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Monday, 18 September 2017

Brexit Britain Divided

The United Kingdom is more deeply riven by economic, political and social issues than it has ever been before. I say this with the benefit of a quarter of a century teaching Economics and economic History in a major university followed by a further quarter-century living in Tower Hamlets and active in the City of London. Thus I have half a century of reading, listening and probing; and, as a bonus, I have the luck to have a second home in the Peak District where I hear another spectrum of opinions and lore. Throughout history, most constituencies were controlled by a single party, after the dominant landowners surrendered control during the nineteenth century. Rural areas and affluent inner London were solidly Tory, some mixed-economy areas tended to return Liberal MPs, and the heavily industrial and mining areas were solid Labour. There were - and still are - anomalies: the constituency in which I first had a vote [Darwen, now Rossendale and Darwen] has improbably elected Tories all my life; but such exceptions are rare. However, in a rapidly-changing context, the old certainties have gone. The Brexit vote cut right across party traditions, and leaders' admonitions had minimal impact on voters' choice.

In the nineteen-nineties the Labour Party was split by the Blairites, who did not eradicate old-Labour in the new century but instead left stagnant pools of Marxist infantilism to fester while the legendary pragmatism of the big-union bosses became heavily diluted. The present mushroom growth of a new-left Labour is both an indication of voter dissatisfaction - especially [but not only] among the young - and of a search for ideals. The cupboard-love of the students and graduates who liked Corbyn's reckless 'pledge' about tuition fees during the recent election has dissipated, and the peak of the latest boom has probably passed.

The Conservative Party has never been in such disarray as it now displays: the old establishment of 'grandees' who could remove a leader with swift silence seem to have disappeared, and everything now hinges on a speech in Italy which has been heralded for weeks and will prove in the event [on Friday] to be a display of the Prime Minister's incomprehension, confusion and insecurity. Even if her cobbled-together second kitchen cabinet is able to deliver a more rational speech than I expect, the Tories will be left with the recollection that they set the referendum hare running - expecting a different result - and they have no idea what to make of the situation that they have created. Mrs May said "Brexit means Brexit", a supremely silly phrase which will haunt her even more than "strong and stable"; and she has given no indication of whether she thinks the vote was to leave the political institutions of the EU [only] - as would gain massive popular approval - or to cut adrift from the customs union and the common market, which would smash the economy and make the Irish situation irresolvable.

Tories and Labour are split on which sort of Brexit was intended by the voters, and by their opinions as to where to go now. The LibDems and ScotNats are determined remainers, and may well swing parliamentary votes: especially by the LibDems in the House of Lords.

Meanwhile, media commentators cannot agree whether or not the country has a wider gap between better-off and worse-off citizens; though the gap between the most highly remunerated and the lowest has not been greater than it is now, since the economy and society were put back to zero by the Second World War.

An early General Election would not resolve the situation. In England the LibDem vote might go up, which would mitigate Labour gains and produce the spectacle of Corbyn and Cable negotiating a coalition: that would then have to try to attract the ScotNats and some Irish contingent [most of whom hate Corbyn as an IRA supporter].

Most people know that they are getting worse off. Many worry about their borrowing. Many are extremely anxious about the homes they can barely afford to keep or those they cannot afford to rent or to buy.

Just as the majority of Russians are content to have Stalin rehabilitated, and his statues refurbished in some places, so there is a nostalgia in Britain for the mixed economy and the welfare state that the Thatcherites and the Blarites did so much to destroy.

To that I will return tomorrow; as my recent blogs have become overlong.

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