Friday, June 24, 2016

On Leaving Europe: Part I...

A bad thing happened in the early hours of this morning. Some 52 per cent of a voting turnout of nearly 30million Britons voted to leave the EU. The immediate effect is that some £140billion has been wiped off the value of sterling. And there could be worse to come... 

I've always suspected part of England's national make-up is that of the Little Englander, who'll say things such as: 'I'm not racist, but...' then say something very racist. I've also always suspected there are simply a large number of racists and xenophobes in the UK. There's certainly a strong tradition of far-right politics in England. 

But those factors alone can't account for the fact that more than 15million people voted to leave the EU. So what happened? 

The fear-mongering and lies-presented-as-facts of the Leave campaign certainly played a huge role. Some people will have fallen for that in the same way that some people fall for Nigel Farage's 'normal-geezer-who-speaks-plain-truths' shtick. In this campaign, he's clearly lied and spread fear based on those lies. He is dangerous and should not be trusted, yet he has been.

The Remain campaign didn't exactly cover itself in glory either and spectacularly failed to move the argument onto the grounds it should have been fought on: namely that EU membership strengthens our economy and our place in the world, that it ensures basic rights for workers, and that it brings all manner of other benefits, both financial and cultural.

There's a strong argument this was largely a protest vote against a political class who many voters feel increasingly alienated from and disenfranchised by. But this seems perverse. 

The EU have not run down the education system or the National Health Service. The EU also haven't created austerity economics and forced the most vulnerable to swallow cut after cut while telling them it's good medicine that will eventually make them better. Yet, somehow, the EU and our apparent immigration crisis is the scapegoat the voting public have blamed for this. 

Our current economic problems are part of a global landscape and about decisions made within the UK. Austerity economics is one factor and successive UK governments consistently failing to tackle tax-avoiding multi-nationals is another. The EU has nothing to do with how much most people in the UK are suffering from various deprivations. Yet they have been blamed.

Leaving is a perverse logic and I think it's something deep within the national psyche that makes people lash out without thinking, then ask questions later. It's the attitude of the Saturday-night drunk getting wired and belting somebody. The key problem with doing this when the future of the country is at stake, though, is that it has bigger implications than bruised knuckles or a black eye. The UK economy is now on very dangerous ground, and the tremors have already started.

With Cameron now stepping down, further financial uncertainty is also predicted. The UK's triple A credit rating is in danger, too, and, as we have a huge national debt, this could mean even more austerity measures in the pipeline.

And it won't be the wealthy leading lights of the Leave campaign like Farage or Boris Johnson who'll have to worry about riding this out. It will be the vulnerable and the poor, whose fears and prejudices may well have provided a large number of voters for the Leave campaign in the first place.

I've been searching for an analogy to sum this up and the best one I have so far is: The UK's decision to leave the EU is like a self-harmer in the grip of a mania picking up the knife to cut themselves, then blaming the French neighbour and the Polish nurse across the road for the pain they're suffering. 

Well done, UK. You punched yourselves in the face by voting in austerity economics in the last election. Now you've managed to repeat the trick on an even bigger scale by voting us out of a body that at least gave us a fighting chance of retaining some economic stability. Because, to quote Bill Clinton, 'it's all about the economy, stupid!' 

Nice work!

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