BREXIT BLOG OF THE YEAR

 

If there is such a thing this could be my entry - so far! For more Brexit posts click here.

 

Thoughts on …

 

Brexit in perspective but three big deals                                 24/1/19

 

I agree with the prime minister that there are more important things in life than Brexit. As she said recently, the things that matter most are personal milestones such as getting a job, getting married, starting a family or buying a house.1

 

She could have added that many other aspects of our personal and family lives are always going to be far more important than issues like Brexit: loving and being loved, staying in good health both physically and mentally, enjoying friendships and having absorbing interests. For many, how we spend our leisure time and how well our football team is doing, will quite understandably be more relevant to our lives.2 And, of course, traumatic life events that have a lasting effect on us, like serious illness, bereavement or divorce will clearly have an enormous impact on our lives.

 

But because the issue of Brexit has dominated political discussion for almost three years and received saturation media coverage it has come to be seen as far more important than it really is. However, we need to guard against believing things are important in our lives just because they are covered so extensively in the media.  We must not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by the running soundtrack of the news.3

 

I go further than the prime minister. Not only is Brexit far from being the most important thing in our personal lives it is equally far from being the most important issue to have been addressed by parliament since the Second World War – as our politicians and pundits keep telling us. They are wrong, and their hyperbole does a huge disservice to our political discourse. To borrow an expression from another turbulent setting this is fake news.

 

The politicians and pundits are wrong because they are unable to grasp the fundamental truth I have just stated: that what happens in people’s individual lives is of far greater significance than the political theatre that takes place at Westminster – however absorbing this can be and however extensive the media coverage it attracts.4 Brexit has been high on drama but low on significance. What matters in the process of government is not the drama but dealing effectively with important issues.

 

Since the Second World War there have been thousands of important issues on which there has been legislation which has affected everyone’s lives more profoundly and directly than anything to do with Brexit. And, in fairness to our politicians, the legislation does seem to have addressed many of these issues quite effectively.  

 

Arguably it was the legislation which created the NHS that has had the greatest effect on the greatest number of people. This towering piece of social legislation has been of immeasurable benefit to all of us for the past seventy years and to compare its significance with what parliament is labouring to achieve now is an insult to the legacy of Bevan and others.

 

Legislation in the fields of education, welfare benefits, pensions, social care and child support has also had a profound effect on our lives and continues to do so. Laws that have been passed in the areas of health and safety, consumer protection and employment rights have affected each one of us and regular adjustments in rates of taxation or the level of the minimum wage have greatly affected our personal incomes. Road safety legislation affects us every time we drive our cars.

 

Momentous legislation has been enacted across a wide range of other areas too. The landscape of society has been completely reshaped by laws which have embodied reforms on gender equality, racial discrimination, disability, same sex relationships, marriage, divorce and abortion. The effect of these social reforms on the lives of countless people has been incalculable.5

 

Apart from enacting legislation parliament has supported the government of the day – the executive – when crucial decisions have had to be taken to safeguard the interests of the country. Such decisions have had far more serious consequences, good and bad, for individual citizens than anything that will arise from Brexit. Consequences, for example, for members of the armed services making the ultimate sacrifice in conflicts in Korea, the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world.  Consequences, too, though maybe less serious, when the Heath government declared states of emergencies in the 1970s, and when the last Labour administration took measures to deal with the global financial crisis.

 

Everyone can think of examples of how their own lives, and the lives of their loved ones, have been hugely affected by many pieces of legislation enacted in recent decades, or by some other government action. Positive examples would include life-saving treatment from the NHS, qualifications we gained during the course of our education, financial support for illness or disability, housing benefit, and home ownership achieved through the right-to-buy scheme introduced by the Thatcher government.6 On the negative side examples would include the loss of a loved one killed in military action, being made redundant as a result of failed economic policies, and, bringing the argument right up to date, finding life more of a struggle because of payment difficulties with universal credit.

 

I accept that the issue of Brexit has a certain amount of constitutional and economic importance for society but compared with the examples just cited and many other aspects of our personal lives it pales into significance. To use some vernacular that incorporates the word of the moment it is simply not the big deal it is claimed to be.

 

On the economic front it is not a big deal whether we pay a little bit more or a little bit less for a bottle of wine or an imported item of clothing.7 On the constitutional front it will not be that big a deal if, as I hope, we regain some of the sovereignty we have lost in recent decades.8 As I have indicated above our parliament has had no difficulty passing a vast amount of legislation which has brought massive benefits to society so it is logical to conclude that our constitution is functioning reasonably well.

 

Clearly Brexit would be a big deal if it resulted in a serious decline in living standards amongst the least well-off in society. I don’t want this to happen. Nobody does. But I think it is extremely unlikely. In the project fear campaign run by the remain side during the referendum we were warned of the dire consequences that would immediately follow a No vote. They didn’t happen and I don’t believe they will.9

 

Which brings me to what, in fact, do amount to big deals associated with Brexit. They are big deals because they are big opportunities and I can think of three of them. The first is that Brexit provides an opportunity to move away from current orthodoxies and gradually begin to reset our economy. Not being locked into EU trading arrangements will provide entrepreneurial businesses with improved global opportunities for trade but, more importantly than this, I am hopeful that leaving the EU will incentivise us to begin producing more manufactured goods ourselves and more of our own food. Becoming more self-sufficient and self-reliant would be good for jobs and good for the economy as a whole.

 

The second big deal is this. Leaving the EU must be used as an opportunity to focus our minds on the kind of society – the kind of nation state – we actually wish to inhabit. We have become a compassionate and tolerant society, and despite Brexit generally good-humoured, but we need to try a lot harder to become a fairer society in which there is a much more equitable distribution of wealth.10

 

And the third big deal that Brexit can deliver? It is one that doesn’t come any bigger. It is a great opportunity and a perspective on Brexit that regrettably has been overlooked.

 

It is the rather obvious perspective that the future of our planet must be global, not European. A global future in which we embrace, as never before, our shared humanity. A future in which all continents and all nations come together. One where the citizens of democratic, sovereign nations forge the kind of societies they wish to construct for themselves as well as reach out in friendship and love to their fellow human-beings wherever they live.

 

The great opportunity, the biggest deal, that Brexit presents is for the UK to take the lead in persuading the countries of the world to work in harmony with each other to confront the major global problems of poverty, ill health, inequality and conflict and, when necessary, the minor problems of trade and tariffs.11 For some people, especially politicians and pundits chained to a geopolitical mindset of the past, this will require a leap of imagination which takes us way beyond the inward looking aspirations of the European Union. It will be a leap that will enable us to focus properly on global issues and find global solutions  – just as we are attempting to do with the challenge of climate change.

 

Technology, both old and new, has shrunk the world and made global interactions at an individual and collective level easier than ever before. We are constantly buying products from each other, visiting each other’s countries and having sporting competitions amongst ourselves. We communicate easily with friends and relatives overseas, we move to different parts of the world to live and we have husbands and wives from different countries. It should not be difficult, therefore, to make the imaginative, and for some perhaps, the emotional leap to thinking about political decision-making in global terms.

 

There has been too much hype surrounding Brexit as well as totally unnecessary rancour. It is not a big issue in the context of our personal lives and is a long, long way from being the most significant political issue to be addressed since the Second World War.

 

When we leave the EU let us continue to be good friends with our European neighbours but use our departure to have a new perspective on the world. This will contribute to greater harmony across the globe and that would be the best deal of all.

  

 

Notes

 

1  Theresa May’s New Year message, 1/1/19.

2  Bill Shankly, a former manager of Liverpool F C, made the famous remark that football was not a matter of life and death, it was much more important than that.

3  We should not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by anything!

4  I have to confess I have found it extremely absorbing but I am a bit of a politics geek.

5  On the whole it is probably fair to say that parliament follows rather than leads social change.

6  In my view the right to buy scheme was an excellent idea which allowed many people to get a foot on the housing ladder. For some thoughts on home ownership see:                                 http://www.quercuspublications.co.uk/thoughts_on_36_-_40_copy.html

7  Tariffs are just one of many factors that affect the price of imported goods. Others include the cost of production, with labour costs being a crucial factor, supply and demand, cartels, productivity, competition, shareholder value and, in the case of a bottle of wine, a serious amount of excise duty.

8  Some real constitutional advances would be: reform of the voting system, the introduction of more direct democracy, a written constitution and the abolition of the House of Lords.

9  See Ruth Lea’s post on project fear at: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2018/01/23/project-fear-was-groundless-the-uk-economy-has-been-remarkably-resilient/                                          Plus according to the latest figures from the ONS unemployment is currently at 4%, its lowest level since 1975, and earnings increased by 3.3% in the year to November 2018.

10  We can begin the process by significantly raising the minimum wage, reducing tax for those on lower incomes and introducing compulsory         profit-sharing schemes. 

11  See: The EU Referendum and a Global Vision and Brexit – a global, good news story.

 

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