TheBigSmoke now funneled into FridayMash
After Chilcot, the Brexit Inquiry
Today’s “Trumpy” world of populist hostility towards elites can be attributed in large part to the impacts of globalisation on the lives of ordinary citizens. The speed of change has opened up an unsustainably large gap between rich and poor, and heightened areas of existing economic decline. When a Welsh village is up for sale for the price of a one-bedroom flat in Belgravia, central London, resentment will gnaw into notions of self-worth and identity, creating nostalgia for something that, arguably, never was, or, in other cases, can never be again.
Add to this Britain’s twenty-year diet of myths that the EU was out to strip the country of its uniqueness and it is little surprise that, given the chance to slam its front door to such effrontery, it double-locked it for good measure. Complicit in this was a steady drip feed of distorted press coverage – from claims that the EU decided on the curvature of bananas to the banning of a barmaid’s cleavage, a barrister’s wig, the pealing of church bells, brandy butter and double decker buses.
The safeguards against nationalist tendencies built into the EU’s technocratic decision-making have been misconstrued as a bunch of “faceless politicians” running “our” country. Moreover, the BBC’s obsessive quest to appear impartial in its referendum coverage meant that it ended up propagating a jetsam of mistruths about the impacts of Brexit. So it was a slam-dunk for the Brexit campaign when it came up with the motto: “take back control” from what was perceived to be a nefarious, anonymous elite: “I don’t like people telling us what to do miles away,” muttered an English northerner, among many.
Those from struggling manufacturing or industrial towns are now left with what was the negligence of their own governments…with few economic prospects, they resent the presence of too many immigrants, even in communities with virtually none.
The EU was grouped with London and its greedy bankers, the latter immune from the effects of a financial crisis believed to be of their own doing, and from the conservative government’s austerity measures. When ex-wannabe prime minister Michael Gove, in last minute campaigning, compared the advice of experts from the IMF, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Bank of England, to Nazi propagandists in the 1930’s, he sought to compound these misplaced populist notions of the people knowing better.
But the just-published Chilcot Inquiry into Britain’s decision to enter the Iraq war of 2003offers a stark warning about the dangers of ignoring experts. Chilcot reveals how Tony Blair cherry-picked arguments to justify his pre-existing instincts, while the government underestimated the consequences of the decision and overestimated the influence Britain would continue to exert on the Bush administration.
The flawed intelligence that led to the invasion of Iraq parallels the flawed information that was dished out to the British electorate during the EU referendum campaign, from the entire length of the Boris bus that claimed EU membership cost £350m per week to the fiction that Turkey, on the verge of EU membership, would send its citizens pouring into Britain’s borders. And the absence of planning for post-war Iraq was echoed in the scurrying heels of fleeing Brexiteer front-liners, who plainly lacked their own strategy for Britain’s future after the referendum result.
Those from struggling manufacturing or industrial towns who voted for Brexit are now still left with what was the negligence of their own governments: bad schools, bad infrastructure and insufficient digital investment, and, with few economic prospects, they resent the presence of too many immigrants, even in communities with virtually none.
The wealthy who also voted “out” still have options, while those over whom they continue to fly, in business class comfort, do not. And the many older voters who cast their votes to try to regain a disappearing way of life have excluded the younger generation from living and working without barriers in a connected continent. This was an essential freedom when their life choices will not include a generous pensions package and the ready help of a once welfare-rich state.
Sustaining a prosperous, stable economy in today’s globalised world is hard. By rejecting close integration with its largest and neighbouring trading bloc and relying instead on bi-lateral agreements with countries outside the EU, Britain will be seeking out dance partners like China, Brazil and India. These are all unreliably fragile, as they transition from emerging economy to middle-income status. Lacking resilient political frameworks and geographical or political affinity, nor indeed a shared history, these countries will not help Britain regain its ranking as fifth largest economy in the world, down to sixth as of two weeks ago, nor easily rekindle a sense of opportunity for its disadvantaged citizens.