Who do EU love? A letter to the 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:
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