Saturday, 25 June 2016

UK - What the Shit Just Happened?

Full disclosure - I was firmly in the Remain camp. Having said that, I'll try and keep this fairly unbiased, despite the fact that everyone who disagreed with me was wrong.

The result of the UK's EU referendum came as quite a surprise. Even most of the people voting Leave didn't seem to expect to actually win. I ended up staying awake until about 7am, by which time it was clear which way the results were going to go. While "my side" didn't win, I'm not bitter. There doesn't seem to be much point - the votes have been cast, there's no choice but to accept it.

Having had a day or so to give things a bit of thought, I think it's useful to actually look back at just how and why the Remain camp lost. The more I think about it, the more I think that the seeds for this result were sown over decades, not just over the course of the campaign.

Here's a bit I can't remove bias from - I believe that the reasons that a lot of Leave voters gave are not actually EU issues. For example, where people see pressures on local schools and hospitals and assume that immigration is the cause. Same with housing. But I think that blaming the EU or immigration for this is to miss the real cause, which is government incompetence.

Michael Gove
A government incompetent, yesterday

As I see it, the UK needs migrants. We have an aging population here. The way our pension systems work, younger generations pay for the pensions and care of the older generation. If we're getting a higher proportion off older people, then we're going to need more young people working in order to pay for them. Without young migrants coming to work, we have less money to pay for pensions and care of older residents. There would be less money, so you'd have to cut pensions (or raise the pensionable age) and cut the amount of money available for care.

Statistics show that immigration is, on average, a net benefit in financial terms, so it seems to me that we should really encourage it as much as possible. Obviously, we're then going to need investment in infrastructure in order to cope with the increased demand, and this is the job of government. And this is where they've completely failed. You can't even make the argument that there's no money available for improved infrastructure, because it's an investment, not a cost. Borrow the money - there's a pretty much guaranteed return on that investment.

Really, even without immigration, our governments haven't been doing as much as they should have with regards to infrastructure, housing in particular. We've been building nowhere near the amount of housing we should have been, particularly low-cost builds and we've also been selling off social housing stock - it's not really surprising that it's so difficult for people to get on the housing ladder.

Wages are another issue. A common argument I hear is that for low-skilled workers, their jobs and wages are under threat, particularly from Eastern European migrants. I actually think this is a valid argument, although with some caveats. I used to live in a town called Boston in Lincolnshire. For those who don't know it, Boston is very much based around agriculture. There are huge fields of cabbages and the like, all of which have to be picked and packed. Migration has been an issue here for a long, long time, as a lot of the vegetable picking is done by migrant workers. A lot of locals say that the migrants are taking the jobs that should be theirs. However, my own experience is that again, the migrants are used as a scapegoat here. Some - I'm not saying all - of the unemployed locals don't actually want to do vegetable picking. It's bloody hard work and involves starting at dawn. There was a documentary years ago (it may have been Panorama) that was filmed in Boston and it was about immigration. The film crew went to the local JobCentre, spoke to people looking for work who blamed migrants for taking their jobs, and then offered them actual jobs in vegetable picking. Nobody took them up on the offer of work.

Boston, Lincs - photo from
Boston. They used to have more water but the EU took it all.

More recently, I saw this. Yep, it's the Guardian, which I know some people are going to dismiss as lefty nonsense, but it's with someone who is running a picking operation (I don't think it says if he's a farm owner, gangmaster or whatever). He says much the same thing - that locals don't want to do the work. To get locals to do the job, wages would have to be much higher. At first, that sounds like it supports the argument that immigration means depressed wages. However, it's not quite that simple because he estimates he would have to pay double in order to get more local workers. If the cost of wages were doubled, it follws that the price of the produce in the shops would also go up. Without the migrant labour, the produce would be a lot more expensive, possibly to the point where the shops would source their vegetables elsewhere.

Boston - really wanted to leave.

The immigration issue has become a convenient scapegoat for a lot of groups. For ordinary people, it can also be an excuse as to why they're not able to get ahead and improve their lives. As I said, I've lived in Boston, and there were far more reasons why people find it difficult to get ahead than just because of immigration. Among young people, there's problems and around drugs and anti-social behaviour, you have families who've been out of work for generations, lack of education and investment and so on. Blaming migrants and, by extension, the EU is handy because it also means you don't have to actually do anything but blame. "It's all the fault of x and I don't have any power over it" is a convenient excuse.

This also ties into the Faceless Bureaucrat line. Thing is, everyone in a position of power in the EU is either elected democratically or nominated by someone who is.
A picture of Nigel Farage
A faceless EU bureaucrat that nobody voted for. OR DID THEY?

Immigration has been used as a scapegoat to hide complacency and incompetence over decades. It's worked because traditionally, the people who have been hardest hit by all this are the demographic least likely to vote - until now. Unfortunately, the force that has galvanised them to action, the UK Independance Party (UKIP) has done so basically by blaming foreigners. In a sense, they've absolved successive governments for the sin of not investing in infrastructre, for not putting in place training and education for communities that would be affected by migration, for ignoring the needs of communities for decades because hey, it's the EU's fault that we can't do anything about our problems!

Now all those voters who were hard done by for years came out to vote against those they were told were responsible. Personally, I think that vote has been pointed in the wrong direction, but it's happened and we are where we are. Time to move on.

It'll be interesting to see where all this goes now. Once we're officially out, what will happen when housing, infrastructure and jobs continue to fail to improve? Because I think that's inevitable - I don't think voting to leave is going to suddenly make our governments any more competent.

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