Wednesday, 29 June 2016

A very white view of Brexit

In all the Brexit discussions, I have not come across any discussion of the similarities between the Greek and the UK referenda. There are so many similarities, at least to me, and I wonder how the great economics analysts have missed this point, or maybe they have glossed over it. Since I haven't found anything written about it, I'll give you my thoughts on it in this post. If I don't do it, who else will?

A friend recommended to me that I watch the 'Lexit' film (click here if you wish to see it: made by UK left-wing thinkers that wanted a Brexit outcome (and they got it). It's probably the most balanced Brexit debate I've seen as it doesn't use scaremongering or immigration fears. Probably this is its greatest downfall: it bases all the Brexit arguments on trade and markets. That is not what the EU is all about.

Lexit is, naturally, very biased against the EU, but it reminds me uncannily of the Greek left's idealistic beliefs before SYRIZA came into power. Syriza kept highlighting its desire to stay in the EU, but essentially, Syriza was covertly against the EU. We all know full well how strongly Tsipras fought against everything the EU tried to get him to do, and he STILL supports the Greek public during strike action against his own government, when it passes measures to meet the EU's demands. SYRIZA/Tsipras couldn't state publicly that they were against the EU for mainly one reason: Greeks, generally speaking, do NOT want to leave the EU and they do NOT want to leave the euro and go back to the drachma. This should have been the first sign pointing to SYRIZA's feeble-mindedness: historically, it's always been the left that has been against the EU, in all parts of the European world.

In many ways, Lexit seems to make sense when it says that the EU is a choice between the market vs society. It's mainly right-wingers who will choose the market (ie the EU), while left-wingers will choose society. The film mentions some of the greatest UK advocates of society: Tony Benn, a staunch Labour MP, and Bob Crow, a trade unionist, are among them. Bob Crow reminds me of Arthur Scargill, another trade unionist who fought against Margaret Thatcher; he is also anti-EU. These men are all said to be pro-workers' rights, but in the end, they are/were in essence supporting 'closed shops', something Greeks know about quite well from pre-crisis times. Mention was made in Lexit about the loss of workers' rights, aka the rules that trade unions insist on for workers, which often go against sound business practices. Trade unions had great clout in Greece's recent past (pre-crisis); they could (and sometimes still do) bring the country to a standstill and hold it to ransom - but only because the country 'had' money back then. Now that the government is not free to spend the meagre resources it has available in a random way, trade unions' power has been broken. It sounds a little Thatcherite, doesn't it? Indeed: Greece was just 20-30 years behind the times.

Trade unions are just another form of a market, a less open one, with their own specific rules and regulations that support their own members. By supporting trade union policies, we were not really being democratic. Lexit argues that the EU is made up of appointed members, not elected members, so it's undemocratic. But for the most part, members from one state are appointed by the elected government of that state. Isn't that what we elect governments for? We elect them to get on with the job, and not to have to keep asking us what to do every time they want to do something. Sometimes they get things wrong, other times they don't tell us everything (Lexit claims that TTIP - another trade agreement - is being discussed in secret); but we should all know by now that politics is a dirty game, and at the present time, we do not have an alternative to traditional politics when it comes to running a country. Having said that, politics is much more transparent these days - technology (the rise of the internet) have really helped towards this effort.

The Greek referendum showed a clear split between the left and the right, which is not quite how the UK referendum turned out. The UK referendum also saw right-wingers that supported the LEAVE vote. Of course, there is a huge difference between the Greek and the UK referenda, the main one being that the Greek one was based on a question that was very open to interpretation: the question of the Greek referendum, which went something like: "Should the Greek government agree on a particular loan agreement?" got a resounding OXI (NO) outcome. So the government didn't agree to enforce that particular agreement... they decided to agree to something else instead... which to many analysts felt much worse than the 'original' agreement. Most people would agree that the OXI of the people was reinterpreted as a NAI by the government, giving rise to many photo memes based on phone conversations between David Cameron and Alexis Tsipras.
David Cameron is speaking on the phone:
Hi Alexi! If the British vote OXI to the union, could you make it NAI? 

What might have happened if the Greek referendum question had been 'leave the EU or not', or 'leave the eurozone or not'? The answer would probably have been REMAIN in both cases. Take note: I am remembering what the mood of the time was back then. Even as late as September 2015, during the second general election of the year (the third national election if you count the referendum), the candidates/parties wanting to see Greece out of the eurozone were not voted in. Things may have changed now almost a year later - but in my opinion, not by much.

In the Lexit film, Greece is regarded as crushed, with vicious austerity being imposed. If a country doesn't have money, even the word 'austerity' is being misused: Greece is BANKRUPT. It doesn't have the money to spend on basic state infrastructure, which led to a loss of jobs in the over-inflated public sector, which in turn scratched off the veneer: Greece looks so unkempt. Greece had been crushing itself before becoming bankrupt and begging others for money; in the past, money appeared magically whenever it was needed, but this is no longer the case. No wonder Greece's public assets needed to be 'flogged off' (as lexit claims). Greece's referendum result was also regarded as crushed by the EU. But OXI remained OXI - at least for the referendum question. The NAI was only given for another agreement - but that something else wasn't subjected to a referendum result! So the fireman-trade unionist is not just biased but blatantly misleading when he says that Greece was forced to sign an austere bailout package: Greece wanted more and more money by the time it had come to that stage!

In my opinion, Lexit looked more like a trade-unionists' opinion about the EU. I found that I couldn't trust everything the speakers said - they are using their own forms of 'popaganda' to make their claims sound believable. They used Varoufakis' claim that 'EU = terrorism', but they dislike Varoufakis' support for the EU. They insist that the ECB created last year's bank run in Greece just before the referendum. These British Lexiters are totally clueless about Greeks' love of hoarding cash. It really wasn't feasible to have millions of euros outside the banks, in homes, buried in fields. We are talking about 2015 - no Greek government till then had even attempted to engage citizens to learn how to use plastic money. And citizens on their part were preferred cash, a bit like King Midas: they liked to see it and count it - because they were not educated in how to do the same thing with their plastic cash. But even that has caught up with Greece now: as of 1st of August 2016, only plastic payments will be accepted in some businesses.

Lexit concentrates on the UK fishing industry and blames the EU for destroying it. With a Brexit, the UK will supposedly be able to build up their fishing industry to its former glory, and ports will start working again, and so will all those workers like porters and fish cleaners who now don't have jobs because the fishing industry has been decimated. I really wonder if the EU (if it were indeed at fault here) is truly responsible for the demise of the fishing industry. Young people move away form small towns because they aren't as exciting as big towns - in short, they don't want to live in small towns, and when they are forced to move back to small towns for economic reasons, they generally wish they were living elsewhere. Reviving coastal northern towns like Redcar, Hartlepool and Sunderland (which all voted overwhelmingly for Brexit) will take a lot more than building new homes and providing more state services: you have to make people want to go and live there, and from what I know of small Greek towns, I don't think there'll be many takers.

What's left in the UK is to pull the trigger and start the Brexit procedure. But no one is in a rush to pull that trigger. I don't even believe that the trigger will be pulled. It will have to be done by the head Brexiter (whoever that will be, once the Tories elect their new leader) ... who will be living and working in London... which voted overwhelmingly to BREMAIN, not to BREXIT! We are probably just about to find out that the Greeks and the Brits aren't much different after all; that Brexit just might have to be reinterpreted, so that it will end up looking like a Bremain. There may be huge differences between the countries of Greece and the UK, but since the UK referendum, it's pretty obvious that 'we all different, but we all froot'.

Brexit was not just a Lexit: it was also a Rexit - David Cameron was clearly a minority in his own party. Lexiters dislike banks, large corporations, capitalism - in short, they hate the right. But many people to the right of politics also supported Brexit. Left wingers don't want to associate with right wingers. So Lexit is actually ignoring its brothers in arms. Brexit has caused so many divisions in the UK - divided not just the country (Scotland wants to stay in the EU); it's divided traditional political groups - who seem to have similar ideas with each other. What is needed is to understand why the right also wanted to leave the UK - and who was actually voting for which side.

On the face of it, Brexit was a protest vote in much the same way as the OXI vote in Greece. Both referenda showed a very stark divide in the country. The groups who voted for OXI/LEAVE are very similar, as are the groups who voted for NAI/REMAIN:
  • OXI/LEAVE = 'I have nothing to lose': angry, poor, stubborn, idealistic, casting aside globalisation, nationalistic, nostalgic
  • NAI/REMAIN = 'I have everything to lose': elite, wealthy, anxious, scared of losing comfort, progressive
It's easier to understand why LEAVE won when viewed in this way:
- where is most of the money?
- where are most of the jobs?
- where are the most unemployed?
- where do the happiest people live?
- where do the most anxious live?
- which people in the UK have an inferiority complex?
- which have a superiority complex?
- where do most people who insist on making their main income from the arts live?
- how much will a person get if they sold their home?
- where do most 'educated' people live?
- what did expats vote?
- which areas of the UK do neo-immigrants go to for work?
- which parts of the country are the most exciting?
- which parts of the country are the most boring?
- which parts of the UK rely on the London bubble?
- which parts of the UK does the London bubble rely on?
The answer to the last question seems to be 'none'.

A shake up of old stagnant values isn't a bad thing. Every once in a while, we need a shake up. But what does Brexit tell us about the right wingers who want it? Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were the main 'stars' of Brexit. On the one hand, we have a former right wing mayor of London; on the other hand, we have a UK MEP who heads a small far-right party that strongly opposes immigration. What made them decide that Britain will be Greater when it Brexits? I can only think of one question from my list above that encompasses their view: they have superiority complexes, and as politicians, they like to be heard - in short, they are power hungry. For some people, the incredible power that they have over weaker sectors of society is not enough - they want more.

What about immigration? Well, there was just a TINY bit of talk about that topic in the Lexit film. Immigration is not about blaming individuals, says Lexit: "free movement is, at its core, a neo-liberal attack on labour, on bargaining power, and on wage rates." That can really only mean one thing: immigraiton brings wages down. I guess that this is a bad thing in Lexiters' minds. No immigrant was given any air-time in Lexit. Why? Aren't immigrants a driving force in the UK? Are there no Lexiter British immigrants? Lexit shows no interest in them. Even the fireman trade unionist admits this: "Trade unions... have been far too silent about the issue." Lexit is totally biased pro-white British people. There was no BLACK speaker in the film: only Aaron Bastani had a foreign sounding name (apparently, he is of Iranian descent), but his accent was clearly British, and he had nothing to say about immigrants. Hence, Lexit is an ethnocentric view of Brexit. A claim is made that the EU underestimates 'our own people': white British people, I take it. The credits lists mainly English-sounding names (very few are non-English). Lexit is kind of racist, if you ask me.

I'd love to hear your views. I'd also love to add some more questions to the list I made above. But the end hasn't come yet. Article 50 has not yet been triggered. We all know what the Greek OXI vote ended up looking like. I can already see that I will not be needing to rush to get a passport issued. The UK will still be a part of the EU for a long, long time. Good luck, UK.

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