Be careful of what you ask for. Now that it has woken up from its Brexit victory hangover, is Britain acting as if it has just won the World Cup? Hardly. Exasperated EU ministers may be urging Britain to go ahead and trigger its (ostensibly two year long) article 50 exit from the Treaty of Lisbon, so that a new stability can be established ASAP in Europe. Yet instead, Britain is furiously dragging its feet and saying… perish the thought. Reportedly, Britain won’t act on this “victory” and trigger article 50 until it can figure out what to do next – which will be after David Cameron leaves office and a new British PM gets appointed… sometime around October, maybe?
In other words, yet another Brexit lie has been exposed. Voters were told by the Flash Harrys of the Brexit campaign that it would be dead easy to re-negotiate terms with Europe because there was such a mutual interest in doing so. Yet that exit process is now being treated by Britain as if it was radioactive. Of course, the other major lie was that the predictions of economic carnage were merely ‘scare-mongering’. Huh. Again, reality has dawned and the damage being done to the global economy is unfolding exactly as predicted. On the foreign policy front, China and Russia will be looking on with amazed elation at the damage being done to an EU that was set up as a counterweight to their own economic and political ambitions. What a gift to China, and to Putin.
First and foremost though, the Brexit vote marked the final revenge of the old and angry victims of neo-liberalism – who were invited to see the EU and immigrants as the cause of their woes, and who have succeeded in now making things spectacularly worse for themselves. Young Britons, who will have to live the longest with the consequences of the Brexit outcome, voted solidly against it.
In passing on that point… if you had wanted to maximise the turnout among youth, why on earth would you schedule this referendum in the middle of the summer vacation (thereby creating a re-registration hurdle) and then pick the same weekend as the Glastonbury pop festival? For Britain’s young voters, it was the equivalent of holding a New Zealand election on the same weekend as an All Blacks test match. We tend to avoid doing that, for obvious reasons.
In the past 48 hours, a lot of media space has also been devoted to the clueless aspect of the Brexit vote. Such as: the guy who voted to leave and who didn’t think his vote would count but is now feeling’worried’. Then there was the Cornwall region that voted to leave the EU but now wants to be re-assured that it won’t lose its EU subsidies.
Also: the impoverished region in Wales that received larger EU subsidies than anywhere else in Britain, and yet voted to leave because…what had the EU ever done for it? Then there was the post-vote prevalence of “What is the EU?” question among British users of Google…. Among this dismal array of winner-losers, one might even count Boris Johnson.
Meaning: there is a conspiracy theory that Johnson didn’t really expect to win this campaign. Instead, so the theory goes, he was banking on David Cameron being so weakened by a narrow “Remain” victory that come next year Johnson would then – as the popular champion of a principled-but-losing Brexit vote – be perfectly positioned to inherit business as usual in a party that had been safely purged of its Euroscepticism. Instead, Johnson is likely to be presiding come October, over a different Britain entirely. His wan appearance at his first post-Brexit press conference goes some way to supporting that theory.
Personally, I think the worst aspect of the Brexit vote is the fresh life it will give to the policies of austerity. Since the crisis a couple of years ago in Greece, austerity has been in retreat across the continent. Even the IMF conceded recently that free market neo-liberalism was not only poor social policy but bad economics as well.
Last week for instance, the Japan Times wrote a very interesting editorial about the IMF’s recantation of its neo-liberal gospel.
….Today, IMF economists appear no longer convinced of the salutary value of the entire package of neoliberal reforms. While “there is much to cheer in the neoliberal agenda,” the “benefits of some policies that are an important part of the neoliberal agenda appear to have been somewhat overplayed” and “some parts of the neoliberal agenda have not delivered as expected.”
Austerity it would seem, is now felt by the IMF to have been a failed nostrum:
Two policies in particular are problematic. The first is the resort to austerity, or the demand that governments restrain spending (and usually simultaneously increase taxes) in an attempt to balance the books. While budget surpluses are desirable — especially for smaller countries that are at the mercy of international creditors — they are not necessarily good in and of themselves. Most importantly, austerity that demands big cuts in government spending and the gutting of social services, in tandem with the imposition of new taxes, reduces growth, which reinforces a downward economic spiral. Rather, the authors conclude, it is better for debt to “decline organically through growth” than through imposed austerity.
The second problematic policy is the call for unrestricted flows of capital…..The chief culprit is the “hot money” that flows in and out of countries’ stock markets and is subject only to the whims of international financiers. Money moves in and out in boom and bust cycles. These are not “a sideshow … they are the main story.” In an important reversal, the IMF economists conclude that capital controls can play a vital role in restraining these flows and calming market volatility.
So, what to do now? Backing away from neo-liberal mania for budget-balancing and the paying down of debt should seem to be very relevant news for the likes of New Zealand:
The result, said the IMF researchers, yields “three disquieting conclusions.” First, neoliberal policies result in “little benefit in growth.” Second, they increase inequality, and third this “inequality can significantly lower both the level and the durability of growth.” The bottom line is that policymakers must be more concerned about rising levels of inequality and take active measures to redistribute income, even if that includes taxes and boosting government spending. The authors conclude that “the fear that such policies will themselves necessarily hurt growth is unfounded.”
Alas, much of the Brexit propaganda about the allegedly stifling effect of EU ‘regulations’ has really been the same old neo-liberal policies decked out in populist drag. The prime targets of the Brexit tacticians (within the Conservative party) have been the EU regulations on workplace conditions and on environmental standards. Brexit proponent and leading Conservative MP Priti Patel made that clear in May, in a speech in which she advocated a reduction in employment rights as a way of stimulating the UK economy.
She raised the example of the EU blocking Britain from exempting self-employed drivers from the working time directive, which requires employers to guarantee workers that they will not work on average more than 48 hours a week. In a speech at the Institute of Directors, Ms Patel went on: “If we could just halve the burdens of the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3bn boost to our economy and 60,000 new jobs…”
That’s the goal of the Tory right-wing: to enable Britain to be managed in future as a self-contained experiment in de-regulation, divorced from those dastardly EU rules on workplace conditions. More of the same here.
Given those ominous signs, the British Trade Union Congress commissioned research that has identified the likely workplace targets of a post-Brexit Tory government:
• Collective consultation, including the right for workers’ representatives to be consulted if major changes are planned that will change people’s jobs or result in redundancies (as have been used in recent major announcements in the steel industry).
• Working time rules, including limits on working hours and rules on the amount of holiday pay a workers is entitled to.
• EU-derived health and safety regulations.
• Transfer of Undertakings (TUPE), i.e. the EU-derived protections to the terms and conditions of workers at an organisation or service that is transferred or outsourced to a new employer.
• Protections for agency workers and other ‘atypical’ workers, such as part-time workers.
• Current levels of compensation for discrimination of all kinds, including equal pay awards and age discrimination.
Finally, and towards that same end…..the Brexit vote already seems well on the way to pushing Britain into a self-induced recession. This economic crisis will give the Conservatives a rationale for further cuts in health and welfare services – now ‘unaffordable’ in the new reality. Meaning: the victims of austerity who took their anger out on the EU and the immigrants will now bring a fresh round of austerity measures down upon their families and communities.
Please, lets not see any of this suffering as a good thing, as some Leninist “heightening of the contradictions” likely to finally bring on the revolution. Spare us all from any revolution reliant for its genesis on Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.
Ralph Stanley RIP
Last week, all this Brexit stuff overshadowed the death of the pioneering country music titan, Ralph Stanley. In the circumstances though, this track – it was originally a single by the Stanley Brothers, on the old yellow Starday label – sounds kind of appropriate. In future, are all of our (EU) friends going to be as rank strangers? You bet.
Ral Donner’s early 1960s hit also seems to fit the prevailing mood: