I’ve just written a piece about British Identity and am thinking that threatened identities is a large part of the appeal of Brexit.
I’m reminded of a few years ago when I was living in Southern England and was very unhappy. I listened to the Welsh song ‘We’ll keep a Welcome‘ which brought me to tears and made me realise I needed to go home. It is a very powerful song that resonates closely with Welshness. Wales is a small country and there is a srtrong cultural idea that many people need to leave for work or to develop a career, with the understanding that as Welshmen or Welshwomen that they can always come home and there is a hope that they do.
As Welshfolk and perhaps as do people of other communities all around the world we feel that our home may be a shithole, but it is our home. So when things go badly, working with others isn’t really working and you need to go back and re-build or start again there is a hiraeth for home.
This longing for home is very similar to a longing for a time when things were better or stabler. The whole of the UK economy kind of feels like that. You only have to walk down the road outside your house to see the potholes in the road that used to be repaired, or the homeless people on the street who used to be looked after and helped back onto their feet. So there is perhaps a collective desire to return to how things once were, when things seemed as though they were fine and getting better. From a Welsh perspective it seems that the unions we are a member of are not working for us and that applies to both the EU and the UK.
Hence Brexit, the feeling and the desire for a thing that is akin to finding a place for re-building. I completely understand this, however the problem with Brexit is that there is no plan to enable any such re-building. Brexit falls apart on any hard-headed economic or political assessment.
The Brexit position is generally supported by those over fifty years of age. Those that can remember the post-war period from 1945 to 1979. A time of strong identity with the UK state, which had just won a war with the Nazis, was rapidly losing it’s Empire and there was a consensus to build a new Britain from the broken infrastructure after a major war. A time of collective identification where everyone was working together to build a better future, to grow the pie and everyone made a contribution, whether they were a coal miner or a banker, whether a Yorkshireman or a newly arrived immigrant from a former Empire country. It was perhaps only those who didn’t work who were looked down upon if they weren’t trying hard to find new work.
Then in 1979 everything changed. Thatcherism became the new economics. The people of Britain were no longer told to work together for the common good and grow the pie, but instead to seek to make your share of the pie bigger, even if it makes the pie smaller, so those who can do this can get more pie and those not willing to be so cut-throat in their economic actions will be the ones to disparage. ‘Greed is Good’ was now a virtue rather than a failing.
Such economics hasn’t worked as fewer people are able to grow their share of the pie and realising the pie really has shrunk an awful lot and some people seem to have very large slices of it. Hence Brexit, a desire to re-build, to return to more old-fashioned ways of doing things that at least worked and produced genuine growth. Hence a desire to leave the EU as there has never really been a true desire in Britain to grow the European pie, all that matters was it was a means to make the UK pie slice bigger, the post war consensus in the UK was never really about re-building Europe.
It seems that if Brexit does finally occur next year, the UK won’t actually be home as there is no home to go to, it is simply a leaving with no idea where to go. Indeed any suggestion about re-building the UK home such as electoral reform, confederalism or a return of social democracy have all failed to gain enough traction. All that seems promised by the charlatan Boris Johnson is lies and hot air, which isn’t enough to re-build anything from.
Brexit was tempting to me, I don’t like the idea of centralisation unless there is genuine option to say no and say we can actually do this better on our own thanks, some things are simply cases of too many cooks. Co-operation is great, but you always need to ensure the people tasked with making the decisions are making the right ones, and that has increasingly not been the case. All this Brexit seems to offer is taking control from the EU to give it away instantly via trade deals, in particular with a Trumpian USA.
This Tory Brexit is doomed to failure. We must never forget that we actually want things to get better and that is the motive for doing anything including Brexit. However this Brexit won’t achieve that. As I’ve said so often, we need electoral reform across the UK, to re-build structures so the right decisions get made more often. For me that’s Welsh independence, so the population has some genuine democratic control over the legislature that affects the country.