I do portraits sometimes.
This one is either Whoopie Goldberg or Gwyneth Paltrow, I haven’t decided yet.
I do portraits sometimes.
This one is either Whoopie Goldberg or Gwyneth Paltrow, I haven’t decided yet.
Strangely, for someone who bangs on about the catastrophe of Brexit every day, I don’t want to reverse the Brexit referendum.
I want it to plough on regardless, and let Brexiteers learn the consequences for themselves.
Unfortunately the Brexit crowd are – and I genuinely don’t mean this offensively – like 12 year old children. That’s fine. We were all 12 once, and many of us (including myself) occasionally revert. We want and we want, and refuse to see that all those sweets will rot out teeth. We just want.
But the truth is, Brexiteers have suffered 25 years of having their every bad impulse reinforced by the nastier end of the British press, like the child-catcher offering sweets. And it’s been very convenient for every government to blame the EU for screw-ups created in Westminster.
After a generation of that, it’s not going to be possible to sit down and explain consequences to the Brexiteers, no matter how hard AC Grayling tries. Nobody wants to listen to the consequences. They voted for Christmas every day, and they want Christmas every day.
If we – the grown ups – attempt to cancel Christmas, the tantrums will be epic. Better let them find out the hard way.
So my advice is: wake every day and force feed them the reality of “Christmas every day”. The reality is: you’re sick of a family of people “just like you” by the 28th. By the 1st January you’ve had your credit cards stopped due to unusual activity. In mid-January your home is repossessed, and your kids are in a diabetic coma by Valentine’s Day.
But even hearing that, any 12 year old will stick fingers in their ears and refuse to accept the truth.
The only way back is forwards. We have to let Brexit play out and stop attempting to reverse the decision. It feels undemocratic. It feels rejectionist. The mood music of Remainers is Scrooge-like, and all Brexiteers want is plum pudding and custard.
Instead, I want sensible grown ups to focus on the opportunity for a second referendum when the consequences become clear. Because at some point average Leavers will see that even with all the power of government and an army of Brexit negotiators fighting the good fight, Christmas every day is a godawful nightmare.
10 simple questions.
If we don’t find answers for these, Brexit will fail, even on it’s own terms.
Why is nobody from the Leave campaign asking these?
In case it’s unclear, that’s at least 1,397,000 jobs – many highly skilled – that we need to fill in 12 months… or start training two years ago.
And that’s just the direct jobs: it doesn’t count all the additional teachers, administrators, quality controllers and examiners required to attain the quality we expect from so many of these vital skills.
Removing or barring immigrants – as the government plans to do – is only half the question.
Replacing those immigrants’ essential contribution to our economy and national fabric is the bit the Leave campaign has never explained.
And even if migrants aren’t banned, our attitude to the world is already driving them away. Its already happening, and Brexit hasn’t begun yet. Reports show a 48,000 fall in immigration over 3 months to June 2017. Over 12 months, that’s a loss of 20% of the vital roles we’re clearly unable to replace from the British population.
If you back Brexit, you should be asking this stuff, not asking about Labour or terrorism or democracy – all important issues, certainly, but ultimately not related to keeping the UK going day-to-day. Having enough workers to get food into the supermarkets, however, isn’t optional. That’s the stuff we need from day one, and on literally every subsequent day.
I have heard absolutely nobody from the Leave side ask these questions, or make any attempt to answer.
I have seen no job adverts, or announcements of plans for new nursing colleges, training programmes or building schemes.
So one last question: if Brexit is happening, why is nothing essential to Brexit happening?
I cordially dislike political acronyms: they tend to be so broad as to be meaningless. All those Yuppies and Nimbies and Dinkies are usually nothing of the sort.
So it’s with some trepidation that I propose a new – or rather increasingly extinct – group. Wealthy, Old, White and Southern: the WOWS.
My main worry about this acronym, other than the strong likelihood it already exists, is that it only hazily defines the group its intended to describe, namely the core Tory voter for most of my 47 years.
I should state right now that to be amongst the WOWS, you need only meet – at most – any one of the criteria. You simply need to have been made more secure by the neoliberal policy of flogging off the publicly purchased assets of the state to enrich a small, cosseted, voting group.
And that doesn’t even mean financial enrichment. Whiteness alone is enriching, if your environment is made increasingly hostile to non-whites; and this government has – charitably speaking – hurled the doors wide open to underhanded (as well as overt) racism.
But the key things that define the WOWS are, unfortunately, hard to cram into an acronym: firstly, they happen to be on the winning side of a deliberate division engendered by Conservative policy; and secondly, they tend to be unaware their victory is a result of policy, and assume they’re morally, intellectually or racially better than the losers.
Until the 1979 election, the purpose of government was, within certain margins, to look after most of the population. But Thatcherism put paid to that, with the cynical recognition that fattening up a core demographic like foie gras geese allowed a government to rule with impunity, whilst impoverishing the majority. Yes, the actual majority, just not the majority of those visiting a ballot box.
The reason this could work was because that key group, the WOWS, did one thing the anti-Tory majority didn’t: they voted.
The WOWS have been made so, so much richer than previous generations, and told they earned it. If you’ve owned a home for 40 years, as most WOWS have, you’ve lived through eight property booms, and your average-sized 1977 £17,000 mortgage has given you a £420,000 nest-egg.
And this policy has proven very successful, electorally if not morally. It’s brought not only power, but the impossibility of seeing any other route to power. That’s why I can’t blame those who saw no way for Corbyn to win – myself included! The strategy of post-Thatcher Conservatism has been so successful it’s made any alternative seem mad. Labour, for years, openly aped the Tory strategy whilst quietly raising taxation on the City to fund various sticking plasters in the areas sacrificed to neoliberalism.
At the election, scales fell from my eyes, as they did from most of the (significantly more professional and well-informed) commentariat.
But now, at last, we see the flaw that has crippled the last couple of governments, and will ultimately destroy the current incarnation of the Conservative party: the WOWS have grandkids.
Those youngsters may be, externally, as white as their forebears: but they’re well travelled, internationalist in outlook, and massively less prejudiced than their grandparents.
They are richer than some, but 2 generations away from inheriting the property wealth of their grandparents; and because each generation spreads inheritance wider, they’re likely to be left too little to push them into a new iteration of property wealth.
Those grandchildren are socially liberal, with a wide range of gay, black, Muslim, immigrant, trans or – to core WOWS – “transgressive” friends. The essentially insular, monocultural outlook of older Conservatives is alien to their younger family.
And those grandkids are not dying. That’s a key.
64% of Tory voters in 2017 are 65 or older. By 2022, the date (don’t laugh) of the next election, half of those people will be either incapacitated by serious illness, infirmity or mental degradation; or they’ll be dead.
That’s half of the Tory vote unable to get to a polling booth in the next 5 years.
Their kids and grandkids have not been raised in a world where being Tory was just another way to improve the country for everyone. They, like me, were raised at a time when Tory meant Nasty. Greedy. Cruel. Destructive. Prejudiced, small-minded, discriminatory and insular.
Tories, to the young, have always been the people who persecute their disabled friends; the people who cut them off from the continent; the people who bring fear into the hearts of their Muslim colleague, and poverty to the nurses who delivered their babies.
It’s simply not possible for Tories to persuade enough of those people that their lifelong experience of Conservatism is wrong: not enough of them to replace their dying grandparents, anyway. No amount of tax bribery or enhanced local council grants can alter those bone-deep convictions.
The end is nigh. And the fear in the eyes of returning Conservative MPs, faced with 71% of 18-24s voting, proves they’re starting to realise it.
The end is nigh. And thats something to say WOW about.
On the whole, I prefer the future: it’s where I intend to spend the coming years.
However, I do understand a perfectly natural sense of yearning nostalgia. I suspect that’s why most people voted for Brexit. The good old days were pretty good for most people.
Even people who weren’t alive then know, from their parents, that it was decent time to be starting out. You just have to ask about your dad’s free degree or the full-pay 2 year apprenticeship that led to his job for life; or look around the big family home your mum somehow managed to move into as the owner aged only 22. These things show, unequivocally, that things were – and still should be – better.
Like all economists, trade bodies, corporate leaders and non-UKIP or Tory politicians in the entire world, I think Brexit will make things worse. But I know those who chose it did so because they wanted change for the better. Change that looks like what the post-war period brought. They either remember it, or see it in their parents’ comparative comfort.
It was real. This is what it was like.
From the 40s through to the 80s, governments built up to 250,000 houses a year. They owned and defended major industries on our behalf, and the key strategy of any government was to have full employment and proper apprenticeships for anyone who wanted them.
Was that period perfect? Of course not. Bad things happened, poverty existed, governments screwed up, and there were wars and reversals and crises. But the general trend was for increased wealth, health, life expectancy, security, openness, home-ownership, saving, disposable income, social cohesion, and acceptance of others. In the years since the mid- to late-80s, to put it mildly, the pendulum swung back. Those gains – and for the vast majority of us, they were substantial gains – have juddered to a halt, stagnated, and then begin to slide inexorably back.
Prior to that, wages were high, growth was almost constant, unions ensured jobs were safe, education was free, productivity was strong, healthcare was well funded, and housing was cheap.
On the equivalent household income of £25,000 you could buy a house in London, own a car, and start a family. This is described neatly here.
Public pensions were secure and you retired at 60 or 65, a full 10 or 15 years earlier than young people will in future.
Personal debt was comparatively rare because – aside from mortgages – most things could be afforded on your wage. And mortgages were so cheap you could save a deposit for a London home – an actual 3 bed house of your own, not a cupboard to flatshare – in under 2 years.
Public debt was also low, and we kept it that way while managing to repay WW2 and build the NHS.
Government investment created the road system, publicly owned major industries, hospitals, postal and telephone services, public television, a power grid and a science and space programme. We even managed to introduce the Clean Air Act that started to protect the environment.
And at the same time, we gave away an empire but remained reasonably wealthy and powerful. And we managed to do this whilst accepting 1.4 million non-white (and, in large numbers, non-Christian) immigrants in the 1950s alone, and yet more in the 60s. Immigration – then, as now – didn’t destroy the economy, our traditions or our culture.
What did? Where did this utopia go? How did it all end?
Let me explain.
In that period the top rate of income tax was 95%: it’s now 45%. Business tax was 50%: it’s now 20%.
Since 1980, tax avoidance by the wealthy has doubled. Combined with those giant tax cuts, this means we now get 25% of what we used to from those who own the most.
Union membership was at 64% in the 70s. It’s now around 21%, and a mere 7% in the private sector. Every union in the world was, ultimately, formed by terrible employers. Now union power is gone, and guess what: the terrible employers are back.
And we used to own steel, water, car, electricity, gas, postal and other industries. Then, because it would somehow, magically “make things better”, we sold them to other countries. So now we send all that money overseas.
So what happened was this: every time you voted for smaller government and lower taxes, you voted to cut your income, pension, investment, and the availability of housing for your kids; and now you can’t afford to live well.
Every time you despised those on welfare and chose meaner, crueler leaders, you kicked away a piece of the framework on which your future happiness was built. And now your happiness is gone and you need someone to blame.
Every time you cursed the lefty BBC for charging £140 for TV and radio, you instead elected to give literally 6 times as much to Sky for showing exactly the same football matches you used to watch on terrestrial. And in doing so, you undermined the national in favour of the greedy.
Every time you turned your back on miners or shipbuilders or tube drivers who fought to save their jobs, you helped to destroy your protector; and now nobody sticks up for you.
Bulgarians didn’t do this. Jacques Delors didn’t. Muslims didn’t. The Labour Party didn’t. Jo Cox didn’t.
It’s true that the economy is big, and in pure numbers we’re the 7th richest country. But if one person has £200tn and everyone else has nothing, the country is still worth £200tn. Doesn’t mean the populace is wealthy.
Taking into account inequality and the enormous cost of living, we’re poorer than Equatorial Guinea. That wasn’t the case before we all decided it was good to be spiteful, greedy, short-termist idiots.
Behind Brexit lies this harsh fact: you’re a turkey who repeatedly voted for Christmas. You had multiple chances to vote for enlightened self-interest, and you blew it because you didn’t like how that funny-looking bloke ate a bacon sandwich.
I want to end this post with a brief diversion into 1970s metaphysics. Stick with me, it’s not gonna hurt.
The philosopher Robert M Persig argues that human thought can be divided into two types, which he calls Classic and Romantic.
A Classic person doesn’t care about the label you apply to something, only the function. Yes, the house is ugly, but who cares: it’s well-built and is just a box for sleeping in.
A Romantic person is not especially interested in function, mainly in form. The surface is the most important factor in assessing something – if the house is pretty, who cares if there’s rot in the basement.
There’s a natural “platform problem” here: whether you’re Classic or a Romantic, the platform you’re on means you will describe the other platform in disparaging terms. Romantics are “shallow and stupid”. Classics are “nerdy and elitist”. I’ve probably insulted half of you here, but doesn’t that kind of prove Persig’s hypothesis?
I’m a bit of a Classic, I think, and as such, I can’t help viewing Brexit as a function. It doesn’t matter what labels you apply to it. If you look below the surface at what you’re actually rejecting, rather than at what badge is applied to it, there’s a surprise in store.
I accept this doesn’t apply to everyone who voted Leave. Maybe only to a small minority. But given the narrowness of the vote, that percentage matters.
But in my Classic way, I can’t help concluding you didn’t vote to leave the EU at all, really. You only think you did. Given everything I’ve said about the yearning for what we used to be, everything we lost and want back, everything we blame on Europe without any justification, I have to conclude this:
In reality, you didn’t reject the dream of Europe we were all building.
You rejected the reality of a Britain you destroyed.
If you don’t follow politics, let me put it in a football metaphor. This was England vs England in the World Cup final: and England still managed to lose on penalties.
If it seems I’m laughing, I’m not: this is hysteria. This it terrifying. The consequences are appalling, and will last decades. I’m not prone to histrionics, but this feels like being tied to a madman who’s just gleefully hurled himself off a cliff. It’s gonna hurt. A lot.
In the last week I’ve been retweeted over 42,000 times, sometimes on purpose, and I’ve had hundreds of conversations on social media (I avoided the real world after being shrieked at by a momentarily insane elderly in-law for suggesting Nigel Farage might not be honest).
But in all those conversations I only reached Remainders. Leavers, predominantly, sent abuse, told me my data were nonsense, chanted “project fear” and blocked me.
Fine. I’m nothing special. But facts are. You can have your own opinion, but not your own facts.
It terrifies me that so many simply refused to accept facts. “We don’t believe experts”, you cry, then blithely plod into the Apple Store looking for a Genius with eccentric glasses who can sort out your basic shit.
You need experts, you just don’t like to be challenged. It’s a horrifying glimpse into a Trumpian wet-dream of a gullible public drinking the Kool-Aid of belligerent, quasi-fascist lying monsters.
But I accept: facts can be hard. Harder than gut feelings. But the thing about thinking with your gut: your gut literally has shit for brains.
Now, I’m no genius; I belong in no Apple Store. I’m no better, richer, smarter or more moral than you are. And like most people, I find big numbers hard to wrap my head around. So my trick is this: turn them all into time. And then you can picture it.
So if you’re talking about millions or billions of pounds, convert it into millions or billions of seconds. Google can do this for you, and it really helps.
Let’s try it on the cost of the Brexit vote on its first day. Just on the 24th June. One day.
And to put it into context, I’ve included the cost of the UK’s membership of the EU. Remember, every £1 of cost to the nation is converted into 1 second.
Annual cost of the EU
Cost to the Bank of England in one day
The cost to the global economy today
I’ll just let that sit with you for a moment. Just look at those numbers. Feel good about voting Leave?
Let’s move on.
I guess the good thing – I always look for the good thing – is that the people hit most quickly will be the ones drawing pensions today. It’s cost them 12% of their assets and 10% of their pension pot today. Just today.
Gloating may seem stupid, given that my team lost. And gloating about the elderly losing money might appear unfair; hell, it is unfair to the many pensioners who voted Remain.
But it’s more unfair to the majority of their kids, who are equally affected, have to live with it for longer, and didn’t vote for it.
Truly, they fuck you up, your mum and dad. 63% of under-50s voted to Remain. But their parents… Their parents have a lot to answer for.
Their parents got free education, solid gold pensions, young retirement age, great healthcare, cheap, plentiful housing, the chance to travel the world, and an atmosphere you can breathe. And unless they’re 90, they did not fight in the war, no matter what they tell you, so they don’t even have the excuse of being the Greatest Generation.
Not only are they getting their offspring to fund their largesse and clean up the godawful mess, they just voted to deny it to the rest of us.
Argue all you want. And I know it wasn’t all of you. But it was most of you, grandma. It happened. You did it. It’s true.
Worse that that; in fact, if you’ve got a moment, the absolute worst thing I can imagine under these unbelievably stupid circumstances: it achieved nothing.
It won’t change immigration, the Great Topic that looms behind everything. That will continue as before, because there never has been any alternative. Boris and Nigel are trying to find a way to park this particular knowledge-turd on your driveway right now. They know it. Now they have to tell you lot, without getting strung up.
Basically, we can’t not sell to the EU. We sell (or rather, sold) more to the EU than we sell to the USA, India, Saudi Arabia, China, Canada and Brazil combined. We cannot survive without that market. It would bankrupt us in months.
But to continue to sell to the EU, we have to accept its rules. Including regulation. Including tariffs. Here’s a video that explains it all. You’ll hate it. It has facts.
And those unavoidable EU rules include the free movement of people. Immigration. Just as before. It’s what Norway has, and Norway thinks we’re demented to vote for the same thing: all the costs of membership, no access to the clubhouse. For Norway, with great responsibility comes no power, like a shit Spider-Man.
We protested that you can’t change the EU from inside: apparently we decided that the best way to change it was from 500 miles away, having resigned, by shouting impotently at the sea and burning our pensions.
So we lit a fire, we threw on kerosene, fried our industry, and cooked and ate our young around the conflagration, like heathen gods.
And for what? A 2-hour smug feeling about kicking politicians, which wore off as soon as the markets opened. We’re idiots. And don’t say I didn’t warn you. I did. We all did. You were too busy kicking.
Britain is closed. Bereavement.
Nearly 80 years later, politicians of practically all hues are keen to adopt Churchill as their mascot. He’s held up as the exemplar of British stoicism and moral right. But not many people quote Chamberlain.
And that’s strange, given that so many of our nation are adopting his views; and given that today, as then, there are a number of appalling, intractable, violent wars destroying the lives of innnocent people on the borders of Europe.
Britain had a hand in stoking many of these conflicts. It armed, and continues to arm, many of the parties involved. Its policies contributed to the hatred tearing the Islamic world from the West.
Yet we run from the outcome. Turkey has taken 2 million refugees. Our policy is to take 6,000, and we’ve barely started even that pathetic process. Yet even such paltry window-dressing is considered a betrayal by those, like Farage, Gove and Boris Johnson, who claim Churchill’s mantle.
In 1939, to our nation’s eternal pride, we did not run from the world. We opened our doors to refugees. We fought despicable, angry, xenophobic nationalism. And at the end of the conflict, we led the process that healed Europe by first proposing, then helping to draft, the treaties that became the EU. It was us. We did it, because we were a great nation with a great vision. We were not, then, little Englanders terrified of foreign accents and jealous of our village green. We knew what was right, and we proudly did it.
The European Convension on Human Rights, which the Tories, UKIP and most Brexit supporters wish to tear up, was written by the British and based that Churchillian moral sense.
Brexiteers say they want their country back. So do I. That country. The country with that sense of what is right.
Today, and to our nation’s eternal shame, we slam the doors on refugees. We don’t want to welcome immigrants. We shun, belittle and abuse them.
And we ignore the compexity of the world; we conveniently forget the cuts we voted for, and the politicians we elected are leading to too few doctors, too few engineers, too few homes, too few skills.
We try to forget the truth that, in the absense of investment, any business has to buy in services: which is exactly what we, as a nation, are doing. We’re buying in 26% of NHS doctors because we’ve been too stupid and short-termist to train our own.
That’s our fault, but we don’t want to admit is. We’re angry, but refuse resonsibility. We (yes we) voted repeatedly for parties – New Labour and Tory – which boastfully cut regulations that protected us from the worst excesses of the City. But we refuse to acknowledge that we gave politicians permission to risk our economy. We encouraged it. We celebrated it. We rewarded it with electoral success.
But now we say: it’s not our fault. It’s theirs. Them. The other.
We are now the ethos we once fought; we are now that despicable, angry, xenophobic nationalism.
The desperate millions (and yes, I agree they are millions) find no help from Britain. Force-fed on a diet of lies about the benefits and absolute social and economic necessity of immigration (which are many), our people would riot if we did the right thing.
Katie Hopkins writes in our biggest selling newspaper that she wishes to shell and sink the “cockroaches” crossing the Mediterranean, and a large swathe of our country cheers. Circulation rises. No politician dares to confront her, and many sidle up to her to bask in her radioactive, cancerous glow.
Politicians even more right-wing than David Cameron or Margaret Thatcher, such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson (who both voted for less regulation before the 2007 crash, and who both propose privatising the NHS) now cash-in on the terrifying mood sweeping the country, and have the temerity to persuade Labour voters that the Tory Leave campaign is on the side of the poor.
They promise a rosy future of huge NHS investment, having spent a lifetime voting against it. They promise better communities and more jobs, having spent their entire careers undermining workers’ rights, with the aim of creating a passive, weak workforce for corporations to manipulate and expliot. In Europe, our nation alone voted against workers’ rights and against restrictions on bank bonuses.
Yet now we blame godawful workers’ rights and out-of-control bankers on Europe. No. We did it. Us. Europe tried to stop us, but we arrogantly refused.
The Brexit camp promises that ejecting the EU will Make Britain Great Again. But it won’t. It’ll make it easier for people to exploit us, because the EU, in a reflection of its founding principles, is practically all that is protecting us from extremism. But now it’s our extremism.
What will Make Britain Great Again is compassion. Investment. Equality. Honesty about the value of the EU and its people, and our shared heritage, culture and values. Recognising that the world is out there, and longing to be part of it. Aiding the poor and nationless, treating them well, and helping to cure the ills abroad (and at home) as part of a larger movement.
It’s doing what we did during the war: taking in Hungarian, Latvian, Spanish and Polish people (like my grandfather, who came here to fight for us in the Battle of Britain) and making them love us rather than fear us, mock us and condemn us.
It’s doing what we did after the war: being part of a greater, international struggle to solve the crises on our borders and help build a fairer, stronger world.
Is the EU perfect? Of course not. I think of it in the same way I think of my gym: it costs me £65 a year (the actual amount the EU costs each citizen), it’s annoying sometimes, it’s a bit inconvenient. But it’s good for me.
Let’s do what’s good for us on June 23rd.
Let’s accept the pain of collaboration in the stoical way Churchill represents. Bullish and proud, fearsomely British, but with an arm outstretched to the world.
And let’s ignore Nigel Farage, just as we now ignore Neville Chamberlain.