Europe24 May 2016
I’ve read a lot of pro- and anti-Europe opinion pieces. I’ve read all the literature that’s come through our letterbox. There’s an inescapable conclusion to be made after a period of reflection. And here it is.
It’s all guesswork.
No-one knows what will happen if we Brits leave the European Union. That’s no-one knows.
I don’t mind the scaremongering: highlighting the inevitable lack of border controls, loss of political and policy control, a likely increase in our contributions as less-well-off countries join Europe, the deals allowing foreign companies to sue to establish privately-run footholds in currently state-owned services… Scaremongering is, after all, what we pay our politicians for. What I do mind is the sunny picture being painted, of the benefits greatly outweighing the negatives were we to leave. Guesswork, all of it, based on our past.
It’s utterly pointless looking backwards to a time when Britain was actually great, to a time when we ran the known world - at least the world that other European nations didn’t control.
It’s pointless looking back at a time Great Britain made stuff that was exported all over the world; essential items that no-one else in the world could make, or at least make well. Our very real contribution to the Industrial Revolution is indeed something of which we can be justly proud.
We gave it all away. Processes, designs, specific inventions that grease the wheels of world industry; we relinquished a very real control at a time we had sway over vast numbers of far-flung nations, an authority over those ‘backward’ folks. Sure it was the authority of the gun, club and bayonet, but hey, we punched way above our weight, and we can do it again right! But, as the rights of the ‘indigenous’ people correctly became more important than our colonialism, we lost that control. It must have been utterly humiliating for the politicians of the day.
The Twentieth Century was perhaps the era of biggest change, at least as far as benefiting the average Briton. Healthcare improved beyond recognition thus life expectancy rose, personal wealth rose, the welfare state protected those unable to look after themselves, the rights of the common man were improved immeasurably - a template for the rest of the world to build upon. We rebuilt after the deprivation of the Second World War, suffered greatly through rationing until we emerged, victorious again!
Ok, our contributions to world peace and stability were obviously misguided, a side-effect of both being on the winning side in those 2 World Wars and those prominent rose-tinted spectacles. We probably meant well.
We don’t have to look backwards too far to figure out when things started to go wrong with the British economy. British politicians decided it was pointless trying to improve the lives of other British people by ensuring a stable working environment and making things the rest of the world wanted. So we simply gave up.
Making things better than the rest of the world is hard. Why bother? Far better to invite bankers to do business here, to concentrate on making things attractive for service industries, filmmakers, motor racing car designers, makers of killing machines…
Killing machines; we’ve a proud history of making those at least. And jet engines, hovercraft, vacuum cleaners. Er… ok, bad examples, those 3. How about textile machines, motors, ships, trains, cars, aeroplanes, computers, televisions, tyres, er… Oops!
I’ve seen videos ‘explaining’ how things will be better once we can negotiate our own trade agreements, free from the shackles of European regulation. Good luck with that, if we’re trading with firms in European countries that are bound (emotive word?) by European regulations. Or ISO standards.
Good luck trying to negotiate a trade deal with next US political administration; either the mercurial (I’m being kind) or the known. The USA, rightly in my view, isn’t known for its generosity towards other nations when so much is wrong at home. Major industries shuttered or mothballed as cheaper foreign competition bites. It’s going to be the same here, us versus our European neighbours. And vs China. And vs the rest of the world. All of it. Back-of-the-queue-Britain.
Really, what have we to offer that can’t be done cheaper elsewhere? Take a long hard look at numbers, probabilities. Ignore those who promise it will simply be ‘better’, that we can return to the nation of Saint George, Boudicca, King Arthur, that guy who was the nominal boss before the Normans took over, Chamberlain, Churchill, and all the others who made a difference when it comes to an understanding of what it is to be British.
English actually. That’s what all this is about. Nationalism.
It’s easy to invoke a pride in one’s nationality, to remind the great unwashed masses that we’ve always been a nation capable of triumphing against insurmountable odds. Easy.
Insurmountable odds like The Charge of The Light Brigade, Dunkirk, The Battle of The Somme… Yeah, you know where this is going. The point is this; those were much, much simpler times. There was a defined objective, not many variables, the path the opposition would take could be predicted, to a degree. You’ll have heard of, or know a little about both Chaos Theory and Game Theory already so I won’t bother explaining here.
Ah, but the competition were still learning their trades.
Everyone’s guessing what will happen if we exit Europe. Guessing; there’s no other way of dressing this up. Those pro-exit are either amped up on nationalistic fervour and hope their persuasiveness will carry us through, or sufficiently well-off to be insulated from it.
Me, yeah, I know where I stand. I haven’t a clue!
What I have is a cautious approach. I’ve 2 young daughters so I’ve a father’s concern that my actions now will have a direct result on their futures. Its entirely silly to think like that; their future is out of my hands. Its everyone else with definite opinions, those with an unshakable belief that their exit vote will make us great again, that will guide us in a month’s time.
If it goes wrong, it’s probable that most already past retirement age won’t see the worst of the fallout. Heck, if things play out like I’m imagining it won’t be a pleasant world as the various trade blocs realign in a external market tariff-laden but ‘buy local’ fashion. It natural. Besides, no matter how much we don’t want it to happen, the Far East is indeed emerging as the world’s economic powerhouse. Er… It’s emerged.
Incidentally, I read something yesterday, a rebuttal of one part of the exit camp’s trade arguments. Our re-taking of our World Trade Organisation seat once we’re out of Europe. We’ve been WTO members since 1995, have that and another swat due to our European position. If only people fact-checked before jumping to conclusions. It takes seconds, minutes at most to; yet why research, why study when faith works just as well and is quicker to boot!
Speaking of studying stuff, students (young people) - in theory the most likely to vote to remain - are up against it. Polling day is outside term time, see. The advice is to register to vote in 2 locations (family home and halls/digs) if undecided where you’ll be on the day. A recent poll indicated most students don’t seem to know when Polling day is though! Surely not someone’s cunning plan. Surely not. No.
One final thing, ok, set of things. I keep seeing people’s worst-case scenarios. You know, those where we take a few years to establish even better trade links with the world, where the British economy carries on at the same level as now then improves and we become great again, free from the shackles of oppressive regulation and crippling financial contributions. Some expert sits in front of a Parliamentary committee and says it’s it’s going to be great, guarantees it.
Why people still trust people who stand behind a teleprompter and pretend they can see into the future; still trust people who’ve spent a lifetime convincing others that their philosophy is best, better than that other party’s or their own party’s factions; still trust those who’ve presided over or been a party to scandal after scandal, and who either express mock outrage or seem immune from retribution - it saddens me.
I’m not advocating a revolution, a British Spring. Far from it. I’m simply wondering why objectivity doesn’t matter any more.
What are we actually good at, better than anyone else by a sufficient margin to guarantee sustainability?
I really don’t KNOW.
That’s why I’m scared.