Monday, 23 April 2018

A Very British Brexit?

Perfidious Albion - that's what they call us. Content to say one thing and do another, it's a particularly wounding nickname for a country that considers aspects such as "a gentleman's word is his bond" to be articles of faith*. When thinking about my country, I wonder how far we have come along this road, as it is not the case one's word can be taken as honest these days - a lot of daily life seems stricken by continually having to prove one is who one says one is. Annoying for me, as a relatively privileged person, but potentially catastrophic for people from the Windrush generation, stuck in a Kafka-esque nightmare of having to prove status with documentation that has been destroyed.

With all this in mind, that we not only have a history of going back on our word diplomatically, but also display large amounts of mistrust towards each other as well, what can be gleaned from the fact the government keeps saying one thing and doing another on Brexit?

Perhaps these tactics are being used against the Brexiteers? As if you are a weak Prime Minister in a difficult position one might tend to lull a load of troublesome backbenchers along until performing a volte-face at the last possible moment.

However, of course, the same might be said with respect to the troublesome Remainer backbenchers. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

*Yes, both actions can be defended as merely the workings of a civilised society trying to help save face and people's feelings, but that wouldn't suit my argument today.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Emotions in Politics and Brexit

Today I return to a subject that I have discussed before, that of Emotions in Politics, with some of my previous posts on this subject here and here. However I am interested today in how it impacts the strongest political issue of our times, namely Brexit.

When I floated the provisional idea for this post on twitter, another user thought it would be dangerous to cast people who feel one thing and hence vote based on that one way or another as being Type A or Type B, which is a fair enough objection. My hypothesis is, that if people vote to cut themselves off from one group of people (whether or not it will therefore be easier to work closer with other groups of people) I am interested in whether or not this may have a link to self-esteem.

I’ve been thinking about self-esteem as lot as a mother of a young daughter, I am concerned about the latest reports that up to 1 in 4 teenage girls are depressed, given their own responses to a survey recently. So it is on my mind. My question would be (if indeed this information does not already exist) – to what extent does internally generated self-esteem influence one’s need to change things like supranational trade agreements.

It sounds absurd, but people make politics and politics makes supranational trade agreements. However, I am interested in the politics that drove the appeal of “Take Back Control” and I’m wondering if it’s because the people felt particularly out of control. What’s interesting about the Brexit vote is that it assembled a coalition of people in areas that feel “left behind” where one might feel that one is not “in control” of one’s circumstances – justifiably so in some cases no doubt, but also folded into that coalition vast areas of the south with older people that were doing well but may not have that much tertiary education, with education being one of the major drivers  that seems to have decided someone’s Brexit vote. If, perhaps your status (what others think of you) is founded on things that can change such as wealth rather than on internally driven self-esteem that can be more of a product of education, then perhaps someone might feel more out of control? It’s hard to really make predictions, and possibly dangerous as my interlocutor seemed to think this morning, however, can be worthwhile too – I would be interested in any data or evidence around these lines.

With Bill Clinton’s memorable phrasing in our minds

 “Underneath all these debates that are going on today lingers one
simple question... whether you believe social strength, economic reform
and political reform flow from division or multiplication."

How can we win people to the cause of multiplication in the future – perhaps it is mostly about looking at what they think of themselves?

Thursday, 31 August 2017

What a colossal waste of time Brexit is

My fundamental problem with Brexit is not really that people were lied to in the Referendum or really that the other side "won", though I would rather both of those things hadn't happened.
My biggest problem is that it's a huge waste of time of the Government's time and energy.  With reports that Theresa May is "growing in confidence", I'm like  - why? Her government is not making progress, all it has decided so far is that things should more or less go on like before, as if this is possible with the EU or desirable.
Meanwhile the housing crisis worsens, the NHS continues to teeter over a precipice of crisis that it regularly falls into every winter, and the Prime Minister "grows in confidence"? Oookay then......
This, more than anything else, makes me despair - that Theresa May just has to say she's feeling more confident and then all whispers will reduce, and we certainly won't have a leadership challenge between now and the oft mooted election in 2019...
The story continues....

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Living Lives of Quiet Desperation...

I, like many others, was very struck by the recent YouGov Poll outlining that a majority of over 65 Leave voters think their family losing their jobs is an adequate price to pay for Brexit. God knows what dreams they have about the benefits of Brexit, but it is very shocking at quite a visceral level, before you get onto how Boomer Leavers expect us to pay for triple-locked pensions from a reduced GDP.

British Nostalgia, or a million iterations of the same Keep Calm and Carry On font and poster design, the station in the Railway Children, Paddington Bear's coat and hat, George Smiley, Dunkirk, Vera Lynn, Tudor houses, antique tables, and billiards and other lines from songs by The Kinks.

That's what I thought Brexit was about, nothing to do with the EU - and it's still not really to do with the EU, if you ask me, more about a reckoning with ourselves. Strangely, recently, I've started wondering if the older generation have just as much problem with us as we have with them, post Brexit anyway.

When we agreed to go into the EU, before I was born, in 1974, we were the sick man of Europe. Better trade co-operation and our comparative advantage in services led to increased prosperity. However, as the late Paul Daniels might have said, not a lot of people know that. People doing better makes for a more prosperous country. I was struck when I spend time abroad in Malawi when I was 19, that there was a difference in "just the basics" like roads, what shops sold, transport and local amenities like cinemas or leisure centres that felt like a yawning chasm between where Malawi was, development wise and where I had grown up. Before I did that, I thought the Britain was rubbish, as people are around me in Britain kept telling me so.

Britain has some unfortunate aspects of our culture - the belief that there is a right way and a wrong way of doing every singe thing, all the time; that there are "people like us" and "people not like us", that it's safe to be just rude enough that a British person would feel put down but someone from somewhere else would think you were unfailingly polite, the ability to be kind to animals and cruel to other human beings. And I love my country - god knows what it would be like if I didn't!

This, combined with what I have learnt is anchoring - the ability to think you deserve your prosperity, and a virtual disregard of any understanding of structural advantage or disadvantage, mixed with Brexit nostalgia, led to a result that I am not even sure Vote Leave understood. As Dominic Cummings said, he took the result of focus groups that said "give the money we give to the EU and give it to the NHS instead" - a simple answer on the face of it. So they won with simple answers to a deceptively simple question. But now I understand more about Britain I see we are a very mixed bag of people like us (I use this deliberately) who have grown up with the prosperity of being in the EU, understand how things are balanced and somehow think we will continue to prosper with it, and people who not exactly liked the old days, as they were hard times, but think that because they went through them, so should we.... almost like time served. But, as much as we like the increased prosperity, Britain itself and our collective failure to deal with structural problems of it's own has led to us not doing as well as our parents already and Brexit is just going to make that so much worse.

So we have these two parties, Gen X and Millennial Remainers and Boomer Leavers, who seem to have diametrically opposed interests - Gen X + would like to stay in the EU/EEA and keep as much prosperity as possible and Boomer Leavers, with their pensions, think we should do worse because back in the 60s and 70s they had to.

I can't see a resolution to this. I don't know why older Leavers would think a period of penurious living is a good thing, unless I suppose they think we are weak in character and also, more weirdly that being poorer would help us build character? Can we show them we are strong in character without such a drastic step? Can you show anyone that has formed a judgment that if they went through something so should you, even as we have children of our own? Do those children have to have the "sins of the fathers" (i.e. us), whatever they might be, visited upon the children?

Although I am concerned about the result of Brexit and obviously would still like to Remain, I have at bottom a belief that certainties like the U.K. being generally risk-averse as a nation and fairly pro-trade (and liking a lot of the new innovations in cooking in food brought to us from the last 20 years of globalisation) will probably prevail either in a relationship a bit like the EEA, and/or a bespoke trade deal which does not bring prosperity to a standstill (but the latter will probably take 10-15 years). I've become much more concerned about the divided state of the country, and moreover, exactly how easy it was to cleave. When that cleaver fell between families, I'm even more shocked.

People have been talking about culture wars for a while now, and now I see that there are some advantages to being Gen X and younger - more of us have gone to university which probably makes you happier and certainly makes you smarter (in the aggregate). Technology has led to better outcomes and medical advances. We are healthier, and will probably live longer. Our children are less likely to die. Through the psychological revolution we understand ourselves and each other better, we are more comfortable with people from different backgrounds and lifestyles.It is easier to be open about different types of sexuality. It is easier to leave an unhappy relationship. Multiculturalism is not just social policy to many of us, it's an article of faith. Does this, in fact, make us an alien species to a Boomer Leaver? Are we cuckoos in the nest? How much are our assumptions about each other and these Boomer Leavers a function of the times we grew up in?

I realise these are mostly questions, and no answers, however I did really need to write them down see if I could move the thought process on at all. Still stuck.... any assistance welcome!

Now, there was of course a man who did believe in order to be free, you should be poor - as well as of course many others - including whole religious sects - founded on this principle. His name, of course, was Henry David Thoreau and he said:
            "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things."

Is Brexit an act of desperation ? This is probably my final question and one I might have to return to.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

How to Kill a Brexit

I don’t want to make a prediction, because as we all know the volatility of our current political situation and the multi-level constitutional crises that last years Brexit vote brought on leads to a lot of egg on a lot of faces, however there are a few observations I’d like  to make...
So, after Mr Cummings “did a Ratner” and following on from Gisela Stuart also saying that Brexit was a mistake – they are not constrained by constituents or really parties anymore, so we can take this to be their honest opinion – if key architects of Brexit can see it’s a disaster then it could be (with the emphasis on could) that the thing will be abandoned. Parliament has a habit of kicking problems it doesn’t like to deal with into the long grass, and even now the debate is about safety standards because of Grenfell Tower, the public sector pay cap because of the election result and it feels, to be honest, like the debate has moved on. But we can’t just casually long grass it and move onto something else like Parliament seems to indicate it wants to. As  every month, there will be a week of negotiations, grinding us on to decision point after decision point, which seems to preclude our usual appetite for a good old-fashioned British fudge.
My anxiety is that an effective minister can often drive through reforms if the Prime Minister is either weak, like May or not particularly interested in the detail, like Cameron, then dramatic reforms such as Gove’s to education can take place.  I’m worried David Davis could lead us into disaster primarily because nobody else is paying attention. At this time, maybe our best bet for self-preservation is the spreadsheets of Phillip Hammond. Can he kill Brexit? I suppose it remains to be seen, however it's striking that some of it's architects seem to want to scupper it now.
I’ll leave you with the superb, and controversial words of Oscar Wilde from the Ballad of Reading Gaol vis-à-vis the recent comments regarding Brexit by Dominic Cummings
"Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!"

Monday, 24 April 2017

Snap General Election

I thought it best to write a short post about the snap General Election, given I won't be able to write that many posts throughout it. I've got some Open Uni work on the go plus working 4 days a week plus a toddler to bring up so I generally don't have that much time anymore for reading blog posts, let alone writing them!
Anyway, five things I would like to see from this election.
1. Jeremy Corbyn's removal as Labour leader post the loss of seats for Labour. I feel the single most important thing that could happen in the Brexit process is genuine opposition
2. A Lib Dem MP (Lisa Smart) in my home seat of Hazel Grove
3. Many more Lib Dem MPs to add to the excellent 9 we already have
4. More women MPs for the Lib Dems and in general
5. Good returns to vote levels for Lib Dems to pre-coalition levels at least
Good luck to all Lib Dem candidates on 8th June!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Brexit - Free Movement of People Extended - BINO?

I’m wary of putting too much hope in this government, but post Article 50 being triggered, the government seems to be executing a pivot towards policies which seem sensible.
Theresa May has indicated that for an “implementation period” the free movement of EU citizens could continue, and hasn’t said much recently about her immigration in the “tens of thousands” policy. Now, I obviously don’t want to Brexit, but this is sensible, whilst businesses and government turn around the tanker of the UK economy towards slower progress….. or of course, don’t do that.

As it seems to me a great deal of normal citizens who don’t pay that much attention to politics aren’t paying a great deal of attention to Brexit, if the trade deal that was struck looked a lot like being in the EU (Brexit In Name Only) but without the MEPs (sorry MEPs – it does appear nobody seems to have your interests in mind!) and included an “emergency brake” on immigration which is probably politically possible if we continue to pay into the EU budget, well, then things go on like before, mostly, only Liam Fox doesn’t have a job.
What’s not to like?

I realise this is very rose-tinted view, but it’s nice to have something positive to write about in this mess!