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!