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.