“The best of all rulers is but a shadowy presence to his subjects. Next comes the ruler they love and praise; next comes the one they fear; next comes the one with whom they take liberties. Where there is not enough faith, there is a lack of good faith.”
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (Book I – XVII)
“Somewhere there are still peoples; somewhere there are still herds – but not here, my brothers. Here there are states. The state? What is that, then? Open your ears and I will speak to you about the death of peoples. The state is the coldest monster of all. It lies coldly; and this is the coldest lie that slithers out of its mouth: ‘I, the state, am the people.'”
Nietzsche, Hammer of the Gods
So the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. The cases for and against failed to deliver anything meaningful and positive about either leaving or staying and descended into either fear mongering or dog whistle politics. In Fig.1 above, it shows that the majority of England and Wales voted to leave the EU, whereas Scotland and Northern Ireland were either entirely or majority for remaining.
The spread of votes in England is understandable to anyone who lives in a less affluent area. The working classes were left behind in the rush towards globalisation; the middle classes becoming pre-occupied with an education arms race, understanding the nature of global competition for work and advancement. For the working classes they have seen a huge shift in job security and even in the nature of the jobs themselves. From a weekly payday paid in cash to a salary based income. There has also been deindustrialization; a move towards office work and non-manual labour. After closing the coal mines in the 1980s education became paramount to social mobility; effectively ending the ability to rise and support your family through hard work alone. Upon losing their jobs the miners were told to retrain and move to find work. This broke down communities and the cohesion that had existed for centuries; family being seen as a counter-weight to the hardships that life can offer.
As the difficulties in unemployment grew among the working classes, with limited jobs available and even the consideration of a ‘managed decline‘ of a major city. The de-industrialisation in favour of off-shore production in the new globalised market place has become a cycle of economic depression and disenfranchisement within the working classes. Products may be cheaper, but ultimately they still require a market in which people can afford them. In the 1990s it was recognised that the ‘greed is good’ mantra was leaving people unable to compete or even stay afloat. A new class came out of the working class; a group of disenfranchised and occasionally nihilistic group know as the underclass or chavs (Council House And Violent). These people who considered themselves of the working class were disowned by those who still had jobs, seen as layabouts who cannot see beyond their own short-term gratification. Canards about plasma TVs, holidays abroad and the like became commonplace and used widely among the more socially conservative working classes. Blair led the charge of mobility offering another chance for working class people to join the ladder allowing a leap to lower middle class through university education. A target of 50% graduates was set(1). This did not account for the need for an equivalent technical college system allowing for vocational training and indeed, even in vocation learn on the job work, there has become a need for a university degree. Up until 2016, bursaries were available for some of the most need vocations, e.g. nursing, midwifery and similar technical roles that were once taught through experience and shadowing of adept colleagues. Those bursaries have since been rescinded(2) leaving us now in a situation where new nurses will become indebted via the tuition fee system(3). Such a move is obviously going to drive down training and recruitment. Some jobs, such as teaching and nursing are not followed simply for the money, but for the sense of helping others. It’s why I became a teacher.
The UK has been importing workers from the EU and around the world for the NHS for some time now(4). We’ve become reliant on bringing in people to do the jobs that the population are capable of, not simply through a lack of desire to do these jobs, but by blocking entrances to even get started. The school system which has been partially academised(5) and pushed out of local control and into groupings which only deal with central government has cemented the status of social mobility in the UK. Academies are failing their students; the obsession with league tables and playing schools off against one another has led to some schools hoovering up talented students, either by selective entrance or by the middle class parents moving their families to the catchment areas of the school(6). Once again, working class parents who do not have the mobility to chase school places were left behind. The schools who were left behind became havens of educational and behavioural needs problems. The mix of the disenfranchised and the students of working parents broadened the antagonism felt by the working class to the underclasses. The students often came from difficult home lives; anecdotally, from a form I had, one lad wasn’t allowed to go home until his mother had passed out drunk so he walked the streets at night. The anxiety about joining the underclass meant that the working classes saw the social security safety net provided as being used fraudulently, by people who had no need of it but were simply milking the benefits. These people, indigenous to the UK hardened the stigma about being out of work. For the working classes, it had long been seen as a sign of failure and humiliation to have to rely on the government for money(7).
With freedom of movement within the EU, workers of the working classes of Europe came to the UK to find prosperity. Britain has a long tradition of taking in new people; however, this usually causes a level of discontentment with rapid social changes. The people of the United Kingdom are tolerant, but mildly socially conservative in all class distinctions. Change as it happens must come at a pace that is almost negligible; the Windrush generation of the 1940s who left the Caribbean and helped rebuild this country were not viewed favourably for many years. Nor were the Irish day labourers and construction workers. Tolerance, acceptance and then equality come at a slow pace which still hasn’t been achieved for those who first arrived in the 1940s and 50s. In recent times, following the Blair governments, complaints about new arrivals were seen as early bigotry and being change averse. Opposing views were silenced, to the point of catastrophe.
The increased competition for jobs excused the apathy of the underclass for not working and the latest government has used this to antagonise the working classes further over the benefits gained by EU citizens in the UK. The system is being pulled down from all sides; the safety net for working people created after WWII in a spirit of looking after everyone, regardless of wealth or social standing has been attacked repeatedly. Through under funding of the NHS(8), whether deliberately or through mismanagement it has struggled to keep pace with what modern society demands. Whether governments of any variety have told the full truth about what kind of funding the NHS requires and how it will be achieved is extremely debatable.
The working classes have seen their environment change rapidly; changes in languages, peoples, religions, shops and jobs. The rise in zero hour contracts and the use of recruitment agencies to find people for straight forward shop floor work has created more barriers to work and less stability for the average family living payday to payday. For some, they have struggled to keep within their budgets and have had to rely on the burgeoning pay day loan companies; themselves offering extortionate rates of interest creating a greater debt for people who can ill afford the extra burden. The society we live in has moved strongly towards consumerism and those that cannot afford to keep up are left behind. The ideals of the society we have created are at odds with our ability to live within the society.
What Fig.1 at the top shows is that the traditional Labour heartlands of North England and Wales voted to leave the European Union. The Labour Party are the party of the working people of the UK; it was their achievements following WWII that created the post-war consensus that wealth and social standing should be no block to access to food, shelter, hospital care and help in old age and in periods of unemployment. The working people have not turned from those ideas but the belief in which they are being used up and destroyed by a series of problems; overuse of the NHS for trivial issues, perceived and actual abuse of the social security system and the difficulties in schools providing good places and giving their children a real chance at life. They have decided that the governments of the UK and EU are not acting within their best interests and in the interest of their children. They’ve voted to leave the European Union and I do not begrudge them their view nor their win. The people have spoken; what concerns me is what happens next.
We need a new focus on consensus; what we want from our country. Chances are the United Kingdom is going to be a smaller place, with both Scotland and Northern Ireland calling for their own independence referenda. How do we want to treat out fellow citizens? What kind of job landscape can be provided with stability in a globalised economy without a race to the bottom? Difficult questions; ask a working person what they want and they can tell you immediately: a job, security, fair wage, time with their family, holidays and fair treatment. It isn’t a lot to ask yet seems so very difficult to provide. Outside of the EU, there needs to be a wariness that isn’t used as an opportunity to further degrade workers rights. Pressure was already put upon workers to sign off from the Work Time Directives of the EU; there needs to be a robust response to any attempt to lower living standards further of those who have the least.
The Labour Party needs to reconnect with their roots; whether they appreciate the social conservative elements of the working classes or not, these are the people they represent. Spending less time considering foreign policy and disarmament and focus more on the people and long-term needs of this country.
It’s a new day; not one I expected. But I welcome the change regardless of personal opinion. Let’s not waste it.