Okay, so the United Kingdom has voted for Brexit and will be leaving the European Union. I didn’t want this to happen, but I suppose getting used to the new reality as quickly as possible will be the best thing to do. I’ll mourn and grieve for a short while, and then I’ll figure out what happens next after a few days thinking.
There are a few observations that are worth making in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote that I think are worth sharing, as they will frame the wider debates that are going to happen as choices and realities start to hit home.
It’s fascinating to see that there are very clear divides in the United Kingdom based on age, where we live, and expectations about the globalised world. The Guardian’s editorial today is a good digest of the immediate issues that’s well worth looking at for a more considered and less jingoistic view point.
Along with Scotland, the majority of the remain areas are clustered in English cities, including London, Manchester, Liverpool and Leicester (by a small margin), while the leave votes are in the rural areas and the shire counties, as well as some of the smaller towns.
Likewise, there is a clear divide between generations, with people over forty predominantly voting to leave, and those under forty voting to stay. Quite how these divides can be reconciled will have to be thought through carefully. As one generation pulls-up the ladder from the next, there will inevitably be consequences.
So, questions that will inform our political reality, beyond our relationship with the rest of the world, need to be asked. These are going to be internal questions, and they will form around the fault-lines brought to the fore in the shake-out from the decision to leave the European Union.
Broadly speaking it will boil down to this: should the young continue to subsidise the old? Should those people living in the cities and urban areas of the United Kingdom, who generate the wealth, continue to subsidise the lifestyles of the people living in the suburbs and the counties?
Should the young continue to shoulder the burden of the old when they get so little for their contribution to society? Remember it is highly unlikely that people under forty can afford to buy their own home without assistance.
It is highly unlikely that young people will experience the job security that many older people have taken for granted that will enable them to plan families? Young people already have to pay for their higher education, so why should they continue to pay for the services that the older generation – that has frozen them out – take for granted?
It’s likely that we will now see calls for the end of the universal services and state provision that we have been accustomed to in the past. A key sign for this will be the universal postal service. Why should people living in urban areas pay to subsidise people living in rural areas for their postal fees? Why should people living in urban areas pay to subsidise the telephone, data and utility services of people living in rural areas?
The cost of supporting small village schools is massively expensive. This cost has been shared in the past because it was part of the process of social re-distribution between the well-connected and the not so well-connected. Surely cities will now say that if there are cuts to pay for Brexit then they should land on the hidden subsidies that are enjoyed by those in the shires?
The same applies to healthcare. It is much cheaper to run a health system in urban areas, and more expensive to run a health system in rural areas. So if we have to make choices about where to invest in public services, the cuts are likely to result in a post-code lottery of health provision, with a clear divide between urban and rural.
The cities will want autonomy to invest the wealth they create into their services for local people. Local taxes for local people will be the slogan. But this means that the subsidies for rural areas will rightly be slashed. The powerhouses that George Osborne wants will push for more autonomy, setting their own taxes, and keeping the money they raise to reinvest in their own infrastructure.
Roads will be high on the agenda for cutting. I want to see a comprehensive and integrated transport system in the city that I live in. I don’t want to pay for people to commute from the market towns into the city. They can pay for their pollution themselves, and they can pay for their roads as well. So let’s get rid of fuel duty and replace it with a combination of pollution taxes and road charges. It won’t affect me as I walk and cycle.
What next? Oh, yes, how about scrapping free Television Licences for the over-seventy-fives? How about scrapping free prescriptions for the over sixty-fives? How about introducing charges to visit your GP for everyone, regardless of age? Surely those who use the service most should pay for it?
I don’t see why my taxes should go to subsidise pensioners travel passes, or discounts for rail travel, or discounts for entry to museums or leisure centres? I’m not sure that any younger person would want to spend their hard-earned money on the leisure pursuits of pensioners?
Of course, the agricultural subsidies that are enjoyed by farmers and landowners from the European Union at present are all going to have to stop. What’s going to take their place? All bets are now off when it comes to subsidies. It’s everyone for themselves or get to the back of the queue. Lobby groups are going to enjoy a boom. I might start a lobby company as a get-rich-quick scheme.
Scotland will be an independent nation in two years, as a member of the European Union, and eventually adopting the Euro. In the short term the Brexiteer’s might look at them as foolish, but in the longer-term Scottish independence makes a lot of sense.
As the pound tumbles, one of the stabilisers that the United Kingdom has benefited from with our membership of the European Union has gone. The Governor of the Bank of England has put £250 Billion away to pay for Brexit. That is money that will go to supporting the banks, not supporting the British people.
All of this could have been avoided if David Cameron and George Osborne had not gone around spooking people in 2009, telling the voters that the United Kingdom would end up like Greece if we did not reject the polices of Gordon Brown.
Cameron and Osbourne have now been hung by their own petard. Because the United Kingdom went along with German austerity in Europe, we are now in the position where Cameron and Osbourne had no credibility when it came to making an alternative case for our own economic role and purpose.
The Labour Party, likewise, has been riven by indecision over austerity. Labour lost the argument and the general election because it couldn’t muster the unity and the grit to offer an alternative to the pernicious moralism of the Euro head-bangers and their form of austerity, which got high-jacked by the Brexiteers as a warning to Labour voters.
So, we are where we are. As a nation we are about to enter a more tumultuous period of introspection and soul-searching like never before. Some good will come of it, and some bad. It is a shame that the bad will be self-inflicted.
Wishing for a recession in order to realign our economy is crazy. Thatcher did this in the 1980s and Britain is still paying the price. The next generation are about to pay a very heavy price for the selfishness and forgetfulness of the older generation.
Watch out because the waters are going to get choppy.