All change II

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These are some figures for the UK 2019 General election. As you can see it wasn’t much different to 2017.

Brexit has divided the UK, pitted the old against the young in a very dramatic way. My view is that it’s part of a huge cultural shift: The older generation valuing unity, conformity and the British state and the younger generation valuing self-expression, diversity and internationalism.

It’s also about change in culture, change can be threatening to a way of life or it can be embraced. Perhaps it is harder to embrace change as you get older as your way of life is more settled. It’s also about loss of culture. The UK has lost local shops and businesses, music venues and communities feel less like communities as there is less to bind them together.

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I wonder if there is a difference in this between Wales and England generally. The two parts of Wales that weren’t affected by the blue tide were the Plaid Cymru seats of Y Fro Cymraeg (Green) and the Labour held Valleys seats (Red). Arguably areas with much stronger local identity than the general case. Communities where there isn’t such a stark divide between young and old culturally, where both change and tradition are embraced. This is possibly less true in the other parts of Wales

Looking at these figures it seems such a vast age based divide. Perhaps a last huzzah for the people of British nationalism. If Brexit had been just 5 years later it would not have happened as new younger voters enter voting age and more 65+ voters die.

I don’t see how Boris Johnson will bring the UK together, his and his parties whole ethos has been divide and rule and it seems so unlikely to change. David Cameron and Theresa May talked about one-nationism, but did nothing about it when in power.

It’s going to be a very rocky five years.

All Change UK

What do the changes brought about in the 2019 UK General election mean? It was an unusual election because the issue of Brexit dominated. Brexit now looks very likely to happen, as soon as next month and whatever happens will probably not be the main issue at the next election. What happens between now and then will continue to be interesting.

To understand this election it is perhaps worthy of considering how UK general elections usually work. The traditional view is that people self-interestedly vote based on their demographic grouping. In this very generalised model there were broadly two groups:

White-collar workers, people who generally work in offices are those who generally havd some spare money to save and invest, these generally vote Tory as the Tories offer reduced wealth taxes, making it easier to earn more from investments.

Blue-collar workers, people who generally work with their hands, tend not to have spare money to invest, are often unionised workers whom generally vote Labour as Labour offer improved working conditions and improved rates of pay.

Hence a traditional UK election is a battle for in-between voters; those who readily switch parties based on whom seems to have the better offer.

However this traditional model has broken down, arguably since the adoption of Thatcherism by the UK economy. This Thatcherism has led to reductions in investment in the wider UK economy, particularly in the ‘provincial’ nations nations and regions of England. Instead the focus has been on making the UK attractive to financial services, favouring capital, rentiers and leading to  ever widening inequality, richer rich people and poorer poor people.

Politically this breaks the traditional model as the general economy isn’t invested in so there are ever fewer people with a little bit of money to invest, but those that do have ever larger amounts of capital. This has perhaps presented a problem for the Conservative party as their voter base is declining. Compounded by the housing crisis, where young people are disenfranchised by being unable to afford decent housing, while older generations sit in housing which has increased in value by doing nothing. Essentially Tory economics has destroyed it’s own voter base. The below chart illustrates this from the last election (I would suggest the 2019 data conforms to this pattern too)

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The Tories have needed new stratagems to continue to be electorally successful. a popular strategy for struggling governments has been appeals to patriotism. For example the 1983 war with Argentina or involvements with the various conflicts in the Middle East. Arguably military spending is simply useful for keeping failing governments in power.

For the past 5 years, The Tories have used Brexit as a surrogate for war. It has a patriotic appeal, of Little Britain against the big bad EU, fuelled for decades by the right-wing media barons endlessly negatively reporting news about the EU. Frankly, it’s worked. Incidentally, looking at the results, it has been less effective in the Valleys and Merseyside, where the popularity of the UK right wing press, particularly the Sun “newspaper” is less and in these areas there popularity of Boris Johnson is a lot less pronounced, so it seems to hugely influenced by media spin, especially as Jeremy Corbyn was spun as a London metropolitan liberal. We had a campaign dominated by ‘Get Brexit Done’ when the whole Brexit saga was fabricated by the Tories themselves, there are much bigger issues facing the UK economy in actuality.

In any case FPTP has delivered Boris Johnson his majority to “Get Brexit Done” yet the percentage results if split by parties for Leave or Remain in the EU paint a different picture, Leave 46% Remain 54%. It can be viewed as a Brexit or the Union election, yet Boris Johnson seems to want both, to have his cake and eat it.

The 2019 UK general election has returned the UKs worst ever Prime Minister to majority rule (a 5 year effective dictatorship), largely on the back of what could be described as blue-collar workers in neglected provincial towns. With a compliant media demonising the EU and metropolitan liberals as the “enemies of democracy”.

Boris Johnson’s government now faces a quandary, it can take two paths, this is why the next month or so will be very interesting:

Path 1 acknowledges that the Tories have destroyed their own voter base, so need to find a new way to maintain their grip on power, and actually does all they have promised to do, to keep hold of their new working class voters. To invest in the country’s infrastructure in the provinces, to care for the Union rather than neglect it,  to be become the party of the blue collar workers. This would be a huge policy U-turn for the Tory party, undoing thirty years of Tory policy, especially for one that has just expelled it’s moderate wing though, yet may be the new way for the party to retain power.

Path 2 is Tory business as usual, selling off the UKs assets like the NHS to Trump and making money for their already rich friends and allies,  while continuing to  work on finding a new scapegoat to attack for an appeal to patriotism in time for a future election. There is a ready enemy here, the pesky ‘Celts’. Brexit has been based on an appeal to British/English Nationalism. Such an appeal has never resonated as much in the Celtic nations, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (particularly as in this election the Unionist parties are no longer the majority in Northern Ireland). So much so, that Scottish Independence now looks very likely, though as in Spain, the UK state can stop it by force if necessary. Northern Ireland is heading seemingly inexorably towards re-unification with the Republic of Ireland and in Wales support for independence continues to grow and will continue to grow with a hostile UK government. So there is a very handy ‘enemy within’ to blame for any failure of Brexit to not make Britons poorer.

Essentially the future for the UK over the next five years is whether Boris will continue to dupe the politically uneducated or shift ground and become a stanch advocate of the UK economy. It will be interesting and probably depend on how clean or messy Brexit will be over the next year or two.

New Conservatives?

It’s only really occurred to me today what Brexit is. It is simply an internal struggle within the Conservative party in the UK and now may be the point that it is finally resolved.

It has been a long time coming. Going back to the 1979, Margaret Thatcher became UK Prime Minister after a successful election. She won essentially on a platform of increasing the power of capital whilst reducing the power of Labour and Government. It may simply have been for Thatcher that which was needed to sort out the problems in the UK economy from the 1970s. However, it also became the political philosophy of Thatcherism.

You can view the economy of a state as supported by three pillars: Labour (the productive value of people’s work), Capital (The large sums of currency to invest) and Government (Regulation of the economy and spending on public infrastructure from taxation). I would argue that a strong economy comes from an optimal balance of the three, where each pillar is strong but not allowed to dominate. Thatcherism simply states that only capital is important and you can shrink government and the value of labour as much as you can to give more power to capital. I believe Thatcherism is fundamentally flawed, but works as a solution if and only if labour and government are too strong and capital is too weak.

Within the Conservative party of the 1980s, there arose those who adopted the Thatcherite philosophy. It is this philosophy that has held sway over the UK ever since, despite capital now being overly powerful for an efficient economy. The Thatcherite philosophy was built on the lie that everyone can acquire capital, such as the idea of the ‘share owning democracy’. However the Conservative party was built on those who valued conservativism. Conservatism values tradition and traditional structures as things leading to social good and resists change unless it is very clear that specific changes need to be made. Most of the time these two philosophies existed fairly comfortably together. However they have repeatedly come to a head over the UK’s relationship with the Common Market, the EC and now the EU.

The Thatcherites are largely mostly Brexiteers who happily advocate a “No deal Brexit”, they just don’t like the existence of the EU, it is to them a unnecessary layer of government. There is only one legitimate government to them, the UK one and they have been able to control the weakening of the UK government for capital can now flow freely throughout the world.

The conservatives on the other hand have mixed views of the EU, they can see both good and bad things about it. For example as a force promoting peace and stability of European culture, which Britain is very much part of. They are perhaps not huge advocates of the EU but see the need for a relationship of the UK with the EU, thus have nuanced positions, some may advocate leaving the EU but remain in the Single Market or Customs Union.

So when the issue of Brexit arose party members had to decide whether to support the UK remaining in the EU or leaving it has divided the party, before the issue of a No Deal Brexit was discussed and this wasn’t the simple question is has been made out to be.

Along came Boris Johnson, never a Brexiteer, but a journalist who won fame writing humurous anti-EU articles about bendy bananas or chip wrapping paper. To become Prime Minister he needed the support of the Brexiteers within his party so he has adopted the Brexiteer position. Now the issue of a “No Deal Brexit” is top of the UK political agenda, he has to support it and in doing has sacked the conservative members of parliament who are against a No Deal Brexit.

So, Brexit is solely the idea of the Thatcherite Brexiteers, a minority of a minority of the Uk population who have adopted populist language to stay in power and Brexit has practically been solely an internal Conservative party issue, no-one else has had any input into the finer question of what the relationship with the EU should be.

There has been much talk of democracy in discussions of this issue. Maybe the UK is moving towards a better democracy. I have long advocated electoral reform. In the rest of Europe, you can vote for people you support, rather than under FPTP where so many people compromise by voting against who they really don’t want.

What could happen is the current Conservative party morphs into a Thatcherite, hard-right populist party. The expelled conservatives can form a new conservative, unionist centre-right party, bolstered by centre-right people from the LibDems. The LibDems can move to a more natural place for them as a centre left party which leaves Labour free to be a hard-left Socialist party. Hence every party has a clear position and most people who will be able to have a political home if there is electoral reform allowing people to vote for their first choice party.

If the UK can prorogue Brexit until electoral reform takes place, then the UK will be in a position to actually answer this Brexit conundrum and true conservatives can regain their voice.

Unionism vs Devolution

 

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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.