Dear 48%,

 

I was delighted to see you take to the streets on Saturday, but puzzled by some things you said. David Lang, you’re a manager with a precision engineering company and you fear that ‘departure from the EU could bankrupt us in two years’; many share your concerns and plan to move to the continent. It is important, however, that you chose your destination wisely, because few EU countries are entrepreneurial Eldorados. Alex Good, I am flattered that you envisage ‘moving to France’ but before packing your bags, I suggest you contact friends of mine who, like you, are architects. They will tell you that times are tough and jobs hard to come by. Stella Tillyard, I always dreamed of being, like you, a writer and a historian, and I also love Italy. I must, however, warn you that the Italian writers I know are in such dire strait that they waitress to make ends meet (barely).

As for Liz Mackie and Leo Dawson who ‘plan to move to Athens within six months’, since you are both in your 20s, I cannot imagine that you hope to find a job there: youth unemployment is above 50%. I have one piece of advice, however: do leave your ‘I love EU’ placard at home - you might as well carry a sign saying: ‘I love the institution that has plunged you into poverty, sold off your airports, harbours and Islands to investment funds, and spread racist slanders throughout the continent to pass your ordeal as a legitimate punishment for your laziness’.

That is what puzzled me when reading many of your placards: I was not sure whether you loved Europe, Europeans or the EU. Dear Jarvis Coker, it’s good that you reminded unenlightened Britons that ‘you cannot deny geography. The UK is in Europe’; please note, however, that the referendum was not about setting the UK adrift on the Atlantic Ocean, but about exiting from an institutional construct. As such, dear 48%, the EU not only funds architectural projects, research programs and student exchanges; it also imposes ruthless austerity policies that have ruined the future of the European youth and caused intense frustration and anger in Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain. By the way, dear Lark Tester, do you know how these countries are refered to in EU parlance? the PIIGS. It’s nice that you are promoting ‘Peace, Love, EUnity’, and wishing to show ‘our neighbours in Europe that we are not all for Brexit, and we love you’. Since you’re an optometrist, I suggest you adjust your lenses; you will see that on the continent, the thought of the EU does not elicit too many smiles.

Dear 48%, you get my point. You love the EU, and it’s only natural that love is somewhat blurring your vision: it’s hard to think about politics when one is overcome by passion. By the way, were you aware that austerity has been ruthlessly imposed in your own country since 2011? Did you know that it is part and parcel of a political project known as neoliberalism, which ruined the lives of millions? Mark Riminton, as a business consultant from Sussex, you may not have witnessed the demise of the British working class. If you had, it would perhaps have put some perspective on your post-Brexit feeling of being ‘totally disenfranchised, hoodwinked and browbeaten’. Now ‘the only thing [you] can think of to do is go on a march’: welcome to the club, Mark. Great to finally meet you. I wish you had been there when we marched for the NHS, against zero-hour contracts and public sector cuts.

Had you been there, Liz Mackie, you would not think that ‘ultimately this vote was about race.’ I know many believe that Brexit has exposed the fatal flaw of democracy: a country should not be ruled by the elderly, ignorant and racist 52%. I’m afraid this betrays a complete misunderstanding of Parliamentary democracy. What determines the quality of a Parliamentary democracy is not the quality of voters’ demands, but that of parties’ offers. In the case of Brexit, it is the question, not the answer, that was stupid. And the question does not tell us what the answer meant. Ever since Blair steered Labour to the Right, the only offer put to those left behind has been: admire your betters and shut up. It is no surprise that they have massively deserted the voting booths since 2001. Now they have seized the only opportunity they had to express their discontent by voting against those who had ignored them.

No, Liz, the 4 million UKIP voters of the 2015 general election have not become 17 million in a matter of months. Among them are millions of people who merely want stable jobs, decent living conditions, and the prospect of a better future for their children. Many voted Leave because they consider that these demands could not be met within the EU. They were worried about TTIP, the EU competition directives that would forbid the renationalization of transports and energy, and its facilitation of fiscal dumping and fiscal fraud. If you wish to meet them, listen to the youth whom Jeremy Corbyn failed to convince to vote Remain, through no fault of his own – it’s simply that as soon as you think politically, not idealistically, the case for the EU is a very hard one to make.

Dear 48%, don’t get me wrong: I am delighted to see you take to the streets. Your enthusiasm is so candid that I even forgive you for thinking you’re the first ones to do so. Sorry, Anna, this is not ‘the mother of all shakedowns’. All the same, Joanna Chapman-Andrews, it is indeed ‘a good thing in some ways’ if it ‘brought a whole lot of issues into the open that weren’t there and needed confronting.’ I only hope that we agree on the issues we must face. It is not about love versus hate, or even the EU vs the UK; it is about social justice versus the most corrosive social dissolver – neoliberalism. It is a struggle that has been going on for many years, and you are welcome to join it: if you do, we will be far more than 48%.

One last remark. That slogan, the 48%, is simply awful. It may be formally inspired by Occupy’s ‘We are the 99%’, but I hope you see it actually means the opposite: while the latter reclaims democracy, you seem to be turning against it. Democracy, you see, is about the people exercising power over their lives. This does not mean that we should always bow to the majority; it does mean, however, that we should aim at the common good, elaborate visions which everybody can embrace. The activists who declared themselves the 99% hoped to rally the millions who are being plundered by the few. By presenting yourselves as the 48% however, you seem to be proud of being a minority standing against the majority; you do not sound as if you were standing for the people against power, but as if you were calling on power to take your side against the people. That’s a bit like the aristocracy petitioning the monarchy to abolish democracy. Surely, that cannot be what you mean? I tell you what: we can think up a better slogan when we meet at the next march. In case it escaped your attention, it is scheduled for Saturday 16 July, and the order of the day will be: No More Austerity – No To Racism – Tories Must Go! I’m sure we can agree on that.

 

Now that you are waving placards too, I hope you won't mind me addressing you in the old-fashioned words of militancy:

 

In solidarity,

Olivier

 

 

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Tous les commentaires

Dear Olivier,

I don’t know you. You seem to be a very clever person from the bio you put as a header of your comment: Cambridge, I’m impressed. But I must say that I’m a bit disappointed that you didn’t put such cleverness to good use and didn’t avoid the trap of littering your text with those condescending remarks that just disqualify what you had to say.

From your comment itself, I understand that you have an extensive experience of marches. And I understand that you expect me to be impressed by it. I’m not. Thank you very much for your encouragements, though. I did march in London last Saturday. It was far from being my first march.

Beside your condescendence, your comments make me uncomfortable for three reasons. Firstly I’m a bit surprised that you didn’t consider what the “we are the 48%” could mean, besides your narrow reading, which doesn’t assume much cleverness in the other party (but I think I understand that’s your way of thinking in general). Couldn’t it mean that if we are of course a minority, we are actually a massive one? Almost half of the population. Could it mean to say that democracy is primarily not about math and percentage, but about real people?

Secondly, clever as you are, I thought you wouldn’t assume without discussion that a referendum belongs in a democratic system. Could it be that democracy is not about choosing between black or white? Couldn’t it be that democracy is about taking decisions as a result of a process, involving contradictory debates? We haven’t seen any of those informed debates here. In a parliamentary democracy, the winner always makes sure in his victory speech to state the unity of the electorate, beyond the divisions that the vote has revealed. It is possible to do so in the case of an election, because the winner is only elected on a pledge that then needs to go through a parliamentary process. And France is unfortunately giving at the moment a very good example of how the victory of a specific manifesto doesn’t mean at all that it will be applied automatically. That unity is impossible to deliver here: the automaticity of the decision is deeply divisive. Without solution.

 

Lastly, I feel you’re doing like the majority of people to whom the question of staying or not in the EU was asked: you don’t really listen to the question, and your answer just addresses what you’re the most worried about. For some people it was immigration, for others, the loss of the imperial units in favor of the metric system (I actually heard that comment on a market), for others still, a better deal for the NHS etc. For you, it is the ruthless liberalism, the threat to the public sector, the threat the Tafta presented etc… By assuming that all the people who marched last Saturday ignored or welcomed these threats, you are making a gross assumption (one more) and a huge error. We were demonstrating against leaving the EU and nothing else i.e.: against going back 40 years, against the closing down of borders, against wiping out all the connections, whether personal or professional that had been threaded during that time, against not being able to have any word in the debates anymore. Nobody marching said that they welcomed the austerity that the tory party has imposed all those years on this country like Brussels did on South European countries. We were saying we were still wanting to take part in the debate, still wanted to address our critics, but that the door has been slammed on us, mainly because a packet of lies. And that we felt oppressed by a decision imposed on us by immature populist politicians.