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Some thoughts on Brexit

Updated Thursday, 23rd February 2017

Norman Clark, Emeritus Professor at The Open University, shares his thoughts on Brexit.

The EU and British Flag next to one another. Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: Bankenverband This blog post was written on the 19th July 2016.

Here in the UK we are all in a land of confusion and make-believe. Everyone has their own analysis and thoughts of what is happening and why. Here (quickly) are mine. In Chinese medicine a distinction is drawn between a patient’s presenting symptom (his biaio) and his underlying set of complex causes (his ben). The role of the Chinese practitioner is to get a handle on what is really going on under the surface and treat accordingly. This may take time and is a 2000+ year old craft skill. In current UK economic circumstances the biaio is immigration and the belief that all social problems are due to excessive influx of foreigners who take our jobs and use up scarce resources such as health and housing. I take a different view. Since 2010 our finance minister (Osborne until recently) has returned to the 1930’s and instituted an economic policy regime of “austerity”. The Keynesian notion of boosting aggregate demand (and incomes and growth) through publicly supported aggregate investment has been replaced with an attempt to cut expenditure (purportedly to reduce debt). 

Of course it hasn’t worked. It didn’t work in the 1930s and after 6 years of austerity it has finally been abandoned as the overarching policy goal. But what it has left behind is a legacy of increased inequality by region and income class. An obvious scapegoat is excessive immigration, and this in my view is what has driven the Brexit movement in England. The situation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a bit different, which in itself points to both long-standing and growing divisions between the nations of the UK, but I’ll not go into it here. 

What we are seeing in England, and to a certain extent Wales, is a social reaction against austerity with immigration as the bogey man. In our EU referendum the regions that supported the “remain” vote (mainly London and the South East) are those where economic conditions are relatively positive, at least for the average worker and consumer. House prices are still rocketing up and there are plenty of reasonably paid jobs around. Conversely in the rest of the UK there is growing poverty and social alienation. The bulk of “jobs” are at minimum wage levels and social, health and related services have become increasingly poor and ineffective. When your average citizen perceives that such inequality is not unrelated to the distribution of political power in Westminster and Brussels the response is clear: a vote to leave the EU that has the added benefit of putting two-fingers up to the so-called Westminster elite. What happens next is anyone’s guess. 

All views expressed are that of the author.

 

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