Warning: You are about to read a rant.
At the risk of being utterly boring I’m going to state here that, like most of the people I know, I’m voting Remain tomorrow. Having just heard a set of very cogent arguments from a professor of European law as to why Brexit would leave us in a total mess, I have even fewer doubts than I did before that it would be complete madness. The EU is very far from ideal in many ways – from TTIP to serious failings in democracy and transparency – but the alternative seems much worse. Do we really want to be run by a bunch of seemingly heartless neoliberals who want to demolish what little there is left of the welfare state and allow the rich to get even richer and the poor to get even poorer? Do we really want to cut ourselves off from the rest of Europe and go it alone when the consequences are so uncertain? Do we (the people of this country, not those politicians) really want to make closer ties with America just as it seems to be collapsing into mindless fascism?
As I lay in bed the other night I realised, in a horribly visceral way, just how easily all the above scenarios could come about. They’re not vague possibilities any more: people could actually vote for them, without fully realising what it would mean for all of us if they did. We can’t separate ourselves from what’s happening in the rest of the world and ignore our responsibility to the so-called ‘migrants’ fleeing from horror and destruction; and those of us who have a relatively comfortable life and enough to eat can’t ignore the increasing numbers in this country who don’t. My area has a food bank and people are generous about putting things in it, but every time I deposit my little offerings I’m outraged that I should have to do so – that there are people in my far from downmarket locality who simply don’t have the wherewithal to feed themselves and their families. Whatever Gove, Duncan-Smith et al may say, not having enough money to buy food isn’t a lifestyle choice. It means that you can’t earn enough, or don’t receive enough in benefits when you can’t earn, to allow you the luxury of eating.
When I was a child, in the Fifties, Macmillan’s slogan ‘You’ve never had it so good’ was often bandied about. Of course not everything was good then, or in the affluent, optimistic Sixties. It never has been good for everyone, and in subsequent decades we began to see how not-good it was for some people, especially once Thatcher came into power. And all that prosperity based on fossil fuel was never going to be without cost. But until now I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong sense that things are getting seriously bad – so bad that people are making comparisons with the 1930s. I’m not just talking about Britain: the world as a whole is increasingly fractured by intolerance and extremism and the ravages of climate change are becoming evident. There is huge insecurity, and the more insecurity there is, the more people are ready to turn to extremist ideologies and simplistic solutions, which means a greater likelihood of war. Twenty years ago, even ten years ago, Trump would have been laughed off the political stage. Now there is more than a possibility that the United States, which is already doing its utmost to dominate the world, may be run by a xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic plutocrat who could rally America’s disenchanted millions behind him into God knows what misguided crusade against whoever happens to be the enemy at that particular moment.
Even if we stay in Europe, the fundamental flaws of the whole neoliberal project aren’t going to go away. A system that enables corporations (not to mention individuals) to profit without restraint from the earth’s resources and the disadvantaged mass of human beings is on a course heading for destruction – whether of the system or the entire world remains to be seen.
I’m slightly staggered by the pessimism of what I’ve just written. I’d like to hope there will be enough people of integrity and good intent to make a difference at grassroots level, but politically speaking the Jeremy Corbyns and Bernie Sanders of this world aren’t the ones who end up with the power – the corporation-driven media make sure of that. Nevertheless I’m happy to side with them: for good old-fashioned socialism – now seemingly a dirty word – for care for the earth and all its inhabitants, and for respect for all human beings, not only those who happen to have vast amounts of money. Things may be bad, but we have to try to stop them getting worse.
Rant over – for now.