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Henry Porter - page 2

Henry Porter has 24 articles published.

Brexit undermines Britain’s Creative Spirit Will the country lose its genius for innovation?

in Uncategorised by
Silicon Roundabout

One of the deep psychological impacts of Brexit on those who voted to remain is that they now have to accept a rather old-fashioned version of their country. They are compelled to regress to the Britain when their parents and grand parents were young, an era that is something like the Fifties in its isolation and smallness, but which is tainted by intolerance and displays of excruciating nationalist self-love.

This isn’t going to work at many levels, but it is likely to have a serious effect on Britain’s creative industries, which are, by their nature, open, optimistic, forward looking, often unconventional and in touch with what their counterparts are doing across Europe.

Britain’s creatives, those who work in tech, fashion, music, media, design, advertising, theatre, the art world, publishing, crafts, film, TV, and gaming, are worth £84.1 billion a year to the economy. That’s about £10 million an hour, money that relies, to a very large extent, on an atmosphere that is conducive to creativity.

It’s difficult to say exactly what makes a country creative, but few will deny that obstacles to contact and exchange with our neighbours in Europe – which will be erected by Brexit – will detract from the circumstances that currently make Britain such an inventive place. But there is something else that may be far more harmful, and that is the estrangement that many creatives will feel from Britain’s new condition and, other among the things, the reappearance of uninhibited racism and xenophobia.

Let me make it clear that I am not saying all creative people voted to remain in the EU – not by any means – but I am saying that Brexit will erode feelings of confidence and possibility that are essential to creativity and competition in a globalised world. These people will begin to feel that a conservative putsch has been carried out against modernity and the young by a minority of the country’s voters who are older and way less inventive.

While there is no breakdown that says how people in particular occupations voted on June 23, information about location, age, education and income suggest that creatives who live or work in the metropolitan centres voted in large numbers to remain in the EU.

Firstly, the cities in Britain where young and creative people work in the majority voted remain. In Edinburgh, 74 % in favour of the EU, Belfast 74.1%, Cambridge 73.8%, Oxford 70.3%, Glasgow 66.6%, Bristol 61.7 %, Manchester 60.4 %, Cardiff 60%, Liverpool 58.2% and Leeds 50.3%. Many smaller creative hubs also voted remain. Brighton was 61 % in favour, York 58%, Bath 57.9%, Cheltenham 56.2% and Harrogate 51%. The only major city that voted leave was Birmingham with 50.5% majority, not a convincing vote for Brexit by any means. In general, the figures give the lie to Leave propaganda that the vote was about the rest of Britain sticking it to London.

Remain attracted a large proportion of ABC1 social grade and a lot of people with higher education and high incomes. Those not born in the UK were also likely to vote to stay with the EU. The older a voter was the more likely he or she would be to opt for Leave. It is a chillingly clear picture of a country that is not so much divided as sliced into pieces. There are divisions between the north and south of England, between the English and Scottish, between town and country, between generations, classes, income groups and occupations.

Some of these divisions existed before the referendum, but many have either been exacerbated or entirely created by the vote. The binary nature of the referendum allowed no nuance of opinion – you were either for or against Europe – and that crudeness of choice separated friends, families and neighbours. The mood is very far from the feeling of liberation that was predicted by the Leave campaigners, some of which claimed Brexit to be a new VE Day or the equivalent of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The actual mood, even among some Leave voters now, is one of anxiety, regret and sourness. And I don’t have to tell you that this is hardly the confident, carefree atmosphere people need to have ideas and generate that vast income for Britain, which has hitherto been one of the most creative countries in the world.

Creativity won’t suddenly dry up, and all the bright young people who are working in the creative industries won’t suddenly move abroad, but if the Brexit vote is realised to its full destructive potential, then I believe the country will gradually enter a period of depression and listlessness equivalent to the long cultural stagnation experienced by France, one of the most creative nations in the history of western civilisation.

The vital point is that we are no longer a nation that is at ease with itself. We are confronted with questions that were unimaginable a year ago. What do these divisions in our society add up to? Will the UK break up? Where are we going as a people? And where on earth are we going to find the new markets the Leave campaign promised would come, almost unbidden, to a newly autonomous nation? There are pressing practical considerations and ones that concern the very psyche of the nation.

It goes without saying that few answers are to be found in our political class, which is singularly lacking in the talent and largeness of character that a crisis like this requires. Andrea Leadsom, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are among the most mediocre and uninspiring individuals ever to lead or contest the leadership of Britain’s major parties, a fact that in the end may prove a stimulus for the creatives to throw their weight behind a new centre party. What is certain is that creatives, so crucial to Britain’s future, will be the first to experience the diminished spirit of Britain at home and the damage to the country’s reputation abroad

For the present, however, the estrangement that different parts of our society feel for each other is the really pressing problem. And it is important to realise that some of this has been around for a long time. The alienation that is newly experienced by the creatives is familiar to the people of, for example, the North East, who voted to Leave in large numbers. At some point after the banking crisis, they were deserted by the political classes and expected to get on with industrial and community decline as best they could. We are paying the price of that neglect, and there has to be some kind of recognition in the while country of this earlier estrangement, as well of the inequalities that have been allowed to grow, if Britain has any chance of recovering its creative spirit.

Did Boris Johnson Want to Remain All Along? This is what happens when you play political Russian roulette.

in Brexit by
By Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/A.P. Images

The latest development in Britain’s ongoing nervous breakdownis hard to comprehend, even for seasoned watchers of the lunacy. On Thursday, Boris Johnson, the man who essentially won the referendum triggering Britain’s departure from the European Union, and the person best positioned to subsequently claim the premiership from his old rival David Cameron, announced that he would not stand for the leadership of the Conservative Party and that he does not have it in him to be prime minister.

Continue Reading on the Vanity Fair Hive.

How Britain was Broken And what that means for America

in Brexit by
david-cameron-brexit-resigns.png

The shocking result of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union was something many had dreaded during the course of the 10-week referendum campaign, which ended abruptly in the early hours of Friday morning. The Brexit campaign, led by two conservative ministers, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, managed to overturn every expectation, while rejecting pleas to remain in the E.U. from everyone from President Obama to the International Monetary Fund. Internationally renowned Britons, from Stephen Hawking to Patrick Stewart, pleaded to stay the course. So did J.K. Rowling,  Richard Branson, and even David Beckham. But as the results came in—with Leave triumphing over Remain by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent—a period of bereavement began for many. There was so much to come to terms with.

Continue reading on the Vanity Fair Hive.

The Trumpification of British Politics Will seceding from the E.U. make the U.K. great again?

in Referendum by
(Francesco Guidicini:News Syndication:Redux

A few miles from my home in Gloucestershire, England, there is a roadside advertisement that urges voters in this Thursday’s E.U. referendum, or Brexit vote, to “Take Back Our Country.” The same sign, of course, could as easily be found in any of Donald Trump’s strongholds across the United States. Indeed, the forces that may yet propel the U.K. to a suicidal leap from the E.U. are nearly identical to those that might conceivably elevate Trump to the White House. “Take Back Our Country,” in some ways, is merely British for “Make America Great Again.”

Continue reading on the Vanity Fair Hive.

Henry Porter at the vigil staged to honour murdered British Member of Parliament Jo Cox, in London's Trafalgar Square
Henry Porter at the vigil staged to honour murdered British Member of Parliament Jo Cox, in London’s Trafalgar Square

Dear Brexit Friends Can friendship survive a vote to leave?

in Referendum by

My dear Brexit friends,

How difficult this referendum has been for us. I know at least six of you who say you are going to vote for Britain to leave the EU.

As you know, I take a different view and will be voting enthusiastically to remain. I am completely convinced on several counts, economic and political stability being the main two. I also believe the European project – despite its obvious flaws – has a more generous, optimistic and progressive character than what is being offered by those who desire Brexit.

Where does that leave us?

The first thing is that we are still good pals, I hope. Some, but not all of you, are fishing friends, though I have to say I am going off fishing because, like at least one of you, I find being on the river bank sometimes reminds me of the destruction of the British countryside and the loss of habitat and species. It would be true to say therefore that the primary reason I go fishing is to see you.

There have been arguments this year. Two or three of them were quite sharp exchanges and certainly I have been guilty of fighting my position very fiercely indeed.  You see, I don’t think that this is ordinary debate. As I say elsewhere on this site, it is not simply a choice between two equally valid options, because there is a demonstrably better case for remaining in Europe than the romantic leap in the dark that some of you propose.

I use the word ‘demonstrably’ because the benefits of the status quo are obviously more easily identified than the benefits of being outside Europe, about which we have almost no evidence. That is one of the reasons I am so mystified by your choice. “The man of conservative temperament,” said the conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott in one of my favourite passages “believes that a known good is not lightly surrendered for an unknown better. He is not in love with what is dangerous and difficult; he is unadventurous; he has no impulse to sail unchartered seas.”

I am just astonished that you six – so smart, risk averse and prudent in everything you do – are prepared to throw caution to the wind. This isn’t just a fling; this is for the rest of our lives. A future generation may eventually rescue the situation if we come out, but not in time for us. We were the fools who threw it all away, despite the freedom and prosperity Europe has given us since 1975. 

So what, you may say to all this. HP’s opinion is no better than mine and he can take a running jump with this bloody letter.

I would accept that at General Election time, when we are more tolerant of our political differences and we know that we can change our mind next time round, and when, by the way, I wouldn’t be telling you what I think about health or housing policy, or any of the rest of it. 

But this is different. 

The vote tomorrow is more about a contest of values and outlook than it is about politics. That’s why everyone is taking it more seriously than a general election. I don’t want to belong to a mean, narrow, slightly xenophobic country that is living in the past and regarding its neighbours suspiciously though net curtains. I like the challenges Europe presents – the need for us to compromise and to work on problems together. I like the stability Europe gives us. I like the freedom of movement – for me and the other 500 million people. And I like the thrilling sense of possibility that being part of Europe inspires in me. As I said at the start, generosity, optimism and progress is what the pro-EU stance encapsulates and these are the things I stand for in this debate. 

For me these values are superior to mere political opinion. They are as important to me as liberty, justice and democracy. 

But clearly I have to accept that you, dear friends, do not agree with me. You have another set of priorities: I must assume your values are different to mine and that you do not share the real horror I have of Brexit and of the turmoil that we will bring to our neighbours. Incidentally, there is a good reason that all far right and fascist parties in Europe want us to leave the EU: we will give them considerable encouragement if we do. 

Where does that leave us? Well, I have had to think about that very hard because I happen not to accept the orthodoxy that friendship must continue come what may. At least two of you have said to me that friends should never fall out over politics – I agree. But, as I say, the vote tomorrow isn’t about politics. So the usual wisdoms do not apply. It seems harsh, perhaps, but at least I honour the idea of friendship with the belief that it is voluntary and may therefore periodically come under review.

When I mentioned this thought over the last few weeks, people have looked slightly horrified and started quoting E.M. Foster at me. “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend,” he wrote in What I Believe, “I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” This is not strictly applicable because we are not talking about love of country. However, I know what they mean: they believe love of one’s friends should trump any other allegiance. 

However, there must be a point where that can’t be right. For instance, in the Thirties when members of the British upper and working classes began to look enviously towards Germany and marched around in black shirts, terrorizing the East End. That was a deal breaker, if ever there is one. For me, the support of any totalitarian regime or practice is intolerable, as I think it is for most people. 

So, we can perhaps agree that there is a point where breaking off relations, or allowing them to lapse is legitimate and not simply a betrayal of the friendship.

The outcome of this debate is so important that, yes, people will find that they cannot continue the relationships they had before. I regard the Leave camp as being prey to a romantic spasm at best, and a rather sinister arrogance and xenophobia at worst. Though I may understand some of it, I do not believe it is a coherent approach to Britain’s future and so I deplore it. 

Of course, I’m aware that some of you will change your vote in these last few hours, having had much fun casting a fly over me. But some of you will continue with this madness. You really meant what you said. 

Perhaps quiet dismay is the only response to that, and whatever the result, we should get on with our imperfect lives and our imperfect friendships and leave the awfully venomous atmosphere of the referendum campaign in the past.

Like most people, I have absolutely hated every moment of it and object to the amount of brain time it has taken these past three months, but this doesn’t mean I will forget the arguments, or the sharp differences between us. That may also be true of you, for this obviously is a two way street. 

I hope things work out for us, and that we go on seeing each other. I admit that if my side wins I will be a lot more forgiving than if we lose. That makes me a sore loser, I agree, but then I will be in mourning for a project that was as brave and beautiful as anything in European history.

With best wishes,

HP

What would George Orwell vote? The author of 1984 would likely have had mixed feelings about Europe

in Referendum by
George Orwell at a typewriter

What would George Orwell, the great diagnostician of the English condition, make of these last few days of the referendum campaign? And how would he vote next week?

On the second question, I believe he would have agonised long and hard, expressing reservations about the EU’s institutions, its lack of democracy, as well as the incomprehensible and deceitful language of many of its communications. As a socialist, he would have had serious doubts about the “capitalist club” nature of the EU.

But on the other side, he would have despised the xenophobia that is powering the Brexit campaign, shuddered at the UK’s uncooperative aloofness from its neighbours and suspected the motives and political character of its leadership: Orwell on Boris would have been fun. Though not generally an ad hominem writer, he would have been fascinated by Gove, Duncan Smith, Farage, Rees-Mogg and Fox and interested to see that the plausible spivs familiar in mid-century British society were still flourishing seventy years later. So would Graham Greene, incidentally.

The real achievement of Europe since Orwell’s death at the age of 46, early in 1950, is of course the enduring peace. For a lot of his life, Europe had been at war and the scene of historic barbarities. In 1947, he wrote a pessimistic essay, entitled “Towards European Unity”, in which he argued that the only way lasting peace would be achieved was through a socialist federation of European states. He was doubtful of it ever happening and viewed Europe’s future as very dark.

Yet, almost all of what he suggested came to pass, and prosperity and peace that nobody in 1947 would have sensibly predicted has prevailed. The things that he thought were unlikely in any union – the leadership that would bring it about, the cooperation between nations and the freedoms more or less guaranteed to 500 million people since the Fall of the Wall – we take for granted, and, it has to be said, are now blithely prepared to jeopardise. So, I believe it’s safe to say that George Orwell would have voted to remain, at the same time as being utterly straight about his misgivings. You are welcome to take issue with me below in the comments section, but I think the evidence is good.

Why go back to Orwell when he could not possibly have known what life would be like in 2016, and could never have envisaged our hypermobility and connectedness? The answer is simple, and it applies to only a very few writers of essays, book reviews and hack journalism, which were by far the greater proportion of his astonishingly large output. It’s his values, which hold as true today as they did seventy years ago. His perception and truthfulness and lack of political game playing shine in everything he wrote and are still the standard for anyone commenting on current affairs, although few reach his heights.

About Britain today I believe he would have been rather amazed, but also puzzled. Amazed at our wealth, the sheer amount of stuff we have, our luxurious lives and the travel we think nothing of; and pleasantly surprised by the changes in attitudes to gender equality, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity. He would have looked askance at our lack of inhibition – or, at any rate our lack of decorum – the disdain for our own privacy and the global epidemic of narcissism, and he would certainly have recoiled at the space where this all comes together in the TV show Big Brother, and not just because of its title.

He would be puzzled that so many other things have remained unchanged. The class system is absolutely intact: two products of his old school, Eton, face each other across the EU divide, and inherited peers are still making laws in the House of Lords. There has been little constitutional reform. The rich are still very rich and the poor very poor – in fact, wealth inequality is greater in the UK than most other developed countries, with the richest 10% of households holding 45% of all wealth, while the poorest 50%, by contrast, own just 8.7%.

We still have the Labour and Conservative parties slogging it out, albeit representing much diminished and less defined constituencies; and we still have the Big Men, people like Aaron Banks, Tim Martin and James Dyson, sounding off about their success and making business-type prescriptions for society that appeal to the poor and underprivileged, but are obviously against their best interests. We have plenty of Gradgrinds, too: individuals like Mike Ashley and Sir Philip Green who predate even Orwell’s time in their heartless greed.

In the forces that are at play, he would observe the steady draining of power from the British state and see the United Kingdom’s breakup as probably inevitable in the event of a vote to withdraw from the European Union, where Scotland voted Remain. And he would note that the country was not happy in itself: a pronounced scratchiness had developed, whose cause was probably as much psychological as material. In the last two weeks, like all of us, he would have felt a nasty static in the air, which almost certainly contributed to the horrifying murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox.

Even after 40 odd years of membership of the EEC and EU, Britain as a whole cannot bring itself to recognise the advantages and freedoms that membership has brought. Deep down, people seem to be yearning for the days of empire, for greater power and autonomy. And of course he would realise that the locus of the grumbling appendix was probably in England, among people usually inclined to a right-wing view of the world, even if they were lifelong members of the Labour party.

It may be unfair to yoke Orwell to one side of the current debate like this, but his speciality was always the English, and he’d have been fascinated – and at his most forensic – when he came to examining what was pushing Britain out of a union that had provided more benefits than anyone bothered to count, and which, together with some deregulation, was responsible for the revival of the country’s fortunes after years of decline. Among many strange aspects of this campaign is the sight of the Leave case being promoted by people who put profit and the health of economy above most other considerations but who are in fact arguing directly against those very interests. No one can possibly doubt that something little short of a calamity would follow a vote to leave.

In another article on this site, I asked when, exactly, was the sovereignty that the Leavers all yearn for possessed? I have never found a convinced Leaver who can answer that question intelligently. One friend replied that the sovereignty he hoped for was pre-1914, which is an astonishing admission, but most talked vaguely of gaining a new kind of autonomy and power for Britain. It is odd that they do not see – perhaps cannot see – that “in taking their country back” they will almost certainly cause the break up of the very entity whose influence and power they wish to boost. Make sense of it, if you can. There is simply no logic to it and this is what makes Leavers so clinically compelling.

Orwell might possibly have supported the drive for Scottish independence but he certainly would not have understood the Brits south of the border who haven’t thought this through. Yet this vote is not about reason. The one certainty in a plebiscite is that it reveals the molten lava beneath the surface of a culture. And there is a good deal of fakery about. The visceral case for leaving the EU attempts to appear rational, while the reasonable but unexciting case for staying strives for passion. Neither side is very convincing.

One thing that is striking about Britain now and would certainly have been the subject of Orwell’s unwavering gaze is the self-regard of the English. Scotland has its own particular brand of nationalist superiority, but in England the qualities of modesty and self-mocking humour that protected us from conceitedness are less obvious than they were. We are far more likely these days to see ourselves as the home, if not the global birthplace, of democracy, fairness, liberty, invention, justice, charity, humanity, enterprise, irony, sportsmanship and humour than we once were. We resent outside influence and feel no one can tell us anything about the areas of our supposed excellence, least of all democracy and enterprise.

Nigel Farage in front of the infamous poster unveiled this week
Nigel Farage in front of the infamous poster unveiled this week

There is not a lot of distance between this sense of superiority and the bubbling xenophobia that is a feature of the campaign. Oddly, despite some improvement in relations between races and communities at home, the modern Englishman feels no qualms about speaking contemptuously of Europeans, or refugees from war zones, for that matter. Here is a man talking last week on the BBC’s Your and Yours radio show about his visits to southern Italy: “You just have to be in southern Europe to understand that their way of life, and their way of working – or not working – to see why they have got such a financial deficit.” Britain has a vast deficit – and, incidentally, will have an even larger one if we leave the EU – but the point is that essentially this caller’s attitudes haven’t changed since the British squaddie of Orwell’s era referred to dagos, spics and Ities.

A cartoon, issued by the Leave campaign, tells you all you need to know about the saloon bar racism behind the Brexiteers. There’s none of the good-natured humour that Orwell wrote about in his brilliant essay on the English seaside postcard; the style is bludgeoning, the stereotypes are straight from Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer: it is a kind of racist bark from the past.

All of this feeds into the horror and fear of being “swamped” by EU migrants who are said to take our jobs, fill our schools, block up doctors’ surgeries, occupy hospital beds and rip off our benefits. There are pressures – that cannot be denied – but again there are huge elements of unreason in the call to “take back control of borders.” The English have always imported labour, whether from Ireland, Bangladesh or the Caribbean, to do the jobs they won’t do. I welcome them. In the village in the Vale of Evesham where I was born, the onions, kale, parsley, lettuce, courgettes and carrots are picked and pulled by teams of seasonal migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, because the locals won’t do the backbreaking job that we did when I was student picker (red currants and blackcurrants were my game). Many of the health workers, in and outside the NHS, who have looked after my elderly parents over the last three years, are from Eastern Europe. In the eye hospital where my wife was treated for two years, there was representation from at least five EU countries. The contribution of the EU workers here is huge and yet we can barely bring ourselves to acknowledge it.

We are watching something new in modern Britain – the rise of unabashed racism. On the day that Jo Cox was killed, Nigel Farage launched an anti-immigration poster, which in fact showed Syrian refugees, not EU migrants. The caption, endorsed by Farage’s insectivorous grin, reads “Breaking point. We must break free from the EU and take back control of our borders.” It was rightly condemned as “disgusting”, but not by the Daily Mail, which deployed similar tactics on its front page, with a photograph of illegal migrants in a truck and a headline that read “We’re from Europe – Let us in.” Orwell was familiar with the pro-Nazi antics of the paper’s owner Harold Harmsworth, but he might have been surprised to see so little has changed in the paper’s rightist propaganda. The point to underline is that racism has in the last few months entered the main stream of British politics, and a mainstream tabloid in effect sanctions this development.

Simply on this basis, we can say that the debate on Britain’s membership of the EU is not between two sides of equal merit. It is not a matter of whether you prefer one flavour of ice cream to another, either choice being valid. The emergence of the overt racism and the reliance of the Leave campaign on the tactics of hate are enough to condemn it, without even considering the very persuasive arguments about European and British stability and the UK’s economy.

There is little doubt in my mind that Orwell would have greatly regretted the emergence of the sharp cultural divide that we are seeing in these final days of the campaign. It is extremely worrying, but what I most fear is that after all of this, the rump of the United Kingdom – England – will be left powerless and impoverished, and because of our persistent need to dominate rather than cooperate – a characteristic established beyond doubt in the days of Empire – we will turn in on ourselves and come to see enemies where there are none. Orwell recognised these deeply embedded traits in these islands and not without reason set his dystopian novel “1984” in Airstrip One, once known as Britain. And it is right to remind ourselves that we have now equipped ourselves with the surveillance apparatus that was only imaginable in 1949 when he was writing the book on the Scottish island of Jura.

I may be taking a liberty here, but, yes, I think Orwell would have voted “In”, if only to protect us from ourselves.

Leaving really means ‘Good-Bye to All That’ Britain can't depart the single market and eat it too

in Referendum by

Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, couldn’t be clearer about the future of Britain in the event of a Brexit majority.

In a special edition of Der Spiegel, he said, “If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”

The assumption that Britain would be able to have its cake and eat it, by taking all the benefits of the single market but having none of the political engagement and responsibility, has been a key part of the Leave case, but as the referendum comes into view, it is clear that the choice that faces the British people is much more stark than Leave has admitted.

Out is out. Both in political and economic terms, Britain will enter a kind of wilderness, at the same time as facing considerable strains in the union at home.

If the majority in Scotland is for Remain, I understand from a senior figure in the SNP that it will start preparing for a second independence referendum, which, given the result of the General Election last year and the subsequent flow of support to Nicola Sturgeon’s party, will almost certainly be a victory for the independence movement. The breakup of the union that the major political parties combined to prevent two years ago in the independence poll, will have gained an unstoppable momentum.

This week, John Major and Tony Blair – two former prime ministers and key figures in bringing an end to the violent struggle in Northern – visited Northern Ireland to highlight the extraordinary dangers of reinstating the border between north and south, which of course will be an unavoidable result of withdrawal from the EU, for Ireland is part of the Shengen area. There is no single development that is more likely to reignite the violent struggle between the two communities, which have enjoyed peace since the Good Friday Agreement. It must be obvious, even to the most convinced Eurosceptic, that to cause a resurgence of nationalism in Ulster would be an act of grotesque irresponsibility and vandalism.

But then there is no reasoning with the Leave campaign. Any argument against a disastrous exit from the EU is dismissed as part of Project Fear, as though these anxieties and predictions were all a complete fantasy.

But voters have a right to be fearful of the upheaval in British society following a victory for leave. There will not simply be bumps in the road on the way to a golden future, which will be forgotten when we achieve a happy equilibrium in, say, two years time. There will be lasting impacts – divisions that will be hard to heal.

Even if Britain were to have a change of heart after voting to leave and wanted to reapply for membership, an eventuality that Schäuble contemplates in his Der Spiegel interview, it will be a much diminished and impoverished entity that seeks readmission.

Paul Mason, the Guardian commentator, said of the three members of the Remain side in ITV’s Thursday debate – Nicola Sturgeon, Angela Eagle and Amber Rudd – “if you read body language you came away with one image: Leave relaxed: remain worried.”

Well, of course that’s right, Paul. What did you expect? While the Leave campaign doesn’t suffer the slightest doubt about its campaign, Remain campaigners have a very firm grasp of the dangers and irreversible damage that will begin on June 24, if we vote out.  Yes, like many European leaders who care for Britain and the future of the EU, the Remain campaign is guilty of looking nauseous about our prospects.

The romantic optimism of the likes of Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom and the Gisela Stuart – the Leave team in the ITV debate – surfs over serious objections, without giving a single agreed account of how Britain makes its way in the world post-Brexit. It is ultimately Leave’s greatest offence to claim a glorious future, without providing the tiniest hint about how this will be achieved, particularly now the single market appears to be closed to a departing United Kingdom.

Schäuble’s logic is indisputable. “It (the single market) would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw.” Brexit, he said, would be a decision against the single market.

The Policy Desert Policy makers need to focus on the Middle East and North Africa’s three big crises

in Referendum by

As the UNHC reports this week that over 10,000 migrants have been killed crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe since 2014, it is clear that we are only at the start of the problem for Europe. While war, the spread of Islamism and the collapse of states such as Libya are rightly blamed as the key factors behind the mass movement of people from North Africa and the Mediterranean, aid agencies now accept that some of these young men are on the road because of the discreet and mostly unreported results of climate change.

Walking down a food line on the Greek island of Lesbos during the winter, I was astounded to find young men from Sub-Saharan Africa and as far in the east as Bangladesh. Among them were two agricultural workers from Iran, which struck me as odd because I hadn’t associated their country with the sort of crises that explained the presence of the others in the line.

But once you know about Iran’s climate, it isn’t so surprising. There have been only three years in the last 25 when the country did not record a decline in rainfall. The shortfall has usually been met by using groundwater, but this is drying up. Iran has used 70% of its supplies of groundwater in the last 50 years, which means it will have very little to fall back on over the next 20 years.

In the South East of the country, for example, a landscape that was once green with pistachio groves is rapidly becoming barren because the aquifers are running dry. About 15% of the pistachio groves in the area have died in the last ten years, and there is absolutely no hope of reversal in that trend.

Quite simply, the water has gone and rains will never replace it.

This may not seem especially newsworthy but the sudden collapse of a particular crop like this is precisely the sort of climate change impact that we can expect to see across the Middle East and North Africa over the next 20-30 years, robbing people of jobs and forcing them to find a living elsewhere.

A recent report by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry found that with only an increase of 1.5-2.0 degrees – the increase agreed at the Paris Climate Change summit last year- the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is likely to become disproportionately hotter, with summer temperatures increasing more than two times faster than the average pace of global warming. “In future, the climate in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa could change in such a manner that the very existence of its inhabitants is in jeopardy,” Professor Johannes Lelieveld, director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, said last month on the launch of his report.

He went on to say that prolonged heat waves, with 200 unusually hot days per year, together with associated desert dust storms are likely to render some regions uninhabitable. So, it’s not just a question of loss of work, which is anyway scarce in the MENA countries, it will be well nigh impossible to live there, and that means people will begin to move north in large numbers.

Ayztim, an ecological think-tank in Israel, suggests that by the end of the century there will be severe water shortages and a lot more desertification and loss of arable land, and that these will first show in intense competition for water of the Jordan and Yarmouk Rivers, which are currently the subject of agreements. There may well be occasions on which individual states choose to go to war to control new water supplies, or to guard their own. This is to say little about the reduced levels of aquifers all over the Middle East and the risk of saline contamination in coastal aquifers.

Obviously, we can’t predict the order or the severity of events across the region, but the pressure on water and the changes in climate are realities now, not the fictions of climate scientists seeking to fund their pet projects.

When climate change is placed alongside the population growth in the region, the scale of the problem comes into focus and you begin to see the migrations of the last two years in a different light. In less than 20 years, the population of the Middle East has grown by 108 million – 44%, a rate higher than India (34%) or China (17%). For example, Palestine recorded a rise of 106% in the same period. The story is much the same across North Africa: Egypt’s population rose from 57 million in 1990 to 81 million in 2008 – a 40% increase.

This growth easily outstrips MENA economies’ ability to create jobs. Two-thirds of the population in MENA is under 30 years old, while youth unemployment is at 30%, nearly three times the unemployment rate across all ages in the region. Paul Salem, of the Middle East Institute, wrote of the young men in the demographic bulge: “their search for jobs, identity, and empowerment will fuel the tumult of the region for many years.”

There is one other important fact that he did not mention – the decline in marriage across the region, which in the restrictive MENA societies means many young men have no hope of having normal sexual relations. Little more than a decade ago, about 60% of Middle Eastern men married by their late 20s. Today, the figure is just over 50%, and Iran it is 38%.

There is a new generation of young men who cannot afford to marry, have no work, cannot leave home and are sexually frustrated. The traditional passage to adult life, its responsibilities and joys, is barred to them. Little wonder, therefore, that I found two extremely polite Iranian lads in the food queue on Lesbos, hoping somehow to enter the EU’s Schengen area to find themselves a life that is already impossible in their home country. When the effects of climate change begin to really tell on agriculture and water resources, they are likely to be followed by far more young men, and maybe they won’t be quite so polite.

Despite the vast toll on the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Europeans still mostly believe that these are all external problems that have nothing to do with us. But in the decades to come, Europe will come to realize that what we saw in the movement of over one million people between 2014-2016, together with the death toll of 10,000, was the overture to a much bigger migration. Policy makers, politicians and societies now need to recognise that this is our problem, and we ignore it at our peril.

Sovereign Priorities Leavers obsessed with sovereignty don’t care about the institutions they champion

in Referendum by
Palace_of_Westminster,_London_-_Feb_2007

The conversation at a London dinner between a staunch Conservative Brexiteer and an equally keen member of the Remain camp went something like this.

“What about British sovereignty?” demanded the Brexiteer, who owns a medium-sized enterprise. “What about that unelected body that drafts legislation and tells us – the sovereign British people – to do what they tell us?”

“If I understand you correctly,” said the Remainer, “you think it’s wrong to have an unelected body involved in making legislation because it challenges our sovereignty, is that right?”

“Absolutely,” she replied. “That’s the core of our case. That’s why we have to leave. We have to take back control”

“But you don’t complain about that famously unelected body, the House of Lords, making laws and obstructing bills coming from the elected body the House of Commons.”

The flow of the Brexiteer stopped but not, of course, for long.

This exchange took place several months before the referendum campaign got underway, but it contains the central problem for Brexit Tories, which is that sovereignty today is not the Tudor-style autonomy they advocate, but rather it is about the expression of the wishes of a free people in their parliament and the constitution of their country.

It is simply inconsistent for Leave Tories to express outrage about the powers of the Council of Ministers and the Commission, as well as the relative powerlessness of the European Parliament, without first conceding that their Government has done absolutely nothing to resolve the considerable democratic deficit in the way the UK votes at general elections, at the same time as allowing an unelected chamber, built from a combination of merit, patronage and inherited privilege, to continue to take part in the government of this country.

Incidentally, it’s worth remembering that 92 members of the House of Lords are there because they have inherited a title – these legislators are elected by fellow peers of the same party and do not even have to undergo a general vote in the House of Lords. One of the latest peers to benefit from this antiquated process is the Ex-banker, now Times Columnist Matt Ridley, who sits as Viscount Ridley and is a passionate Brexiteer.

He is someone who never stops invoking the cause of the British people’s sovereignty, yet it never seems to occur to him that his presence in the House is an offence to sovereignty that is equal or even greater than anything we have to put up with in Europe. The system is archaic. The election of Lord Granchester to the ninety-two in 2003 required just three votes from fellow hereditary peers.

The wider point is that, in the last two decades, we have seen many erosions of liberty as well as a period of presidential-style government by Tony Blair, in which the Houses of Parliament were virtually ignored by Blair’s style of “sofa government”. But you rarely, if ever, heard a squeak from Conservatives like Boris Johnson or Michael Gove, either because they didn’t care about these issues of democracy and liberty, or because they haven’t thought about sovereignty in a modern way, which is to define it as the expression of the people in their democratic institutions – in and outside this country.

The only Conservative Brexiteer to consistently stand up for Liberty and question what was going in Parliament under Blair was David Davis, but it has to be said that despite his service to the cause of freedom he has not been prominent in advocating the reform of the House of Lords and the introduction of a fairer voting system.

There are big problems with European institutions. Nobody can sensibly deny their remoteness from the European people or lack of democratic accountability. These need to be changed; a new European Union needs to emerge from the Referendum campaign in Britain, which is having such a profound impact on the way Europeans think of the Union. But it ill behoves such great statesmen as Gove, Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, to name another vocal Brexit Conservative, to propose themselves as champions of British sovereignty when plainly they don’t give a damn about the independence and modernity of the institutions they claim to protect.

Crusading Scribblers Romantic and anti-establishment: why three big Brexiteers are hacks

in Referendum by
Boris

As the referendum campaign rushes on, causing the country and government agonies of division – all of it utterly unnecessary, of course – it is worth remembering what we owe to journalism in this debacle.

Of the seven leading politicians at the head of Leave, three are journalists – Michael Gove was a columnist for the Times, Boris Johnson writes for the Daily Telegraph and Chris Grayling was a mid-ranking executive for the BBC and Channel Four before he ended up in the cabinet, doing a famously poor job at the Department of Justice.

It was in his weekly Telegraph column that Johnson had agreed to announce his decision about which side he was backing. It is now established fact that he wrote two columns – one advocating that we remained in the EU and the other saying that we must leave at all costs. That’s the journalist’s skill for you, but it also says much about Johnson’s political ambition. His true view on the EU appeared in his very recent biography of Winston Churchill. He wrote, “Together with NATO (another institution for which he can claim joint credit) the European Community, now Union, has helped deliver a period of peace and prosperity for its people as long as any since the days of the Antonine emperors.”

Journalists like Johnson can be very flexible on their core beliefs but it is also the case that they tend in their polemic towards the romantic and anti-authoritarian. They like to back campaigns that stir the heart and stick it to authority, and, naturally, they never have to deal with the consequences of their views.

This is essential for a properly functioning democracy, but it also underscores the truth that journalism is usually better on causes than effects.

Responsibility is not and can never be the journalist’s first priority. That was true of Churchill as a journalist and is also true of Johnson and Gove, who have become the leading advocates for Brexit. But it is hard not to see their campaigning as simply a romantic, anti-authoritarian polemic writ large and aimed at the electorate as though it were a newspaper audience, not a public charged with making a profoundly important decision that will affect generations.

The Brexit cause stirs the heart – particularly the jaded English heart – and it will certainly be satisfying for the Daily Mail’s Brexit journalists to blow a raspberry at the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, who has come to represent all that is odious about the EU’s authority. But these same journalists, as well as the ones that have part-morphed into politicians, are genetically programmed never to acknowledge the consequences of the grand anti-European polemic. All that matters is that the case is made as colourfully as possible and that it gets a result. Consideration of the impact of Britain’s departure from the EU, both internally and externally, can go hang.

Rather less interesting than the grand polemic to them is what actually happens if we leave. The IMF, the London School of Economics and now the OECD have painted a very grim future. The OECD goes so far as to say that Brexit poses as big a threat to the world economy as the ‘hard landing’ in China. Their analysts found that the UK economy would be just below 1.5 percentage points smaller in 2018 after Brexit than it would be if the country voted to stay in the EU on 23 June. That adds up to a lot of lost jobs, many businesses going into decline and more cuts.

And yet you have got two thirds of the British population believing Brexit will have no impact on their finances. Why? Because they are treating the referendum as if it were some sort of TV show, a game of opinion that has no bearing on reality.

The task for the Prime Minister and the leaders of Remain is to persuade the country that this is for real – real job losses, real cuts and a real impact on Britain’s influence.

Paying for Exit Some people are paying big to Leave. What does this say about them?

in Referendum by
brexit

With the news that the Leave organisation has raised more than three times as much as Remain during the period between April 22 and May 12, it is becoming clear that a powerful group of wealthy individuals are keen to drag Britain into an uncertain future outside Europe.

Both camps have wealthy supporters of course, but these latest figures speak for themselves. Leave received a single donation from International Motors that came close to equalling the total raised by Remain (£850,000). The company is chaired by Lord Edmiston, a millionaire many times over who is also an evangelical Christian.

Such donors as Edmiston and the banker Peter Cruddas, the mail order millionaire John Mills and gambling tycoon Stuart Wheeler, who is UKIP’s treasurer, will not suffer in what is predicted to be a disastrous period of withdrawal if the UK votes to leave. The G7 suggest Brexit is a serious threat to world growth, the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts two more years of austerity and the IMF assesses the economic impact as from “pretty bad to very, very bad.”

Against a slew of negative predictions, the Leave campaign has not much to offer except the grand illusion of enhanced sovereignty, which they say is worth every hardship that will come our way. As the economist Thomas Piketty has pointed out, the One Per Cent – IE the rich that are propelling us to the exit – were hardly affected by the recession that followed the 2008 crash. In these time of widening inequality, income from capital is much more robust than earned income, a lesson no doubt the leftist John Mills could give you, though not without blushing.

Demographics are hard to pin down in the run up to the referendum, but it is clear that individualistic capitalists who incline towards a passionate nationalistic intensity have formed a kind of alliance with the least well off people in British society, who share the nationalist and xenophobic emotions, but who stand to lose most from leaving the EU and will start doing so from a very early stage in the process.

In a recent YouGov survey, it was found that Leave had a lead of ten points or more in groups such as those with only GCSE qualifications or lower (68%), C2 social Class (60%), DE social Class (63%), and readers of the Sun (71%), Mail (73%) and Express (77%).

It is true that Leave will draw from all classes and income groups on June 23, but interlaced in the complex detail of the vote is the old story of established money seeking to influence the poor, no matter what impact it has on those people being used.

Paradise Regained? Britain's never possessed the sovereignty evoked by Gove, Boris and Paxo

in Referendum by
Michael_Gove_at_Policy_Exchange_delivering_his_keynote_speech_'The_Importance_of_Teaching'

“Britain has been a sovereign, independent nation in the past and we can be again,” said Michael Gove during Jeremy Paxman’s fascinating BBC programme about the EU Referendum and British sovereignty. This is the heart of the debate about Britain’s future, so it seemed a bit eccentric of Paxman not to press the Justice Secretary on when Britain was last truly a sovereign, independent nation,and whether this absolute independence can be regained again.

Was the Justice Secretary thinking of the Tudor period, the years of the East India Company or Victorian Britain? When – exactly – did this golden age of sovereignty exist? Or was it perhaps the period immediately before Britain finally committed to the EEC, following the referendum on June 5 1975? That’s the only comparison that makes sense, if we are trying to predict what sort of power and control Britain will have outside the EU.

It is certainly true that in the Britain of the Sixties we did make all of our own laws and we had control of our borders, which, incidentally, even included a £50 currency limit on everyone travelling abroad from the UK on holiday. Britain was beset by economic problems but at least we were independent of the pettifogging regulations issued from Brussels and we endured none of the directives on straight cucumbers and bananas.

Yet the reality of this period was that Britain’s sovereignty was profoundly compromised on the most essential business of government. From 1956 to 1969 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made five separate loans to the United Kingdom and these were accompanied by increasingly stringent demands on money supply, taxation, domestic debt and currency controls. The depth of scrutiny by the IMF in the mid-Sixties, when the government was subject to inspections by IMF officials, who, by the way, openly doubted the word of politicians and Treasury officials, is hard to credit. The situation was nowhere near as bad as the debt crisis in Greece, but the British government certainly suffered humiliations that remind us of what Greece is going through.

It is now known that the Treasury ran two sets of books in order to deceive their masters in the IMF. Eventually they came clean in 1966 and the IMF focused on telling the British government how “to bring public expenditure under control. ”In 1968, the IMF sought agreements on spending cuts. Officials even considered giving the IMF an undertaking that would be kept secret from the House of Commons.

Are these the glory days of independence and sovereignty Gove is thinking of? I doubt it. For the truth is that there was never is a golden era of independence and self-determination in modern British history, which since the end of World War Two has been the story of decline, followed by adaptation and revival as a member of the EU.

What Michael Gove and Boris Johnson know but cannot admit is that it’s impossible for a medium-sized modern economy to go back to some historic idyll of autonomy. More important, this kind of sovereignty cannot be acquired, regardless of economic performance. And yet it is for this illusory prize that they are content to brush aside the warnings about the dire consequences of Britain exiting the EU from the Treasury, Bank of England, LSE and practically anyone who can do basic arithmetic.

The word sovereignty exerts a powerful hold on the imagination in the Leave camp. Unlike the rather more pedestrian words ‘independence’ and ‘autonomy’, it stirs the heart, particularly among the English. There is a romance to it; it carries the gold braid of Nelson and Wellington’s uniforms; and somewhere off in the wings it prompts the cry “God for Harry, England and St George.”

At one stage in his TV show, Paxman, who I should mention is a good friend of mine, evoked this romantic view of history when he said to a bewildered British student, whose studies on the continent were made possible by an EU grant, ‘the UK struggled for 1,000 years to assert its right to make our own laws only now to be unable to change laws imposed by Europe.” It was a significant moment in the programme because the word sovereignty and the history that Paxman mentioned had no resonance whatsoever for the young student. She and her friends were refreshingly concerned with “personal sovereignty” and freedom of movement – two things they felt the EU gave them.

The real point about sovereignty, if we are to use this gilded word, is that it is about power. We know what sort of influence we have as a member of the EU and as an important contributor to the Western alliance. We understand the limits of British power, as well as what we can achieve with it, which is not inconsequential. In short we are more reconciled to our position in the world than at any time in the last seventy years.

Leaving the EU will profoundly disrupt our place in the world: while proclaiming our newly won independence, we will of course be much less influential and much less powerful. And that will mean that we will have to rethink ourselves as a nation, particularly as an exit from the EU will almost certainly result in a second Scottish Independence referendum and cause problems in Ireland, where religious and national divisions have gradually eased because, among other reasons, people of both churches and on both sides of the border are all citizens if the European Union.

The truth is that you cannot seek to increase your sovereignty as a modern nation by taking actions that will decrease your power and economic wellbeing. It would be a rich irony indeed if we were to damage beyond repair such power and independence as we possess now by seeking this mythical sovereignty of Michael Gove’s and Boris Johnson’s speeches.

The word sovereignty should be used with care, or otherwise left in the dressing up box.

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