Yves here. Some readers may object to Rose conflating the rejection of the EU with the destructive effects of Thatcherism. This has been an argument made by many commentators, who also happen to be members of the elite: the Leave voters took their desire for revenge on austerity-minded UK politicians out on the wrong object.
I’m not sure I buy this “voters are dumb” argument. While Thatcher set the deinstrialiaztion-of-the UK ball rolling in a big way, economic integration with the EU allowed it to be carried further. Moreover, those who argue that “the areas that voted Leave benefitted from EU subsidies” miss that the factor that best predicted who would vote Leave was not geographic location but educational level. There is a direct and strong correlation: the more highly educated, the more propensity to vote Remain.
And why might that be so? I’d hazard that not-well-educated workers were most exposed to competition by immmigrants from Eastern Europe.
In addition, regarding the EU subsidies, Rose points out by e-mail:
One must understand that those who actually receive EU money are not those that need it, but those of the 48% who know how to obtain EU funds – it isa terribly bureaucratic process and people have become professional appliers. I have seen them in Germany, much of it is criminal. In one case I contacted the EU, but they kept referring to the German they appointed to secure the integrity of the subsidised projects. The porblem was, he was one of the fraudsters involved. This did not interest them in the least. I shall never forget the incident.
I wish I shared Rose’s hope that the shock of Brexit will serve to purge some of the anti-democratic, ant-worker policies that are seen as necessary and desirable. While Brexit is a desperately-needed wake-up call to the UK’s and Europe’s leadership classes, they are fiercely predisposed to ignore the message or make minimal responses.
By Mathew D. Rose, a journalist living in Berlin
The vote for Brexit is the best thing that has happened to European society for decades. It has started to clear some of the political, toxic debris that has been poisoning the continent. It is a chance for the traditional left, which has allowed itself to become corrupted by the EU. The question is, if this opportunity will be grasped or squandered?
Brexit is not an anomaly. It is a further link in the concatenation of events occurring in Europe. Its causes are so basic and simple, that corporate media has gone over to a carpet bombing of disinformation and dissimulation, feeding the bigotry and self-delusion of the European elite, most of them nothing more than lackeys and henchmen of the one percent. It is no less mendacious than the lies cast about by the leaders of Brexit.
What we have learnt through Brexit is that the European problem is not only the EU political elite, but the 48 percent as well. You simply cannot damn an increasingly large portion of society to immiseration, intimidate it with arrogance, and withdraw its right to self-dignity, even worse, deny its existence by banning it from the political discourse, as has been the case in Britain.
Let us begin by jettisoning the romantic myth of the European Union. The EU has long ceased to further the interests of the people, who make up its members. Forget Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and all the noise about peace and prosperity. The EU is an undemocratic organisation that primarily and increasingly furthers the interests of international corporations.
Many in Britain do not need an in depth analysis to comprehend this. It determines their life. They know that the EU does nothing for them. Let us give “them” a name: Losers. I remember a good friend describing the Thatcher years with regards to buying his house: “I knew we had to buy one. Society was dividing itself. Those who did not own a house were the losers and most would remain losers. I felt I had to buy a house if I was to have a perspective of becoming a winner.” One may well ask since when democracy divided its population into Winners and Losers. I had assumed that a successful democracy’s goal was to assist its citizens so that everyone had a fair chance to fulfil their potential, as well as a responsibility to protect the welfare of this same citizenry.
The UK always had a pronounced class society, but it was once a cohesive society. Thatcher ended that when she declared, “…there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” There was a palpable change in Britain: The irrational hate that the British had for the Irish was suddenly expanded to the working class: the Chav-Losers. The Chav-Losers were removed from the political discourse in Britain, while they resigned themselves to their fate, only to occasionally pop up in the headlines as neo-Nazis, bigots and welfare cheats. Well, the Chav-Losers are back and in a big way.
We enlightened people ask what is wrong with immigration? To be quite honest, nothing. As an immigrant myself, I find it something very positive. What we however have in Europe is laissez-faire immigration. Like laissez faire financial markets, trade, tax policies or health care, we know open borders will not end well without some sort of regulation. We need governments and laws to make such developments beneficial for the majority of society. Thus it would have been apposite to introduce a robustly enforced minimum wage – a living wage – appropriate for each individual EU nation, thus stopping the wage race to the bottom. What did the British worker get: the zero-hour contract.
We know how these things function among the Winners. The cleaning lady from Latvia charges half as much as her British competitor, as does the Polish plumber. They are thereby earning three of four times as much as they would at home. In the neo-liberal myth that is good. Thanks to free markets soon wages and prosperity throughout Europe will be the same – yes, at about the level of the third world. Greece is the writing on the wall. Are wages and prosperity rising there?
Then there are the wonderfully cheap products the Winners purchase in the internet. There has been enough exposure by the few remaining investigative journalists in Britain concerning the deplorable pay and working conditions at the online companies. Better yet, most of these companies have been provided by the EU with loopholes to avoid paying taxes on their enormous profits.
Let us not forget the “budget airlines” to fly cheaply to one’s summer house in Spain or France. The list goes on and on: Cheap labour means cheap prices, and should you be a winner and have money, you can benefit from all these cheap offers. You can deplore the iniquities of life in the opinion pages of the Guardian while continuing to enjoy the benefits this system provides you.
A couple of months ago I met with a young colleague from Britain, a promising investigative journalist. I asked him how he was going to vote in the referendum. His answer was: “I shall vote for remain because I cannot stand all the people for Brexit, Nigel Farage and that sort.” A very profound political analysis.
The Chav Losers may have voted with the demagogues, but they did what everyone in a democracy should do: they voted for what best represented their interest. What did Remain offer them in the way of change?
It was this lack of reflection and the internal conflict within the labour Party that caused them to end up on the wrong side of the barricades on this issue. The SNP is no better. I am a great supporter of Scottish independence, but question sacrificing that independence to the EU, which will be more repressive than Westminster. Iceland recently almost went down this path, but wisely withdrew its application. Maybe the EU neo-liberal kleptocracy is simply the crowd the SNP leadership can better identify with, at least more than with the Scottish Chav-Losers.
Now much of the English middle class is wringing its hands crying “How could the Chav-Losers do this to us?” The answer is because you have treated them like rubbish for decades. While you have moaned about all that is wrong in the EU and claimed that Britain had to remain in the EU to reform it, the British Loser-Chavs have recognised political reality. They are the first in Europe to have the courage to take this step. The middle class Syriza – demagogues from the left – in Greece did exactly what the British middle class has been doing for decades: sold a large portion of its people down the EU river for wealth and political power; in other words, they have become Social Democrats. The Chav-Losers know their politics and their British middle class.
Simon Wren-Lewis eloquently decried that the warnings he and 90 percent of British macro-economists had made concerning the damage that Brexit would do to the British economy were being ignored. Despite my highest respect for Wren-Lewis, he left the most important figure out of his calculation: For the increasingly financially squeezed unemployed and receivers of benefits in Britain what does it matter if GDP shrinks after Brexit. Their plight can only become worse, come Brexit or not. It is not that Wren-Lewis’ figures were unconvincing; they were simply irrelevant for much of the British population. The potential losers of the referendum are not the Chav-Losers, but the 48 %.
Before the referendum the enlightened segment of British society, the Winners, claimed they would reform the EU and terminate the Tory reign of neo-liberalism. Thanks to the Chav-Losers they now only have half the work to do. Up to now the only plan of action that seems to be occurring to the Labour old guard is to attack Jeremy Corbyn – not a very auspicious beginning. If these reactionary Labour politicians succeed, Labour will end up on the same course as most Social Democrat parties Europe: to oblivion.
The rest of Europe should in the meantime emulate Britain and initiate EU exit referenda with the caveat: either throw out the corrupt EU elite and transform yourselves and your laws into a democratic institution or we are putting you to the vote.