I do not feel that I have been so engaged in the politics of the country as I have over the last few months. During the referendum campaign I found myself torn between two options both of which carried risks and potential benefits. I started the process as someone who would be likely to vote to “remain” because of my economic cautiousness and someone who felt themselves to be an internationalist. I ended the campaign putting an “X” in the box against “leave”.
During the campaign it was clear that the push to remain was based on arguments of prosperity, that we would all have more money and more security of wealth, if we remained in the EU. Strong though these arguments were they did not settle my growing unease as I read of the anti-democratic nature of the EU and the clear evidence that the EU works to foster ‘crony capitalism’ rather then free trade and internationalism. There was good evidence that the EU is one of the drivers for the increasing unfairness of capitalism when success arises from rent-seeking by corporations in close cooperation with government agencies.
For me, immigration was never a major factor in my decision on how to vote. I support free movement of people and think that, in economic terms, immigration is usually a net benefit to an economy. However, we have to be careful that free movement is not an excuse for companies to undercut wages of local workforces by importing cheaper labour, nor an excuse to allow companies to force labour to move across the continent, often breaking up families, in the search for a decent wage. The differences in various nations’ welfare state provisions mean that taxpayers, via the government, can end up paying to allow the luxury of companies to drive down their labour costs – the companies do not pay the costs of the “social wage” that is often a large part of the differential that makes the migration attractive for workers.
I did find the paradoxical accusations of “racism” annoying. All my life I have fought against racism wherever I have encountered it. To find the term bandied about, simply as a term of abuse, to scare people in a campaign was distasteful and probably put the first cracks in my decision to vote “remain”. The EU has done dreadful damage to farmers in non-european countries and caused many problems for potential migrants from non-european countries. It would be easier, and more accurate, to level the charge of racism against the EU with its “free movement” so long as you are Caucasian and were born in Europe.
But my worries about the financial aspects remained even when I was clear that for fairness, free trade and democracy I’s have to vote for “leave”. Though I did start to recognise I was being offered a gilded cage – stay here, it is rich and safe, don’t worry about those abstract things they matter less than material security. But I also knew that gilt fades and gilded cages usually end up as plain prisons as time goes on. In the early days Greece would have found the EU money a wonderful incentive to participate and who would not want to be in this pretty organisation with its largesse. Most Greeks now find their cage pretty oppressive, as do increasing numbers of others (for example the large numbers of unemployed youth in southern Europe).
It felt increasing like going through a divorce. There were all the fears, stoked up by an annoyed spouse – that “how will I cope” fear, that “perhaps he’ll change” glimmer of hope, that “things are not all that bad after all” grasping at straws. This has been even more apparent in the first week apart with the erratic behaviour of the EU staff at times threatening retribution and revenge then trying a more conciliatory approach. When couples find themselves at this point in a relationship they nearly always part and almost never remarry. The gilded cage often keeps one partner there for longer then they should but eventually they recognise that some things are more important than money.
Tony Benn once said “Better a bad democracy than a good King” and he was right. To have democratic power over those who rule us is more important than short-term wealth. To have the ability to contest the rules which are made is also the best way to secure long-term prosperity. We will fare better out of the EU and may also help other countries to recognise that they can also.
The first week after the vote has strengthened my resolve and reassured me that my decision was correct. To read the response of the “remain” group has confirmed how anti-democratic they were with their calls to ignore or re-run the referendum, with their hostility to the elderly, with their distaste for the poor of the country, and with their arrogant self-assuredness that they were correct when the majority was in error.
Whatever happens we have taken the correct first step.