Monthly Archives: June 2016

Brexit

The economic case is firmly with Remain. Not by the ludicrous margin the treasury suggest, but it is with Remain nonetheless. Some of the EU is pretty wasteful – the CAP for example at once wastes money and harms farmers in the developing world. Overall, though, they represent pretty good value for money, when you consider they run an entire continent.

Britain will negotiate trade deals, but if we do so with the EU we’re gonna have to give in on budget and free movement anyway. Other trade deals are also possible, but they do take ages to sort out. Still, we and most other countries are in the WTO, so we have the bare bones of a trade agreement with most places anyway. It’s not gonna be a catastrophe, just a pointless expense.

What has been disappointingly lacking from this debate is a sincere economic analysis of the impact of Brexit on the worst off, the lowest paid. While migration has, in general, been good for the country economically (and, in my view, culturally) it’s not likely to have made things better for the lowest paid.

However, it’s not fully to blame, or even mostly. The last 30 years have seen a steady decline in wages and working conditions, and the principal beneficiaries have not been migrants. Instead of blaming each other, we need real resistance to this deliberate policy of putting profits before people.

We talk about democracy and sovereignty a lot. The UK has a very concentrated political system compared to most countries. We only have one elected House – the US has two elected Houses, a president, a powerful judiciary and states which each have two elected Houses and an elected governor. So the influence of another body, even if it’s not the best, can help democracy overall.

International agreements are hard to come by, and a (basically) working group of countries is something to be cherished. Put bluntly, in the latest round of climate change talks, we struggled to commit to a target that isn’t strong enough and will be broken anyway. The latest round of WTO negotiations started in 2001, and remain unfinished. That’s well over half of my lifetime.

Put 200 countries together like that and one bastard will always think they can ruin it for everyone (looking at you, America). Only by working together over the long term with a political structure that binds us can we workably produce the international response we need to these issues.

The EU isn’t perfect. I hate what it did to Greece. I hate what it’s doing with TTIP, and I hate its continued resistance to democratic reform. Yeah, a freedom from its more restrictive pro-market policies could open up the space for a socially beneficial reindustrialisation of the UK, but that is more a dream than a plan. So, with a heavy heart, I’ll be voting Remain.

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Brexit, identity and the post-truth media

For many people, Brexit is not a battle of facts, numbers and figures, and that goes for those on both sides of the debate. For many Brexiteers, this vote is about an expression of British identity. For many Remainers, the vote is, similarly, about an expression of a liberal, cosmopolitan identity. In fact, the people most passionate about the referendum on both sides are probably more enamoured with these ideas of identity than they are with the cold, hard facts of their case.

Those facts, in reality, are a secondary consideration. We are living, in some ways, in a post-truth media environment. The line between journalism and activism is often blurred. I think often those blurring the lines see themselves as doing a good deed – in presenting a single side of the story they see themselves not as spreading mistruth, but as correcting a flawed narrative.

After an incident of Islamist terrorism, many on the left will blame the attack on the West’s history of colonialism and war. This elicits a reaction from the right that people are in denial about “the nature” of Islam (insofar as a billion people can, collectively, have a nature) being violent. It’s not that people on the left don’t understand that passages of the Quran are used to justify these atrocities and that yes, there is some connection between Islam (not mainstream Islam, though) and them.

Rather, they see a regrettable reduction of these complex issues into “Islam = bad”, and worry about the effect that this reductionist view of the problem will have on ordinary, peaceful Muslims who don’t wish harm on anyone. Seeing the risk for each incident to provoke an Islamophobic reaction, they offer a counter-narrative that seeks to provoke reflection on the complexities of what’s going on. The internal truth of any one piece is secondary to the overarching truth of the narrative.

Of course, this form of narrative-focused journalism provokes an equal and opposite reaction from the right. Concerned about a namby-pamby PC-gone-mad narrative that they can read in leftist thinkpieces, they push back the other way, with rightist thinkpieces that are equally as narrative-focused, and assert that in fact Islam is “to blame” and that the left is too for being too afraid to criticise it. All this creates an atmosphere of shouty distrust, a vicious cycle of thinkpieces constantly reasserting the chosen side of the argument so as to try and create what they consider to be an overall balance.

The same is playing out with Brexit. Each side makes ever more ludicrous claims – both have invoked Hitler, for fucks sakes – and the only real loser is the public. George Osborne’s dismal treasury predictions were all worst-case scenarios – it seems to me that he massively overplayed his hand. Why not quote a smaller but more believable figure and say “look, this isn’t a huge amount, but would you rather have it in your pocket or not?”.

Trapped between two sides selling narratives, nobody knows who to trust. Back to the clash of identities. With the increasingly less believable claims emanating from both the Leave and Remain camps, people  can’t realistically assess “the facts” because the obvious question then is “which facts?”. Instead, when facts fail we retreat to identity. Am I a proud, down-to-earth Brit or a cosmopolitan European?

The endless panopoly of experts telling people to vote remain are associated, rightly or wrongly, with the liberal cosmopolitanism of Remain. So, their views are discounted immediately by those who see this vote in terms. Similarly anyone talking about the fact that, actually, free movement of labour might be good for those at the top but not for those in low-paid, insecure jobs can be discounted as a “little Englander”. I’m fucking sick of it all, and I can’t wait for it to be over.

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