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.

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The bitter aftertaste of the Olympics

I really enjoyed the Olympics, I focussed on watching the amazing sport on offer and basked in the warm glow of the success of fellow Britons. However the circumstances of this success has left a bitter aftertaste as what happened wasn’t somehow really British.

TeamGB achieved success by being well-funded and organised, allowing teams of athletes to focus on analysis and incremental improvements in performance. This is great but, hang on, ‘organised’?, well-funded’?? is simply not how the British do things old boy. This support of elite sport is in the context of drastic cuts in grass roots sport, funding cut for municipal sport facilities, slashing in funding for sport in schools, selling over of playing fields for awful developments. I think most people would rather have great facilities than watching some athletes achieve success on the other side of the world. Also, it just feels like we cheated by funding athletes better than other countries.

The funding for TeamGB comes from the National Lottery. The National Lottery is essentially a tax on the poor. It provides hope of a big windfall so people can afford a house and escape poverty, but half of the money paid in goes to ‘good causes’ such as supporting elite sport. Something similar happened when The UK hosted the games in 2012, public funding in deprived areas was cut, to release money to develop facilities in London, which is the wealthiest part of the UK. This happened in Brasil too, a poor country, lumbered with paying for the games for a poor return on facilities for the city of Rio, and they couldn’t even make cheap tickets available for the locals, leading to empty stadia, much better to take the money of a few rich tourists.

Don’t get me wrong, funding of elite sportspeople isn’t wrong, they can be an inspiration for participation in sport generally and dedication to the following of dreams. However when it is the only thing that the UK does really well, it leaves a bitter aftertaste.

Then there was the media coverage, some of  which was horribly nationalistic. I watched the coverage of events on the extra channels provided by the BBC, however the main BBC1 coverage, seemed to obsess over the UK athletes, to the detriment of a comprehensive coverage of the games, also simply not British, we’re supposed to apologise for success. I do expect some focus on the home athletes, but it was a bit much. Then there was the repeated coverage of the ‘Medal Table’ documenting, which countries have the most medals. Yes, it’s nice to see that TeamGB managed to finish with the second highest medal tally, historic even. However the medal table for me is rather nationalistic for what should be a friendly games. I grew up with the medal table being a battle between the two evil giants of  the USA and CCCP. Years of drugs scandals, led the establishment of the idea that medal table success was not a proxy for a nations success, but a representation of a sinister side of nationalism. Jade Jones, the Welsh gold medallist in the Taekwondo, was rapped, for breaking protocol and running with the Welsh flag and the Union Jack, when the rule was only to carry the Union flag (which still doesn’t represent Wales). How easily the cosy togetherness of Britain can break down. I know there is no law for the official flag, but in the stadiums there seemed a lot of UK flags with a light blue background, not the proper dark blue of the Saltire. Well OK, we’re British, we’re just not very good at being united in anything.

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Really, the Union flag hasn’t changed in two hundred years. Isn’t it about time Wales was represented properly. Adding the yellow  cross of St David to the flag can be so simple and as you can see, doesn’t have to really change the aesthetic of the flag. There is nothing stopping anyway making this flag and using it to represent the UK.

I think the issue is that Olympics is not representing the best of humanity, not simply being a vehicle for demonstrating what wonderful things human bodies are capable of. Instead, it represents what you can do with power and money taken away from ordinary people and this is just very very sad.

 

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London is Ugly and Annoying, Wales is Barren and Beautiful

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Ugly London, but some cool theatres

London is an amazing wonderful city, however, it is annoying and inefficient for people who live in the rest of the UK. I lived in London for four years, both loving and hating it at different times, it’s a great place to visit,, but generally rubbish and expensive (and increasingly so) to live in it and I shall tell you why.

London has an amazing amount of wonderful theatre and music. There is an abundance of hugely talented artists, performing in London, giving audiences access to great wonders, so much so that there is almost too much choice, It’s what makes living in London worthwhile.

Take last night for example. I had planned to move my stuff back to Wales, but the van hire company messed up and didn’t have a van for me when I turned to collect the van yesterday morning, so an unexpected free day to fill. So, I decided to see what was on in London last night and I found another gem.

I love live theatre and I love opera. A company ‘Opera Up Close‘, puts on slimmed down operas in intimate theatre venues, with the result that you get opera and proper theatre [ It’s not a new idea, as Mid-Wales Opera often do this sort of thing, but I’m not usually so close to the stage]. By proper theatre I mean proper stage acting, where you can clearly see every expression of the performers body, every facial expression and the glory of neck pulsations for the vibrato, the cast were involved in the plot, everyone on stage interacting and reacting to the unfolding drama. This acting is coupled with operatic singing in true ‘surround sound’. By surround sound i mean rather than seeming to come from a fixed point. When I go to big flamboyant operas, I’m usually in the cheap seats, far away from the stage, it’s still wondrous though! It really was having two of my favourite things blended together and accompanied by a talented 4 piece chamber orchestra.On balance a couple of the cast weren’t great theatre actors, and behaved as if they were in a typical opera on a bigger less intimate stage, but if it had been perfect I might well have just died of joy! The show was Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, performed at the Soho theatre, which is incidentally a really nice friendly venue.

Yet, London is really irritating. Here was a great show, with a strong cast on a Saturday night in a small venue and it was only two thirds full, although running for a month, which is quite a long run (well for non-musicals anyway!). Annoying because If this show was put on in a theatre in Wales  the audience would have been much bigger, thus it could have reached a bigger audience. In Wales everyone interested in this sort of thing would have gone to see it, rather than a portion of the London audience, which has this vast choice of other things to attend. This begs the question, Why don’t musicians and theatre companies tour the UK away from London a lot more than they do?

The answer is simple, cost. A touring company has to pay to provide accommodation for all the performers and stage management, which is really expensive, not counting the time required to travel. So ,what happens is that people in Wales (like me when i live in Wales), save up and travel down to London to see the shows, and pay for a nights accommodation in London, I usually slum it in a hostel as the only way of making the trip affordable. So the audience travel to the venue, rather than the venue come to the audience. Maybe this is a fair way of doing things, but London keeps getting more expensive. I suppose shows such as the one I went to last night can tour, because there are fewer people and less set, so if the company read this, come to Wales and beyond!

The other question is why don’t places like Wales produce more ‘home grown’ music and theatre? Well in Wales, I would suggest there is a higher proportion of people involved in local amateur productions, people enjoy art by being participants, rather than observers, in many ways this is superior.

The other issue is that young people who seek careers in the arts move away to London to hone their craft, because it is a centre for arts minded people. Artists are readily available for performance as they live a tube rides away, no need for companies to provide accommodation.

It’s not just the arts that are London-centric. It’s the British media too, the government and the economy. It’s just really inefficient having everything in the same place ion one giant world city, making that place a really rubbish place to live. Now I’m moving,  back to Wales i will really miss the chance to pop into London on the spur of the moment to catch something brilliant. I won’t miss, the faff, the smell, the crowds and the expense of it all. I know where I’d rather be! I will soon be, so I’ll probably stop ranting about how great Wales is.

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Near where I grew up, my idea of Home.