I wish I could rejoice in the decision yesterday to leave the European Union but I find myself feeling a profound melancholy.
I was not born in Britain but arrived as a four year old boy. I suppose this gave me an outsider’s perspective. I remember the austerity of the country back then. I remember the struggle with Thatcher, as the working class clashed with her vision of a ‘modern’ Britain. Then, through the Blair years there was rapid economic expansion, globalisation and an unprecedented inflow of money and people into the major cities, especially London. We became a 24-hour culture, like many of the great cities of the Far East. We have gone through heady times and I would never wish to return to the provincial quagmire that we once were.
What is clear to me from the results of Brexit is that the country is deeply divided. The vote to leave is not by a landslide. And the vote to leave campaign has been fuelled by people who have not shared sufficiently in the spoils of direct foreign investment and all the goodies that have been showered on the major urban dwellers. The cost of living is unjust. Life has more creature comforts but less basic security. Brexit supporters have looked for scape goats and they targeted immigration – sending a loud raspberry to the political incumbents by upsetting their entire future. This is a vote made in anger. People are angry, because they expected more. They can see that some have made off like bandits, while others have not and the younger generation struggles to pay for their own education and find adequate and affordable housing.
This makes the income inequality, or ‘poverty gap’, the pressing issue of our times. Probably more so right now than global warming, because it can very easily lead to insurrection and war in the near future.
The same thing is happening in the United States with the surprising rise of Trump. The Republican guard was taken completely by surprise but not so for a large part of the country. Just like in Europe, they have a federated states, income inequality problem of their own, which frequently erupts in racial strife and hate speech against first generation Americans. Those who perceive themselves as the have-nots are angry at those who have. And those who have like to hoard and not share their wealth with any of the institutions designed to redistribute it. In fact, they’ve gamed the system in their favour, so that they hoovered up the increased productivity from the workplace without giving anything back and leaving most of the public on their own when it comes to personal welfare. If you haven’t seen Michael Moore’s latest documentary, “Where to Invade Next”, you really should. It cleverly displays just how dearly Americans pay through the nose to get the basic securities in life that many Europeans take for granted, despite the high taxes in Europe and their own political and economic problems.
To me, it comes down to a quality of life issue. I am much happier with the products and services that modern cities like London have to offer but I am acutely aware that not everyone can enjoy them, because the population is suffering. It has come at a cost and it’s time to deal with this as seriously and progressively as we can.
Unfortunately, voting to leave the EU will only exacerbate the problem. This is not going to chastise the bankers and teach corporations a lesson. It’s not going to send a signal to the members of the Board to better compensate workers. It’s not going to expand the welfare state. No. It’s going to give the robber barons a carte blanche to do whatever they want with less people looking over their shoulder. For, even if the EU was an imperfect institution that had an infuriating bureaucracy, it was the best attempt so far to improve the rights of workers, tackle thorny issues that dealt with the quality of life, and kept the peace within Europe.
The vote to leave was made in anger and put two fingers up to the political elite (which is a popular British pastime), sending a very dubious message that pluralism is bad and isolationism is better. As someone who comes from a multi-ethnic background, myself – the product of many people co-mingling and migrating around the globe in search of a better future – how can I agree with that? Our future is not bright and it is not orange. Our future is going to be a struggle against our better natures, as we fight the impulse for greed and self-preservation in our efforts to create a fairer community for all.