Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Great Divide

Well, that went well didn't it? I stayed up all night watching the results of the EU referendum come in. I hadn't meant to, because we had been told there was almost no chance 'Leave' would win it. But win it they did. It was around 1:30am when the result from Sunderland came in, showing a shock 61% in favour of leaving the EU. The BBC - that turgid voice of the senile elites - seemed unsure what to make of it. Surely this is just an aberration? I decided I'd better make some coffee for what promised to be a long night.

The birds had already been chirping for a couple of hours when the stunning result was finally announced. 48% had voted Remain and 52% had voted Leave. Hardly a huge victory, but a victory nevertheless in the teeth of the biggest domestic propaganda campaign in living memory.

And then the fallout began.

It's fair to sat that the reaction from those who didn't like the result has been somewhat disappointing and doesn't bode well for future crises. Now, 10 days later, with the rubble from the initial collapse is just beginning to stop bouncing, it appears that a huge chasm has opened up in Britain and the people are left standing on either side of it. The quiet hopeful dignity of most of the Leavers is in stark contrast to the shrill anger of the more vocal Remainers, for whom the sky has fallen in. There are demands for a second referendum, demands that the result be overturned and demands that the legal system be used to prevent the status quo being upset.

People are gnashing their teeth and wailing. I've heard of some holding grief parties, and others proclaiming that we now live in a fascist state. There is a frantic scramble to move to Scotland or Canada or some other state that is perceived to be 'tolerant and open'.

More sinisterly, in the immediate aftermath a media narrative has been allowed to flourish that a wave of race hatred has been unleashed by the vote. I don't buy it. Of course, you will get some racist idiots in any situation, and the videos of them I have seen tend to show drunk young men on public transport mouthing off. Does it make a difference to the statistics when newspapers such as The Guardian exhort their readers to send in their clips of racist/xenophobic attitudes and an app has been developed to capture such taunts? Would it make any difference if I said I had a friend who had openly talked on Facebook about travelling in a group to meet the returning England football fans from the ferry and provoke them into doing or saying something nasty for the benefit of the cameras. The temptation to be agent provocateur seems too tempting to some people.

To get an idea of the size of the gulf that's opened up it is instructive to watch these two short videos, one after the other. In the first one, Leave voters - who are more or less characterised as universally racist and/or stupid by Remainers - explain their reasons for doing so. The second video shows a woman in London explaining her fears following the referendum.

Video 1: Why we Voted Leave: Voices from Northern England

Video 2: Woman breaks down following Brexit vote

I'm not exactly a huge admirer of ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson - who spearheaded the Leave campaign (seemingly without much of a plan of what to do if victory ensued) and then quit when he won - but I'll finish off this short post by quoting what he wrote yesterday about the kind of feeling this referendum has unleashed in young people. Of course, Johnson is a buffoon and a joker and he revels in being offensive, but then jokers can say what they want and get away with it, so perhaps they deserve to be listened to sometimes.

"On Friday I heard a new dawn chorus outside my house. There was a rustling and twittering, as though of starlings assembling on a branch. Then I heard a collective clearing of the throat, and they started yodelling my name – followed by various expletives. “Oi Boris – c---!” they shouted. Or “Boris – w-----!” I looked out to see some otherwise charming-looking young people, the sort who might fast to raise money for a Third World leprosy project.

They had the air of idealists – Corbynistas; Lefties; people who might go on a march to stop a war. And so when they started on their protest song, I found myself a bit taken aback. “EU – we love YOU! EU – we love YOU!” they began to croon. Curious, I thought. What exactly is it about the EU that attracts the fervent admiration of north London radicals? It was the first time I had ever heard of trendy socialists demonstrating in favour of an unelected supranational bureaucracy.

In the old days, the Lefties used to dismiss the EU as a bankers’ ramp. Tony Benn thought it was unacceptably anti-democratic. Jeremy Corbyn used to vote against it in every division. Why has it suddenly become so fashionable among our nose-ringed friends? I tried to think which of the EU’s signature policies they were so keen on. Surely not the agricultural subsidies that make up most of the budget, and that have done so much to retard development in the Third World. They can’t – for heaven’s sake – support the peak tariffs that discriminate against value added goods from Sub-Saharan Africa. Nor can they possibly enjoy the sheer opacity of the system – the fact that there are 10,000 officials who are paid more than the Prime Minister, and whose names and functions we don’t know.

They can’t really be defending the waste, the fraud – or the endless expensive caravan of crémant-swilling members of the European Parliament between Brussels and Luxembourg and Strasbourg. Are they really demonstrating in favour of the torrent of red tape that has done so much to hold back growth in the EU? It seems an odd sort of campaign theme: what do we want? More Brussels law-making! When do we want it? Now!

Naturally, Lefties might want laws to protect the workforce – but they would surely want those laws to be made by politicians that the people could remove at elections. No: the more I thought about it, the odder it seemed. It was incredible that these young and idealistic people should be making a rumpus about the euro – the key policy of the modern EU – when that project has so gravely intensified suffering in many southern EU countries, and deprived a generation of young people of employment.

Perhaps, I mused, it was a general feeling that the EU was about openness, tolerance and diversity. But they must surely know that the EU’s rules on free movement mean a highly discriminatory regime, one that makes it much more difficult for people from outside the EU to get into Britain – even though we need their skills.

So what was it about? People’s emotions matter, even when they do not seem to be wholly rational. The feelings being manifested outside my house are shared by the large numbers of people – 30,000, they say – who at the weekend came together in Trafalgar Square to hear pro-EU speeches by Sir Bob Geldof. There is, among a section of the population, a kind of hysteria, a contagious mourning of the kind that I remember in 1997 after the death of the Princess of Wales. It is not about the EU, of course; or not solely. A great many of these protesters – like dear old Geldof – are in a state of some confusion about the EU and what it does.

It is not, as he says, a “free trade area”; if only it were. It is a vast and convoluted exercise in trying to create a federal union – a new political construction based in Brussels. But, as I say, I don’t believe that it is psychologically credible to imagine young people chanting hysterically in favour of Brussels bureaucrats. The whole protest is not about the EU project, per se; it is about them – their own fears and anxieties that are now being projected on to Brexit.

These fears are wildly overdone. The reality is that the stock market has not plunged, as some said it would – far from it. The FTSE is higher than when the vote took place. There has been no emergency budget, and nor will there be. But the crowds of young people are experiencing the last psychological tremors of Project Fear – perhaps the most thoroughgoing government attempt to manipulate public opinion since the run-up to the Iraq War.

When Geldof tells them that the older generation has “stolen your future” by voting to Leave the EU, I am afraid there are too many who still believe it. It is time for this nonsense to end. It was wrong of the Government to offer the public a binary choice on the EU without being willing – in the event that people voted Leave – to explain how this can be made to work in the interests of the UK and Europe. We cannot wait until mid-September, and a new PM."


  1. Interesting times for sure. Over here in Australia we still don't know who won the election on the weekend!! I voted for an Animals Rights party. Better than the moronic rubbish who try to govern this great country. We watch what's happening in the UK with interest. Let's hope a great change sweeps the world.

    1. I think Brexit was a protest vote by the disenfranchised masses who have had enough of neoliberalism. Yeah - it's probably the start of some kind of global revolution, and things will be unrecognisable afterwards.

  2. Hi Jason,

    Your previous commenter (Unknown) was not far wrong, things are weird down here as well. One thing about it really interests me is that the pundits and pollsters were so very confident in their assertions of the outcome, when in fact people were towing the line in public, but sticking it to the man in the privacy of the polling booth.

    You may be interested to know that down here voting is compulsory for all adults and I believe that nearly one quarter of the population voted over the weekend for anyone else other than the two main parties down here. It is phenomenal, unprecedented and also a great display of democracy in action.

    Yes, and sadly there have been calls for another election down here too in the wake of the weekends result - which I suspect that population is in no mood to confront if what I saw was anything to go by.

    What fascinating times we live in.

    My gut feeling is that the policies being pursued in the business as usual / status quo crowd fail to present a cohesive narrative to a large enough chunk of the population. They simply can’t afford to pay them all off without taking a hit to their own wealth from what I can see.

    I suspect that your UK young are victims of a nasty case of mass thaumaturgy which has done them no favours at all. They are grieving, I suspect, for what could have been, but was presented to them as an emotion, but actually never was. Mass thaumaturgy is as ephemeral as fluff in the wind, but still the young need adequate time to grieve!



    1. Hi Chris. You might be right about the thaumaturgy. There's a narrative being spun that 'the old have stolen the futures of the young' - a narrative that it's hard to disagree with in terms of catabolic collapse. But this perfectly reasonable assumption has been bolted onto the referendum result, leading for calls to reduce the minimum voting age to 16 and put a maximum voting age on of 40-50. To my mind that would mean that only the most impressionable are eligible to vote, with those who have the wisdom of years being excluded. I can't see it working.

      There is a general feeling that the old order is failing to be able to keep control. Strategies which have worked for decades are suddenly useless and the spin doctors, opinion makers and political operatives are hammering uselessly on the buttons of the control panel. Sooner or later they are going to panic and then we'll find out what pushback looks like.

      [Did you see that article in which James Taub calls for the elite to rise up against the masses? It's starting to look like the plot from my book 'Seat of Mars' - so I'd better get it published before I'm accused of plagiarising ideas.]


      Revolutions might appear fun at the outset but it's probably wise to run for cover because anything could happen. It's quite likely IMO that Brexit could spark a banking meltdown in one of the weaker parts of the EU, which will then spread and become systemic. Conspiracy theorists will say the elite all have it under control, but my feeling is that they don't and are just fighting fires at this stage with no proper plan of action. Doesn't mean they won't be angry, of course.

      Interesting to hear about the Aussie election. It seems to me that for years we have had 50/50 politics i.e. with two main parties sharing the vote more or less equally based on the constituencies they target. It's all very calculated stuff - calculated, that is, to prevent meaningful change. One side effect of the UK referendum is that millions of former apolitical people are suddenly very engaged ... and they want change. If no change is forthcoming then all bets are off as to what happens next.

    2. BTW, for me, four things have become clear to me in the last couple of weeks:

      1 - Many people don't want democracy if it threatens their sense of order
      2 - Many 'nice' middle class liberal people are actually viciously right wing when said order is threatened
      3 - The referendum has revealed the ugly class war that is going on in this country (and has been going on for centuries and will continue to do so as the 'consumer class' fades away)
      4 - My working class northern parents instilled values into me that makes it impossible for me to be truly middle class

      And here's an ironic thing - if the direst Brexit predictions come to pass then my foreign-born wife and kids will be thrown out of the country and I'll be forced to follow them.

      Is there any room in Australia for a Pommie and three Danes?

    3. Jason

      One of our friends is French and has lived in the UK for many years, she decided to start on the process of taking out UK citizenship last year as she was convinced the UK would vote to leave the EU, at the time we thought that this was an over-reaction .... we're not so sure now.

      Have you looked into this for your family?


    4. Yes, the same thing had occurred to me. We looked into citizenship but the rather large expense involved is prohibitive for us at the moment (the kids would furthermore need to get it now and then again when they turn 18).

      That said, I don't think there's too much of a chance that they would be kicked out. There are something like five million EU citizens here and it would cause chaos to make them leave - especially in the sector where my wife works (care) which is mainly staffed by foreigners. Same goes for UK citizens living in the EU.

  3. Yet another take on Brexit by Andre Vltchek here http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/01/brexit-let-the-uk-screw-itself/
    He says in effect that he has no sympathy for the lower classes of Britain who were happy as long as they got their share of the imperial spoils. He doesn't mention Trump supporters in the US but the same argument could be applied to them. The US with 4.3 percent of the world population uses up something like 25 percent of the world's resources. Even with the decline of the lower classes in the US they still have more wealth than most anybody in the third world countries that the US plunders.
    But regardless of how good the underclasses in Great Britain or the US have it compared to people in the third world, the fact is, nevertheless that the lower classes in the first world are getting the sense that they are being excluded from their rightful share of the plunder and the wealthy are starting to feel uneasy.
    Totally unrelated and perhaps not - At our hometown fourth of July parade here in Central California we had a contingent of Sikhs on motorcycles. They had the big bikes and all the usual biker drag except that they were wearing colorful turbans and flying American flags. The message seemed to be, we are Sikhs, not Muslim terrorists, that other turban wearing group, so don't get us confused.
    Some would have it that the elites are trying to distract the underclasses with gender politics and race issues and terrorism and mass shootings so they won't notice that their true enemy is the ruling class. And as in GB, the supporters of Trump are being called racists/fascists.

    1. Hi Wolfgang. I can't remember who it was who said it but they were of Indian origin and they'd done a lot of work in the slums of that nation. They thought they had seen it all until they came to Britain and stayed in a tenement block in Glasgow. Their conclusion was that the underclass in Britain in many ways has it worse than the Indian underclass because in addition to material poverty they suffered from a deeply spiritual poverty too.

      It's difficult to argue with that. When you go to some places and literally everyone is a drug addict/ alcoholic eating nothing but junk and riding around on a mobility scooter, then I can see the temptation some people must have to wish an unkind fate to befall them all. Unfortunately though, these are real people and, furthermore, they can vote. Traditionally the poor have voted for Labour, but since Tony Blair turned Labour into a neoliberal party they have had nobody to represent them - which is why they are now turning to the only party that listens to them i.e. UKIP. I'm sure something similar is going on with Trump - although having seen video footage from one his rallies I can only say that it is far more extreme in the US.

      In terms of the spoils of empire, I'm not sure the British underclass has ever shared too much of it, other than getting to 'consume' the services from which it is impossible to exclude them (e.g. defence, road networks etc). Having been banished from their own agricultural land during the enclosure acts, for the past 250 years they've been used as cheap labour and cannon fodder for the political and business classes. It's probably no surprise they are in the state they're in now. Industrialisation almost killed them but deindustrialisation might be the final nail in the coffin for them.

      Nice to hear about the Sikh bikers. The sikhs are a proud warrior race and I can just imagine them astride Harley Davidsons in the California sun. They were some of the best and most loyal fighters in the British Army during the era of the Raj, and we repaid them by machine gunning them en masse at Amritsar. I've been there and seen the bullet holes that still remain in the walls. They haven't forgotten about that incident, even if we have.

  4. I think the Brexit vote is a symptom of something bigger, and not just a protest vote.

    I think its possible that we have passed an irreversible point that marks the beginning of the end of globalisation, the "elites" and "experts" and even "the market" have failed, and they have no idea how to respond other than to resign or demonise anybody who doesn't share their outlook (and level of privilege).

    A few, Donald Trump perhaps, have sensed the mood of the masses and have sought to gain advantage from that knowledge but may find they are now riding a runaway train to an unknown future.

    1. I don't know if you saw Panorama last night - if not then it'll be on the iPlayer. Adrian Chiles went around Birmingham asking people why they voted leave. One retired woman put it rather succinctly with words to the effect that: "All these years different rivers of frustration and disappointment have been slowly filling a lake which has now turned into a boiling sea of anger ready to explode."

      And that was a mild-mannered old lady!

  5. I am (unknown). It's Christine from Cowes, Phillip Island, Australia. I worked out how to put my name in the comment section so now you know. Its a good place to be while the world try's to sort itself out. I continue to visit this site every day for an update on the mayhem and chaos. Surrounded by the cats and the dog life is good. Have a great day.

  6. Hi Jason,

    There is plenty of room down here as the state that I live in has the same land mass as all of the UK, but with only about 5 or 6 million people. It is pretty quiet and out of the way down here, you could certainly do far worse. I'm not quite so sanguine about the water though.

    Your four observations are quite astute. It is almost as if someone had said, "look, we have to take these toys away from you". I thought that we were better than all of that, but I suspect that we have pursued policies of individualism for so many decades that we have forgotten that people exist within and are part of an ecosystem - and it is starting to show signs of strain.

    I doubt very much that you worse fears will come to pass as these things tend to have what is commonly known as grandfather clauses which generally are put in place to prevent such inequity. The thing is, the powers that be in your country have the will and really want the population on your small island to continue growing.



    1. You know, the strangest thing is happening here (things happen fast, now). Today there was an opinion piece in The Guardian by the writer Irvine Welsh saying that Brexit was 'beautiful'. I read it and then looked at the comments underneath. To my surprise the majority of them were pretty much along the lines of what I've been arguing.

      Where have the angry young 'you stole our future' voices gone? Maybe they have become tired, or bored. Perhaps they are starting to realise how complex the situation is (and now we have Tony Blair the war criminal to focus on instead).

      As you rightly noted, perhaps they deserved a period of mourning.

      As big as the UK but with only 5 million people? Tempting. I'll make my own water ;-) Actually, here's a funny story, I was once offered the chance to move to Oz for a job but I didn't take it. I would have had to stay in the post for three or five years (can't remember which) - but the job was in a huge sulphurous coal-burning power station in the middle of the outback. If memory serves, it was regarded as the most polluting power station anywhere on earth, burning brown coal, and I would have to live right on site and work on a 24 hour shift team .. for years.

      I said thanks but no thanks.

  7. Another very thoughtful post. I had a discussion with salary-class friends the other day who uttered the usual class fears about Brexit. I wasn't successful at aiding them in considering another perspective. The unemployment in Greece, for example, in their minds had much more to do with mass failure to pay taxes than with Brussels siphoning out wealth. In their minds, the Greeks needed "financial discipline." I would call it capital punishment.

  8. FTSE100 index is affected by the foreign profits of large companies (these are worth more now that the pound has fallen).
    FTSE250 is a better guide to the effect of Brexit (more domestic). This is well down.


I'll try to reply to comments as time permits.