Beyond Brexit

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The Welsh national movement has expanded greatly over the last year. A recent poll put support for Welsh Independence at 32%, which is the highest it’s ever been. Brexit and the Covid period have shown how quickly things can change. However, it is mainly the young and people of the left that are backing it, Welsh Independence isn’t winning over Brexit supporters or those from the right wing of politics. What are the barriers to being Indycurious for right wing people?

I have always found the whole Brexit debate curious. The main thrust of the argument seemed to concern democracy, that policy decisions should be made locally at the UK level rather than at EU level. Surely if you take this argument to it’s logical conclusion, then if you support Brexit you should also support Welsh independence and greater powers for local councils. However judging from Brexiteer arguments there seemed to be something special about centralisation at the UK level. British Unionists have used the phrase ‘our precious union’ as something of high value, preventing a consideration of further devolution of political power.

I have supported Welsh Independence my entire adult life, yet for many years I felt I was fairly unusual and alone in this view, partly because I was living in England as so many young adults from Wales do. I grew up in Powys, with farmers sons for school friends, have a Conservative supporting family and when I was at school I got my news from the Daily Telegraph as that was the paper my family took. It would not have been surprising if I were to have turned out to be a Tory, except I didn’t.

I didn’t as I’m fairly geeky and bookish and spent a lot of time thinking about politics as a young man and one of the things I settled upon was a belief in the importance of subsidiarity, a word rarely heard in political discussions these days. Subsidiarity simply being the view that political decisions should be made the the most local level that is practical. It is simply this belief that led me to support Welsh Independence.

So, whilst I was reading the Daily Telegraph and the constant commentry that the EU was centralising too much political power in Brussels, it made a sense to me, yet I couldn’t get my head around why this principle didn’t extend to Wales.

The Brexit argument, whilst it dressed itself in the clothes of subsidiarity seemed to be more about identity, specifically identification with Britishness, with Britishness being portrayed as the plucky underdog battling the power of an elite [though former British colonies probably didn’t see it quite like that]. The Brexit campaign kind of left open whom this shadowy elite were and seemed to largely allow people identify ‘the Elite’ as whomever was against their interests.

The UK has been a declining economy for all my adult life. Support for Brexit was fueled by a hope for a major change that would turn things around. The UK has also had fairly hard right wing Tory governments during this period, surely this is the elite that has caused the problems for the Britons? Yet, this British establishment has been very clever in pointing the finger at ‘enemies within’ for the weakness of the UK economy: immigrants, catholics, muslims, liberal university educated people, the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish, the LGBTQ community, people who aren’t monolingual English speakers, single mothers on benefits and so on. Basically it’s anyone who doesn’t conform to a rigidly defined Britishness. Surely the stiff upper lipped British who created the largest empire the world have ever seen cannot possibly be at fault for economic decline.

Yet am I not British too? well yes, but first and foremost I’m Welsh! However, I’ve usually described myself as Welsh-British, because I feel an identification with the British isles and all the people of the British Isles. Really, I see myself as a Briton rather than British and that is quite a subtle distinction. A distinction that the Brexiteers [the people pushing Brexit, the Farages and the Rees-Moggs, not the Brexit voters have succeeded in bluring.

I did say that I was a bookish geek, so I have read History books. What amazes me now is that when I was at school the British Empire period wasn’t covered at all. I have now read about it and the history is full of terrible atrocities commited by the British state across the world. Yet the simple impression I had before this was that the British Empire was glorious and something to be proud of. History should not be forgotten, but just focussing on the nationalistic ‘glory of Empire’ just feels absurd with the full weight of history. Recently we had this very odd debate about whether Rule Brittania should be sung at the Last Night Of the Proms because there is to be no live audience this year, but a British jingoism somehow prevailed.

Yet, I don’t believe that Brexit was won in Wales by this British jingoism. The strongest support for Brexit came from the Valleys. I’m not from the Valleys, but I don’t think that many people there wave the Union Jack and sing Land of Hope and Glory every day before breakfast? However, many communities clearly feel a sense of decline, that they are neglected and are inspired by anything that offers hope. The question is why was Brexit seen as the answer and not Welsh Independence?

I think it has something to do with privelege. You have priveledge when you are a member of a group that isn’t discriminated against for the quality you have that makes you a member of that group. However priveledge isn’t that well understood. If you are white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, protestant, a monoglot English speaker, born in Wales then you have a lot of priveledge. However, there are lots of people with all this priveledge who don’t get any advantages for being in the majority demographic group, life is tough and getting harder. There is perhaps a sense of resentment towards those perceived as having greater priveledge. What are these greater priveledges? Having a university education and being able to speak Welsh. Who are perceived to have those two priveledges? the advocates of Welsh Independence.

It is perhaps simply this barrier, that to many people look around society for ‘people like us’ to find a group that will support them, as there is a perception that their tribe is under threat and anyone “foreign” is regarded with suspicion. In Britain, this is those that stress a British identity that look like them: are white, speak only English, eat meat, are heterosexual, essentially culturally conservative people. They perhaps see a rapidly changing world, and they don’t like it and see an appeal in Britishness that represents tradition and old-fashioned values. Essentially ears are closed to the notion of Welsh independence as a means to make things better as it perceived as being liberal, when really Welsh independence is neither conservative nor liberal, it is for everyone.

The odd thing is that the Brexiteers, the Farages and Rees-Moggs have even greater privilege by nature of being super wealthy, yet the Brexiteers succeeded in deflecting that criticism by offering hope of betterment if only people would support them, despite this call coming part of the corrupt elite themselves. Both Johnson and Trump have succeeded in convincing people that they stand for ordinary people, when looking at their personal histories it is clear that they are not and people somehow are blinded and can’t see this.

A major weakness of the UK electoral system is the First Past the Post constituency vote, electing one member of Parliament. The biggest party in Wales is the Labour party, people have voted Labour every election, but things never get any better, so people opted to vote for a radical change. What is the difference between the change of Brexit compared to Welsh Independence. It could just be ‘backing a winner’. There is a huge bonus of being in a constituency that voted for the governing party in Westminster, local services are less likely to be closed and more money is likely to be spent on infrastructure. There is an incentive to back the winners, especially if those winners are promising help for people with privilege who gain no advantage from being privileged.

The challenge for those of us convinced by the need for Welsh Independence is we want to offer hope for a better Wales for everyone who calls Wales home. We are constrained by wanting to include everyone in that we don’t have people who are an enemy. The only enemy is perhaps these complicated concepts of centralisation and lack of democratic accountability through sticking with a UK state that is failing it’s people.

I feel that perhaps the solution tackle this issue of identity head on, to make it the defining feature of the campaign. During Brexit, my social media was filled with people expressing sadness about losing their European identiy. During the Scottish Independence referendum, people were expressing sadness about losing Scotland as part of their British Identity. I think there is a need to separate associations with political states from nations of people. If Scotland gained independence, I would not lose my affection for Scotland. I’ve never considered Ireland to be a foreign country. I would never regard England as being a foreign land either. Brexit has not made me feel any less European. It is to break this association of nationality with nation-states that many people seem to have and instead make it about people we share bonds with. Once the association with the UK nation-state is broken we can get on with making all of Britain a better place.

It’s a real shame that there is no flag to represent all the people of Britain. The Union Flag has been adopted by the far-right and perhaps it’s only when individual athletes at the Olympic games wave the flag that we can unite as Britons in celebrating their hard work and success.

We just need to find a way to help people see beyond British nationalism as a solution, but as part of the problem. Growing up as I did, I did feel a sense of pride in Britain. I lost that sense of pride, but retain a pride for the people of Britain.


As former Welsh rugby star, Eddie Butler poignantly put it at the AUOB march in Merthyr: “The United Kingdom that made my parents proud to call themselves British no longer exists”. We should free ourselves of the shackles of the British Empire and instead embrace an identity as Britons and move away from political structures that are failing us.

Cracking Brexit and Unionism?

One of the recurring themes of this blog is my continuing endeavour to understand right wing arguments. It’s been a frustrating journey. I’ve had late night conversations with people where we’ve discussed what an ideal society would look like without disagreeing about very much apart from how to get there. What perhaps binds people of both left and right wing persuasions together is the shared view that neither group hates the other side but simply regard them as being naive in some way.

We also now live in a changing world, where people no longer get our news principally from the mass media (Newspapers, Television and Radio) but more often from Social Media. There is the claim that we now live in bubbles surrounded by people who share our beliefs, but it was perhaps ever thus, where people tended to buy the newspaper that reflected their politics, or simply allowed that newspaper to educate them in their political beliefs. My uncle bought the Daily Telegraph to ‘understand what the enemy were thinking’, but such choosing is I think rare in general society. You could argue that to educate yourself in this way is easy, you just read from a right-wing newspaper to understand the right. In social media you can choose to follow right-wing people.

In practise this is actually quite difficult. There seem to be glaring holes in statements and arguments made and to continually read such things often just makes you angry and you feel a sense of ‘why can’t you see the glaring gaps in the logic of your arguments’. Such that finding a commentator from the other side that you can tolerate most of the time is quite difficult. I am sure that if you this is flipped and a right-wing person reads left-wing postings, they probably feel the same way.

What makes a logical argument is simple a series of statements/ propositions that support a conclusions. If the propositions are true, then the conclusions must be true. For example:

George is a Cat. All Cats are grey. Therefore George is grey.

However in the real world we know that not all cats are grey, well unless the world is poorly lit anyway. So here the argument is false as the preposition that all cats are grey isn’t true.

A problem with political discourse, is that arguments are a lot more complex that this simple example. So late night political discourse at the hearth with a friend often gets quite deep as prepositions are broken down into their constituent prepositions, and the process continues until you’re discussing cats and haven’t put the world to rights at all.

We seem to live in a world where there is a lack of scrutiny. Arguments are not fully explored and things seem to becoming increasingly tribal. The election campaigns of Boris Johnson in the UK and Donald Trump in the United States, two FPTP democracies highlight this. A traditional election campaign would focus on persuading the undecided to support a candidate with arguments. These two campaigns made little attempt at persuasion through argument but relied entirely on firing up their tribe to support them. The logic being that it doesn’t matter is only 30% or 40% of an electorate support you as long as you can fire those supporters up to turn out and vote.

It just seems that the process of forming an argument has somehow ended. It is this which I have found frustrating. Some examples:

Brexit

The Brexit argument seemed to go something like this:

The EU isn’t very democratic

More Democracy is a good thing

Systems can be changed to make them more democratic

We should do good things

Therefore the UK should leave the EU

It’s an argument where I agree with the premises and don’t have a huge problem with the conclusion. However I voted for  Remain as  I questioned whether leaving the EU would make the UK more democratic. It could in theory, but in the real world we should also be asking if practically, in today’s politics whether democracy in the UK would increase. On Brexit this additional analysis has suggested that not only does Brexit not increase democratic accountability in the UK but actually reduce democracy, due to Trade Deals made which lessen democratic control.

Unionism

British Unionism is the ideal of maintaining the United Kingdom as a single nation state. The argument for the union goes something like this:

Having common rules and frameworks is more efficient, there are economic and social benefits from economies of scale.

A Union State increases the population subject to common rules and frameworks

Therefore, the United Kingdom should persist in it’s current form.

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Ignoring the irony of the above cartoon for the moment, I also have no issue with the above argument in theory. Again there it raises the practical question of whether it works in the real world. A real world where the evidence is that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland don’t economically benefit from membership of the union. Wales is the poorest region in Northern Europe, whilst London the richest.

The theme I am trying to illustrate here is that everything seems to stop at these simplistic idealistic arguments, without any analysis of whether they work in the real world. The right seem to suggest that we should have as much centralisation as possible, provided that the central authority is democratic. That British Unionism is democratic (<cough> FPTP <cough>) and the European Unionism isn’t. The right seem to suggest that this subtle distinction should be blindingly obvious, when it really isn’t.

The argument seems to stop at these conclusions. I think this maybe simply idealism and entrenchment. The idealism of a national unity as a good thing coupled with the entrenchment of the UK as the ideal as it is the current union and in the UK media there has been relatively little acceptance of Welsh or European Identities. Such a view can be viewed as patriotic and is thus powerful and maybe why the argument stops there.

However it is hard to believe that understanding doesn’t go beyond this simple idealism in right-wing thought. I don’t believe that it is only the left that explores things more deeply or in practical terms. I would argue that these are simply campaign slogans and the actual analysis is somewhat different.

I think it comes down to core beliefs that people have that people have a reluctance to question. Perhaps the fundamental difference between the left and the right is a different interpretation of what equality means. To the left, equality is that every human being is of equal worth, to the right, there are good people and bad people, equality is providing everyone with an opportunity  to become good people. This is probably overly simplistic, but seems to me what all the crazy world of politics often boils down to. Both sides view the other side as naive as they do not share the same view of what equality is.

The problem I maybe have with right wing thought is who are these good people, it isn’t defined and so often it seems to mean ‘people like us’ or people who are comfortable in the prevailing capitalist model. So in Brexit and British Unionism, the good are the British establishment. It’s then a question of identity, so Brexit and British Unionism supporters do tend to be the same people and those who identify with the British establishment. The problem people like me and the left have with this is that this isn’t really about good people, it’s about people like us and a sense of privilege or entitlement that people like us are more deserving than other people. It is easy to think that when you are surrounded yourself with people like you. Yet, when you travel you realise that other people are no better or worse than ‘your people’.

The difficulty is that travel is expensive, or even just reading a newspaper that doesn’t talk to people like you or following a Social Media feed with views that don’t chime with your core beliefs is unsettling, it confuses us to see things that we know to be wrong written so brazenly. As human beings we derive comfort and roots from people like ourselves in our disturbing world, so we are naturally inclined to support ‘people like us’, but in doing so we can easily find ourselves carried along by the mob and not think through arguments calmly and objectively. Social Media often throws people from different bubbles together and often seems increasingly filled with flame wars and a lack of genuine discussion and debate.

It is difficult, viewing the world from the left or right gives a different view of the world and it’s a spectrum, so we all see it a little bit differently. It’s easier to understand a slightly different view to a radically different one. People on the left of politics understand each other as there share a common frame of reference, an unspoken worldview that doesn’t need explanation to gain understanding. I’m sure this is equally true of the right of politics. So perhaps it’s simply that we’re speaking two separate languages and using a common language to communicate, where common individual words mean different things makes understanding difficult. So when words like: freedom, democracy or equality come up and they mean different things, arguments are going to mean different things. Put thi sway it seems that to properly understand each other we have to work out really solid definitions of words that are mutually agreed. Indeed on these late night discussions I mentioned, a lot of the time was spent on definitions of things. 

So when we are not talking with friends but in the media, where language is manipulated we become further apart in our understanding. This doesn’t mean that we should stop trying.

Twas Brexit Night

EU,-UK-and-Wales-flags

This evening, the 31st of January at 11pm, the UK officially left the EU. It is an odd evening, it’s quite quiet. Sure the extremists, the Brexiteers and Remainers will be celebrating or commiserating amongst themselves, but for most ordinary Britons it’s a much more complicated feeling. In my town, it feels like a typical Friday night. There are no flags being waved. It’s simply been the last day we are likely to see these three flags flying together for some time, if ever.

There is a sense of sadness as the great European project of comradeship across the continent that came from the end of the World wars of the twentieth century hasn’t worked well enough to bring a clear majority of Britons behind it, despite decades of negative press from the UKs far-right media barons.

There is also a sense of relief, that after five years of endless arguments that never reached a conclusion is now over, even if nothing was decided. and families and friends can begin the process of healing.

However, if you’re not a determined anti-EU activist, there is nothing to celebrate, at least not yet. As I’ve argued previously, Brexit wasn’t really about membership of the EU. Brexit has been more about a general discontent with modern politics and the economy. Ordinary people feel that life is getting harder, they have less money in their pockets and politicians seem ever further detached from their everyday concerns. The EU framed as part of the problem serving wealthy elites and big corporations and failed to address the concerns of ordinary people. The Brexit cry was for sovereignty, for democracy, to “Take Back Control”

Yet the great irony of Brexit is that those leading the charge to Brexit have put Boris Johnson’s Tories in charge for probably the next five years. A political grouping that believes in centralisation and supports big corporations and ignores the needs of ordinary people. How this UK government may move forward is disturbing to contemplate. Hence there is no cause to celebrate yet.

It is a great irony as if Brexit was for democracy, for accountability, then surely there would be cries for electoral reform, for greater devolution. Yet there has been little of that, at least from the Brexiteers, the advocates of Brexit.

It is odd that the Brexiteers are against centralisation of political power at an EU level but in favour of centralisation at a UK level. It seems it isn’t about a political creed of where power should lie but instead  from a Nationalism about the British state. It may simply be that this democratic argument has been lost amid the sheer weight of populist nationalist fervour whipped up by the Brexiteers.

It’s difficult to accept that this anti-centralisation, democratic argument is that widely held. It is known that the racists, the intolerant of diversity and British Nationalists have quite different motivations for Brexit. It is not known how the support for Brexit breaks down between these two and other groups. From the Remain side, there are calls for democracy, for Independence for Wales, for Scotland and political reunification of the island of Ireland. The way Brexit has unfolded makes this restoration of the nations of Britain more likely as Brexit is perhaps the last huzzah of British Nationalism?

The real issue now is the trade arrangements with the EU. Trade Deals are a giving up of sovereignty, potentially far greater than membership of the EU. Will the UK keep aligned with the EU or become the pawn of the USA and a subsequent huge shift in culture. Instead of unity, the divisions of the UK may continue for years to come. This is all on the basis if the UK survives the next five years in its present form at all.

So, there is just a sense of apprehension, uncertainty and fear.  A hope for unity whilst the loudest voices push for more division. Who will the Brexiteers now turn to to blame for the UKs woes, now rid of the EU bogeyman, for fear that ordinary people will notice that they are part of the problem. Yet there is a hope that radical change will come and the nations or former nations of the UK may return to consider closer cooperation with the rest of Europe. A hope that a light is left on the enable the nations of the UK to find the partnership it actually wants. For that is it essentially,  the UK is leaving the EU, primary to sort itself out, to deal with its own internal problems, despite the EU not being responsible for them and that process has barely begun. It leaves it vulnerable to wondering if it’s worth fighting for the Union or to reform itself into something new (I think it has to), to then be confident in itself be able to work out the relationship with the rest of Europe it wants.

It seems the nations of the UK have a lot to work out and lack the political apparatus to do that in the short-term. Whatever happens the relationship between the peoples of the Britain and mainland Europe will remain interesting, for the British nations remain European nations. The story of Britain’s romance with Europe has more chapters to run.

 

Leave A Light On

The Island

I Paradigm I

It’s an odd time to be a Briton. The UK will formally start the process leaving the EU next week. About half the people of Britain and Northern Ireland will lose something they have had since birth, EU citizenship. For some this will make them feel less European as a part of their identity is stripped away. It may present a paradigm shift.

A paradigm shift is a change to what is normal, a change in mode of thinking, adopting a new set of rules and identities. For example, going from being an anxious to a confident person completely changes one’s worldview. There seem to be rather a lot of these shifts occurring at the moment due to Climate Change and Brexit, to quite fundamental parts of whom we are as humans, what we eat and our identity.

Food

I have written recently about this whole debate between whether the most sustainable diet is plant-based or contain some quantity of meat. There are some visceral arguments flying around. Between the meat fraternity and vegans about which diet is more sustainable, which diet requires less land and is a sustainable management of that land. In my opinion the answer lies somewhere in the middle. However it seems that much of the argument is not based on the science, but rather the “naturalness” of the diet choice.

This “naturalness” concept is rather bizarre as there is very little that is natural about how humans produce food when you consider that humans developed as a species as hunter gatherers. However across the millenia agriculture has developed, allowing larger populations. This agriculture has undergone massive changes since the industrialisation period began some two hundred years ago. Keeping animals inside in a controlled environment feeding them a grown diet, injecting them with chemicals and an industrial process for slaughtering them, is much at odds with practices for the first few thousand years of agriculture.

It is because this form of agriculture has persisted for so long that it has been normalised. Our increasingly urbanised societies do not generally spare a thought for the lived conditions of the animals they eat every day. People who become vegans and vegetarians have thought about this and concluded that modern agriculture is very strange and not “natural” and often make a decision to either stop eating meat or change how they get their meats.

Arguably the debate between these two groups are the traditionalists (even if that tradition [intensive agriculture] is only around one hundred years old) and those that have gone through a paradigm shift in how they think about the rearing of animals for food. Hold that thought.

Identity

Brexit has divided the people of Britain quite fundamentally. Even those of us in the middle have been forced to take sides. The question was whether the UK is better of in or outside of the EU, but Brexit is something else, it is perhaps about differing views of national identity and what is a normal way of thinking about your national identity.

Generally there are those people that consider that the UK nation state is normal, to feel patriotic towards the UK and those that feel differently or are more pragmatic about it and open to different possibilities. This makes sense in the context that the Brexiteers are generally older and remember life before the EU and the Remainers aren’t.

The Brexiteers seem to regard a particular form of British Nationalism as sacrosanct, one which has parallels with the Imperialism and authoritarian nature of the British Empire period.

For example, there have been objections this week to the announcement of Gaelic becoming the default language of instruction in Schools in the Western Isles of Scotland. In Wales, Welsh medium schools have been in existence for quite some time, yet these are often objected to. I don’t get these objections as Welsh and Gaelic are native British languages, so as patriotic Britons do we not all want to maintain the tradition of these languages? It seems these Brexiteer British Nationalists do not view British culture in this way, that they only support certain facets of “Britishness” and not others. You have to be one of this sect to understand what they like and what they do not. These people seem to object to people using other languages than English in Britain, whether it’s Hindi, Polish, Welsh, Gaelic or anything else it seems. It seems to be part of this intolerance of different people.

There also those who object to people who are LGBTQ. Someone said recently that there are two sexes, men and women and this is basic biology. I am a Biologist and I said to her that that is very basic biology, the reality is a lot more complicated and indeed different sexualities exist in other mammalian species. Sex is in our genes and it’s just how biology works. Yet people seem unable to listen to expert advice nowadays. It seems feelings and identity trump science and as a scientist I find that hard to conceptualise.

I believe that the solution to the decline and malaise in the UK economy is to revitalise democracy re-building the economy with Welsh and Scottish independence, Irish re-unification and regional government within England. This just makes sense to me as the most sensible way to improve things. However there are many that object to this, yet they seem to be unable to articulate an argument for the union of the UK, beyond a denial that Wales can govern herself  and a sentimental attachment to the UK nation state. They seem to have not passed through any paradigm shifts.

Diversity Education

There seems to be a general trend in this division between those with a university education and those who don’t. I have even heard it said that universities encourage liberal thought to the detriment of conservatism. There is some truth in that.

A university education is essentially about challenging ideas and assumptions about how things work. It’s about learning how to build a logically sound argument and testing premises. So any traditional conservative values are tested and the only ones that survive are those that have a positive beneficial value and  reason to be conserved beyond sentimentality.

The university experience is also about exposure to diversity, where living with diversity is part of the life of people at universities. When someone goes to university for the first time, they usually live away from home in an area with a different culture. For me I went from a rural Welsh existence to living in a big city in another country; a huge culture shock! You then meet and work with people from different backgrounds, from different parts of the world and you just accept things that are different to what you knew. Through an undergraduate degree course you make multiple paradigm shifts in worldview and your understanding of your subject. Paradigm shifts become second nature.

However for those who do not go to university and never live in a different country, may not get this exposure to diversity or have their ideas so rigorously challenged. It may simply be a lack of training in the skill of coping with paradigm shifting.

Brexit

This Brexit division really has torn apart the paradigm of Britain. The Britain I love and grew up in consisted of people of different backgrounds and places whom for the most part got along doing our own things. I grew up in an area that produces people who are loosely defined as Welsh-British and that chimed perfectly with my identity and as such my identity was of as much value as the identity of any other Briton. However Brexit has blown apart that tolerance of all the huge variance in the people of Britain, there now seems an increasing divide between a narrow British nationalism of arguably the largest minority ethnic group in the UK, the White English and everybody else. The White English, may in actuality be a majority of the UK population, however when you take away those that went to university, the LGBT community and those who married outside of their ethnicity for example, you do perhaps end up with a minority, yet one which has acquired power through Brexit and now seems to feel legitimised and emboldened by Brexit that they don’t need to listen to any voices of dissent and are at liberty to abuse people who are different.

This I find disturbing as Britain  seems to be have become in the control of an insular sect which ignores experts at a time when new modes of thinking and a new economic relationship are kind of required by Brexit and even more so by Climate Change. Britain leaving the EU doesn’t really bother me all that much in itself, but ceding control to people who lack experience of paradigm shifts when the nation state is going through a paradigm shift is worrying indeed.

I just feel that the direction of the UK becoming a less tolerant society is one I do not feel part of anymore. Hence I am Yes Cymru.

I Palindrome I

English Nationalism: A Tale of Two Nations

On Twitter today I saw a tweet which went like this:

Scottish Nationalism Good, Welsh Nationalism Good, Irish Nationalism Good, English Nationalism Bad, Why is England the exception?

The answer is that it isn’t. If we re-frame the question:

Scottish Nationalism Good, Welsh Nationalism Good, Irish Nationalism Good, English Nationalism Good, British Nationalism Bad.

There is then a clear difference, in that the first four are not really nationalism whereas the last is, if we define Nationalism as the belief that a nation is superior to other nations and thus is justified in exploited other inferior nations.

The difference is that these first four national movements include everyone in that nation, whether they identify with that nation or not. They seek fairness and a better political arrangement to allow innovation, investment  and economic development of infrastructure and for their nations to not be ignored. Whereas the true nationalism only serves the elite that identify as British Nationalists to the detriment of everyone else in Britain, allowing policies of repression towards those that don’t fit this narrow definition of “British”.

I think that English Nationalism struggles for it’s voice to be heard, because people find it challenging to differentiate itself from British Nationalism, which is racist and often the Nationalists have adopted both the English and British flags and some identify as English Nationalists. I should point out here that this splitting is in itself complicated, as you can identify as British and not be a British Nationalist, it’s this issue which makes the differentiation unclear.

I grew up in rural Powys, in British Wales and whilst most people from there identify as Welsh, they often share the views of British Nationalists, this certainly doesn’t make them bad people, but they are those that divide the people of Britain (the Britons) into them and us. An issue for the Welsh national movement is that we need the support of these people, but their British Nationalism holds them back from embracing the national movement. It is these people who value conformism and that is a very difficult habit to break, which I talked about in my last weblog.

I feel I could have very easily been one of these British Nationalists as it was part of the culture I grew up in. I just didn’t fit in and in being so kind of picked out the bits that made sense and discarded the rest. It was only through being different and an outsider that made me ask lots of questions, rather than accept what was around me as gospel.

What are these specific things you need to be a member of the British Nationalists beyond valuing conformity. You need to be white, you need to be from a Christian background (actual belief in Christianity isn’t important), you need to be a monolingual English speaker, you must have a distrust of intellectuals, you must not value the arts, you must regard those not in the club as inferior, you must not question authority. Essentially it isn’t merely valuing conformity, it’s being sceptical of questioning or exploring of issues.

When I was at school in a history lesson we were looking at the Cuban missile crisis. One of our activities was to have a mock debate, the class was split between pretending to be representatives of the USA and the USSR. I ended up on the USSR side and made that case as part of the activity. I was pretty much the only one who seemed to understand the logic of the USSR position, indeed a friend of mine admitted they they could not have done what I had just done, I think because it was somehow unpatriotic as the British position was to support the USA, even to the point of not trying to at least understand the other side. So, if you are unable to look at both sides of an issue, how on Earth are you supposed to get to the truth?

It’s ridiculous, how some people are now wary of talking about the Welsh language to me, now that I am a speaker of it. I’ve crossed that divide, there is no problem and it’s quite a nice place to be thanks.

I think it is this lack of questioning that is the mark of the British Nationalists, it explains how such awful politicians as Boris Johnson could have “won” the 2019 UK general election. For example, if you point out how awful it is that food bank use has risen so much in the UK, when there had been no need for such things relatively recently as a terrible development, you get the reply along the lines of “These people whilst perhaps deserving our pity are at fault for getting themselves into that position as people like us wouldn’t” When you point out examples of people who got there by bad luck or being made redundant, they can be dismissed as exceptions!

It is frightening, because when I was young I read the history books there were around and they very heavily promote the idea of British history as glorious and entirely ignore the damage that British policy has done to parts of the world. That accepting that interpretation is patriotic and any questioning makes you instantly ‘the enemy’. The idea that you base your belief system on a lie and adopt a position of not questioning anything is very scary indeed.

How can we bring across people from British Nationalism to the national movements of the nations of Britain? The UK has the highest  inequality in Europe, some of the most expensive housing and transport and is an unproductive and innovation averse economy that is falling behind, when there is no need for it to be.

Wales is not a poor country that couldn’t stand on it’s own two feet without the “help” of the “British elite”, we can afford a National Health Service, free education, affordable decent housing and a coordinated transport infrastructure. The UK is just wedded to the Tory party of not questioning why things are not going well and must, as always lay the blame on others, those who are not British Nationalists.

Brexit as framed as a perverse patriotism is causing unnecessary damage. Only yesterday there were anti-Semitic activity in London. In general there seem to be increases in racism, homophobia and even attacks on people for speaking Welsh.

The portents for 2020 in the UK are not good. Brexit seems to have allowed the nasty Nationalists to feel legitimised by the Brexit votes and all these repressed concerns about our society come out not directed at the useless Tories in charge, but at those who do not share this frankly bizarre adherence to not questioning authority, be they Welsh, Scottish, Irish, English, Black, Catholic, LGBTQ+, Jewish, Muslim, from Mainland Europe, Africa, or Outer Space. Why value being in this British Nationalist minority and ignore the great potential of all the people of Britain? It’s just very disturbing and there seems no clear way of getting people to come together as our nations for the greater good, to open minds and get people to think about these things.

Perhaps the question now is what do we want Britain to be? The Britain of national movements to unite everyone together to make things better or the Brexit if British Nationalism that divides us into us and them. Do we want to go down the path of 1930s Germany that my grandfather took up arms against or be nations progressing together to make a better world? Remember that only 36% of Wales voted for Boris Johnson’s Brexit, or 44% of the UK as a whole. We are the 56%, we can do this.

 

 

 

Socially Conservative Wales

I’ve just returned home from Christmas with the family. Such sojourns can be fraught as people struggle to avoid bringing up politics to avoid arguments. This was more of a problem this year as the UK is fresh from a divisive general election and some form of Brexit now looks almost certain.

I spent a Christmas with people in favour of Boris Johnson’s Brexit, whatever that turns out to be. A lot of people, such as myself who are on what is traditionally described as centrists or left wing are a little confused by this. It got me thinking about Wales as a socially conservative country and I have finally got around to reading ‘A History of Wales’ by John Davies. It seems that people voted for Brexit from fear of change and fear of people who are different, yet Brexit will bring greater changes that remaining in the EU. How does this dichotomy exist?

I’ve written before about the traditional left wing right wing spectrum. In my lifetime the divide has seemed to be around to what extent  national infrastructure should be publicly owned, or left to the private sector. The weight of evidence is that such infrastructure is more efficient and better supportive of private business run by the state, such things as education, healthcare, transport infrastructure and energy. Yet for the last forty years the UK has elected right wing governments that have privatised the UK’s economic infrastructure and it has simply got a lot worse as my Brexit supporting family openly admit, such as potholes on the roads that used to get repaired. Every election has left people like me flummoxed as to why people seem to vote against their self-interest. I think it may be because socially, in the view of those not interested in politics, this left-right divide is still based on an older more social view of the left-right divide.

In my reading of pre-twentieth century politics, before the development of socialism, the divide was between conservatives and liberals (radicals). The conservatives being hesitant about change and liberals being more embrasive of change. On this view it makes sense that urban populations were embrasive of change as they live in a rapidly urbanising world that needed structures to change quickly and a rural population that saw no need to change things radically.

This conservative view of change is also resistant to centralisation. It opposes nationalisation as it takes away decision making to a big city a long way away, in the UK, this was and still is, London. A fear exists that local interests would not be taken into account. It may have seemed that a long established local business was taken over to be run by a government far away with decisions made by people not like us.

This view kind of chimes with recent concerns about immigration and Brexit, that it is metropolitan elites in the big cities or in Brussels making decisions. Furthermore a concern about being governed by people who are different, liberal, who are culturally different, speak different languages, have different religious practises or generally have a different ethnic background or at least socialise with different people and be influenced by them (shock horror). This fear isn’t racist, homophobic, nationalist or anti-Semitic in itself and is perhaps why some conservatives don’t feel it is racist. However such a position is dangerously close to being racist. So if you are close to something like that it is perhaps inevitable that some people will cross that hazy line and be racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic.

I get this, I am socially conservative myself. However I educated myself simply by living away from home for several years and came to realise that people are people and the people in the next town, country or continent are no worse than people from my area and <whispers very quietly> do some things better. However I myself remain sceptical of centralisation and still believe that political power needs to return to communities and a return to bottom up power.

When I was at school I struggled because I am different. Yet, I went along with the jokes about homosexuals as homosexuality was something that happened in those big far away cities and wasn’t viewed part of our culture, as it was seen as something to be repressed. No-one came out when I was at school as they would likely have been beaten up for it. However I now know that I had friends at school were are LGBT and have come to realise that it is quite normal and it’s simply very sad that people were unable to be themselves in my school.

There is nothing wrong with being socially conservative, but you have to be willing to embrace change when it’s needed and to be open to possibilities. For example, to not be racist when you realise what it is and how bad it is. This doesn’t mean that the parts of our culture that are good and cause no harm do not need to be supported, such as the Welsh language, Welsh culture or local businesses.

The thing is that the world has changed a lot and people are still making political decisions based on these deeply held folk understandings of political ideology, rather than from a full understanding of modern economics. An idea such as nationalising an industry to be more efficient to provide a better service is no more centralising that giving control of that industry to the private sector. It’s different now because it’s no longer an established local business that understands a community, where you know someone who knows their family well or ceding power to a remote metropolitan government, but instead it is an even more remote large multi-national corporation, that has even less understanding of local needs than a national government does. For example, the railways in Britain, instead of being viewed as a natural monopoly and an important public service and run by the state, they are now owned by corporations and national rail operators of other European countries, or organisations with less understanding of local needs and solely driven my profit rather than providing as service for their community, because they are not part of that community, that is one of the big problems with globalisation.

Perhaps the even greater irony of this is Brexit. Brexit was billed as taking back democratic control from an overly centralised organisation, the EU, to enable regulations to be set that work better with the UK economy, in particular agricultural policy, I completely agree with this. However, there is no plan for reform of democracy to produce that local democratic control and UK businesses will still have to comply with EU standards to continue to trade as it does now with EU countries. There is unlikely to be this great economic and democratic reform as the Thatcherite Tories are still in charge, and there is likely to be less local regulation as trade deals will be desperately sought with Trump’s USA, India, China and Brazil and local needs are more likely to be ignored than they are now and there will likely be more loss of the social cohesion valued by conservatives. It is still the same Tories that have repeatedly ignored the needs of Welsh communities that will now decide Brexit. In my view, with a Tory Brexit, the way now to ‘Take Back Control’ to defend our society is to back calls for Welsh Independence. Yes Cymru!

 

 

All change II

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These are some figures for the UK 2019 General election. As you can see it wasn’t much different to 2017.

Brexit has divided the UK, pitted the old against the young in a very dramatic way. My view is that it’s part of a huge cultural shift: The older generation valuing unity, conformity and the British state and the younger generation valuing self-expression, diversity and internationalism.

It’s also about change in culture, change can be threatening to a way of life or it can be embraced. Perhaps it is harder to embrace change as you get older as your way of life is more settled. It’s also about loss of culture. The UK has lost local shops and businesses, music venues and communities feel less like communities as there is less to bind them together.

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I wonder if there is a difference in this between Wales and England generally. The two parts of Wales that weren’t affected by the blue tide were the Plaid Cymru seats of Y Fro Cymraeg (Green) and the Labour held Valleys seats (Red). Arguably areas with much stronger local identity than the general case. Communities where there isn’t such a stark divide between young and old culturally, where both change and tradition are embraced. This is possibly less true in the other parts of Wales

Looking at these figures it seems such a vast age based divide. Perhaps a last huzzah for the people of British nationalism. If Brexit had been just 5 years later it would not have happened as new younger voters enter voting age and more 65+ voters die.

I don’t see how Boris Johnson will bring the UK together, his and his parties whole ethos has been divide and rule and it seems so unlikely to change. David Cameron and Theresa May talked about one-nationism, but did nothing about it when in power.

It’s going to be a very rocky five years.

All Change UK

What do the changes brought about in the 2019 UK General election mean? It was an unusual election because the issue of Brexit dominated. Brexit now looks very likely to happen, as soon as next month and whatever happens will probably not be the main issue at the next election. What happens between now and then will continue to be interesting.

To understand this election it is perhaps worthy of considering how UK general elections usually work. The traditional view is that people self-interestedly vote based on their demographic grouping. In this very generalised model there were broadly two groups:

White-collar workers, people who generally work in offices are those who generally havd some spare money to save and invest, these generally vote Tory as the Tories offer reduced wealth taxes, making it easier to earn more from investments.

Blue-collar workers, people who generally work with their hands, tend not to have spare money to invest, are often unionised workers whom generally vote Labour as Labour offer improved working conditions and improved rates of pay.

Hence a traditional UK election is a battle for in-between voters; those who readily switch parties based on whom seems to have the better offer.

However this traditional model has broken down, arguably since the adoption of Thatcherism by the UK economy. This Thatcherism has led to reductions in investment in the wider UK economy, particularly in the ‘provincial’ nations nations and regions of England. Instead the focus has been on making the UK attractive to financial services, favouring capital, rentiers and leading to  ever widening inequality, richer rich people and poorer poor people.

Politically this breaks the traditional model as the general economy isn’t invested in so there are ever fewer people with a little bit of money to invest, but those that do have ever larger amounts of capital. This has perhaps presented a problem for the Conservative party as their voter base is declining. Compounded by the housing crisis, where young people are disenfranchised by being unable to afford decent housing, while older generations sit in housing which has increased in value by doing nothing. Essentially Tory economics has destroyed it’s own voter base. The below chart illustrates this from the last election (I would suggest the 2019 data conforms to this pattern too)

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The Tories have needed new stratagems to continue to be electorally successful. a popular strategy for struggling governments has been appeals to patriotism. For example the 1983 war with Argentina or involvements with the various conflicts in the Middle East. Arguably military spending is simply useful for keeping failing governments in power.

For the past 5 years, The Tories have used Brexit as a surrogate for war. It has a patriotic appeal, of Little Britain against the big bad EU, fuelled for decades by the right-wing media barons endlessly negatively reporting news about the EU. Frankly, it’s worked. Incidentally, looking at the results, it has been less effective in the Valleys and Merseyside, where the popularity of the UK right wing press, particularly the Sun “newspaper” is less and in these areas there popularity of Boris Johnson is a lot less pronounced, so it seems to hugely influenced by media spin, especially as Jeremy Corbyn was spun as a London metropolitan liberal. We had a campaign dominated by ‘Get Brexit Done’ when the whole Brexit saga was fabricated by the Tories themselves, there are much bigger issues facing the UK economy in actuality.

In any case FPTP has delivered Boris Johnson his majority to “Get Brexit Done” yet the percentage results if split by parties for Leave or Remain in the EU paint a different picture, Leave 46% Remain 54%. It can be viewed as a Brexit or the Union election, yet Boris Johnson seems to want both, to have his cake and eat it.

The 2019 UK general election has returned the UKs worst ever Prime Minister to majority rule (a 5 year effective dictatorship), largely on the back of what could be described as blue-collar workers in neglected provincial towns. With a compliant media demonising the EU and metropolitan liberals as the “enemies of democracy”.

Boris Johnson’s government now faces a quandary, it can take two paths, this is why the next month or so will be very interesting:

Path 1 acknowledges that the Tories have destroyed their own voter base, so need to find a new way to maintain their grip on power, and actually does all they have promised to do, to keep hold of their new working class voters. To invest in the country’s infrastructure in the provinces, to care for the Union rather than neglect it,  to be become the party of the blue collar workers. This would be a huge policy U-turn for the Tory party, undoing thirty years of Tory policy, especially for one that has just expelled it’s moderate wing though, yet may be the new way for the party to retain power.

Path 2 is Tory business as usual, selling off the UKs assets like the NHS to Trump and making money for their already rich friends and allies,  while continuing to  work on finding a new scapegoat to attack for an appeal to patriotism in time for a future election. There is a ready enemy here, the pesky ‘Celts’. Brexit has been based on an appeal to British/English Nationalism. Such an appeal has never resonated as much in the Celtic nations, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (particularly as in this election the Unionist parties are no longer the majority in Northern Ireland). So much so, that Scottish Independence now looks very likely, though as in Spain, the UK state can stop it by force if necessary. Northern Ireland is heading seemingly inexorably towards re-unification with the Republic of Ireland and in Wales support for independence continues to grow and will continue to grow with a hostile UK government. So there is a very handy ‘enemy within’ to blame for any failure of Brexit to not make Britons poorer.

Essentially the future for the UK over the next five years is whether Boris will continue to dupe the politically uneducated or shift ground and become a stanch advocate of the UK economy. It will be interesting and probably depend on how clean or messy Brexit will be over the next year or two.

Brexit’s Coming Home

I’ve just written a piece about British Identity and am thinking that threatened identities is a large part of the appeal of Brexit.

I’m reminded of a few years ago when I was living in Southern England and was very unhappy. I listened to the Welsh song ‘We’ll keep a Welcome‘ which brought me to tears and made me realise I needed to go home. It is a very powerful song that resonates closely with Welshness. Wales is a small country and there is a srtrong cultural idea that many people need to leave for work or to develop a career, with the understanding that as Welshmen or Welshwomen that they can always come home and there is a hope that they do.

As Welshfolk and perhaps as do people of other communities all around the world we feel that our home may be a shithole, but it is our home. So when things go badly, working with others isn’t really working and you need to go back and re-build or start again there is a hiraeth for home.

This longing for home is very similar to a longing for a time when things were better or stabler. The whole of the UK economy kind of feels like that. You only have to walk down the road outside your house to see the potholes in the road that used to be repaired, or the homeless people on the street who used  to be looked after and helped back onto their feet. So there is perhaps a collective desire to return to how things once were, when things seemed as though they were fine and getting better. From a Welsh perspective it seems that the unions we are a member of are not working for us and that applies to both the EU and the UK.

Hence Brexit, the feeling and the desire for a thing that is akin to finding a place for re-building. I completely understand this, however the problem with Brexit is that there is no plan to enable any such re-building. Brexit falls apart on any hard-headed economic or political assessment.

The Brexit position is generally supported by those over fifty years of age. Those that can remember the post-war period from 1945 to 1979. A time of strong identity with the UK state, which had just won a war with the Nazis, was rapidly losing it’s Empire and there was a consensus to build a new Britain from the broken infrastructure after a major war. A time of collective identification where everyone was working together to build a better future, to grow the pie and everyone made a contribution, whether they were a coal miner or a banker, whether a Yorkshireman or a newly arrived immigrant from a former Empire country. It was perhaps only those who didn’t work who were looked down upon if they weren’t trying hard to find new work.

Then in 1979 everything changed. Thatcherism became the new economics. The people of Britain were no longer told to work together for the common good and grow the pie, but instead to seek  to make your share of the pie bigger, even if it makes the pie smaller, so those who can do this can get more pie and those not willing to be so cut-throat in their economic actions will be the ones to disparage. ‘Greed is Good’ was now a virtue rather than a failing.

Such economics hasn’t worked as fewer people are able to grow their share of the pie and realising the pie really has shrunk an awful lot and some people seem to have very large slices of it. Hence Brexit, a desire to re-build, to return to more old-fashioned ways of doing things that at least worked and produced genuine growth. Hence a desire to leave the EU as there has never really been a true desire in Britain to grow the European pie, all that matters was it was a means to make the UK pie slice bigger, the post war consensus in the UK was never really about re-building Europe.

It seems that if Brexit does finally occur next year, the UK won’t actually be home as there is no home to go to, it is simply a leaving with no idea where to go. Indeed any suggestion  about re-building the UK home such as  electoral reform, confederalism or a return of social democracy have all failed to gain enough traction. All that seems promised by the charlatan Boris Johnson is lies and hot air, which isn’t enough to re-build anything from.

Brexit was tempting to me, I don’t like the idea of centralisation unless there is genuine option to say no and say we can actually do this better on our own thanks, some things are simply cases of too many cooks. Co-operation is great, but you always need to ensure the people tasked with making the decisions are making the right ones, and that has increasingly not been the case. All this Brexit seems to offer is taking control from the EU to give it away instantly via trade deals, in particular with a Trumpian USA.

This Tory Brexit is doomed to failure. We must never forget that we actually want things to get better and that is the motive for doing anything including Brexit. However this Brexit won’t achieve that. As I’ve said so often, we need electoral reform across the UK, to re-build structures so the right decisions get made more often. For me that’s Welsh independence, so the population has some genuine democratic control over the legislature that affects the country.

Brexit or The Death of FPTP?

The UK General Election of 2019 is a very curious beast.  Brexit is of course the major theme of the election, but it’s influence is indirect, this election isn’t really about Brexit itself. However the traditional nature of UK elections has changed in similar ways to other Western democracies and is producing a very divisive election in an divisive atmosphere caused by the tribulations of Brexit over the last five years.

A traditional election in FPTP and indeed Western democracies is a battle between the two biggest political parties, a moderately left wing one and a moderately right wing one. FPTP unlike more modern systems discourages more than two parties as votes for other parties can distract from influence over which of the two big parties wins. Normally, the two big parties fight over the ‘centre ground’ stressing their understanding of economic life for average subjects and their moderate reasonable solutions to the issues of the day.

However, people have got fed up of everyday politics, they see decline, their decline in living standards and feel that ‘something needs to be done’ and have been more prepared to support more radical positions. People are not stupid, they see logn established well-run local businesses go under, their children struggle to afford their own home so continue to live with their parents much later, our bills keep going up, but our salaries don’t. I think we all know something is very wrong with the UK. Coupled with this is the development of  electioneering and how modern media functions. So the traditional view that winning the fight over the centre ground  is the way to win elections has lost popularity has gone.

Instead this ‘traditional’ fight has been abandoned to be replaced by an appeal to fundamentals of left or right wing dogma. Winning an argument is no longer important, but a simple three word slogan to demonstrate an emotional understanding of a simplistic view of a political situation has won the day, look no further than Mr Trump. Political parties now agonise about finding that killer three word combination, to reduce all debate to whether you prefer these three words or the other lots three words. For example ‘Take Back Control’ ‘Strong & Stable’ or ‘Get Brexit Done’. This has been successful as parties then no longer need to develop an argument or even coherent policy. Politically educated electors have worked out their position and it would take huge effort to get them to shift. Instead it seems better to persuade the less politically educated as gaining these votes requires a lot less effort, simply three words in fact.

Brexit is a great example of this. A few years ago it was thought that this issue would tear the traditions of UK elections apart as it was a non partisan issue. People of the centre tend to view membership of the EU positively, whereas those towards both Left and Right wings of the spectrum are more sceptical of the benefits of EU membership, or rather pick on different aspects to criticise.

We seem to have entered George’s Orwell’s 1984 for real. I saw an advert on the telly today for spinning sessions you can join online with an instructor barking out orders ‘Smith, Winston, a man your age should be able to touch his toes!” Despite the bleakness of the decline in our economy staring us right in the face, the ‘Party’ has managed to distract us and divide us with Brexit. We aren’t really discussing Brexit, it’s just become a political game where you have to pick sides and then lay the blame on the other side.

The future of the NHS has come up in this election, again it’s staring us in the face how chronically underfunded it is. We have to wait weeks to see a doctor, even if you have private medical insurance! Yet the Tories use their doublethink to allow people to believe that they care enough and blame the other lot who are against ‘our precious Brexit’ which, incredibly, at this late stage is still undefined.

The politically informed, under FPTP feel they must vote tactically. That a vote for the party that most represents your views is a ‘wasted vote’ and you must vote for the big party that you find least objectionable, that isn’t democracy, just as Brexit isn’t ‘democracy’. Wales has pretty much always returned a majority of Labour MPs, yet Wales has suffered mainly under Tory governments in Westminster. Continuing to vote like this isn’t working for Wales. However, despite this we are seeing the most tactical voting exercise ever seen before. Political parties have withdrawn candidates to let the ‘least bad’ option have a better chance of unseating the ‘worse option’. The Opinion Polls at the start of this election were somethign like 47% Brexit parties (Tories & Brexit Party), 53% Remain parties (National parties, Labour, Greens, LibDems). Despite Remain parties appearing to edge the popular vote, the vote is split more ways. As this election campaign has progressed we’ve seen two shifts. Firstly the Brexit party vote collapse, to the Tories favour and a LibDem fall to Labours advantage. It doesn’t seem as though the Leave:Remain split has shifted at all. No-one has had there minds changed by the election, but more people are voting tactically and that maybe how to bring the outdated FPTP system to an end?

It should be blatantly clear to the British electorate that Brexit isn’t the answer.  Electoral Reform is what is needed to enable the UK to have a government that represents the population and is able to make good decisions, rather than bad but politically expedient ones. However as 1984 tells us ‘Ignorance is Strength’, and the British establishment/ Inner Party have successfully distracted us form what is in front of our eyes, for Brexit to be the answer.