Sunday, 27 November 2016

How Brexit became mainstream

Brexit used to sit on the sidelines of politics. Indeed, the word 'Brexit' was only invented in 2012, and until last year, most people didn't even know what it meant. (Now it's in the Oxford English dictionary.)

Britain’s membership of the EU was not a majority interest subject. Some on the fringes of the Conservative and Labour Parties thought Britain should leave the EU, but they were small in number. 

The vast majority of MPs and members of the House of Lords strongly supported Britain's membership of the EU, and most of them voted for Britain to Remain in the European Union. 

With the notable exception of the new and current, unelected Tory administration, every single government and Prime Minister since we applied to join the European Community back in 1961 has supported Britain's membership of the EEC/EU. 

The vast majority of people in Britain also didn’t want Britain to leave the EU. We’d been members for around 40 years and it was not a big deal. Most polls show that most people in Britain still don't want to leave the EU.

(Yes, 17 million voters chose Brexit and won the Referendum by a slim margin of 3.8%. But 17 million out of a population of 64 million is not a majority of the entire country). 

Nevertheless, Britain - to the shock of everyone - voted for Brexit in June 2016. We are now on the road to leaving the EU. 

Brexit is now on the news every single day, most often the lead news item. Parliament, politics, the news, the discussions at work, in the pub and in living rooms across the country, have become obsessed with Brexit and little else. 

How did it happen? 

It started when politicians, who should have known better, got scared of a little Eurosceptic party called UKIP. A party so fractured, small and splintered that their one and only MP doesn’t even speak with their leader. 

Never mind. UKIP was considered a threat to the mainstream of politics and so everybody started talking their language. Literally.

Good old fashioned English was abandoned for a new illogical language, Ukipish. It’s been dominating British politics for no rational reason. Just fear. The language of fear.

Who knows quite when it started? The fact is that it did, and now everything has changed. 

The Ukipish language has been subtly introduced, so the messages needed translation – but they were not lost in translation. All parties and many politicians and large sections of our press have been affected – or more accurately, infected. 

Slowly and surely, the new language allowed migrants and foreigners to be blamed for our problems, with leaving the EU presented as the solution. It was the start of the rot. It led us directly to Brexit. Oh, and the same messages of fear and blame led to Trump too.

No one was immune. The fear was widespread. 

There was no rational reason to fear migrants. 

But senior politicians in both the Conservative and Labour Parties began to be fearful of UKIP. Instead of bucking the UKIP trend, they fell for it; they unwisely helped to promote and prolong it, along with the majority of British newspapers, also guilty of inciting UKIP's message of xenophobia. 

So when in 2014 the then Shadow Home Secretary, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, said in a speech in London
“It isn’t racist to be worried about immigration or to call for immigration reform.” 
What she really meant was:
"We’re not really worried about immigration, we’re worried about UKIP.”
When also in 2014, Rachel Reeves, Labour’s then shadow works and pensions secretary, wrote in an article for the Daily Mail:
“We have to listen to the real concerns that people have about how immigration is being managed.” 
What she really meant was: 
“We’re not really listening to peoples real concerns, we’re listening to UKIP.”
When Kelly Tolhurst, the Conservative MP, who won the 2014 by-election in in the Rochester and Strood, wrote in her campaign literature:
“I wanted to bring the Prime Minister to this constituency to show him that uncontrolled immigration has hurt this area.”
What she really meant was:
“I want to show the Prime Minister that although there isn’t a problem of uncontrolled immigration in this area, uncontrolled UKIP could hurt us.”
(Because how could there be a problem of 'uncontrolled migration' in Rochester and Strood? It has a lower than average immigrant population than the national, and even regional, level. Its population is 87 per cent white British.)

The then Prime Minister, David Cameron (remember him?) also followed the same line. He said to the electorate:
“I know you are worried about immigration.” 
What he really meant was:
“You know I am worried about UKIP.”
So worried, that he called for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU that he didn’t have to call. It was all because of an irrational fear of UKIP and their irrational language of fear. 

Reported the BBC on the rise of UKIP:
‘David Cameron's historic pledge to hold and an in/out referendum on UK membership of the EU if the Conservatives won the next election was interpreted by some as an attempt to halt the rise of UKIP, which senior Tories feared could prevent them from winning an overall majority in 2015.’
(Repeat: Previously hardly anyone in Britain was concerned about Britain’s EU membership – it was a minority issue on the sidelines of politics.)

Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, is of course fluent in the language he invented. He told The Telegraph in 2014:
“Parts of the country have been taken over by foreigners and mass immigration has left Britain as unrecognisable.”
It’s nonsense of course. 

Britons didn’t have a serious problem of migration before the likes of Nigel Farage, UKIP's on-off-on-off leader, told them they did.

If you look at a map of where UKIP has the highest support, it’s mostly in the areas of Britain where there is the least migration. And conversely, the areas where there are lots of migrants, UKIP mostly has the least support. 

The foreign-born of Britain only represent about 12% of the population - that’s a normal proportion for most modern, thriving western democracies. Even among those 12% of foreign-born are many considered to be British, such as Boris Johnson, born in New York, and Joanna Lumley, born in India. 

And citizens from the rest of the EU living in the UK represent only 5% of the population – that’s small and hardly ‘mass migration.’

Last week, Tory MP, Sir Oliver Letwin, agreed. He said that British politicians "made a terrible mistake" in failing to take on the argument about immigration, the argument spread by UKIP. 

He told The Times:
“We all, the Labour party and the Conservative Party alike ... made a terrible mistake, which was not to take on the argument about migration." 
He added that UKIP exploited the failure of mainstream politicians to "put the counter-argument" that “migration enriches the country in every way.”

But even Mr Farage, who married a German and has a foreign name, probably doesn’t believe most of what he says. What he really means behind his Ukipish words are: 
“Scaring people and the other political parties about immigration is really working for us.”
Gandhi got it right when he said:
‘The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.’ 
Stupid fear of a small party that has spread irrational, unfounded fear of migrants as the cause of our problems.

Foolish fear of a small party that right now is being investigated by the Electoral Commission and the European Union for alleged misuse of taxpayer’s money. 

Insane fear that has spread across the Atlantic to America, where UKIP’s leader is now 'best buddies' with the President elect, Donald Trump, who called himself ‘Mr Brexit’ and now wants Nigel Farage to be Britain’s ambassador to the USA (an appointment usually made by the British government, not the American President).

Off-the-wall fear that is so profound that it’s emboldened Britain’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, to believe she can pass Brexit by bypassing Parliament, using Royal Prerogative executive powers, because she’s wrongly interpreted that as ‘the will of the people’. 

Raving fear that propels the new American President-elect, Donald Trump, to use his executive powers to fulfil his isolationist, xenophobic policies that most Americans didn’t vote for. 

These are all warning signals. None of us can say that we weren't warned.
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  1. 'Great' Britain has never stood alone on an international scale as Brexit will force us to. Britain was formed with the union of Scotland and England in 1707, by that time England had already started to build it's overseas empire. An empire that went on to span a quarter of the globe. Arguably the largest and most powerful empire in history.
    We raped and pillaged that empire for hundreds of years until it fizzled out in 1997. By which time we were firmly entrenched in the EU.
    So when people say they want Britain to be 'Great' again, or that they want their country back, what are they actually expecting?
    If we leave the EU we will be more alone than we were at the beginning of the 1700's, before the industrial revolution not to mention globalisation.
    At a time when the world should be battling climate change together, when international power is shifting, and when there are so many threats to peace, it makes no sense for us to leave the most powerful political union on the planet. It makes no sense on any level.

    However: It's so much more comforting to blame the EU for the state of our own country. By blaming an 'unelected, undemocratic, corrupt EU' (Which in itself is laughably incorrect) we can feel absolved of all responsibility. To blame our own government means as voters we are accepting responsibility for not voting in a better government or for not holding our own government to account. We can't have that can we.

    Democracy does not end with a simple vote or referendum. That is why we have a government who sits in Parliament along with a party (or parties) who sit in opposition and can challenge and indeed at times overrule (outvote) the Prime-minister and his/her cabinet. It is not only our democracy that runs in this way but most (if not all) democracies have a similar way of governing the country.
    We voted (via a referendum) to be in the EU 40 years ago and yet some people have not stopped 'moaning' about it. If a referendum was binding and final then we wouldn't have had another referendum this year.
    I will continue to use my democratic right to 'moan' about the dangers of leaving the EU, having my rights taken away from me and the catastrophic economic damage that leaving the EU will do, all based on a slim majority in a non-binding advisory referendum. It was only about 6 years ago that the government decided that no referendums could be legally binding and that any outcome to any referendum should be debated and voted on by Parliament.

  2. Much of what is said in this article is true, but it is extraordinarily partial. Yes, fear is the enemy together with those who exploit it. But the main answer is to deal with the fear, not dismiss it. There have been a large number of "immigrants" in the last couple of decades (mostly beneficial, but a large number nevertheless). And the feeling is that no-one voted for this change. Areas of the country have had their ethnic mix altered dramatically. There have been other huge problems partly caused by ignoring this but also by gross mis-management: the soaring cost of housing coupled with a huge and sudden burst in house-building (too much of "affordable" to the moderately well-off, overcrowded schools, under-pressure NHS (surgeries in rapidly-developing communities hugely over-stretched), road congestion, flat, lowisg ordinary wages, the super-rich getting super richer without seemingly paying their taxes, old industries collapsing etc., etc. Ordinary people rightly felt ignored by the smarmy establishment and voted the way they did in reaction to all of this. The answer is to recognise this, not brush it aside as unrerasoning fear. We need programmes that will clearly put these problems right. It will be very difficult to do this and get Brexit reversed, but we have to try.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I try to be led by evidence rather than fear. Of course, sometimes fear is based on evidence, but insofar as the impact of migration is concerned, I cannot find any verifiable evidence that migrants to Britain are the cause of pressure on the NHS, schools, houses, jobs, etc. On the contrary, I have found evidence that without migrants, our NHS would be near to breaking point, and without migrants, we would have fewer employment opportunities, and less economic growth, not more.

      I do agree that we need to 'deal with the fear'; but that means properly addressing the fear, and not pandering to it. Unfortunately, people are fearful because some parts of Britain have been chronically under-invested in, with areas where there is pressure on schools, housing, jobs, etc. However, this is not the fault of migrants, but the fault of successive governments for not addressing those issues with sufficient investment. It's easy for politicians and some sections of the press to put the blame on migrants, and I am not surprised by the consequent rise of xenophobia and hate crimes, but this is entirely misplaced. I can only hope that truth prevails in the end, and that, as is the case in medicine and science, we have politics in Britain that is based on evidence, rather than policies that are reacting to scaremongering about migration and foreigners.

      Finally, my rule is only to accept comments from those prepared to give their name, so if you want to comment again, do please reveal who you are.


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