Waiting for the bus that never comes

I used to hate waiting for buses. It was the not knowing how long you had to wait, whether it was worth getting my book out, whether I had time to pop to the local shop, an answer to whether  the bus had been cancelled so I could go to the pub for a pint or two whilst waiting for the next one. Often these days you can use an app’ on your phones which will tell you where the bus really is and how long it will be, which solves all these problems of lost time waiting and makes bus travel a lot less annoying.

Unfortunately there is not an app’ for the UK government. Brexit is like waiting for the bus that never comes; We know the service will be crap but at least we may soon be on the ruddy thing and we are no longer waiting.

We are in this strange Brexit zone. No-one talks about Brexit anymore, I think we are all fed up of going through the same tired arguments yet again, the arguments that frustratingly never get around to their logical conclusion. There doesn’t seem much we can go about it and we don’t want to open up those divisive arguments again. Of course we do make lots of jokes about how pathetic the UK is being by not having a Brexit plan and trying to wing it and keep the important electoral demographics happy during the process, rather than formulate sensible policy. I’m sure those outside the UK are making the exact same jokes.

It’s not only Brexit fatigue, it’s this whole three year period whilst the UK negotiates Brexit on the fly, with no plan of what to do with it. We kind of want to know what will happen at the end so we can start preparing for it and start thinking about how to adapt to it. We are waiting again without knowing when the bus will turn up. With this Tory UK government having decided to take all the responsibility for Brexit and secured government by a gnat’s wing to do so, there seems little to do but get on with our lives in the meantime.

When and indeed if Brexit does happen, I expect the vast majority of people to be disappointed, only a particularly bizarre few are going to get what they want. The big issues of the “debate” over Brexit of immigration and better regulations are not going to be tackled as there is unlikely to be any agreement of how best to resolve these problems. Of course we could actually have a debate, work through the issues and come up with sensible policies, but that isn’t how the British state works. The EU doesn’t work that way either of course, but is perhaps less likely to do anything truly daft, which was always my argument for remain; that the UK can and should do more to sort out our problems rather than waste years on Brexit with no plan for post-Brexit.

I am still aware of all the problems with the EU: economic migrancy, regulations that don’t really apply and are a hindrance to the UK economy, the Eurozone holding back the economies of Southern Europe, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) etc. The problem with Brexit was that acknowledging these problems but not offering an alternative, not looking at what the alternatives are, the arguments never got beyond this beginning of forming an argument, taking the first premise as a conclusion.  A great weakness of the EU was failing to sort out the CAP. The CAP was a strong argument for Brexit, however the UK has not promised to replace it with anything better, instead suggesting that agriculture won’t get any subsidies, but don’t worry we can import lovely unhealthy foods like chlorine chicken and hormone beef from the US, making food regulation even more complicated. How is this better than staying in the EU?

The other powerful Brexit argument was that the UK would never be offered a choice on the EU again, so Brexit should be voted for to give Britain the chance for modern democracy and reform of our failing institutions. However instead of preparing for this, instead we hear about binding ourselves to a different set of damaging “free trade” deals.

We know that both of the major Uk political parties are slaves to their focus groups, rather than what is best for economy. Tory Bliar’s  [Tony Blair] “Labour” government, only implemented limited devolution to gain votes and the Tories only had Brexit to win an election as well. Britain just needs to end this ghastly Westminster system, have true democracy and that means Wales getting to decide it’s own affairs, rather than decided by these two lots of political careerists.

Much of the motivation for Brexit was hope, hope for new systems that actually worked and performed their function to be developed, rather than continual decline in living standards. Paradoxically, the only way for Brexit to work is bring Westminster government crashing down and allow genuine reform from the bottom up. We are still waiting for that but anxious that that day may never come.

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Children’s telly, literature and Brexit

Britain is over a year after the Brexit vote. The rest of Europe appears to be looking on wondering what exactly it is that ‘Britain’ wants. I think that the answer is that we don’t know. The opinion polls over the past year have remained steadfastly around the 50:50 split on the Brexit question, no consensus has been reached, the British media is still awash with uncertainty and many variants of an answer to the Brexit question. The UK seems to have voted for Brexit with no idea about what to do with it. If there was a clear objective, that would be so different to the confused mess we seem to find ourselves in.

Looking back at the arguments for Brexit, they essentially pool around the idea of greater powers for the UK government to enable a reduction of net immigration. I am all for a decentralisation of political power, though I would argue that the UK is the wrong level for this, I argue for bottom-up democracy and more power for local councils and the Welsh government. However the Brexit debate wasn’t really about this dry constitutional stuff. The emotional side of it and much of the rhetoric of the Brexiteers centred around the idea of British sovereignty, to restore a sense of Britishness.

Which is just plain strange. I am British, born and raised, but being British is only a small part of my identity. I just don’t see the point of trying to expand/ restore the prominence of this identity it once had. The identities of the people of Britain are many, varied and complex, so it isn’t clear exactly what this Britishness we are perhaps supposed to support is.

Many associate Britishness with the British Empire period. The period of history where Britain went around trying to control as much of the world as possible, mainly to create markets for British goods and services, to provide ever increasing wealth for the elite. Some good but a lot of harm was produced though this imperialist period. It is now history and is not going to be replicated anytime soon  and it isn’t anything to feel particularly proud of anyway.

Is it the sense of unity, of a united nation of the British people that had suffered together and won after the UK was dragged reluctantly into the two world wars of the last century. Ever since 1945, the forces unifying the country have been in decline. I can quite understand people wishing to restore the sense of a country working together in common cause again. However, it is difficult to see what exactly this common purpose would be. Politically the UK is a very divided society, it is just very hard indeed to imagine unity for common positive purpose.

Or is it just to be British and increase the common bonds between the peoples of these isles? What I have noticed as I have grown up in Britain is that so many of the common cultural ties have been steadily eroded. Partly this was the result of Thatcherite government and the whole concept of ‘there is no such thing as society’; if there is no society that what is being British and supportive of the state? Bizarrely it has seemed as though it has been the Conservatives who most want to restore this sense of Britishness, yet their party has been the one that has allowed this force to decline, through a promotion of market fundamentalism and corporate power running riot over local needs. This is what makes the Brexit debate so very strange to me.

It is only really possible to truly understand your cultural identity when you go away from home, to experience other cultures, where you begin to appreciate some of the peculiarities of your native culture. you discover exactly what are the common bonds between the British.

One of the first things I noticed was that I was more Welsh than British, that I come from a community that cares more about preserving traditions and culture than a typical British person. I am from a genuinely conservative culture. Yet it is meeting other Britons abroad that is the real eye-opener. You realise that you share a hiraeth, a homesickness and start yearning for some quintessentially British things. These British things are quite traditional, but in themselves are mere nostalgia, things such as tackily British brands of sweets and chocolate, ale, proper cider, tea, greasy curries, cake and other foods. Then while seeking these things with a fellow Briton abroad, you end up discussing the children’s television programmes of our youth. Yet apart from childhood comfort food and comfort television, what else is there, that is British?

As an adult, there doesn’t seem to be as much that is shared in common. Delving deeper, I begin a hiraeth for Welsh culture when away from Wales, and I can only share that with Welsh people and it connects me with my roots. I wonder if the millennial generation, who are much more fervently against Brexit than my generation is, perhaps have an even weaker sense of Britishness than my generation of Generation X has.

Arguably children’s television has become more international, less focused on British cultures. Whilst there may be a shared nostalgia, there is little specifically of British culture in it. I grew up with such programmes as the Trumptonshire series and Bagpuss, which took their cultural references from Britain and a culture that was in itself nostalgic, of a culture under attack from government policy, (after all Half Man Half Biscuit wrote a punk song about it, the ‘Trumpton Riots’ !). Yet such programmes gave a snapshot into the essence of the country, albeit a middle class one as if you help children learn about their culture. This seems much less in today’s children’s television, no sense of what Britishness is espoused.

Sweets have changed too, there seem to be fewer uniquely British varieties of sweets available. So, really what common British culture do the millennial generation have? Perhaps it is because everything has to have appeal to international markets, that exposition of the native culture is over-ridden. There just seems s little left of a common British culture.

I have always believed that it is important to understand and support your own culture. In Wales we have this preserving tradition bug with our language, our music. Yet I also feel an urge to experience other cultures, to listen to other musics. I prefer folk music to the more sanitised global music brands. Today, I was listening to the wonderful Canadian folk song ‘Blackfly’ this led to an exploration of other Canadian folk songs, which was wonderful, I get the songs despite not having been lucky enough to visit Canada. I believe that to appreciate other cultures you also need to understand and appreciate your own culture too [I discovered this guy, from my area of my country at the weekend, I just get his songs so much]. I suppose I grew up being taught both the value of preserving traditions whilst being open to other cultures and new ideas.

In appreciating literature something similar happens. You learn to read, usually with stories about your own culture and then open up with experience to the huge breadth of international literature. I really got this with Science Fiction being my favourite genre. In Science Fiction the very basis of the genre is to speculate and imagine living in different cultures and indeed different kinds of society.

So, recently it has been strange to revert to learning to read books again in another language, Welsh. There is a literary tradition in Wales and books continue to be published in Welsh. It’s fascinating to learn to read again, but also interesting because there are so many fewer professional writers in Welsh compared to English! There is no Welsh language Science Fiction for me to read. So I read books in genres I wouldn’t normally read in English, which is exposing me to new ideas on literature, which is fascinating and helps me appreciate literature in English more too.

I seem to be the anti-thesis of the Brexiteer, the person arguing for more of a British identity. I think cherishing native culture is important and being open to understanding and supporting other cultures, other traditions too. The Brexiteers seem to be a group that value a single narrow definition of Britishness, be against any other culture and want people to conform to their narrow view, including native British cultures. I don’t really get it, it just doesn’t seem British to me.

 

The Language of Brexit

This blog is perhaps a vehicle for my tirade against the world that almost everything exists as spectra, the world is not binary. Perhaps language itself is partly responsible for this and Brexit seems a good example of this.

Language is rarely precise, this is why we have poetry to be able to express ideas and that there is always more than one way of expressing the same thing. We use language as a kind of shorthand. We reduce long lengthy explanations to just a few words and expect that we will be understood. Indeed we often ask if our shorthand has been understood by adding an ‘isn’t it’ or something similar to the end of our sentences. We refer to things such as national characteristics, that we hope our audience may share an understanding of to enable higher level discussions. Complex discussions are only possible when the basic concepts are understood. Through this very process of creating shorthand, we often reduce complex nuances thoughts to a few words, thus creating binaries, it is or it isn’t to spectral ideas. The first words we lean are often Yes, no and not. Later we learn the much more complex vocabulary of quite, very and slightly. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that the binaries created in language are not real binaries.

The Brexit referendum was itself making the complex position of the UK in the EU into a simple for or against, to which many people wished to answer: ‘yes But…’ or ‘no But…’ often with very big buts. The issue of immigration is perhaps the biggest theme of the debate. Indeed, the meaning of the very word ‘immigration’ has subtly changed through the various debates. Whilst we know what immigration is, the movement of people into an area, the word has come to mean lots of different things to different people. In a sense this one word has lost it’s practical meaning in being a shorthand for a concept.

Even as a binary opionion, people are not for or against immigration, this is almost absurd. Most people are of the opinion that there should be less immigration into the UK. However how much less, what specific types of people are to be restricted is a huge complicated spectra. Yet, arguably Brexit won the vote when Nigel Farage said ‘the only way the UK can regulate immigration is by leaving the EU’, however exactly how this is to be achieved has not really been made clear, that;s the complicated bit and i would argue we don’t have the democratic structure to enable this to be implemented well. Lots of other things have to be sorted out for benefits to come about.

Yet, the issue of immigration in the UK is not even a simple ‘how much less?’ question as there is a whole spectra of arguments for why immigration should be reduced.

At one end of the spectra is the the cultural argument, that some  people simply don’t like ‘too many’ people from different cultures living amongst the native population, for all sorts of reasons. This position is very close to racism, but not in itself racist. However racists will have this opinion. Indeed UKIP have used this argument to appeal to people with racist views, but cleverly hidden behind statements that are not in themselves racist. If you get the cultural argument and agree with it, it is simple to agree with this argument.

At the other end of this spectra is the economic argument: That a high net level of immigration is bad for the economy. The UK is economically unbalanced between the North and the South. The UK population doesn’t produce workers with the right skills, geographically where organisations require them. The UK economy found a work around to this in importing workers through immigration. The UK called out to the people of the British Empire to come and help rebuild Britain after the Second World war, so the UK now has significant populations from India and the Caribbean. These immigrants did suffer a lot of racism that we have made progress in moving on from that, these populations are now reasonably integrated into British society. However the more recent influxes from central Europe were to take jobs the resident population were unable to fill, rather than unwilling to fulfill. The argument is that it would simply be better if the UK arranged it’s economy so that it did produce the workers it required. We are now in the position where we have to import Doctors and Nurses as we don’t produce these skilled workers natively. We have a shortage of medical doctors in Mid-Wales which  seems absurd as GPs are quite well paid. We don’t produce these workers naively because of the housing crisis, declining education standards and  a declining healthcare system where doctors are over-worked. We are asking young people to go into a six figure debt to fund their own training, to do a job where they have to do a ten year induction before they achieve salaries that can re-pay their student debt, without mentioning, that during this 15 year period, we expect them to subsidise those who own property, save money for their own housing which is more expensive every year and somehow find the money to bring up their own children before they are too old. Is it any surprise that people do something else and leave these skilled jobs for immigrants who study somewhere where the cost of living is much less. There is the  argument I heard during the Brexit campaign from people in areas with negligible immigration, people were concerned about immigration, because it meant jobs went elsewhere and didn’t come to their area (South Wales). This even applies to high earners, who refuse to accept offers of work from London as they can’t afford the housing costs there. London is harder to move to for a British person than it is to move abroad. The other part of this argument is that the failure of successive governments to provide housing , education and healthcare befitting a 1st world economy, has finally come to popular light and simply immigration, whilst papering over some systemic problems with the UK economy, puts additional pressure on housing, education and hospital places, which are still not being sorted out,., I would argue because of deficient democracy. This economic argument for reduced immigration is a lot more complex and nuanced than can be summed up in a single word ‘immigration’, so left an centre politicians struggle to communicate it effectively.

Essentially, it seems the population of the UK at large has woken up to the failures of the political consensus, or the establishment of the centre-right orthodoxy that has somehow held sway for the last thirty years. There is a widely felt understanding that the consensus was indeed wrong and has failed; as it was predicted thirty years ago that it would. However, there is no clear answer to the UK’s problems. There are two main forces seeking to implement their solutions, the liberal centre and the populist right. both of these groups with very different visions of what to do with Brexit, both groups share the frustration of never having been in political office to implement their visions. Largely because of the UKs binary democracy, that prevents non consensus ideas being implemented, and that the consensus view is itself a minority. Somehow the centre-right orhodoxy is still in power and not popularly opposed. The establishment is cleverly playing the two sides against each other to retain it’s own grip on power.

A serious Brexit government would be out there consulting widely, forging agreements and finding ways to make Brexit work for the UK economy. Instead they are arguing amongst themselves behind closed doors. Perhaps the idea is that all the division and dithering over Brexit will eventually mean that popular calls for Brexit are eventually dropped and the centre-right can continue as normal. This is frustrating the Brexiteers, who fear Brexit may never happen, but turning their ire against the centre-liberal ‘remoaners’, who never wanted this mess in the first place, it’s a distraction for us from the real work of making the UK economy stronger and a better place to live and work..

Which is all largely as I predicted. I was against Brexit, not out of love for the EU, but simply that the chances of making Brexit work well were tiny.What the UK needs more than anything is electoral reform, but this is challenging to argue for when there are so many other things going on. However , we need a system that enables the right decisions to be made and the current system proves again and again, that it is incapable of implementing the right solutions, or even basing it’s decisions on evidence based data.

If there is to be an alternative, the odds are stacked towards the populist right. Indeed as they were in the 1930s when the fascists were able to capture the popular imagination more than the communists, in Western Europe at least. Favoured, simply because the populist right can use the word ‘immigration’ as shorthand for their dislike of different people, whereas the liberal left have the much more complex, nuanced economic argument that will get lost in the clamour of what passes for debate in the main stream media these days.  Essentially, it is a battle for whose meaning of a word becomes the consensus and it is much easier to do this with a simpler message, one that can be repeated often until people accept it. After all hate is simple, hope is more complex.

Maybe, the nature of language is at the heart of why political debates can be won with flawed arguments, through clever rhetoric. A symbol, a word, can be more powerful than a concept or a sentence. Such symbols have the power to change the world.

Two months on, we are still asking “What is Brexit?”

When the newly appointed UK Prime Minister first appeared she stated that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ which begs the question: What then is Brexit?

The word was conceived to mean an exit of Britain (the UK really, but Ukxit didn’t catch on) from the European Union (EU). However it’s more complicated than that as the government have been busy running around  trying to talk to everyone and seem to be trying to find a way of remaining in the European Single Market outside of the EU proper, to have a trading relationship without a commitment to political integration. Really the governments seems to want to establish a new EEA (European Economic Area) treaty, with some restrictions on free movement and some decrease in European regulations. Essentially this is what the Tories have always wanted, a genuine two speed Europe. However, this may be difficult to achieve, at least before 2020 (when the UK has to have a general election and a new government) because getting the institutions of the EU and the other member states of the EEA will be difficult. The EU has enough problems at the moment and appears happy to let things bumble on, which really the UK seems fairly happy to do as well with no clear answer in sight, suggesting that Brexit may not happen, because the politics is difficult, the economic risks of a bad deal are perhaps a lot greater than the economic costs of doing nothing. Yet the vote happened, so ‘Brexit’ has come to mean the referendum itself, seemingly without wider implications.

A simple spectra of views of the UK in the EU can be imagined, with the hardcore Euro-sceptics, the UKIPers, the Brexitiers, at one end advocating the UK completely withdrawing from the EU and at the other end the Europhiles, the EU integrationists, with the vast majority of people somewhere in between. So with such a simple spectra asking the question ‘EU leave or not?’ was essentially, ‘Do you agree with the Brexitiers?’. The answer, by 52-48 was yes and the Brexitiers won the vote. However it would be wrong to suggest that a majority of the electorate do agree with the Brexitier position.

Wrong, because no simple spectra for views on the EU exists. Like most things really it’s more complicated, imagine the spectra spread around into a circle, or even a sphere, to consist of multiple  spectra, based on such concepts as democracy, economics, immigration and identity. As such, especially in referenda, where often a different question is answered to the actual one put. This is not to suggest that referenda are always a bad thing. The electorate has not been asked for it’s views on the EU (the last vote was 1975), so a question more like ‘Do you thing the UK should have a closer relationship or a looser relationship with the EU?’, would perhaps give a more representative result, I speculate than no-one would be surprised by a 75%+ vote for ‘less EU’ and I would not have been troubled by my choice at all.  Though such a vote would again not produce by itself a clear UK EU strategy, but it would be more indicative of what people actually want.

It’s not a simple spectra as the Brexitier camp is itself very divided. One group are the hardcore market fundamentalists (more capital), wanting lower regulations, lower productivity, lower tax and low wages. opposed to the Social Democrats (more democracy, more labour), wanting higher regulations, higher wages, higher taxes and higher productivity. Either system could work, but a complete withdrawal from the EU, would lead to a fight between these Brexit groups, where no compromise was possible that wouldn’t lead to a much weaker economy than exists now and for these systems to work there would need to be a majority consensus for them to actually work. In any case our FPTP electoral system, favouring two major left-right aligned blocs, would fail to allow such a fundamental shift in the economy either way, because international trade and relations are important in the inter-dependent world the UK exists in, doing things substantially differently to the rest of the world would be challenging. Well, the UK could be truly isolationist, but this would entail lots of things like everyone becoming vegan, giving up personal transport and completely changing our lifestyles, although off-grid lifestyle choices are growing in popularity.

However, the Brexit wasn’t really about the EU at all, I have argued that it was simple a protest vote against the political establishment. The establishment and democracy has failed in the UK. A two party system works, when the parties in control are regularly swapped to maintain a balance and elected representatives are free to ignore party dictats (the whipped vote). A balance should be created that prevents leading towards extreme ideologies, that don’t work very well for the majority.

Essentially we can view economies as interactions between three hostile powers, Labour, Capital and the State. So traditionally, the Conservative party advocate more Capital, while the Labour party advocate more power for Labour, but both parties want the State (themselves when they are in power) to work in different ways.

The problem is that the balance of power broke down in the mid 1980s. In the 1970s, Labour and the Trade Unions were too powerful, choking the UK economy. Democracy triumphed in 1979, when the Conservatives won and set about reducing Labour and increasing Capital. However by around 1985, they had gone to far in supporting capital, but the Tories won the 1987 election? and again in 1992??, Democracy had failed, or at least the Labour party had failed. In a two party system, both parties need to be strong for democracy to work. The UK now really does need a strong Socialist, just to bring some balance back, but the Labour party are currently split over this. Well sadly Labour didn’t have many Socialists left in the parliamentary party to choose from, which is the problem they are making a fuss about at the moment.

Globalisation has compounded this problem, rather than been a panacea of free and fair trade. Market fundamentalist governments appear across the globe, trade agreements lock in the power of Capital at the expense of the State. We are now in a world where correction is harder and harder to achieve. Harder in a world where the advocates of capital control the main stream media, denying the wider electorate the chance to be informed and thus able to vote for balance, political debate is now framed solely by the effect on capital. We live in a world of no real economic growth as the drivers of the economy, the working and middle class, and the state itself are heavily in debt to capital, there is no money to fund growth, to support new innovative enterprise. Capital has no means of giving money to Labour or the State because that is not it’s job, it’s the job of Labour and the State to do that!

Essentially, everyone has the idea that something is very wrong with the world economy, but this opposition to the market fundamentalist establishment (the neo-liberals) is divided. In the US, Trump is a phenomena, riding this tide of discontent, in spite of him being a really offensive individual and a class A idiot, it’s like the people are screaming ‘Any change at all, we can’t carry on like this’, as the UK did with Brexit.

So, how does all relate the the EU? The EU itself is perceived both as a strong armer for Capital, and as a strong armer for  regulation (but at an EU (inter-state) and not state level). It’s perceived as being unable to do anything well for 28 diverse states. So objections to it are valid whether you are a market fundamentalist or not.

So, a hard Brexit won’t work, but neither will an EEA fudge. It seems that the best strategy is simply remain in the EU, but veto pretty much everything, including trade deals such as CETA and TTIP, effectively having an EEA trade treaty, by the back door. However aren’t trade treaties perhaps the problem, as they reduce the power of the State and Labour and give to Capital? What we need is social democracy back, that can tame capital (and tame Labour and the State when needs be), rather than anything that increases the power of capital.

Perhaps the issue is mobility. States don’t move very much, if at all in modern times. People (Labour) can move, but is restricted and usually involved making a commitment to living, working and contributing to life in a new country. Capital is fairly unrestricted in it’s mobility, hence it can exploit States and Labour, by moving away from when times get harder. So, perhaps the next step forward to achieving economic balance is to restrict movement of capital. Capital will then have to make the same commitments to states, to it’s workforce as others in the trinity. Capital will then have to  invest long-term, it’s monetary gains will then largely remain in a state and contribute back to local Labour. The question is whether to do this at an EU level, a UK level or a devolved level. Again I would argue for devolving this power, to restrict inward investment that it not committed to a a community, so it becomes part of that community. The Uk has been poor at ensuring a one-nation where prosperous regions give a helping hand to less prosperous areas to bring them up to speed. As the market demands change and technology develops, capital can switch industry, but remain geographically fixed to a locality. Is this what Brexit is, taking back control of capital to local communities, giving control to democracy, rather than centralised states or corporations.Is this how humanity will tackle growing inequality and the threats of climate change?

 

 

 

British Identity Roots

There seems to have been a major shift in how people define themselves. in recent times we have heard some people see Scottish independence as a threat to their identity and the recent Brexit vote as a threat to people’s European identity. I had thought the idea of associating identity with a state, rather than with people was bizarre. When I read in the news that ‘The British have decided…’, I cringe as it is not the British people but the British state that has decided something. However if people do associate themselves with states, then they are allowing states to effect their identity, which is surely strange, though this is how I believe it once was. There does seem to have been a shift in focus from some people post-Brexit. If identity is grounded in the machinations of the state, then essentially people are rootless and subject to political whims. Really, our sense of identity should not be political, but perhaps inevitably it is. It seems that how we root ourselves as people has changed.

Roots are important, they help provide security for us as individuals, they allow us to recognise what defines us as people and how we are different to that norm, to know who we are. Discovering our roots is essentially realising who we are, the roots were there but we were not aware of them. We particularly notice our roots when we are uprooted to somewhere else, the roots effectively become exposed. An actual examination of roots is something fairly new for many people.

Traditionally, people were rooted to the land, with one big carrot like root, placing someone firmly in a locality and a community. Thus this community defined who they were, how they thought, how they viewed the world. It is only in the last couple of generations that we have moved away from this model. Genetically, the vast majority of people in an area were descended from countless generations before them, when people settle, they don’t move around much, living in that same area. When people travelled and met new people, two questions were often asked: 1/ What do you do for a living? 2/ Where are you from?

The answers to these two questions used to reveal a lot, if not almost everything about a person. For recent generations, these two questions are less revealing, because we are increasingly not defined by our work and are less geographically rooted. Instead of that big fat carrot root, we have multiple, thinner roots that range far and wide. Instead of defining ourselves from our localities and local communities, we root in much bigger networks. This then impacts on local communities as then those living in that community, rooting more traditionally, find many people around them with different roots. so, we can perhaps explain the rise in xenophobia as the expression of fear about roots. Living in a community with people who are rooted in different ways is perhaps perceived as disturbing.

For example a homosexual, growing up in a community with few fellow homosexuals, may find it difficult to root their sexuality, so they will look further afield to root themselves in a wider community and may decide to move to a city where there are more homosexuals. In Wales, such a phenomena has occurred more widely.

I grew up in a rural area and my generation were told and strongly encouraged to move away to go to university or develop a career and then come back to raise a family as there were few employment opportunities in the area. This has happened for communities across Wales. The sense of Welshness is such that the ‘hiraeth’ or pull back to home when you are able is strong. However this does leave communities with low proportions of people in their 20s, denying communities of people with the time and energy to contribute and build things for that community, that is much harder for people to do once they have children to support. I have witnessed this is my own community, there are even less opportunities now than when I was young. However, I have friends from similar areas in Northern England and they have no such desire to return home to economically deprived communities, yet they retain the identity and define themselves as proud Yorkshirefolk or Scousers. The thing is that people continue to root themselves into their 20s, so quite wide ranging roots are formed, often based on your preferences, you find communities of people based on those preferences.

I think because rooting is based on preferences, there is a perception of choice involved. for example that the homosexual I mentioned earlier has ‘chosen’ to be homosexual, rather than simply realised that they always were homosexual.

What is interesting is that the Brexit vote was strongest in deprived communities, left behind communities, communities that haven’t had to develop wide ranging roots adn those communities that have lost their young people; these areas  defined the vote. Whereas the cosmopolitan, wider rooted younger communities of the cities were strongest for the European Union, for the Union of Europe was perceived to have just at least as many problems as the Union of the UK. The advocates of Brexit did not focus on the economic arguments, but on immigration instead, with winning the vote, they celebrated by waving the Union flag. This suggests that the vote was all about identity and not economics. We have a UK Prime Minister including in her first speech a stress upon the importance of the Union [of the United Kingdom].

So, what is the Union, beyond the political union holding together the nations of the UK? The answer is perhaps Britishness, a sense of identity and belonging to the nations of Britain. However the social union of Britain has been in decline for decades. The world wars of the last century, the end of the British Empire period, forged a new one nation Britain, with a new sense of identity and a strong sense of unity, of everyone pulling together to re-build the state after the wars. The new economic policies  of Thatcher and Reagan and an ongoing ‘neoliberal’ consensus of rampant individualism, begun in the 1980s tore apart the sense of a British community. Areas, such as Wales, Scotland and Northern England were sacrificed to fuel a burgeoning Southern England, it was like the family had been abandoned to buy a flashy new car. The sense of the family of Britain, was broken. The sense of Britishness has declined and the notion of Englishness was perhaps newly born (arguably Englishness was entirely entwined with the idea of Britishness). It is perhaps painful for older people to have woken up recently to discover that part of their identity has gone and they perhaps perceive ‘winning’ the Brexit vote as a chance for a return to Britishness. This aspiration seems doomed to fail, as the party in control of the UK and it’s new ideology, is the very one that has ripped the Union apart for all their fine words.

This whole sense of defining yourself, of rooting yourself in a nation, just seems like an idea of the past now. I am of course a proud Welshman, but that is only a part of my identity. I feel rooted, I don’t have a sense of wondering who I am. It is perhaps being an outsider, of being a Welshman living and moving frequently in England in my 20s, allowed me the opportunity to define myself widely, to root myself well, while not becoming a full member of those communities, those areas have also become part of my identity. However, there may be people who feel mainstream, who haven’t travelled widely, for whom this change in how we root ourselves may be much harder to achieve.

 

 

 

Ethical meat and good things to come from Brexit

One of the consequences of the UK EU referendum, is that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, resigned leaving the government without any leadership on post-brexit and no brexit plan. Furthermore  the opposition Labour also choose this time to enter into their own leadership debate. This has left the confused divided UK with no clear idea how brexit is to proceed, so many of us have ended up speculating and talking about possible solutions, as I have done on this blog.

I kind of wanted to return to discussing more random things, but the real world is often hard to ignore. My most popular post on this blog has been about ethically sourced meat. I think the popularity of this post is due to it being a topic people are actually interested in and also that there is not a plethora of articles about this subject. It’s kind of a taboo subject, perhaps because the meat industry doesn’t really want people thinking about it’s practices, as it could hit it’s profits. However I think it is deeper than that as it is a topic that resonates with the issue of what it means to be human and how to morally live our lives.

In the last few weeks, I have heard from a lady whose friend read a book that convinced them to become vegan. She then read the first quarter of this book and chose to abandon it because she felt that if she did get to the end she would also become vegan and she didn’t like the idea of stopping eating meat. I was also in conversation with a gentleman in the pub who said he hated the idea of thinking about eating animals though he ate meat regularly, that he hated being given fish to eat with the head still attached as he didn’t like seeing it’s eyes. He eats meat but prevents himself from thinking about it.

Perhaps generally, people do not like the idea of radically changing their lifestyle. Becoming an ethical meat eater, a vegetarian (veggie) or a vegan is not easy. Taking this plunge means you need to think carefully about what you can and cannot buy and re-arranage the balance of meals. Eating out becomes a chore, unless our are lucky enough to be going to a vegan restaurant. In the UK, we are lucky that every restaurant does cater for veggies, but usually the offerings are tired and bland and not worth the price tag, you could make something tastier at home for a lot less money. Nonetheless sometimes we are go along to social eating events with no appetite for enjoying the food.

Last weekend I was in another discussion about a post-brexit Britian; it is even getting tedious for political anoraks like me. An interesting question was asked to everyone: Name one positive thing that can be achieved post-brexit. My answer was agriculture.

Basically, being in the EU, our agricultural industry is subject the rules and subsidies of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The problem with this is that it is an example of a ‘one size fits all’, with the idea of that all farming in the EU is subject to the same rules, so no region can change it’s rules to create a competitive advantage. This is a problem as there is a lot of diversity in agricultural production across Europe and this common policy inevitably  advantages some forms agriculture over others anyway. Indeed, one of the major criticisms of the EU is that it’s regulatory systems and associated compliance (red-tape) tend to favour larger businesses as smaller businesses spend a greater proportion of their time in coping with compliance. So, the benefit of leaving the EU, means we would no longer be subject to the CAP. Then more sustainable, better systems can be implemented, ideally reducing farming subsidies and making agriculture profitable without subsidy.

There is a big issue with this, which is why so many ‘Remainers’ fear brexit. It’s all very well to have the potential to create better systems, but the likelihood with the  defunct political system of the UK, that we would more likely end up with a system that is even worse than the CAP. That instead of Brexit benefiting small and medium enterprises, we may end up with systems that further advantage large businesses.

What is wrong with large businesses? In agriculture, big specialised, industrial farms are favoured and supported by large subsidies, whilst small family farms receive much less subsidy, particularly upland farms of Wales. Welsh hill farms, produce a fantastic product, Lamb, however it is not marketed well; I was told this week that most of the lamb sold in California comes from New Zealand, even when it’s not in season, yuck! Hopefully the Welsh government will take over Welsh agricultural policy and rectify these problems, because I doubt the UK government will do so. In terms of sustainability, large scale agriculture is costly, it isn’t actually more efficient.

Organisations such as the National Farmers Union (NFU) do not like the idea of product differentiation (so you can know how and where food was produced), for example free range milk, most UK agricultural produce is not labelled to tell you where and how it was produced. In UK shops, you just buy ‘British milk’ without any idea how or where the cows were, or even if it’s British at all (as country of origin labels can be applied if only one stage of production occurred in that country). This lack of consumer choice favours the big industrial producers, the consumer does not have a choice between free range and industrially produced milk, there is no true market in milk in the UK.

My answer to the question of how to ethically source meat is simply buy locally from small producers and usually via a traditional Butchers shop (if you are lucky enough to still have one!). There are many advantages to doing this: The food will generally be tastier and of higher quality. It is likely to have been ethically produced and you can ask about this, because even though there is no label, the butcher will know which farm it came from and they  will want to keep your business; it also means purchasing food involves talking to a human being rather than a computer, which is preferable! It will be more sustainable, both in production and in having vastly reduced packaging and have far fewer food miles from an efficient local distribution system.

The other good thing to come from Brexit, is increased political discussion and a realisation of how messy distribution systems are. Industrialisation has done many great things: We can drive cars, have computers and order stuff from all around the world. However it seems we have reached a point where people try and industrialise everything, even when there is no societal advantage of doing so or efficiency advantage.

 

Welsh and British, but not European

The UK EU referendum didn’t seem to be really about UK membership of the EU. In many ways it should have been a rational assessment of the the benefits and costs of continued membership of this organisation. However it is difficult to isolate a single issue like that from it’s context. I have read about people describing the campaign as about identity politics, about the end of Britishness, the end of the UK; with Scotland, Northern Ireland and indeed Wales, leaving the union. The campaign has left a very divided confused Britain, in part due to the those under my age being strongly for remaining, whereas those older than me being largely for Leave. It is arguable than in a few years as the population ages, such a campaign would never again be won by Leave.

It does seem that people of my age are on the cusp of this generational divide. My parents were the post second world war baby boomer and the younger generation are the millennials. Perhaps the key difference between these two generations is the second world war. I am a member of the last generation who was able to talk to people who lived through the Second World War, to have had conversations with former soldiers who fought in that war with my grandfather. My grandparents retained lingering prejudice and suspicion of Germans, because they were the enemy and they saw the destruction of British towns and cities wrought by German bombs. However my generation and the one behind me, have no negativity towards Germans.

I have always described myself and Welsh first and British second. It does seem that this identity is on the wane. When I was growing up at international football matches, Welsh supporters proudly flew both the Union flag and Y Ddraig Goch, English supporters almost exclusively flew the Union flag. Here we are in footballs Euro 2016 [and Wales are in the semi-finals, WOW! Dewch ymlaen Cymru! Dan ni’n enill yn erbyn Portiwgal!] where the Union flag is very rare amongst Welsh supporters and equally rare amongst England supporters, who now fly the St George’s Cross. My English friends of my age, described themselves as British and didn’t really understand my pride in being Welsh. In Welsh circles it was often discussed that the English didn’t understand their own identity. However these days, there is a sense of the English understanding that they are English or have some other identity, such as British Muslim.

Going back again to my parents and grandparents. Whilst they rooted for Wales in sport, they retained a support for England when England were playing a non-home nation [the Home nations are Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland]. I think it was the sense of unity that came from the war, of working together for the good of the country, which no-one really talks about nowadays. This was the generation that saw the creation of the National Health Service (NHS), the Welfare state, had jobs for life, a generation that invested a part of themselves in the nation state.

Now these national institutions are under attack, the sense of identity of being British with the NHS. I have grown up with Thatcher and a generation of politicians that grew up under her influence, which has divided the nation of the UK between North and South, which has encouraged economic individualism. Instead of a uniting identity, my generation and the millennials, generate their own identities, based on who they are. It is this generation that positively identify with being European, in a way my grandparents would never do. There is no sense of identity with the British government, people generally don’t see the Prime Minister as our leader as once people did. My identity is with the people who live on these islands, not with those who govern it.

Personally, I do not identify or feel European. I appreciate that I come from a European culture. However I have been lucky enough to be able to travel around the world. Most of my experiences have been outside Europe. So I identify myself as more a World citizen than as a European citizen. The other issue is language. As the UK is an English speaking nation, we have and continue to grow up heavily influenced by North American culture. Yesterday  the USA celebrated it’s independence day from the British. British and Irish people have this dual outlook that is both towards America and continental Europe, that is not perhaps shared to the same extent by other Europeans. It is sobering to think that the British may soon no longer exist as a socio-political entity. I will always consider myself British, though a long standing attachment to England, Ireland and Scotland and the subtle differences between mine and these nations. However if the UK does indeed break up, this sense of a cultural Britishness may also fade.

This sense of Britishness is actively threatened, as there is a division between those who see non-white British origin people as apart from everyone else. This talk of identities has awakened racist abuse and attacks. Yet in the metropolitan towns and cities particularly, people are aghast at these attitudes. This has come to be symbolised by the animosity over this last week between Bremainers and Brexiters. All this on a day before the publication of the Chilcott report, which will hopefully clear up whether the UK did indeed join the US to invade Iraq in 2003 under false pretences, with no coherent plan. A conflict that was a catalyst for the rise of terrorism from groups like ISIS, hundreds of thousands of pointless deaths and suffering, that did not bring about the peace that allegedly justified that war.

I am sure the Brexit vote aftermath will continue for some time. However at least tomorrow, we can forget about it and be carried away by the excitement of the football!

And a Very British Coup

The enormity of what has just happened is slowly sinking in. Have my worst fears been realised, it seems so. It is why i have been so upset and concerned these last few days.

Today’s developments seem to confirm the worst. Today the deadline for nominations for the next leader of the Conservative party (the Tories) and the next Prime Minister of the UK, to be decided by the 120,000 odd members of the party. The coup is that all the candidates are from the hard right of the party, all pro-Brexit and all against holding a General Election in the autumn. So, what this suggests is that Brexit will happen after all, the members of the Conservative party will not be able to do anything about it, the ordinary people who canvas and campaign on local issues). ‘Well that was the democratic will of the UK’, I hear you say. If only it were that simple. what this  means is the completion of the wholesale taking over of the political establishment by the hard-right, a very British coup.

The market fundamentalists, the corporatists will then simply take over. Everyone left in the UK will suffer as more and more wealth is taken away from the general population to give to the few at the very top. Britons will become slaves.

The whole EU referendum was a stitch up job and not an exercise in democracy at all. a dreadful campaign was fought, the leave campaign was orchestrated to offer hope to appeal to those struggling from the effects of austerity, such people have been duped. Even if the vote had gone for remain, the result would have been the same, a victory for the neo-liberals, except orchestrated through the EU, with trade deals such as CETA and TTIP.

This right have been in power for over thirty years and they have been very clever: They allowed housing costs to escalate, trapping people into mortgages or otherwise insecure housing. One thing human beings cling to is having a roof over their head, so fear of losing this can be a very powerful tool. They have made work more insecure, less meaningful, again tying people into the system. Allowing the basic cost of living to rise so high, forcing people to make severe compromises in the attempt to earn a higher wage to strive for comfort and security. Essentially that have put everyone, apart from the lucky few at the top who can milk the system, in debt. Debt is essentially a powerful means of control, it’s not just housing, it’s education too, the ways out of poverty towards a comfortable existence entail taking on huge debts.

This right have also managed to wrest control of the political system. The Tories forced the Labour party into a adopting a soft right ‘Blairite’ position as the only perceived means of winning an election, allowing the situation to continue to worsen and ultimately leading to what has happened this week.

This week the Labour party appear to be imploding. The party members finally elected a moderate left wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, one of the very few people untainted by the Blairite shift. However as the Labour party benches in Parliament are full of those who have made it up the party machine adopting Blairite compromises, they have failed to see their own situation and have duped themselves into believing that a true alternative to this Tory right plan is possible. It may have been their last chance.

They have even cobbled the Tory parties ancient foes the Whigs, or the Liberal party, by placing them in the position of taking the blame for the worst policies of the coalition government, whilst miraculously escaping blame from those on the right themselves.

Even the real conservatives (the venerable party of old, pre-Thatcher times that believed in a level playing field, family, social mobility, equal opportunities) and the upstart UKIP  has been conned. The leave campaign from this more traditional right had at it’s heart  a campaign about freeing small and medium enterprises and family businesses from the excessive ‘red-tape’ associated with EU regulations, for greater democratic control to truly represent the people. The whole campaign of misinformation was designed to cloud the real issues. ‘To take back control’ was the slogan, these people will not be helped by the neo-liberals in charge as they will find they have even less control.

All this in a society where the mainstream media outlets are very right wing and highly selective in what news they report, have become active conspirators in the coup, even the BBC, once seen as a bastion of fairness, is no little more than a government news agency. If the Tories proceed with Brexit, they can still claim they didn’t think it was a good idea and then blame Brexit for whatever ills befall the UK economy whilst entrenching their own power.

How has this final, coup been achieved. The Tory party contained both this new nasty breed of corporatist, neo-liberals and the more traditional ideology of the real conservatives. for the past thirty years the Tory party has been divided over the issue of the EU. the referendum was portrayed as an attempt to once and for all end Tory squabbling over EU issues and as a sop to UKIP to enable the Tories to win the last general election. However what it really achieved, which I was afraid of, was the effect of eradicating the pro-EU pro social co-operation, real conservatives from positions of influence in the party. Even Cameron himself, can be viewed as the last real conservative, but he couldn’t achieve anything, constrained by the powerful forces in his own party around him and a misplaced party loyalty. The real tragedy is those traditional centre right people, who seem to be the last to notice what has happened.

The people who are wealthy or are people of the hard and moderate right, are probably celebrating. Everyone else now faces some tough choices: Stay and suffer, Stay and fight or  leave and seek a life in one of the few remaining nice places left in the world.

So, what to do? In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland we have a developed civic nationalism (a solidarity with all people who live in our community) and should campaign in earnest now for independence from the UK. Yes, our economies will suffer even more, but we can ensure the basics of a roof over our heads, heat in winter, food, the opportunity of productive work and hope. Real economic growth will take time. England, will sadly have an even tougher battle, as those in power have been so effective in dividing opposition.

In the pub last night, conversation turned to George Orwell’s ‘1984’ being reasonably educated it is easy to forget that not everyone has read and understood this important book. I wish I wasn’t so paranoid about this, it just seems that the whole referendum was about the destruction of European culture, of support for our fellow human beings, for working together to solve problems, of the social contract. going back to the feudal system, which I don’t think is the country anyone really wanted back.

The thing is there are lots of positive things to come out of the referendum: increased political engagement, a greater understanding of issues and a strong call for a change to address the issues raised. But, my concern is that this hard right government, will continue not to listen and impose some kind of Brexit in it’s own narrow interests that doesn’t resolve the problems but will increase it’s own power and influence, rather than deliver for all the people of Britain. The UK should not to anything other than commit to listening and addressing. the real problems

 

A very British crisis

What a crazy, heartbreaking few days it has been. Slowly it has dawned on the world that the UK voted to leave the EU. Most people did not expect this outcome, including the UK government which asked for the referendum to enable it to win the last election.This has been more political change, more history in a matter of days than we usually get in years. The big subsequent revelations are that David Cameron has resigned as Prime Minister and made clear that nothing concrete will happen until at least September. The upshot of this is that it revealed that the government had no plan whatsoever for this eventuality. As I write the British civil service is frantically  working on all the possible options to put to the UK leadership, when the UK eventually has one. Somehow the government will have to bumble through the next few months or even years in a very British way until some sort of solution is found. Remembering the leave campaign, there were many conflicting ideas about what a Brexit could mean, but no coherent plan, only a list of possibilities.

This extended period is a crisis and potentially tragic: Firstly for plunging the economy into an extended crisis, because financial markets hate uncertainty. Secondly because immigration was a focus of the debate, without the issue being properly addressed, in consequence it has inflamed racism in the UK. The media has been full over the last weekend of attacks on both European citizens and those who are not purely of white Caucasian descent.  With both the two major political parties, the Conservatives and the Labour party, deciding to enter into the internal squabbling of leadership elections, it leaves most of the UK without effective leadership and no clear answers to many questions.

On top of all this is the constitutional crisis’. Scotland voted to remain in the EU and retain the option of holding a referendum to remain in the EU, adding to the complexity of any change in arrangements with the EU. This is further complicated by the issue of timing. The easiest option may be for Scotland to vote and if the vote is yes negotiate leaving the union of the UK, before the issue of the EU is dealt with, then separate talks can be conducted between the EU and Scotland and between the EU and the remaining parts of the UK. However, there have been suggestions of a new deal with the EU, which Scotland may be happy with and remain in the UK, in which case the EU would have to be prepared to negotiate everything before Article 50 is invoked, then either a fresh referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal or a UK general election to everything some sort of legitimacy. There have been many suggestions, and much U-turning from various EU authorities over if and when any negotiations can take place, I have never known so many politicians U-turn in such a short space of time. Furthermore the issue of getting Brexit through the UK parliament isn’t clear with a majority of MPs, the peoples representatives, in favour of remaining in the EU by around 500 to 150. It is entirely possible that after all the chaos, it may be decided that it is simply easier and less traumatic to stay as a full member of the EU after all, the vote wasn’t actually about Europe as such and more an expression of dissatisfaction with the political establishment (see my previous post), to shrug and proclaim that “We’re British, you did know that we are all quite quite mad didn’t you?” . Or possibly put Brexit on hold whilst the UK deals with it’s own internal issues first, which may take years. Meanwhile the people of Britain have somehow got to get on with our daily lives through a possibly extended period of uncertainty.

Then there is Northern Ireland which  voted for Remaining in the EU too, even the Unionist communities were not completely behind Brexit. Basically, it’s an issue for Northern Ireland for various reasons: One, the border to the Republic of Ireland is open [no border controls], many roads criss-cross the border, erecting an official international border would be a nightmare. Two, citizens of Northern Ireland hold dual citizenship rights of the UK and the Republic of Ireland (which is in the EU), effectively meaning Northern Irish citizens would retain full EU citizenship, even though they may live in a country outside the EU. Three, any change in the status of Northern Ireland risks re-igniting the long and bloody conflicts of the troubles of Northern Ireland, the peace between the two sides in which has been after a very long struggle, agreement between the two sides is still fragile, this is a huge huge risk.

Then there is Wales, which has kind of been forgotten about amidst these huge difficulties Wales voted for Brexit, but again, whether this is the true desire of a majority in Wales isn’t clear. Wales is waking up to the fact that it could be left as the even poorer relation of England, run by a rUK (remainder of the UK) government not in the interests of Wales. Wales receives large amounts of regional funding from the EU, largely because the UK government neglects investing in the regions, as most other states do. We are waking up to some potentially very dire drops in our economic condition. Wales could be the big loser from all of this.

However there is always hope. For a devolutionist like me, our hour may have perhaps come. A solution may be full federalisation of the UK. By which each country of the UK achieves full statehood, whilst retaining membership of the United Kingdom (kind of like a mini EU) on equal terms.  England could even have it’s own regional parliaments to sort out it’s own regional funding issues. a constitutional quirk of the UK is that England does not have it’s own parliament, using the UK parliament for solely English matters. It can be imagined that the the Houses of Parliament could retain two chambers, an all England parliamant and an all UK parliament.

The advantages of a federal UK could be the solution to this crises and deserve consideration. The issue of borders would not apply, borders would remain open, each state could impose whatever restrictions they wanted to on non-nationals owning property and working in the country, whilst allowing people and goods to pass through unimpeded. Each region would be free to make it’s own relationship with the EU. For example, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland could, if they wished, remain full EU member states, whilst England could have a separate relationship, doing whatever it wants such as restricting inward migration and being free of EU regulations etc. Each state could even ‘dual currency’ having their own currency and a common UK currency. Of course the rest of the EU would need time to accept a federal UK as a very special region, but I think it could be a workable solution, that could keep all parties reasonably happy. There is a precedent in the position of Greenland, Greenland is part of Denmark but not in the EU, whilst Denmark itself is in the EU.

I have long been an advocate of federalisation of the UK, it may just be an idea whose time has come and a way of resolving the various continuing crisis of the UK.

The Disunited Kingdom

The UK has voted to leave the European Union (EU). I wrote here some months back that I thought the UK may end up leaving the EU when it didn’t really want to. It now seems that this has happened. I was wrong about the turnout, the debate did engage people. It is perhaps because the ballot paper presented a simple binary choice, where every persons vote counted equally, engaged the electorate, unlike ordinary elections. However it also divided the electorate, not merely because it was close but demographically. Some areas strongly supported remaining in the EU (by 3 to 1) in some places, whilst others were strongly for leaving. Furthermore, opinion polls suggest that the young, (18-25) were for remaining, whilst the old (65+) were strongly for leaving.

The UK is used to such huge divides geographically at elections. Political parties target their policies at areas that support them and exacerbate the economic divide, traditionally called the North-South divide. However in the EU referendum, the divide was different.

Wales voted to leave the EU by 52.5% to 47.5%, close, yet decisive and roughly the same proportion as England. People today, the day after, have been asking a pertinent question: “Why did Wales vote to leave when it is net beneficiary [more EU money is spent in Wales than goes to the EU in fees] and does not have the pressures of net immigration on housing, schools and hospitals [in fact quite the opposite]?” Wales gets more out of being in the EU than it does by being in the UK. Trying to find an answer to this question has been  a puzzle.

However when you look in detail at how the vote was split in Wales, a possible answer emerges. The  university towns with high proportions of young people were for remain (Bangor, Aberystwyth and our capital, Cardiff), as were wealthier areas (Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan). However the big leave support was in the Valleys, being strongest in Blaenau Gwent.

The Valleys are the old industrial heartlands, part of the original industrial revolution, formed in the 19th century to exploit the coal lying beneath, which supplied the iron and later steel production industries. Nearby Cardiff grew as a major world port and was once the largest coal and steel port in the world. People migrated to the Valleys for this work from other parts of Wales, Ireland, England, Italy and the rest of the world. The often brutal nature of the work forged both steel and strong communities.

Heavy industry in Wales declined towards the end of the twentieth century. The Tory UK government, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher took the decision to close down the mines, with the idea to move the UK to a new, modern services based economy. There were strikes and civil unrest, but the government got their way and left the valleys without alternative industries, leaving behind high unemployment and social deprivation, but argued for as a ‘price worth paying’ to give the UK as a whole the economic growth of the late 1980s and 1990s. The people of the Valleys, with a working class tradition, have always voted strongly for the UK Labour party. During the Labour government of Tony Blair, there was hope that the time had come for the support and investment to make the Valleys prosperous one more. However this support never came in sufficient quantities to establish prosperity, the needs of London and it’s financial services industry took priority.

This story of the abandoned former heavy industry areas, is also found elsewhere in the UK, in the North of England and the central belt of Scotland. It is these communities that seem to have voted to leave the EU the strongest, the former Labour party ‘heartlands’. These communities suffer through Tory UK governments, they have kept voting for the Labour party, but in recent times have not been helped by the Labour party. It is not hard to understand why these communities are very angry with the political establishment, especially when the political establishment who seem to only address the needs of the globally connected cities of Cardiff and in particular London. The Labour party has focussed towards population demographics they need to win power in London. so, when the chance arrived for these communities to vote against the UK and European establishment. In the recent referendum, they voted strongly against the establishment.

Really, just because the issue of the European Union was on the ballot paper was irrelevant, it was a chance to kick the smug world of London based politics, to seek radical change. The real cause of the problems in the British economy stem from the UK government, and not the EU. Indeed today, I have heard some people regret their leave vote, giving the reason that they only wanted to punish the establishment.

I went to a EU referendum hustings meeting locally. I was a little surprised to hear from Valleys people (communities created by immigration) complaining about immigration, even though it wasn’t an issue locally in putting pressure on services. I did hear of resentment of immigrants from the European Union. People complained of all the new job growth appearing in the South East of England being taken up by EU migrants. I have heard the points that Welsh people can’t take those jobs because they have families and can’t afford or indeed wish to move from a nice home  to a tiny room, while young EU migrants can more easily. People were asking why can’t those jobs and that investment come to this area, where it’s needed. so, it seems you can be against immigration even when that immigration occurs far away, the ripples of globalisation. The issue seems to be not immigration as such, but the failure of the UK government to invest in the infrastructure a growing population requires. However it was easier for the establishment to blame immigration rather than their own failings.

This phenomena extends beyond these formerly industrial areas to the wider Britain, outside of London. People who have for the last thirty years seen their disposable incomes fall, particularly with the cost of housing continuing to rise above the rate of growth in the real economy. Where once a full-time worker could have a decent home, support a partner and provide for their  children, this is now much more difficult. Faced with the prospect of a continuing decline in living standards and offered the opportunity of profound change, in leaving the EU, many people over 35 have simply voted for it, they perhaps they sense they have little to lose and everything to gain, being in housing debt and hence with no savings or investments. They ‘want their country back’, to live in easier times, where money moved around the community, rather than sucked away elsewhere, where people had time and energy to put back into their communities.

So, despite the differences of Wales compared to England, there has still been a support for leaving the EU, they don’t really want. What the Welsh and English people do want is a change in the political establishment, for a representative democracy, a politics that helps all of the population flourish. The EU was seen perhaps seen as part of that cosy establishment of the wealthy class.

So, why was there support for remaining in the EU in Scotland and Northern Ireland? I think that  was because in Scotland and Ireland there is a real alternative. For Northern Ireland faces the costs of having the border with Southern Ireland closed, as a border of the EU, which would be costly for communities used to regularly crossing the border. Northern Ireland has it’s own political parties, not tainted by the whims of a London centric government. For Scotland, the devolutionist party, the SNP (Scottish National Party) are in power, but again not tainted by London politics. The benefits of EU membership are thus clearer.

Both Northern Ireland and Scotland, have the opportunity of ridding themselves forever from London politics. Northern Ireland can re-unite to form a united Ireland, in the EU, it seems even Unionist communities their are  more people now open to this in the light of Brexit. Scotland looks likely to leave the UK as an independent country and thus retain membership of the EU.

Which would leave the United Kingdom [well no longer united as ‘united’ comes from the Act of Union with Scotland) as England and Wales. However it is possible Wales could follow Scotland’s path, if the reasons for the leave vote are as I’ve described, that Wales did not vote for brexit because people really wanted to leave the European Union.  Plaid Cymru (Wales’ devolution party) are not yet perceived as the alternative to the Westminster establishment, Much of Wales has stuck with Labour and angry that they have failed to deliver change with the limited powers of the Welsh government. In any case the divisions between people of different areas and different ages leave a very disunited kingdom.

There is always hope. Referenda can engage electorates and this seems to have occured, provoking discussions and finding solutions on the ground to problems. If thsi energy continues, real change can happen, as it has in Scotland. The established order can be eradicated to be replaced with a truly representative government, that acts for the people it serves. Anything can happen. Divisions can be washed away and arguably such a process is easier outside of the EU. The campaigns of inflaming racism towards people perceived as immigrants has stoked the far right and further divides communities. It is a risky course, the establishment will not relinquish power without a fight. Victory can be claimed before the real work of reform is done.  Britain is in interesting times.