people were told they were voting for. The Tories and their “no top down reorganisation of the NHS - promise” may have let people believe that campaign promises are there to be broken, but this wasn’t an election campaign, to be reconsidered in five years.


What Now?

As I have said elsewhere, I can only see two ways forward now:
1) The voters vote in an unambiguously pro-EU government, with a party or parties campaigning explicitly on remaining in the EU, or
2) We leave the EU completely. No EEA, no EFTA. Out.

I would obviously prefer 1), but I fully expect 2). Why?

Firstly, I don’t think the political parties as they are now can survive. The Tories must already be realising this – the referendum was a last throw of the dice to keep the party together, and it has clearly failed. Labour hasn’t caught up with reality yet – Blair and the Blairites still don’t get that Centralism has undermined much of their core northern vote, or why it has done so; I believe Corbyn was the best chance Labour had to talk to these voters, but the London party has undermined him from the start and (especially if he really did undermine the Remain campaign, as it’s currently looking) I can’t see him lasting the week. If there’s an election this year, neither will have a clue what to do. In the meantime, no Tory will be able to resist the pressure – from the EU and from his or her own party – to invoke Article 50 without removing him/herself from power. It may not be Boris, who could well be finished now, but it’ll be somebody.

Then the election. What do you campaign on? “You’ve made a mistake, vote for us and we’ll fix it?” “We’ve found a way to listen to the letter of the vote and ignore the spirit – it’ll be good for you”? That’s exactly what helped fuel this anger, this disgust, this lashing out out there in the first place. The problems with the EU – and we all know they exist – will still be there too; probably worsening as our nation demands attention from other EU members even while they have their own deep, deep problems to deal with (refugee crisis and the Euro, especially). From potentially helping fix Europe, we’ll only increase the pressure on it.

Nevertheless, perhaps a pro-EU party – a centrist one maybe but based on a proper mix of practicality and ideology (so drawing in Tories, Labour and Lib Dem members) – will emerge and take on the election. If UKIP can rip more Tories away, as the Tory party debates a weakened response to the referendum (like the EEA plan), then perhaps this could happen. I could definitely see it by 2020. But this year? Not so sure.

Assuming no pro-EU party does win, what then? Another referendum in two years to discuss what’s been agreed? What happens if the people say no – as they almost certainly will, between those who think we’ve gone too far and those who dismiss it as not going far enough? Referendums reward negative campaigning, as we’ve seen – the Leave campaign had no plan beyond “say no”. No manifesto, not even a vision. And again, here we are.

And as to where we’ll go. We’ll leave the EU, the single market. We’ll demand an end to EU immigration, and that will probably spill over to non-EU immigration too (this government’s great guilty secret). Those EU workers in jobs might be able to stay as long as they stay employed – a difficult ask given the turmoil to come – but those self-employed, good luck; studying, nope; those dating Brits, nope; those looking for jobs, nope nope nope. In return Spain will send us back our pensioners, either directly or by imposing crippling healthcare costs on them; Germany our workers; even Switzerland, already trading blows with the EU, won’t make keeping British workers a priority (and why should they? Non-EU workers already find it very hard to get a visa, and that’s just what UK citizens will be).

And we’ll know that this was the Leave campaign’s arguments. This is what they campaigned on. This is what they did, and we voted for it, and now it needs to run its course. Unless a way can be found to let the people change that course – and only an election will do. And by the time one comes that can be won, I’ll be too busy fighting for the future of my new country, Scotland.

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typisch

June 2016

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