Events, events – we now have the Chilcot Enquiry report on Iraq to contend with. And I have to say that the sight of Uriah Heep grovelling on the television and kind of saying ‘awfully sorry’ (and I repeat, kind of) with a trembling voice is more than I can bear. However. Just one thing. It’s very easy to say, ‘he did it.’ Yes, I think we worked that one out. But, there is always, always a context. And I ask here (and will return to this at some point in another post) what context, what environment led to two Prime Ministers (Blair/Iraq, Cameron/Referendum) make decisions that have had such profound consequences for our country?
In the meantime, Fatty Arbuckle (as I described Cameron in my last post) is no more. Gone too are Laurel and Hardy (see also the last post) which means we shall have a woman as the next Conservative PM. Wow, and good. Oh wait a minute…. that’s either Leadsom (who?) or May. Well, May will, at the very least, be competent, or more so than the male candidates who’ve been giving headless chickens a good name. And the Keystone Cops have not caught up with Jeremy. Yet. Oh. Wait a minute. Events are occurring as I write and someone is challenging Jeremy. I shall return to this below. Meanwhile, Boston.
I haven’t been to Boston, Massachusetts, nor have I been to Boston, Lincolnshire. But while the Boston in America is on my bucket list of places to visit, Boston, Lincolnshire is not. And there’s the rub. Who knows about Boston, goes there or cares for the place? Probably, not that many. But we need to take note of this town as 75% of Boston voters voted to leave the EU; the highest number of leave votes in the UK. It also has the highest concentration of EU migrants after London, and I quote from an article in the New Statesman by Anoosh Chakelian, “In the period between 2004 and 2014, the migrant population increased by 460%. Of the 64,000 people now living in the borough….about 12% were born in EU countries.”
You see Boston is an agricultural area set in the eastern part of the UK where a large amount of our crops are grown. But think not of an idyllic, English pastoral countryside, this is agri-business-countryside where most of our supermarket vegetables are grown, and there is a huge demand for labour both on the land and in the food preparation factories. And this labour need is fulfilled by EU migrants from mainly Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.
Boston has always used seasonal workers, and before the EU it would have been Irish workers brought in to pick the strawberries and potatoes.
However, Boston’s economy is not as bad as you would think. There’s work available all the year round now, so the workers from the EU are not coming to a place with no jobs. Indeed, unemployment in Boston is well below the national average (4.4% in contrast to the national average of 5.2%). And consequently many of the EU workers have stayed and made their lives here in the UK, in Boston.
But, there is a problem emanating from the number of migrant workers in the area, and I quote from a BBC article: “The average hourly wage nationally is £13.33, across the East Midlands it is £12.26. In Boston it is £9.12. On a weekly basis full-time earnings [in Boston] are more than £100 a week less than the national average.” In addition, housing is a major concern in Boston with temporary workers sharing multi-occupancy houses, and consequently forcing rents up beyond the reach of local people.
Let’s be blunt, there is a divide between the local older residents of Boston and the workers from the EU who are disliked for forcing said rents up, lowering local wages and filling their local High Street (because EU workers have brought up their children and made their lives there) with a vibrant mix of eastern European restaurants and food stores.
And, apparently (because I’m relying on articles I’ve read) the perception is amongst the native population that immigration in their area has been too quick, too much and that no-one, especially those in Westminster, listens to their view that immigration from the EU has gone too far.
But if you think I’ve fallen for and therefore giving you the argument that the leave vote primarily came from working class racists you would be wrong. The reasons for leave are far more multi-layered than that. Instead I’m setting out the context in Boston to pose the question, why would the residents of Boston vote for leave or listen to all the economists, scientists, and every other pundit you could name that begged us to vote remain, if they have never been listened to, and all around them is the evidence of their eyes that migration from the EU cannot be controlled, because one of the central tenets of membership of the EU is the single market and free movement of its citizens.
This is the elephant in the room for both political parties. And also for the remain campaign. (For those of you outside the UK, the campaigns for both remain and leave were not party political, both camps contained MPs from all parties, although, of course, UKip, was on the leave side). No one can control immigration from the EU, but note, in Boston EU immigrants came to a place that had work.
So did any politician, Labour included, care enough to listen to Boston? Well, look where you not listening got you.
And why should a Boston citizen listen to a campaign run from Whitehall when it does seem such a crazy uncaring world run by be-suited London elites who espouse austerity, and plunder and sell off the UK’s network of services such as the Post Office, the gas, electricity, water, education, health, the railways (OK, that happened some time ago, but I live in the south of England and don’t tell me that a private company runs a railway more efficiently. It. Does. Not.).
It’s more cost effective and efficient that way, they say. It’s better to not have things run by the state, they say. Then your local Post Office closes. And then you see your local day centre closed, and the criteria for older people to get help raised and raised again, and your local children’s centre amalgamated with somewhere far away. Why would someone on below average wages and a zero-hour contract listen to anyone, other, that is, to someone saying that a vote to leave will give you more control over your life in the UK?
It has been a massive failure on the part of both parties, but especially Labour, to insufficiently listen to and deal with the disaffected of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Because on top of unnecessary policies such as austerity, there has been the flight of jobs from the UK to lower waged economies. Of course the employers in Boston want immigrants to come here and to pay low wages, of course the steel industry and ship building will go elsewhere. Because that is the system and the underlying absolute of our society. Meanwhile, any suggestion that immigrants are a cause of our problems is a nonsense. Just think of the NHS without immigrants, and then ask yourself who would pick our potatoes, carrots and strawberries, clean our offices and the London underground, cut and package our chicken. The majority of immigrants contribute immensely to our society anyway (ask any engineering company who cannot recruit people with the right qualifications here in the UK). Immigrants are merely a symptom of a need for usually (but not always) low paid workers and of globalisation.
This is neo-liberalism, which in a nutshell is the economic system that is the weft and warp of our society and the wider world, and which supports fiscal austerity, privatisation, deregulation and reductions in government spending to enhance the private sector. And both our political parties have been/are in thrall to this system, support this system, and have indeed worked to increase its tentacles.
Well, perhaps not Jeremy Corbyn the current leader of the Labour Party, but he is an isolated figure with few supporters in Westminster. So if he’s not an aficionado of neo-liberalism, how did he get to be leader of the Labour Party? Remember Harriet Harman (the interim Labour Party leader) who in the summer of 2015 said that Labour must not vote against the Tories welfare bill? Yes, 48 Labour MPs defied the whips to vote no, and more significantly, Jeremy, a total outsider, the Bernie Sanders of Islington, and a well-known left-wing anti-austerity advocate was put on the ballot for the Labour leadership. And won.
How has he done? At the moment, maybe not so good with 172 Labour MPs (against 40) passing a vote of no confidence. A pity, as every word Corbyn speaks I agree with. He’s not as charismatic as Bernie and who wants charisma, we had that with Tony Blair. Instead Corbyn is calm and collected, and sure of his world view, and has fairly reasonable ideas about the economy and the world. Yet, yet. Something is not quite right.
And why? OK, I watched all 26 minutes of one of his speeches supposedly to support the remain campaign and supposedly in favour of the EU (on YouTube). I give him 7 out of 10 for content – there was nothing to disagree with – but 2 out of 10 for presentation. All the words made sense, but they did not inspire. But Jeremy does need to inspire (I’m not asking for charisma) he needs to inspire not only the membership, but also the Parliamentary Labour Party and the electorate, i.e. potential Labour voters who are not voting Labour now, but need to if Labour is ever to win a majority again. He has to have authority over all three, and I’m not convinced he has that authority and brio to command and lead.
You’ve all heard of Schrodinger’s Cat, which is both (probably) dead and alive. In a box with no air (this is philosophy, btw, not reality). Well, think of Corbyn as *Schrodinger’s Corbyn, ‘simultaneously unelectable and overwhelmingly elected’. The overwhelmingly elected part is because not only do the Labour MPs and the unions have a vote, every single member of the Labour Party (and anyone can sign up for just £3) can vote for their leader. Corbyn has overwhelming support from these members, with membership increasing in leaps and bounds and now over 500,000. If they’re all Corbyn supporters (and there’s no way to tell) no other candidate can win, so it’ll be interesting to watch i) what has been up to now a rather feeble coup by a number of the Parliamentary Labour Party becoming a little less feeble and ii) what happens after the vote. And note that I’m writing that with the knowledge that actually the Labour Party is on the brink of a split.
Some other time I might go into more detail of the rise and fall of the Labour Party. And it would be a truism to say Labour is a 20th century party stuck in its history of supporting the labour movement and its workers in the heavy industries and factories which, as everyone else can see, have long gone to China.
But there is a pattern here that political pundits are beginning to recognise (but perhaps not MPs in Westminster) that those voters who voted to leave the EU did not listen to the elite in Westminster, and neither are the members of the Labour Party listening to their elite in Westminster. (Mind you there’s a bit of vilification going on – are every one of those 172 Labour MPs evil right-wing Blairites? I don’t think so somehow.)
What I am coming to think is that this central tenet of capitalism, globalisation, neo-liberalism (call it what you will) of de-regulation and free movement of labour, a central tenet also of the EU, and its resulting inequality, is coming to a head alongside a networked world of non-elites making their views known in a way that the elites have not bargained for. Did you not think it through, Cameron, that every vote counted? Obviously not. And remember, it’s the Tory voters who didn’t come out for remain.
But those of you who voted to leave, I’m so sorry (and not being ironic here) but if you think you’ll get more control over decisions that are now going to be made entirely within the UK – think again. You won’t. Shades of Laurel and Hardy, it is a very fine chaotic mess we’re in, which will take many years to unravel. At least two to three years to actually leave and then where, who knows, because our politicians certainly don’t know.
And for those us who voted to remain, I think we have to be aware that what we wanted to remain in was very deeply flawed. What this shock to my system has done is that in trying to unpick what has happened I begin to see more than I knew before. And really, I should have known these things.
Two further and final points.
What did I say at the beginning of my examination of the Referendum and in my piece on Jo Cox – that I should not despise groups of people (because it dehumanises them). But really, truly, the quality of leadership and debate during the Referendum was abysmal. It was all lies (leave) or misery (remain).
So I was going to say, as my final point, that no one sang a song for Europe, as the entire campaign was mainly lies and half-truths about migrants and our economy. No one spoke of the glories and beauty of Europe, no one discussed the importance of Europe and the European Union as a buffer between the US and Russia. And has everyone forgotten the Second World War and how former enemies sit round a table together? No, no one spoke of that, or if they did I missed it. So I was going to write something bordering on the elegiac on the idea of Europe, but I now think that this is an emotional response. Yes, the EU is an important power bloc, and dear me, however did Tory politicians, of all people, think we’d fare outside the EU? Read the Chilcot report. The US will not be be listening to us AT ALL, and we will be of no consequence whatsoever outside the EU. But that’s another debate and another post.
So, no, despite feeling more European than British/English and feeling desperately sad about the decision, I’m not writing a song for Europe. I resolve not to be emotional about this result, instead I intend to continue this analysis and exploration of what happened and might happen.
And what a treasure trove of waywardness and unruly behaviour there is amongst our British politicians. They are truly ripe for the picking.
For instance, apparently, there was a slight problem of certain embellishments in the CV of a certain contender for the Conservative leadership (being careful here). Which, apparently, don’t matter all that much. My favourite journalist (Marina Hyde) has been on fire lately writing articles as soon after the events as possible (and there have been many, events, that is) and always on the same day. In one of them she described the above person’s CV and noted that we are now in an era of post-fact politics. Well yes, we are. But only if we allow that to happen.
Are we content to let it all happen? Do we leave the motes in our eyes (Matthew 7:3-5)? Can we leave it all to our politicians? In my 3rd piece I will be looking at what we should, could and ought to be doing.
Penny Kocher 10th July 2016
*I saw the ‘Schrodinger’s Corbyn’ meme on Facebook