What is the Brexit Party?

The Brexit party won 32.5% of the popular vote in the recent European elections, the biggest party. What were all these people were voting for is difficult to ascertain as this political party has no policies, apart from wanting Brexit to happen. To try and understand I watched some news reports of vox-pops with supporters of the Brexit party attending Brexit party rallies. A few common themes were expressed:

  • A disdain for centralised government.
  • For government to better support the livelihoods of ordinary Britons
  • For a return of British social values
  • A disdain for globalist free market elites

I agree with all of these, yet fail to see how a Brexit party would further these causes. The way I see it is that these issues are why I have taken an interest in politics and been saddened my whole life why the vast majority of fellow Britons haven’t done anything about the decline of Britain instead propping up the Tory parties of the Tories and New Labour when they visit the ballot box.

It’s really the fourth point, about elites. The Brexit cause has been advocated by elites. The Nigel Farages and Jacob Rees-Moogs are the elite and want even more globalist free market solutions, rather than the radical alternatives I would argue that Britain needs.

Brexit was a stitch up. We were offered two choices, Remain [in the EU] and Leave [the EU]. A remain vote would have allowed the current elite to carry on business as usual, or a Leave vote to remove all the protections of the EU and leave the UK exposed to the worst excesses of global “free market” capitalism. The only way for Brexit to work would be a radical transformation of UK democracy, to give the UK governments that genuinely reflect the needs of the people of Britain, that actually address the four points above:

Devolution, increased powers for national, regional and local governments. To ensure that every part of the UK gets it’s fair share of investment, by investing in infrastructure and local solutions.To address the housing crisis, to enable people to gain meaningful employment that paid the bills and left a bit over for discretionary spending. Rather than life to get ever harder, despite notational economic growth. For a return to community values, for courtesy and respect for all. For local businesses to have a level playing field with giant corporations.

I have always supported anti-establishment causes for all these reasons. Yet instead of a clamour for reform, for support for those who have consistently argued for reform and tested the solutions for decades, popular support has grown instead for the single issue Brexit party, who focus on immigration and the EU as scapegoats for the UKs problems rather than the UK governments. Worst than that rise of the Brexit party does have very worrying parallels with the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

The generally accepted history of the 1930s is that the global financial elites had messed up, causing recessions across the Western world and declines in living standards. People looked for solutions, and in Germany, so arose two extreme solutions, the Communists and the Nazis. These extremists fought each other on the streets, but over time it was the Nazis that rose to power in Germany with devastating consequences. The Communists, laid the blame correctly in my view at capital, but were too extreme in suggesting that all capital is wrong. The Nazis were far worse, instead laying the blame at minorities, the Jewish people, Homosexuals, Romanis and so on.

Who are the Brexit elite blaming for everything? Immigrants, Muslims and people who can speak languages other than English. Is it not a worrying parallel to draw?

It’s just very disturbing that when people finally seem to be waking up to the idea that globalised neo-liberal “free market’ capitalism has failed, instead of rallying together to support change, that support has been taken by a group using disturbing nationalist imagery and refuse to argue for their solutions, but ask people to trust them that they have our interests at heart. We live in a world where  that happened before and people were taken to gas chambers.

Those advocating genuine positive change and the radical reform Britain needs are still on the sidelines and the elites are still in control. Brexit is achieving nothing, it only divides people. We need to come together and work on solutions that deliver real benefits.

 

 

 

 

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Brexit and Respecting Democracy

This whole argument coming from the UK government that people in the UK must ‘respect the Brexit decision and democracy’ just annoys me. It completely misunderstands what Brexit is all about.

I saw a video this week of people who support Brexit being interviewed. i was Particularly interested when they were asked why they were supporting Brexit. Their view was that their community was in in decline, shops had closed, wages stagnated, services declining and everything getting more expensive and harder, so to have a meaningful vote on something would be a refreshing bit of democracy, and promote change, to give Brexit, which will solve of the problems in UK society.

The only thing I disagree with them about is Brexit being the answer, there is no logical path from the premises to this conclusion. It looks unlikely that whilst we are remain a country with an outmoded democratic system where the Tories keep getting re-elected on an ever slimmer popular vote. It is Tory governments that have caused the decline of the UK. Leaving the EU won’t alter the decline by itself.

What I passionately agree with these Brexit voters is the need for democracy in the UK and to ‘take back control’. Leaving the Tories negotiate Brexit entirely missed the whole point of Brexit, which was for more democracy.

What I mean by democracy is simply government that represents the people governed. The UK parliamentary system of representative democracy is based on sound principles. Every area of the UK elects a politician to represent them in Westminster, then the elected politicians get on with the job of making decisions to continually improve the functioning of the UK economy and solve problems as they arise. The politicians job is threefold, firstly to listen to a full range of arguments and positions, their constituents, business leaders, trade unions, academics, economists, lawyers, anyone with a view essentially. A Policy is then produced which the politicians scrutinise, debate, amend and eventually vote on, to ensure there is a broad consensus that that policy is the right thing to do. To be a good politician you need to be a good listener and a good decision maker.

The modern politician isn’t selected to have these qualities though. The modern politician is skilled in climbing the ‘greasy pole’ of the competitive career ladder in a major political party. Along the way they acquire the skills of effective electioneering to win power. This means that the is no incentive to develop the skills of arguing for something, listening or rigorously analysing an issue, these are not the valued traits. Instead the modern politician skilfully avoids saying anything noteworthy, for fear of alienating those who may disagree with what may be a good idea. Indeed, any politician who does open their mouths to argue for a cause is shouted down. It is a sad state of affairs, society is rapidly losing debating skills.

I would argue that is is the failure of the political class and the democratic systems that support them that have failed. We now have a political class who are in cahoots with the capital class, drawing ever more wealth in top their hands and away from the productive economy. The problem with modern capitalism is that there is too much capital. But you can’t solve the problem of capital when the political class also have their noses in the capital trough. Capital no longer invests enough in research or innovation and instead increases their share of the pie by rentiering, or making money from their capital, by renting out their land, rather than using it for anything productive.

If you speak to someone ‘in the street’ in the UK, you will often hear the phrases ‘politicians are all the same’, yet few do anything about it. The problem with the UK economy is too much capital because of the political class and the failure of democracy. It is democracy that needs to rediscover its roots and represent the people again. The tragedy of Brexit is that the EU and Brexit became the scapegoat for the UKs troubles rather than the UK government.

The EU has always had a bad press in the UK. Most of the popular newspapers have regularly run stories blaming and often misreporting the EU for many all sorts of things. However wrapped up in Brexit is this truth of Brexit. The EU is a corrupt, centralising, weakly democratic organisation. It would be beneficial to leave it to obtain a genuine representative democracy. To take back control to a more accountable, more local institution. However this isn’t going to happen just because of the Brexit vote, it will take action within the UK for democracy to rise again, though through Brexit may be how that process is ignited.

My argument has always been for devolution, for bottom up decision making. It is why I support independence for Wales and for stronger local government. Simply because it is more representative of a population and there is less chance of corruption due to smaller organisations and because the politicians have to live in our communities, to speak daily with those they represent. Big states or  supra-national organisations need to be accountable to their constituent regions to function well and in accordance with their founding principles, you need to be strong locally before you can help wider society and make any efficiency gains through cooperation.

The counter argument I often hear is ‘Where do you stop, will each village be its own kingdom?’ Of course not, the principle isn’t ever smaller territories, but local accountability and finding the right size population for decision making. Once you reach the optimum size you don’t surpass it!

This reductionism has been very rife in Brexit. Especially so in the big issue of the Brexit debate, immigration. ‘Immigration is bad, we must stop it!, the only way we can do this is Brexit”, the Brexiteers cried, again and again, over endless months. Except immigration is only a proxy for the actual problem. It goes something like this:  ” I don’t mind foreigners/ people of other races, but every time I visit the hospital I rarely see a native British doctor or nurse. There are too many immigrants, we should have more British doctors and nurses” I don’t disagree. The problem isn’t “allowing” overseas people to be doctors or nurses in the UK, the problem is not producing enough doctors and nurses natively in the UK economy. Unfortunately that issue has not been tackled by the political class and it’s been around for decades. What you would need to do is invest more in training and then paying the doctors and nurses at an adequate rate to retain their services in the country. But that involves spending money, putting taxes up and the political class knew that to win that next election they needed to prioritise tax cuts and not spending on doctors and nurses. So we got tax cuts they didn’t give us any more money and more immigrant workers. There is no problem with this system,  in the medium term, until the population suddenly decides it no longer likes immigrant workers, not realising they have facilitated this by voting in the same career politicians, election after election.

Historically, this was kind of how European society functioned for most of human history, albeit without the democracy. The typical person would work a small patch of land to raise enough food for their family and be taxed to give a proportion of what they grew to the local landowner. The local landowner gaining their titles competitively, not all that dissimilar to how the modern politician achieves power! These landowner had at least some spare time and energy to develop new solutions to problems and thus society developed. Many of them were benign and often helped their serfs who hit difficulties

The industrial revolutions changed all that. A new breed of people with capital emerged who built factories in large towns and cities. and drew people from the land to work in these factories on the promise of a better life. It soon transpired that the city life of the newly emerging working classes was worse than when they had worked the land.

Modern capitalism came into being perhaps when it was realised that there is no point having an amazingly efficient mass production if there aren’t enough middle classes to buy the products. So the later 19th and 20th century saw new middle classes and decently payed working populations and the Western economies emerged and fast paced economic growth, where almost everyone’s quality of life improved. The typical wage grew as the overall economy grew, most of the time so everyone was happy. The capitalists were happy as their wealth grew faster than the working man.

After centuries of a system that increased the wealth of the capital class, which laso slowly gave the common man an improving living standard, In the UK all this changed, when Thatcher broke the social contract in the 1980s and particularly so after the financial crash of 2008 when the Tories brought in Austerity, to cut public services to deprive the social and economic life of the UK. Wages stagnated, what economic growth there was has gone entirely to the capitalist wealthy class. Things have got more expensive, and for the typical Briton the quality of life is in decline, something not expected in the 20th century.and against the bulk of human history in Britain. This is perhaps why there is a feeling of a need for change and to bring about that change requires reform of the democratic structures that have failed. There needs to be less capital and more money in the market, to ordinary people to spend on what they need, for liquidity or cash flowing around rapidly from person to person to provide market forces for the technological developments of the future, rather than the fat cats squeezing more out of the system that is shrinking. There needs to be less capital for capitalism to function.

The problem with this is that it sounds like old skool socialism. The barons of our times sneer and jive at the ‘socialist’ and focusing on the narrative of the failures of communist governments in the 20th century. The principle is not socialism, the principle is economic efficiency and getting the balance right. To get the balance right you need democracy so the decision maker has to be good decision maker and make decisions for the benefit of the community.

The other issue is that communities function well when there is a sense of belonging, that you feel that you are a valued member of a society. This inspires confidence and an outward looking attitude. So when you tend to agree with the government that governs your community, this fosters this sense of belonging. Surely in a democracy your views are going to chime with those of the government, because you voted for them, you had a say in the kind of ideas that shape your society.

However we have had a divide and rule Tory governments for all of my adult life. We are now loving with the consequences of that , a non-representative government, one that has failed to listen to people’s concerns with immigration.

When Brexit is discussed in the media you will often hear the phrase ‘The UKs position is…” or “the UK reaction is…”. Having learnt a second language, this looked like sloppy English, when they should be saying “The UK government says…”. However was it ever thus? If you look back to the mid 20th century and UK election history, from election to election you see massive swings between the Tories and the Labour party. When one party won big, it had consensus and support of a majority of the UK population behind them, a genuine mandate to govern. So even if you were in a minority, there was a sense of ‘ok, I’m in the minority on this, but my community has made a decision it’s my duty to go along with it’. This doesn’t happen anymore. The last few UK general elections have been hung parliaments, there is only a small difference in percentage support for both of the traditional big two parties. I remember a world where politicians of either side would try to argue the case for their position to bring across support from the ‘other side’. Times are now that politicians don’t even bother trying to argue, falling voter turnout had led to it being more important to fire up your natural supporters to vote than trying to persuade a new voter by argument. Trump being the epitome of this.

I am perhaps the product of this. I have never felt represented by a UK government. It’s not just being an odd ball outsider though.  I have come to realise. It doesn’t have ot be this way, which is why I’ve always supported Welsh independence. i believe that an independent Welsh government would represent all the people of Wales, democracy can be re-built. The adage of ‘think global, act local’ comes to the fore, by having genuine democracy in Wales, it could then spread to the world.

The thing about belonging , when you find a community that you fit into, that you belong in, gives you a great strength and confidence. So when you are not afraid to encounter new or different things. It is this sense that has been neglected by UK government no longer being representative or leading by consensus. There is a general disconnect felt by the UK population towards the UK government. So as a people the Britons feel less confident, are a bit bothered that their doctor speaks a language they don’t speak, a sense of being alien in your own country. I know what they feels like from when I lived in Southern England and you do yearn for a sense of belonging.

It is possible this is the explanation of what Brexit is, for a return to investing in Britain once again. That Britain is gone, we need to build a new Britain and it is simply not possible to do that without reforming the constitution and democracy itself. We live in a diverse, changed world. We need new solutions to old problems.

There needs to be a raising of awareness of the need to constitutional reform, to increase local accountability away from centralised power structures. For awareness to grow that the cronies of the UK establishment are as bad if not worse than those of the EU. Then better decisions are able to be made by accountable decision makers, not career politicians. We can do all play our part by supporting things like Welsh independence. To get behind good local ideas and not moan about bad decisions made far far away. To not seek scapegoats , by race, religion, nationality or sexuality, but to acknowledge that we need to build things up and not tear other people down. That there are no easy catchphrases to solve our problems, but complicated analysis and rigourous debate to get to the answers we need. We need everyone to work on this building process. Brexit, leave or remain will not achieve this, we just need to create a new way of doing things.

Unionism vs Devolution

 

EU,-UK-and-Wales-flags

Or Centralism vs Separatism

In terms of the political creed these words represent they are ultimately inconsequential. Though in political debate in Wales these concepts loom large. I will argue that fundamentally there is little difference between the two. so what on Earth is the debate about? Yet this week a political shower has been thrown up in the debate about how powers that the EU will longer have responsibility for post-Brexit are devolved to the UK. Notably agriculture and the environment. The issue is that these areas are currently the responsibility of the Welsh government in UK terms, but most of the rules and regulations are currently set at EU level.

Unionism in a Welsh context means supporting or furthering the union of the United Kingdom. Unionism, party politically, is generally the preserve of conservatives and right wing people and tends to favour the British state (the UK). Whereas Devolution is generally the preserve of the left wing people and favours decision making made at a more local level, Wales or it’s regions.

On principle, I am neither a Unionist or a Devolutionist, it’s one of those spectra things I keep talking about. It’s an area I am a good Social Democrat and take a centrist pragmatic position: In a democracy power should reside at the lowest sensible level and then consensual passed up to wider bodies where the benefits of mutual cooperation and economies of scale are manifest. In today’s Wales I am regarded as a Devolutionist as I believe that centralised big government has too much political power.

The thing is, locally accountable decision making is a good thing and so is cooperating more widely. A functional democracy should in theory achieve the optimum balance over where responsibility should lie for decisions on any issue. I can’t get my head around why there seem to be so many people adopting the extreme fundamentalist positions on this, that either Devolution is bad or Unionism is bad, when the answer is neither, they are both good, provided one doesn’t go too far and balance is achieved. If you adopt the extreme position and enforce it then no-one can stop you when you go too far in ideological fundamentalism over practicality.

The case of Welsh agriculture is one of the areas that is  currently being debated. Largely because the UK government have faffed around indecisively so much with Brexit that suddenly decisions have to be made without sufficient time to debate and scrutinise them. If you are European you will be aware of how the EU subsides agricultural production in the EU. There is an awful lot wrong with how it is done, but the systems have been adapted to. Brexit presents an opportunity to improve agriculture in Wales and the rest of the UK, but handled badly could lead to a disaster, especially as the UK haven’t committed to continuing the subsidy system as is until a better system can be put worked out and put in place.

Welsh farming is broadly very different to that of a typical farm in the UK as a whole. Wales mostly consists of clayey uplands, which are generally poor for growing crops, but fantastic for grazing. So Welsh agriculture in the industrial age has adapted to be dominated by Lamb, Beef and Dairy production. In contrast with much of England with flat well drained soils, more suited to growing crops and producing Pork at industrial scales. Hence it seems sensible to have differentiated policies for how these different farming systems are regulated.

On the other hand there are benefits of having common rules and standards for mutual benefit. There is no reason why the UK government can’t produce a system that works for farmers across the UK. However there is no-one with the power to decide whether the benefits of common frameworks outweigh the losses of bespoke systems for Welsh agriculture who also has sufficient understanding of Welsh agriculture. That power should not reside with the centralised authority.

Really, this whole discussion is Brexit in a nutshell. It about this friction between unionism [top down power] and devolution [bottom up power]. The EU makes the decisions about agriculture and they don’t work terribly well for Wales. If it wasn’t for the EU’s ability to cut off Welsh produce from European markets by imposing tariffs, then the case for devolving responsibility to Wales would be fairly clear cut, Brexit or no Brexit.

The EU has spent 40 years centralising and increasing the size of it’s government and failed to identify areas where decision making would be better returned to regions. The people of the UK had zero chance to have a real say on the structure of the EU until Brexit. If you deny people a voice and then then give them a once and only lifetime chance to take power back, it is hardly surprising that people in Wales voted for Brexit. That was the clinching argument for a few of my friends. They wanted to remain in the EU, but felt they had to make use of their only opportunity to say no to what the EU has and is doing. Conversely people like myself are reluctant Remainers because we knew that the Tories were incapable of delivering a sensible Brexit that would improve things. It wasn’t really a question about membership of the EU at all! So whenever anyone asks that I should ‘accept this Tory Brexit’ I say ‘no’. It is impossible to discern what a majority decision of the people of the UK would be, what we collectively want, from a simple yes/no vote to two possibilities of which the majority wanted neither. What it did perhaps suggest was that the British wanted more devolution of decision making, or more democracy, so that the relations between Wales, the UK and the EU can come to  work better, yet that clearly isn’t what it going to happen from the Brexit process.

It’s almost the same sort of relationship between identities, or geo-political identities. My prime identity is Welsh, secondly it is British and thirdly it is European. Any other way of expressing my identity makes no sense to me. What this means is that my primary interest is seeking the economy of Wales to improve, I would also like the whole of Britain to improve too ( a little bit less and as long as it isn’t at Wales’ expense) and thus I’d like Europe to improve too for everyone benefits( again a little bit less and as long as it isn’t at Wales’ and Britain’s expense). So, decisions about Welsh agriculture should be made by the Welsh government. Where common frameworks can improve things across the UK, great, I would expect the Senedd to sign up to any such common frameworks and at a European level too, provided that there is a net benefit.

What I don’t get is what I perceive as the  Brixiteer or British Unionist position of UK first, then Wales then Europe. This only works if you are a member of the British establishment and you want the British establishment to exceed at the cost of the British nation, which seems to be what the Tories want. People outside of the establishment, why pick the middle one as the primary one? Any other combination makes little sense, such as European first, then Welsh then British. It’s not just a Welsh thing, I have friends who have Yorkshire or Norfolk as their prime identity.

The question of who should make decisions about agriculture, the Welsh government or the UK government, should be established democratically, to get the balance between centralisation and establishing  beneficial common frameworks and devolution and delivering bespoke local solutions right. Yet this isn’t how this debate is working, though this is how it should. What seems to be occurring is this facile debate between British unionism and Welsh devolutionists, when we don’t actually disagree about any actual issues, just where the decisions about them should be made, locally or at the top level. We have a centralised big state favouring Tory party and a centralising big state Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party, when Britain is imbalanced too much in favour of big state centralisers and has been for a long time. And we’ve just had a Brexit debate where devolution won over centralising decision on decisions making at UK or EU level. To follow Unionist arguments to there logical conclusions the UK would be signing up the the Eurozone, Schengen and every centralising initiative as The EU also has a U in it. It’s bonkers, yet people, such as myself arguing for Welsh independence get labelled as separatists, when that isn’t true at all.

I’m British, I have nothing against the union of the UK and I love Britain, it’s my home too which is why I care about it. I know of the benefits of having common sets of rules to facilitate trade and other things, I’m an internationalist who would love there to be no borders anywhere in the world. Simply, there are lots of challenges to face in things like Welsh agriculture in a world of climate change and a global shortage of agricultural land and we need to make the best decisions we can about that, which means listening to what Welsh farmers need, establish where, if at all, divergence in regulations is important, and I don’t trust Westminster as an institution capable of getting these things right.

That is ultimately what the whole Unionism / Devolution debate is about, It’s perhaps not about where best to make decisions, but who do you trust? I don’t trust Westminster or the EU. I don’t trust most of the the politicians in Cardiff Bay either. However the politicians in Cardiff are mostly people who live in Wales with a vested interest in making Wales better, because they actually live here in our communities, they visit the places we visit, some of them know what it’s like to live (or at least spoken with those that do) on an upland farm, so I trust them more. The argument against taking control back, seems to be that Westminster doesn’t trust the Senedd, that perhaps because they label the Welsh as separatists, they think that Wales might make decisions to diverge from sensible practise, purely for the hell of it to ‘spite the English’ or some reason, when it would make Wales suffer economically, which is just daft, perhaps they think this because they don’t live here and are thus basing decisions on a prejudice. It shouldn’t be about who you trust less, it should be about democracy and enabling a sensible assessment of where pooling rules works and where it doesn’t, when to join the union or the club and when to go it alone.

 

 

What do they know of England? Only England knows

I read an interesting article in today’s Irish Times. My summary of the article is that is that Brexit has intensified speculation on what it is to be British or rather English. Indeed the Brexit debate has ostracised the different elements that make up British Society; that in England there is a recent re-awakening of exploring what it is to be a nation, which has long been silent in England. The article makes a point of hardly mentioning Wales, because Wales would make things too complicated and detract from the thrust of the article

I’m also in the middle of reading Gwyn Williams’ ‘When Was Wales?’ This book also explores the concept of nation. It seems that it is quite possible to argue that Wales, England, Scotland and indeed Britain have never really been nations in the modern sense. The concept of Britain was perhaps formed from the union with Scotland and the beginnings of the age of the British empire. Hence Britain has never been a true nation, it hasn’t had the opportunity to gain a sense of itself as it has long been the seat of empire, a global superpower which has been the primary influence on how the state of the UK has operated. Arguably the UK has only been a nation from the early 1950s up to the early 1980s, a scant 30 year generation, a nation formed glowing in the unity brought about by winning a just war, the collapse of empire and an era of discovery of who the Britons were themselves. a fortunate era of  rapid economic growth and living standards from the 50s to the end of the 60s. In the 80s there seemed to be a halt to this process of nation forming.

I left Wales when I was eighteen to go and live in England. Admittedly I ended up surrounding myself with a mainly liberal bunch. what perturbed me was that none of them identified as English and saw any identification with a nation as being a rather divisive thing to do. I found this odd because I am Welsh, I couldn’t get my head around what exactly was supposed to be wrong with being Welsh? For to be Welsh was to believe that the Welsh are anyone’s equals and to be interested in exploring other cultures. In contrast to the the sense of Britishness, formed of the empire, which seemed to regard itself as superior to anyone else. That I could understand as being a nationalism akin to Nazi Germany and something to be opposed to.

I also noticed this when what was the  Fiive nations or international football came up. I support Wales and whoever plays against England, which is a very internationalist thing to do, where everyone can be a friend. This wasn’t understood by my English friends, they saw this as somehow being anti-English and even anti-British. From my perspective England were our local rivals, so I of course support the other team, in exactly the same way as I support anyone who plays against Manchester United as a Manchester City fan.

However having spent time in England I have understood that there is a different attitude in England. Where England  is perceived as the principal representative of the UK, so Welsh folk should support the England team as such, for Wales is but a parochial regional team. Perhaps there is a wider sense that England sees itself as the most important player in the UK, whilst in Wales, we see the UK as a partnership of equals, though we are aware that often this isn’t reciprocated. Yet in any case, there was no sense of an England, England is perhaps only a collection of various regional identities that share a British identity, but little sense of what it is to be English itself.

If you look at footage from England football matches from around twenty years ago, the England supporters wave the Union Jack and not the St George Cross. it seems the supporters were supporting Britian rather than England.  Things have changed, at England games, even the England cricket team, you will see St George Crosses everywhere and only rarely spot a Union Jack. It does seem that Englishness is quite a new thing and you meet more people that identify as Englsh these days.

My perspective on these questions is interesting. I am a child of Thatcher, of a prevailing political culture that proclaimed that ‘there was no such thing as society’, culture and communities are not important, to abandon your family and community to seek work, that identity is not something of any value and is a hindrance to economic growth. So Brexit was interesting as the majority of people younger than myself, with no direct knowledge of life under Thatcher were against Brexit, yet the majority of people older than me of whom many remember life before Thatcher were for Brexit. It makes me feel very middle aged! Perhaps it is only the appeal of Brexit to the ‘English’ in that it seems to offer the opportunity for England to become a true nation, to return to identity and culture being valued, whereas in Wales, perhaps especially in regard to the Welsh language, we kind of have known for a long time that such things have value in themselves. Yet Brexit has occurred at a point of flux, during a period where a sense of English identity is still a relatively new concept. We witness the rage of the far-right English ‘nationalist’ movements spurred by hate of others, yet there is much less sign of a considered mature English nationalism.

But what is England? What separates England from Britain? This remains a difficult question to answer, for many never used to not see any difference and why the question of an English identity is problematic. It’s less of an issue from a Welsh perspective, it is easier to pin down things that are Welsh and which are British and where they overlap. Yet as a Welshman I have a dual perspective on England and Britain. To me England is the mixture of peoples and regional identities all the way up to Scotland, whilst Britain is both the shared culture of the people living across the island of Great Britain as a separate thing to the British establishment.

Ireland occupies a special relationship with Wales. I have always viewed Ireland as being our neighbours across the sea and Ireland is no more foreign than England to me. I only feel slightly foreign in uireland in the same way as I do in England. The idea of no longer being able to arrive in Ireland after Brexit without needing to show a passport just seems incredibly odd.

Having grown up under the shadow of Thatcherism, I do not share the sense of belonging to a British state and the British establishment that my parents and grandparents had that was forged in the post world war period and belittled by Thatcherite policies. Yet I feel a belonging to Wales and a sense of being a Briton. My generation is perhaps the last to have any sense of what it is to feel a belonging to the British state, it’s a force I have seen weakened as I have progressed through life.  Those younger than myself surely have very little sense of a shared belonging with the British state, it may be seen to be a relic of history and hence the notion of taking back control from the EU seems baffling. The inept directionless nature of the process of the UK leaving the EU seems but a bizarre sideshow to the the fundamentals of whatever Brexit is; and whatever it is isn’t what the majority of people who voted for Brexit voted for.

I don’t get why the calls for Welsh independence are not being more widely being taken up. Wales as a partner in the global British Empire and sharing in the  benefits and advances that come with being a part of it, I can kind of get my head around. Yet continued membership of the UK now doesn’t offer anything apart from continued neglect and sheep jokes. A neglect that will likely intensify as England struggles to come to terms with itself and which has no money or resources to invest for the future anymore in any case, that Britian is in decline is palpable every day.  The resources Britain took from Wales have not been repaid. Surely, now is the time for Wales to ‘take back control’ to find it’s own way to develop in the twenty first century. Looking across the water to Ireland we see an independent state that has done fairly well free from the shackles of the British establishment, whilst Wales remains as the poor disregarded relation of the powerful in England.

Yet the fact that ‘Wales voted for Brexit’ does suggest that there is an appetite for change, to no longer accept decline. Wales is very different to Britian as a whole and has a very different set of problems. However neither the EU nor the Britain state offers Wales the chance to develop. It is surely time for independence.

 

The Few – Billy Bragg

Bubble Popping

Remembering being a child blowing bubbles and then chasing them around popping them is not the subject of this missive. Rather I wish to consider the bubbles I live in. These days we live in social bubbles based on where we live, work and socialise. Increasingly it seems that we live more in bubbles of people who think like we do than generations past. A consequence of this bubble living is that we understand less people who are not like us and due to this we seem to be living in a society that doesn’t consider what life is like for people who are different from ourselves. We don’t consider enough people’s backgrounds or how we are different. There seems to be a tendency for this to be exposed when families who live apart gather for Christmas, suddenly we are living with people who live in different bubbles and these bubbles can burst creating arguments.

As children we make a start in life thinking that other people think broadly the same way as we do. We learn to empathise by putting ourselves in others shoes. For example when someoen says that they are hungry, we understand because we know what hunger feels like ourselves. Yet somehow as adults we do this less, perhaps because we think we know enough not to have to do this thinking as often.

So how am I different and what insights have I gained over the past year and what has happened to me this year and to the society I live in.

I am different because I have suffered from anxiety. Living with anxiety led me to analyse my social interactions very deeply, too deeply. Overcoming anxiety was partly a process of letting go, of stopping analysis, of allowing a first impression to be generally correct.

I am also a scientist, which means I have lots of experience dealing with data sets in the attempt to answer questions, to remove sources of bias as much as possible. To be exhaustive in testing data and being cautious about any conclusions reached.

Really it is perhaps safe to assume that most people do not analyse things in such great detail. Indeed, i am often surprised by how little other people seem to analyse issues to what i feel is a decently robust level. So, what has happened this year?

Work

I have not been working in science this year sadly. Instead I have been working in the supposed ‘real world’ in an office working with the largest, but least robust or reliable data sets I have ever had to. I am managed so that i am not given the time to do any rigorous analysis and have to resort to processing data in a a rough and ready way withing very short time-frames. In terms of efficiency of the business, this makes sense as the broad results will generally be improve the business situation and in any case where the results are wrong, a major reason can often be reasonably assumed and the suggestions modified; rather than spending a lot of time getting things robustly right in the first place. Often rigour or deeper analysis is seen as a luxury if there is ever tiem for it. I have found it a challenging way to work, yet it is one that I have found to be shared by sciencey friends who work on the real world; speed is more important than accuracy. Working this way does make me a little uncomfortable at times and I do crave a return to science and ‘doing things properly’. Perhaps this is how most of the world works and how decisions are made, we thus live in a world which makes avoidable mistakes.

Cymraeg /Welsh

I am still learning Welsh, but can speak Welsh now and have become a part of the culture of the Welsh language. I am now exposed a lot more to opinions about the Welsh language from people with no knowledge of Welsh at all. For example complaints about bi-lingual signs. Bi-lingual signs are provided in two languages because there are two main language communities in Wales. If you don’t know anything about the Welsh language, then what exactly is the basis for an opinion on Welsh signage? When I hear the near constant criticism of the Welsh language, which you really notice when you are a Welsh speaker, it does feel like an attack. Yet, i don’t believe it’s an attack it’s perhaps simply a disregard for people with different needs. such ‘attacks’ happen to every grouping who is different from any individual. What i don’t get is why any individual would regard communities they are members of as being ‘normal’ and only these ‘normal’ causes are worthy of attention.

Brexit

Which brings me to Brexit again. The debate about Brexit should be about analysing likely impacts of Brexit on democracy in the UK and likely changes to the economy. Yet during the Brexit vote debate and ever since, this exploration of the costs and benefits of the two options barely gets a mention. Instead Brexit has exacerbated the tensions between people of the right and people of the left and been about which side you are on.

Brexit seems to be a division between those who desire a British mono-culture, similar to that which existed in the post second world war period and those that don’t. So, being of a range of identities and perhaps as a liberal “intellectual” I have to be on the Remain side, despite all my criticisms of the EU. There is no wiggle room for people to ‘switch sides’ even when we never desired to be on one side or the other.

British is one of my identities, yet the Brexiteers position seems to be attacking my British identity, which sees Britain as a union of diverse identities. I am Welsh, it is impossible for me to envisage Britain as a mono-culture, it hasn’t ever been and never will be. The terms of the debate now have entrenched the UK population into this division and the opinion polls suggest that eighteen months on from Brexit are still 50:50 and will probably remain so.

I fear this focus on this irreconcilable division at the expense of working out what is the best way forward isn’t helpful at all. If only someone could find a solution that everyone can unify behind, but it seems the likelihood of that happening is infinitely small.

Popping Bubbles

What I really find difficult to deal with, especially with the Brexiteers, is this adopting a position that doesn’t hold up to any serious analysis even when data breaks those positions. There is merit in not analysing everything to death, to adopt a position that works okay for now, but there should always be a readiness to accept that it is inaccurate and develop a new position. This maxim applies in science and social life and especially politics where we live in an ever changing world. It allows us to be independently thinking individuals and not suffer in a herd mentality of one size fits all.

The whole Blue Passports issue came up over Christmas. If people want the UK passport to be blue, fair enough. I’m not bothered about its colour, really I’d like a Welsh passport. However, when it is pointed out that 1, The UK passport was never blue, my parents had the old style ones and I looked at them at Christmas, one is black, the other is a very dark blue and not navy blue at all and 2, The EU did not prevent the UK government changing passport colour if it really wanted to anyway. Yet despite these two facts, people still try and maintain that blue passports is an important issue, in spite of the facts.

As I see it, life is about deciding when to engage with deeper analysis and when to just move forward with a quickly framed rough and ready position that is good enough for now, enabling us to live in the moment. As an anxious person, I needed to learn how to do the latter. However for the new year, I really believe that we need to consider other people more and that means accepting that our first answer may need some testing and analysis of data from beyond our cozy bubbles. Next year lets keep running around popping bubbles, be open to new ideas and consider other people.

I’m not racist but…

It can often seem very difficult to understand what Brexit is. Yet essentially to understand it requires the busting of a number of myths about Brexit.

Brexit has never been about a rational weighing up of the clearly identifiable negatives of EU membership to the UK economy against the benefits of membership. Neither is it simply a rejection of centralisation and diminished democracy, for that should have happened at the UK level a long time ago.

Politically, Brexit was bought about by the ‘Brexiteers’, the leadership of UKIP and many in the Tory party. The Brexiteers aim was to further the cause of laissez-faire capitalism, to free capital to make more money for itself to the benefit of those already with lots of capital. This can be viewed as simply the self-interest of those with capital, the leadership of UKIP and much of the Tory party.

Capital, or wealth is only one part of an economy. Capital with too much power diminishes an economy, capital alone does not make good decisions, it needs help. A free market is not one where capital calls all the shots. A true free market is where producers and consumers interact to produce a fair price for goods and services and what those goods and services are.

The aim of the Brexiteers has been to use their influence and control of the UK media to further their cause, to pass the blame for the decline of the living standards at the EU’s door, rather than the fault of laissez-faire capitalism itself. After all these neo-liberals have gained positions of power in the UK and have learnt how to manipulate the UK electorate.

The vast majority of the people who voted for Brexit, 52% of the UK electorate are not the people with large amounts of capital, who are greedy for more power and influence. The vast majority voted for entirely different reasons I believe. What most people want in life is perhaps essentially stability and the opportunity to improve things. This stability, or basis for growth consists of three essential things: Cultural stability, Economic stability and Community support. People in the UK are concerned about the decline of these things and the Brexiteers offered them hope for change, whilst the ‘Liberal Establishment’ mistook the issue of immigration being raised again and again ad nauseum to be closet racism, which it did indeed feed upon. The concern about immigration was not about race at all, but rather the issue of immigration was a proxy for the three fears:

Cultural Stability

People within a culture, naturally want to preserve their culture for the good things it provides. A culture can absorb new arrivals and over time the new members will be assimilated into the culture, or their children will. This is eased where there is a willingness to learn about and take part in the culture. However when the levels of immigration are high, the incomers can swamp the existing culture to the extent that it is possible to live in a different culture if those immigrants all come form a different culture. There are then fewer places for the existing culture to exist and the incoming culture can come to dominate. If you are a member of the native culture, you can feel to be an alien in your own home, you lose the ability to predict how your local society will react to events, you lose the cultural stability of your own culture.

This issue is well known about in Wales; there has been the decline of the Welsh language and it’s culture. I also experienced this growing up. My area of Mid Wales had increasing number of retired people moving in from outside Wales. It only became a problem when services and employment for young people declined, forcing the young to leave. This meant that Mid Wales now has the lowest economic productivity of all of Britain, largely because the population now has a very heavy post working age population and few young people to look after them and the loss of the local culture.

The centralised UK economic model has caused the young to move to seek work. The flexibility of the young displaces older people from their work and even their local area.

Economic Stability

People want to secure enough income to be financially secure, to be able to support their family and wider community. To have enough disposable income to be able to participate in the economy, to support worthwhile enterprises in their area, rather than scrape an existence using short-term solutions to make it to the next pay cheque. People also want there to be training and employment available locally for their children to become economically active and hence support them in their old age.

Young adults and immigrants moving to an area, are more flexible and able to tolerate the inconveniences of living in the most inconvenient part of an area. The young and immigrants are more able to take on job opportunities that the established population cannot as readily. The establishment population have cultural commitments and investments that restrict there ability to move and work longer hours. If the local economy is not growing, which is now the case across Britain, then emigration from your home becomes an option, giving you the chance to be the more flexible to out-compete a resident population somewhere else. It presents a tough choice between economic stability and cultural stability.

A lot of the fear of immigration is that the only major growth area of the UK is around London. So the jobs go to the young and other immigrants who are prepared to put up with the huge inconveniences of living in London [having to travel to do anything] and loss of the support of the home culture, rather than come to where there is ample Labour awaiting work, such as the Valleys communities in South Wales.

Community Support

The great thing about communities is that they have enabled humanity to move beyond subsistence farming, to pool skills and resources to create modern societies. In a declining economy people are concerned that there will not be a hospital bed for them if they become ill, that there will not be a good school place for their child. That should some disaster hit their family then the community will not be able rally around to help them overcome it as they are overburdened by struggle themselves.

Then there are immigrants, that they will place additional demand on social services. The Liberal economist will say that this doesn’t matter because as the population grows, there is  proportionally more money for services and service levels can be maintained. However, this academic economist is talking about an ideal theoretical world. The current reality in Britain is that Social services, such as Schools and Hospital receive a lower and lower proportion of the nations money pot anyway. So, incomers will indeed put additional strain on services. Incomers also tend to require more from Social services as they haven’t built up the social capital of community support or cultural investment.

Racism

I don’t believe a lot of the racism that exists in the UK is not purely racist. Racism is prejudice towards people of a certain race. There is also prejudice towards people of different religion, hair colour, cultural background, religion, height and so on. People are people and to be prejudiced against someone for their race makes no sense, for what does it matter what colour a persons skin is.

A lot of racism is by proxy. People will see a decline in their cultural stability, economic stability or community support and when immigration levels are too high to their area this is noticed. Instead of laying the blame at the political for not investing to equalise opportunity everywhere, they will blame the immigrants. So when those immigrants happen to all be a particular race, that label sticks and over time does develop into genuine racism.

In the UK, immigrants tended to live in the poorest connected areas of cities, the most inconvenient places to live. Areas where the native population wished to leave if they could. So over time these areas became culturally dominated by certain groups, often becoming the dominant culture. It is absurd to expect a dominant culture to integrate to a minority culture without strong motivations for doing so. This was so much of twentieth century urban problems in Twentieth Century Britain. By that point racism from the native population already exists, which acts to pull the discrimated against communities together, reducing the strength of motivation to explore the native culture, which is now a journey away anyway.

But…

It doesn’t have to be like this. The Brexiteers can be stopped. We can start valuing our own cultures again, we can provide economic security to all and use that to encourage real economic growth. We can ensure our communities are supportive of all their members again, rather than a privileged few. The answer is the slogan the Brexiteers used under false pretences; Take Back Control. What we need is decisions made by the people for the people. Not to produce some socialist utopia, but to ensure that there is balance in all things, between Capital and Labour, so capital can be used to invest in things we all need, rather than used to make the majority poorer. Create balance between Public Services and Free Enterprise to maximise the economic efficiency of our communities. To ensure that every region can survive and thrive, because it has strong support networks, freeing peoples time and energy to pursue innovation and economic growth. To not allow things to become inefficient through centralisation of control . To spread wealth around, so everyone can use a small bit of the capital generated to support their own families and  communities. To do this we need democracy and decision makers to be truly accountable to their communities, rather than an elite few. We need power to reside in communities, within areas like Wales, so we can grow and make our lives more secure year on year, to not allow any individual politician to cut themselves off from those communities, that is why we need independence in Wales and indeed we should apply the same principles everywhere. We should shift from laying the blame on people who are in some way different to us to those who made the decisions that caused our loss of culture, economic stability or community support and thus regain our freedom.

 

A British Brexit?

One of the traits that the ‘British’ claim is the ability to wing their way through problems, rather than plan things through, to end up pretty much as things started without much in the way of change. We seem have seen this today with the British government’s further winging of Brexit. I argued on here earlier that what the British wanted from Brexit was simply a loosening of the relationship with the EU, to remain effectively in the EEA Single Market and the Customs Union, but instead of planning this from the outset they seem to have ended up there through a convoluted winging it process through strategy rather than design. So who are the British and what after all is Brexit?

It could all have been plotted in the quiet confines of a Mayfair gentlemen’s club. It was clear from the outset of Brexit that the issue of Northern Ireland and it’s border with the Republic of Ireland and hence the EU presented a myriad of issues for Brexit. So the British governments solution was to say that a solution could be Northern Ireland remaining in the Customs Union, obeying EU rules and regulations whilst outside of the EU. Of course the hard line Unionists of the DUP would cry foul, the Welsh and Scottish governments would demand the same deal as Northern Ireland, everyone would declare an impasse and then the British government plays it’s masterstroke “Okay, let all of the UK remain in the Customs Union and effectively in the Single Market too, problem solved, we’ve resolved Brexit and made our political opponents look even dafter than we made ourselves look, even though they were being sensible at the time, aren’t we so very clever?” It’s almost like a cunning Jeeves solution to a crisis from the ‘Jeeves & Wooster’ stories of P.G.Wodehouse.

So how exactly is this especially a ‘British’ Brexit Solution’? Well, you have to understand what British means in this context. The notion of Britishness is one that even people who like me who have lived all their life on Great Britain often struggle with. Indeed it is a label few are comfortable with, let alone agreeing upon what it means. These days, most inhabitants of Great Britain are Welsh, Cornish, Scots and so on. Only a minority of Britons define themselves as ‘British’ as their primary identity. There are two different versions of Brutishness which sit uncomfortably in this one word, British. Indeed, I pity the foreigner who comes to Britain trying to find an easy word to use to describe the people of this island without offending any Britons. It is a tough challenge, to me the only really safe phrase is ‘the people of the U.K.’, which trips off the tongue delightfully does it not?

A lot of people forget that ‘Great Britain’ is simply the name of the island, the largest island of the British Isles archipelago. When the Romans left in the 3rd century, Great Britain was left to the Britons, the people of the Brythonic Celtic tribes, except for what is now Northern Scotland where the Picts lived, the Picts may have been Celts too, though not enough is known about their history to be certain.

A few centuries later, the Saxon tribes started arriving and settling in Britain, displacing the local Chieftains and assuming positions of political power, replacing the  Brythonic language (which split into Welsh, Cornish , Breton and Cumbric) with the Saxon tongue dominating in what is now England becoming  Old English and later Modern English, after some Viking influence. It is often forgotten that the legendary King Arthur of the Britons, was battling against the invasions of the Saxons. After all this the Britons were left in control of Wales, Cornwall and Scotland, which were ultimately too much effort to conquer completely, as the English crown could easily control the local Vassal Princes when required.

Then by the end of the Middle Ages, the English monarch ruled over all of Great Britain , having effectively annexed Wales and Scotland by political means. Everyone in Britain was ‘British’ again, kind of having rebooted the term back to it’s original meaning of the people of the island of Great Britain.

This British King then sought to increase in wealth and power though conquest and after another few hundred years was the British Empire formed. Again the meaning of ‘British’ changed to mean to ‘Ruling Classes of the British Empire’, the Britons didn’t really notice as it wasn’t really a big issue at the time.

The advent of the two European parts of the World Wars of the last century, dragged the British Empire to it’s knees. The Empire called upon the Britons and indeed the Empire to fight in the war on the promise of bringing Britain together as a nation, where no-one would be left behind, ‘Homes for Heroes’ , the NHS and suchlike. It worked, the Britons fought and died in those wars and afterwards, as a united nation, enjoyed the fastest economic growth they had ever seen and a sense of being a modern national family.

More recently, this sense of the British as the Britons has faded once again, as the Ruling Class / Tory governments have not cared about dividing the Britons in there fervour for capital and international influence for themselves. Ironically the Unionist politicians have done more to break the Union of the UK than anyone else with their neglect of the regions outside the direct influence of London. Britain is now a very divided nation again. The hardcore Brexiteers seem to have hoped that somehow by magic to restore the unity of Britain, when only a tiny minority sought this ‘Hard Brexit’ with a divisive Brexit referendum.

Or perhaps the British ruling class triumph again by being perceived to have played a blinder and won Brexit. The Brexiteers may squeal, but I suspect the Brexieers only really care about power and influence and to be on the winning side and will quietly return to the back room grumbling that is their true love. This is the thing I despise about the Tories, as long as their star stays in the ascendant, they care not a jot about the fate of the Britons or the economy under their rule. As long as you are rich enough to offshore capital, you can keep your family and friends safe from a declining economy and nation state.

I could be completely wrong of course. It is impossible to predict events, but it does seem a very British [read English Ruling Class] way around of solving this Brexit to produce perhaps the ‘Golden Brexit’ [Probably been coined before , every other adjective has been used to prefix ‘Brexit’ at some point.]