What’s the link between Brexit and the price of a tin of Baked Beans? The short answer is money. That seemingly simple thing that the rich have lots of and the poor not so much, which actually turns out to be kinda confusing. For starters, take the Brexit vote. It happens and then the pound sterling loses value. Suddenly Britain’s currency is worth less in the world and it gets pricier to import goods, so businesses put their prices up to recoup the loss and the consumers end up having to pay more on everyday goods. Meanwhile, the Bank of England recently edged a little closer to raising interest rates, which would make it more expensive to borrow money, again making it harder for everyday folk to take out loans. But what does all this financial malark mean? Well, here’s an over-extended metaphor involving Monopoly to try to explain it.
You’ve got your typical game of monopoly with plenty of players, lots of streets to buy and a bank dishing out money. So far, so simple, but now imagine that the board gets bigger. As the game progresses so new streets are built and one player, Mr Top Hat, wants to build an epic new street full of shops, houses and hotels. Mr Top Hat doesn’t have enough cash under his mattress so he approaches the bank to take out a loan. Mr Bank is pretty excited by this new development and decides to issue the loan. Hurrah, Mr T-H has the money (the credit) but is also in debt to the bank because he’ll have to pay it back with interest. Mr T-H builds the street and it’s epic. Other players buy houses and hotels on the street and Mr T-H makes a bunch of money. He pays the bank back with interest and pockets a tidy profit. Now, the other players are so impressed by Mr T-H’s success that they start doing it too and take out loans to build streets with cool amenities on them. Mr Bank sets a favourable interest rate (i.e. making it easy to take out money) and things start booming. However, because the board is growing the money supply needs to grow as well and Mr Bank creates some more cash (just like that!). More money in the economy gets Mrs Supermarket excited and she puts her prices up meaning goods become more expensive. So Mx Average Jo suddenly has to spend more money on a tin of baked beans. This whole process of rising prices and falling purchasing power is called inflation.
The players keep nipping around the board and the board keeps growing in size, as does the amount of money in the game, so inflation keeps going up too. However, too much inflation is not a good thing so Mr Bank decides to increase interest rates to make it harder to borrow money. The point of doing this is to keep inflation rising at a steady and manageable rate. Of course, it’s alright for Mr Top Hot, who is very rich, but not so good for Mx Average Jo who will have to wait for another burst of growth to inspire a drop in interest rates. But the irony of this all is that whatever Mr Bank does inflation is always increasing and whether Mrs Supermarket puts her prices up if there’s more money in the economy or Mr Bank puts interest rates up because there’s too much money in the economy, the one who loses out is always Mx Average Jo. Economic growth and inflation are two sides of the same coin. Now, what about Brexit, fluctuating currencies and economic recessions? That’s Part 2 and involves an important new player, Mr Speculator.
I find it a little worrying when Tory voters I know start despairing at our current Tory government. I mean, I thought they were supposed to be united in cutting back the state, unleashing the market and serving big business but it seems rotten things aren’t just unique to the State of Denmark.
First things first, there’s Theresa May. She wasn’t actually elected Prime Minister but it seems she’s intent on claiming the position as her own as she ushers in a new wave of right-of-right conservatism. She wants hard Brexit (even though the referendum had nothing to do with what degree of boiled Brexit would be), she wants grammar schools and she doesn’t want to pay much attention to Scotland. Then there’s her cabinet of curiosities: Borish Johnson (need I say more), Amber Rudd’s openly racist statements (and then she got all defensive about being called racist saying that a conversation about immigration needs to be had as if the two, racism and immigration, go hand in hand), Philip Hammond (having second thoughts about restricting immigration from the EU much to the consternation of hard-boiled Brexiteers), Andrea Leadsom (who farmers hate, naturally she’s Environment Secretary), Jeremy Hunt is still there (he’s the one that legitimised us using the ‘c’ word without actually having to use it) and I’d go on but I’m in tears now.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Tories haven’t got a clue. Many of the right-wing, hard-boiled Brexiteers see the referendum result as carte blanche to discriminate, revealing a worryingly racist and discriminatory nature. Meanwhile, many ‘lefty’ Tories are baulking at the behaviour of their more extreme comrades as they wake up to the fact that if you support a right-wing party expect right-wing prejudices. So whilst the media is leading us to believe that the Labour Party is intent on tearing itself apart it seems the Tories are doing it too. The big problem is that the Tory party are the ones leading the country. Their prejudices, rivalries and inability to grasp economics are having national and international consequences and this is not good. So please, if there are any moderate Tories out there, please take back control of your party and try to make it into something you can be proud of. And sure, this post will rile and patronise you but, seriously, can you do something about the bigoted mess that is your party because it’s not funny. In the meantime, here is something that’s funny: Fascinating Aida’s take on the Brexit mess with an apology to Scotland.
“I call bullshit!” It’s my favourite post-referendum phrase at the moment and basically it’s a catch-all for whenever I hear someone chatting a whole load of bollocks. Whether it’s Theresa May promising greater equality in Britain, or Borish Johnson saying you can contextualise away his many racist and sexist slurs, or anyone saying Britain can be great again without even the semblance of a back-up plan. I call bullshit to all that. But there’s something I call even greater bullshit to and that’s intolerance.
I was brought up to be polite. Very polite. In many ways that’s a good thing, I always got on well with my friends’ parents and I tended not to go around brazenly offending people. On the other hand it did mean I avoided conflict and internalised the majority of slights I suffered only to let them fester and reappear as passive aggressive comments or sudden outbursts of anger, neither of which were particularly helpful. So, I think there’s a balance to be struck between being polite enough – i.e. not being a total wanker to people – and being blunt – i.e. being honest to call out bullshit when you see it. A bit of conflict is healthy after all.
So, this is one for all the casually bigoted people I know – the sort of people who profess to not being racist but crack the odd joke about people of colour; the sort of people who profess to being tolerant but don’t really like Muslims; the sort of people who profess to not being homophobic but call bad stuff ‘gay’; the sort of men who profess to not being sexist but tell women to get back in the kitchen; the sort of Tory voter who genuinely thinks a party wedded to the banks and neoliberal capitalism can get us out of this mess; the sort of Brexiteer who doesn’t like the democratic deficit in the EU but is blind to the democratic deficit in the UK and the sort of privileged cynic who criticises society and the people in it whilst selling out to be a banker. Basically, I call bullshit to any of the crap that undermines equality and diversity in this country.
I believe in a plurality of values: I am happy for people to practice different faiths, I am happy for people to vote for different parties (e.g. between Labour and Green), I am happy for people to have differences of opinion but I am not happy if any of this promotes hostility and hate. For the sake of Britain being great again we must be intolerant of intolerance. It is not true that anything goes and I will fight tooth and nail to combat prejudice. So, yes, I will throw off the shackles of over-politeness and call bullshit to bigotry. Bigots beware (and while you’re at it, just piss off and get a life)!
While some might be reeling at Theresa May’s choice of cabinet maybe, just maybe, our new Prime Minister actually has a very cunning plan up her sleeve. And I reckon the long and short of it will be the UK remaining in the EU. May was/is a Remainer after all and maybe all that “Brexit is Brexit” is just a cunning smokescreen to distract us from the real politics at work.
So, what am I talking about? Well, she hasn’t let the Brexiteers get away with it. She’s put Andrea Leadsom in charge of some tokenistic environmental department and within days she’s managed to offend all male nannies by calling them would-be paedophiles. Leadsom hasn’t even met the farmers yet and they aren’t supposed to do very well out of Brexit. Meanwhile, Borish Johnson as Foreign Secretary is already the laughing-stock of the world as German news reporters suppress laughter and the French wish us ‘bon chance’. The other Brexiteers in the cabinet (inc. David Davis and Liam Fox) all have differing views on what Brexit should look like – some want open borders and remaining in the free market (aka, being in the EU), some want to remain in the free market without open borders (aka, having your cake and eating it) and some want a land of milk, honey and Queen Victoria’s resurrection. This cabinet is a recipe for disaster (and satire). Oh, and Michael Gove didn’t get a look in because he’s a traitor.
But where’s the cunning plan, I hear you ask in increasingly despairing voices. Well, I think it’s this: May, being a Remainer at heart, doesn’t want Brexit to happen. She’s effectively put a whole load of muppets in power to prove to her party (because they’re the ones that need convincing) that Brexit was always a bad idea – it would provide years of uncertainty for the British economy followed by years of negotiations we do not have the bureaucratic expertise nor personpower for (more on this here). Once Johnson, Fox et al have proven to us all that the only thing they’re capable of is making a fuss about something rather than actually sorting things out even the most staunch of Brexiteers will relent. May needs to buy time and allow Lord Sprigley-Bottom and Viscount Twitface to quietly change their minds. A few years later they’ll profess to the EU being a brilliant idea (heaven forfend a Tory actually apologise or lose face) and it will be like the whole thing never happened. Fingers crossed.
They say England has only had one Civil War, from 1642 – 1651, when a bunch of Parliamentarians went to war with a bunch of Royalists over the nature of the English government. One King was executed, another was exiled and the monarchy was replaced with the Commonwealth of England and then a military dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell. After that failed the exiled monarch came back to carry on being King. However, I would suggest that England has always been at war and that this war is still being fought throughout Britain. It is a class war, a war of the rich and poor, and with the recent referendum result its truth has never been more stark.
It is not necessarily a war of guns and trenches but it is a war of status, money and shame. It is played out in political and economic policy, what with a welfare state being created to support all in Britain, especially those on lower-incomes, now being rolled back as the current government imposes austerity. Austerity that eviscerates local communities and takes money away from local libraries, social support and healthcare. As the social fabric frays it’s no wonder people turn their ire on one another as the media stirs conflict with inciting stereotypes and scapegoats. This civil war also drenches our culture as ‘chavs’ and ‘poor people’ are routinely demonised and mocked on television (see also, Owen Jones’ book Chavs: The Demonisations of the Working Class for more of this). Of course, the rich get mocked as well but they’ve got all the cash and can afford private healthcare. This war heated up in the 1980s when the Conservative establishment under Margaret Thatcher went head to head with the Unions and miners under Arthur Scargill. The left put in a good fight but the establishment won in the end and have been turning the screws ever since.
And now, after the referendum, our class war has worsened. Many are falling back on old stereotypes of ‘ignorant, racist working class’ people who voted for Brexit whilst others are blaming ‘self-serving, posh, toffs’ for doing the same. Meanwhile, ‘foreign scum’ are being vilified and abused. It seems the better angels of our nature have fled as we’re left with plenty of worser demons but anger will not rebuild broken Britain. Yet after a revolution a power vacuum is left. This is often filled by more of the same/ worse (Cromwell, Robspierre, Stalin, Franco) but there is still a chance to build something new, to stitch the social fabric back together. For Britain, this will take a heroic effort on behalf of all classes. We must transcend petty differences and intolerances, we must work together and share our resources (including our wealth…especially our wealth) and call on the government to follow our lead because, right now, we lack good leadership. We can end this class war now and transcend the violence and suffering that it perpetuates. We can rebuild Britain and keep it great, for all the right reasons. So let’s seize this moment of uncertainty and fill that power vacuum with love (it sounds cheesy but, my god, none of us will want to be here if hate wins the day).
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
The Red Queen, Alice In Wonderland
If we can put people on the moon, if we can build a world-wide web, if we can invent the Hoover, then we might as well try to keep Britain in the EU. We are caught in a unique period of time and history: the leading parties have no plan for the future and faith in our country and economy is wavering yet the catalyst at the heart of it – the Brexit vote – has not been rendered fact. It is still just a story. It’s a powerful one that many people have accepted and has already had adverse social, political and economic impact but it’s still a story that can be challenged. It’s time for Operation Breentry.
What’s Breentry? It is a movement to stop Britain leaving the EU. It involves emailing MPs asking them to reject the result of the referendum. There’s another initiative to call for a second Referendum and the Parliamentary Petition for that has over 4 million signatures. Meanwhile, people are demonstrating in the street to Remain in the EU and other European leaders like Angela Merkel are advising us to think twice. Unfortunately, many people are already resigned to letting Brexit happen and/or think Breentry could/should never happen. I want to challenge these beliefs.
It’s anti-democratic: To annul a referendum certainly appears anti-democratic but that surely requires living in a functioning democracy. But we don’t. The Leave campaign was anti-democratic – it lied with regards spending on the NHS, it lied with regards limiting immigration (the deals we might do with the EU would involve maintaining freedom of movement anyway) and it was only campaigning against something, it had no plans for after winning. However, even taking the Leave-Remain decision at face value is wrong because the calling for the Referendum itself was anti-democratic. David Cameron, who had entered into Parliament with a slim majority, called it to appease his right-wing back benchers so he could become PM. That is power politics at its worst especially when so many of the electorate did not even vote him in. Remember, our head of state isn’t elected, our House of Lords isn’t elected, our mainstream media is privatised and has a clear agenda and we only vote once very five years. So, yes, Britain is an aspiring democracy but it hasn’t got there yet. All is still to be striven for.
It’s too late: No it’s not. Article 50 has not been signed. We can still petition all MPs and leaders of all parties (the Tories included) to not make one of the worst decisions in recent British history. Furthermore, even if Article 50 were signed we could still challenge it. Or perhaps this isn’t about being late or early at all, if we were on time we would have trialled all war criminals, transcended growth-based consumer capitalism, ended all wars and avoided climate change. Let’s just be pragmatic and do what we can in the time we’ve got.
It would lead to violence and civil war: Breentry would certainly anger voters who wanted to Leave but their actual vote to Leave has acted as a rallying call to violent racists and xenophobes. Police have registered a fivefold increase in race-hate complaints since Brexit. Immigrants have been verbally abused, attacked and fire bombed in the past few days. This proves again how misled and misguided many Leave voters were, that they actually believed Britain might become some free-standing, all-white nation surrounded by high walls. That was never what the Leave vote was offering even if the likes of Nigel Farage might have encouraged it. If people do threaten violence in response to Breentry and we don’t act as a consequence then we are negotiating with terrorists, kowtowing to criminals and appeasing racists. We categorically cannot let the bullies win. As for civil war, well, currently the Tory and Labour parties seem to be hellbent on ripping themselves apart as the vote has unleashed a whole wave of vitriol and back stabbing from the parties. Meanwhile, the Referendum has split families and friends, as people fall out with each other in bitter arguments. And every economic forecast looks bleak. Perhaps we’ve always been at war in Britain, certainly a class war, and the Referendum just proves what has always been true. Hence why we must do all we can on all fronts to heal the many deep wounds in our country rather than stick the knives in further.
The Tories will negotiate a good deal outside the EU: No they won’t. The Tory party is swift revealing it’s inability to steer a post-Brexit course. Gove stabbed Johnson in the back and does not have a plan for a Brexit future despite co-leading the Leave campaign. Theresa May is notoriously anti-immigration and yet might have to be the one negotiating a deal with the EU that involves keeping freedom of movement – that’s like asking a racist to argue for multiculturalism. Meanwhile, Liam Fox is anti-EU (and anti-gay marriage, he said it’s ‘absurd’ and ‘social engineering’). Angela Leadsom loves Europe apparently but says, “What I hate is the EU and the way it is destroying such a fabulous continent” – good luck negotiating with the likes of Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker then (she also abstained from voting on gay marriage, she believed it didn’t have a mandate). The irony is that the one pro-Remain candidate, Stephen Crabb, will lose support because of that stance, although he only adopted it out of loyalty to David Cameron even though he’s largely anti-EU. He also opposed gay marriage but apparently is OK with it now, phew. None of these people have the country’s best interests at heart or the intelligence to guide this country into recovery. They’re also all pro-austerity, an economic decision that will grind this country down even further and exacerbate the unrest we’re witnessing. I thought the Tories were supposed to oppose Labour but turns out they oppose themselves as well.
Labour could negotiate a deal instead: No it couldn’t. There’s almost more infighting there than in the Tory party. Corbyn is being relentlessly stabbed in the back by Blairite MPs even though he has a huge amount of grassroots support. He was also anti-EU and decidedly quiet on calling for Remain. If he miraculously became PM (which would be no bad thing as he’d challenge austerity and enrich the welfare state) would he really have the best interests of the UK at heart when dealing with EU bureaucrats? Perhaps he’ll wake up to the Breentry call and take us back, although he’ll have a vicious, untrustworthy party behind him that is just waiting for his political demise. I thought Labour was supposed to oppose the Tories but turns out they oppose themselves as well.
The UK is strong, we’ll get what we want in the end, we’ll “take back control”: No we won’t. Nicola Sturgeon is calling for a second Scottish referendum. Leanne Woods, leader of Plaid Cymru, is calling for Welsh independence, “redesigning the current UK is the only option.” There are calls to unite Ireland and even for London to go independent. Turns out it’s not just political parties that don’t get on, countries don’t either. Add to this deepening austerity, companies threatening to leave/leaving the UK, the loss of our triple A credit rating, a rise in racist violence and I’m struggling to see how the UK stays united. That selfish little world of capitalist consumerism and middle-England-ism is imploding and is trying to take its neighbours down with it. This isn’t new – this has been an ongoing problem for decades, Brexit has just exposed it more starkly. Breentry would just be the first step in trying to patch back together the social fabric of the UK.
But migrants are a problem, we need less of them: No. That is taking Tory and Leave propaganda at face value, as well as various Labour views. Stirring up racial hatred and anti-immigration sentiments are a timeless tactic used to distract attention from underlying economic issues which include rising inequality (how come so many people can’t afford their rent whilst so many others have multiple houses around the world) and austerity (we keep forgetting that it was the 2008 financial crash that brought the global economy to its knees not a “bunch of migrants” nor over-generous Labour government spending on the economy, remember, Osborne’s deficit has been so much higher than that of Brown’s). If we scapegoat and abuse migrants and people whose skin isn’t white enough we will set this country back decades and fall into the same bigoted trap of history. We are better than this and we can learn our lesson.
What if we’d voted Remain and the Leave campaign wanted to challenge it: Then they’d have every right to and could use the same arguments that I have. Except many of the Leave camp voted out of protest on the proviso that Britain would take back sovereignty and control, but that was a lie. They voted to get more money spent on the NHS, that was a lie. They voted for less migrants, that was a lie (plus, I don’t negotiate with racists). But even if this scenario were true the state of our country would still be to play for. We’d still be realising, all too late, that whilst political statements seem like irrefutable truths they are in fact stories and agendas that can be challenged, whoever’s side your on. The game is afoot (and always has been but for too long we’ve let others, including elitist, old-Etonians, play it for us).
The EU won’t get any better: I agree that the EU is a problematic institution. The economic bullying of countries like Germany and France against Greece is outrageous. I know my grandparents didn’t risk their lives against the Nazis just so economic powerhouses could drive other countries into recession. However, I do know they risked their lives to stop war on the continent and that worked, for now. With the rise of the extreme right and this includes the neo-Nazis we risk undoing their good work and whilst we might not have a war with trenches and obvious beginning/end points we will witness the rise of extremist terrorism in Europe directed at groups including Muslims, Jews, the Romani, queers and any other convenient scapegoats. The EU, problematic as it is, is a supra-national organisation built to enhance unity and promote peace but this won’t happen by magic and we must challenge and change it from within to ensure peace reigns. My grandparents fought the Nazis, I think I can fight corrupt EU politics. And the latter is itself a victim of globalised, growth-obsessed, consumer capitalism (that’s the real fight, see rest of blog for thoughts on that).
There is another way and it’s called Breentry.Email your MP and ask them to vote out the Referendum, sign the petition to call for another one, wear a safety-pin to show support with the immigrant population, challenge hate crime, hug your friends, let yourself cry, howl in anger at the moon, smile at strangers and talk, talk, talk. We must dare to be political and we must dare to call for change. A positive post on Breenty and a possible future will come next but this one is getting far too long. Please do challenge me, this is just my opinion, but please let’s keep talking about this. May the force of Lady Gaga be with you – she’s right, we are on the edge but we don’t have to fall.
This is my 100th post and I’d planned the title to be “what’s the point of this blog?” and given the UK’s decision to leave the EU I think my comments on that might answer the question anyway. But, first things first, the Referendum wasn’t real, what’s that all about? OK. It was real, devastatingly so. It is already having vast emotional, social and economic ramifications. As Britain ‘goes it alone’ the pound has plummeted in value, the economy is wobbling and a shift to the right in mainstream politics is underway with the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove vying for power. Extremist right-wing parties like Ukip and their European counterparts are claiming this as a victory for xenophobia and hate. We’ve even recently witnessed one act of right-wing terrorism claim a life, that of Jo Cox. Uncertainty is rising as hope takes a blow to the chest. Yet, for all this, how can I claim the Referendum wasn’t real?
Because from the outset it was a farce. Firstly, democracy was boiled down to a single multiple choice question with only two answers, In or Out, that few people had actually wanted to be put to the public. This doesn’t respect the multi-faceted and multi-partied nature of our democracy it just promotes further divide and hostility as friends and families suddenly found themselves forced to pick a side. And asides for a select few bureaucrats in Brussels and maybe one or two British politicians no one, absolutely no one (myself very much included) could vote with a sufficient degree of knowledge – there are documents of tens of thousands of pages outlying all the treaties and clauses amassed over the decades Britain has been part of the EU and I certainly haven’t read them all. It’s funny that people were suddenly and arbitrarily forced to get knowledgeable and passionate about something they had not seemed to care that much about before.
Meanwhile, people who’ve lived in this country and contributed to its economy for longer than I’ve been alive weren’t allowed to vote. Teenagers weren’t allowed to vote even though they have more future to lose than the rest of us voters. Both campaigns used tactics of fear, hate and misinformation (aka lies) to cajole and manipulate. We’ve already seen Nigel Farage swiftly distance himself from the Leave pledge of £350 million to the NHS (but did we really think neoliberal parties would do an about turn on their views of the welfare state?). There were campaign posters that bore too much resemblance to ones used by Nazis and the media played on xenophobia, fear and outdated nationalistic sentiments to make people think that voting in the referendum was the equivalent to taking some sort of significant stand (it wasn’t, it just makes it easier for the rich to get richer whilst deepening austerity and rolling back the welfare state). Somehow the woes of neoliberal, consumer capitalism (see the rest of this blog for criticisms on that) were landed on the heads of some of the most powerless, namely refugees and immigrants, and a bunch of pro-establishment, old-Eatonians managed to dupe large chunks of the country into thinking voting Leave would lead us into a wonderful British revolution rather than entrenching inequality and recession. That being said, lots of utopic left wingers were somehow led to believe Brexit would yield a land of milk, honey and socialism (my fingers are still crossed). And let’s not forget why this referendum even happened in the first place: because David Cameron wanted to be Prime Minister and he needed the support of his more right-wing back benchers to get it, so he promised them a referendum to appease them rather than having the courage to say ‘no’ (he put it on our heads instead). That’s not democracy, that’s cynical party politics at the public’s expense.
So, yes, the referendum is real and it has happened and this is a rallying call for anyone of whatever political persuasion and however they voted in the referendum to choose peace and oppose the rise of extremism and the violence that goes with it. But, no, the origins of this referendum were neither hopeful nor fair nor democratic. So whatever people say, this was not a victory for the British and the public have not spoken because there was only 1% in it. Like austerity, the referendum is a story wrapped around an agenda. Many desperately believe in it, many just cynically use it to get more power, many misguidedly want it to become true in ways it never will but it is not ‘the truth and nothing but the truth’ it is just one story among many. Unfortunately, it is a very powerful story and its repercussions will prove fatal for many. But Britain has survived two world wars and I think we can survive this too. Now here’s Lady Gaga because why not 😉
I walked out of Dalston Kingsland overground station on Saturday into a brief spell of sun. Blinking back the glare the first thing I saw was a friendly looking young white man with floppy brown hair offering me a big smile and a red pamphlet reading LEAVE. Yup, a Brexiter, one of those terribly charming and polite people who wants Britain to leave the EU and ‘go it alone’. Here was my moment, I thought, my chance to engage with the ‘enemy’ and convert him to the Remain cause.
We offered one another friendly hellos and I asked him how he was doing. It transpired he was doing well. I thought I’d meet his friendliness with the like and I said that I’d love to hear more about his argument. He told me that his main reason for supporting Leave was financial, he believed we would have a stronger trading position if we left. I nodded and then mentioned Ngaire Woods, the Founding Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government and Professor of Global Economic Governance at the University of Oxford, and what she had said about Britain’s trading position being weaker outside of the EU (see video). He said he hadn’t heard of her.
We carried on in this amicable style for a while as he said one thing, I said something else, then he offered more, and so on and so on until I realised I didn’t stand much of a chance. Not only did I not have enough facts at hand it seemed that for every one I did he had a counter argument. I figured that the likelihood of me convincing him to change his view was low given my limited information and the fact that he was on the street on a Saturday afternoon handing out Leave leaflets – he must be quite committed to the cause.
Instead I told him that I feared leaving the EU would legitimise and worsen the rising levels of violence in the country, violence that stems from extreme, right-wing views about who does and does not deserve freedom from violence. I mentioned the tragic death of Jo Cox at the hands of a man who shouted ‘Britain First’ as he attacked her. I mentioned the rise of the neo-Nazis throughout Europe and how some pro-Brexit people I had spoken to expressed overtly racist views. He looked a little concerned and assured me he wasn’t racist. I believed him. Then his colleague came over carrying yet more LEAVE leaflets and he introduced me to her. We offered one another polite hellos. I told them I had to go, I had a conference to get to, but I said that whilst I would still vote to Remain, whatever the result, it was all of our responsibility to stand up to racism, discrimination and violence. We would have to put aside our political differences (he told me had previously voted for the Lib Dems and later the Tories) and work hard to ensure equality and peace were prioritisied in our country. They both nodded emphatically and as I walked away I heard him say to his colleague that I was “one of the better ones”.
So what had I achieved? Not a lot as I’m sure most of you would observe and you’re right, I hadn’t made them change their minds but maybe I had made them think twice. The task ahead for all of us – peace in our time and peace on earth – is something that transcends political persuasion and that we can all be a part of. And maybe in that brief conversation whilst I hadn’t got them to about turn I might have surprised them, if I was one of the ‘better ones’ I wonder what some of the other Remainers were life. The Referendum, like so much of party politics, is designed to fracture and split but we have to challenge this, we’re humans before we’re Tory, Green or Labour. And if dark times are ahead, which they certainly are, then we’re going to need to make a lot of new friends.
The United States of America has one, a dream, “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.” It’s basically the Cinderella fairy tale made available to all Americans. By ‘all’ Americans I mean white, straight men born into wealth but sometimes a woman slips through the net and occasionally a person of colour does as well. That the dream is founded on huge levels of debt, totally unsustainable levels of consumption and dog-eat-dog capitalist politics is by-the-by, the point is America has a dream, a big one, and apparently it’s for everyone. But what does Europe have?
Europe also has huge levels of debt, totally unsustainable levels of consumption and dog-eat-dog capitalist politics but I’m not so sure Europe can simply adopt the American dream. For starters, Europe didn’t begin as one country (or at least one colonialist attempt to make a country), it started as many, often belligerent nation states vying for power with each other. A history of Europe is often a history of war until the end of WW2 when people had had enough. Successive generations of the same families had gone to war twice in the 20th century and people knew this couldn’t last. So, as I described in a previous blog, the beginnings of the European Union were formed to ensure Europe did not go to war again.
However, European societies are going through yet more social, political and economic upheaval following the 2008 financial crisis and ongoing policies of austerity. Similarly to after the Great Depression of 1929 countries are becoming increasingly isolationist and extremist parties are on the rise. Now, more than ever, does Europe need a dream because it’s clear we cannot leave things in the hands of Brussels based bureaucrats and technocrats. Sure, they get to swan around the corridors of the European Commission and Parliament looking all self-important but how many of them have tried to run a sheep farm, worked in a hair salon or held any number of ‘real’ jobs that people across Europe may have?
For those of us who care about Europe who, despite how disappointed they may be at the EU itself, believe it’s important to get on well with one’s neighbours and to form transnational organisations to combat transnational issues such as climate change, terrorism and corporatism, and to champion transnational solutions such as human and environmental rights, coming up with the European Dream is our responsibility. It will be different for all of us (and maybe that’s part of its strength) but, boy, do we need to start articulating positive and exciting messages about what it means to be European. So, I’ll take a stab but I reckon you should too.
The European Dream: a continent where people are happy to make fun of one another’s accents and national cuisines knowing that underneath the banter there’s grim accord that the world is a dark place but if we work together we can make it lighter. We might often do things differently (e.g. how we do or don’t worship; how we eat our steak; how we do or don’t protest) and whilst we will talk about these things (eventually) we also know there’s nothing worse than tyranny, oppression and war. Europe has to be a family – a queer, straight, Muslim, of colour, trans, white, polyamorous, Atheist, monamorous, hippy, business family – and even if the siblings don’t always get on we’ll still stick it out for the sake of our brood. Perhaps, at its simplest the European Dream is to ensure a stable and prosperous continent upon which the inhabitants can freely and peacefully eat different dishes and make fun of each other for doing so. I mean, snails, gross.
Now, what’s your European Dream? You can write it in the comments below but because not that many people read this blog why not share it on your facebook, blog or twitter – get it out to your networks and see what else people come up with. Especially useful for us cynical Brits who talk of ‘continental Europe’ as if tiny island Britain is still its own Great Kingdom (c’mon, we can British and European at the same time!)