Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A post-Brexit vote reader

All links are worth a look. Many are very short.

1. Robert Tombs: "I recall Victor Hugo’s crushing invective against French elitists who rejected the verdict of democracy, when in 1850 he scorned “your ignorance of the country today, the antipathy that you feel for it and that it feels for you”." What do they know of England, who only England know?

2. How Leave won: it was quite good at using email; it had the upper hand in terms of behavioural thinking; Remain was idiotic in Wales; Leave had a well-thought out campaign, while Remain didn't use these adverts and had bad marketing. Perhaps it was because too many people came across the over-privileged and entitled characters we meet in the LRB here.

3. Perhaps it was all about values, not the economy. Here's a long but interesting piece about values, worth more space than I will give it here. For the moment, I will note only this: "Although I love my country, it is more of a romantic than a filial love." Do you recall all those Brexiteers born outside the UK? Is it too crazy to see the Brexit leadership as motivated by a romantic love and the Remainers by a dutiful filial love? "Of course we love old England, but she's getting on a bit and there's this lovely home for her in Belgium where she can be with other old countries like her and, well, you know, you have to do what's best", the Remainers say, while the Leavers say "you don't want to hang out with these smelly old European guys - let's go dancing!" (Or at least, more filially, "Do not go quietly into that dark night".)

4. Here's Zadie Smith (with a well-chosen photograph, a reminder that the Caribbean is more important to London than the EU in some ways) and here's John Lanchester, two writers nearly always worth reading. An initial thought: the EU is rubbish at many things, but it is brilliant at associating itself in the middle-class English mind with all things good. Why? Let me repeat, For the Left to succeed, the UK must leave the EU, or at least that is a pretty reasonable thing to think. If you're a member of the metropolitan liberal left, you should be in two minds about the EU, in the same way as you are about NATO or faith schools. But you're not. You love the EU and cried after the Brexit vote. (Not universally, I know.) Why? Here's my theory: the Corbynistas are right - you're not really lefties at all. Not deep down. You are small-c conservatives who have fallen in love with a vision of Britain, an Islington/Richard Curtis/Channel 4/Tony Blair illusion, quite as charming and attractive in its own way as UKIP's 1950s village green illusion, but every bit as much of a fantasy. All those people who support Corbyn aren't mad: they've spotted something real and important about the non-Corbyn Labour leadership - it's not in favour of making radical changes to the economic structure of the country for the benefit of the working classes. But UKIP is - it's going to change the immigration rules.

Just to expand on that last point. Here's Lanchester: "The average immigrant is younger, better educated and healthier than the average British citizen. In other words, for every immigrant we let in, the country is richer, more able to pay for its health, education and welfare needs, and less dependent on benefits. They are exactly the demographic the UK needs." But who is this "UK" who needs these people which is a different thing from British citizens? What is the effect on these ill-educated unhealthy Britons (i.e. the UK) of having an incentive structure that allows employers to ignore them and ship in the flower of Poland to work instead? (I know it's a lot more complicated than that, but simply noting that immigrants pay more money in tax than they take as benefits hardly starts to answer the question of whether they benefit the country as a whole.) Here's Larry Summers (of all people): "A new approach has to start from the idea that the basic responsibility of government is to maximise the welfare of citizens, not to pursue some abstract concept of the global good." And that's a new approach!

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