Thu | Aug 24, 2017

Daniel Thwaites | Brexit hysteria

Published:Sunday | July 10, 2016 | 7:00 AM

So this will be an uphill battle when I address the recent big discussion topics: whether Brits made an error in voting to leave the EU, so called Brexit, and whether Portia should continue as PNP leader, so called Pexit.

Regarding Brexit, I don't think it's the end of the world or the reversal of all things good and true. People need to calm down. The British voters are not duped fools, uninformed fools, or racist fools.

But before addressing that, let's take an old-school detour. The old political Left, for all its manifest sins, at least encouraged awareness of class bias: how a man's social class coloured his view of things.

I'm treading cautiously here, for fear of resurrecting an idea that inspired many monsters. Too many Marxists took (take!) class consciousness to mean that a man's ideas are predetermined by his social station, and took that as a licence to liquidate people. After all, if someone's ideas simply gush forth from his material station, why argue with him? Better to make him immaterial.

But excesses aside, consciousness of one's own background and status can also be understood as just good old-fashioned self-awareness. In theory, though conspicuously less so in practice, it could even nurture tolerance and mutual respect.

Anyhow, judging from the extreme reactions to Brexit, those who would ordinarily claim the mantle of Marx's progressive heirs lack this elementary self-awareness. The great historian, E.P. Thompson's, phrase about rescuing history's losers "from the enormous condescension of posterity" comes to mind, except that this condescension is taking place in the present. Good God! It's a stunning piece of arrogance to dismiss the 17 million Brexiter souls as xenophobic, uninformed, or idiotic.

I'm moving right past the fact that both sides used tremendous exaggeration and outright lies during the campaign. So is that unknown in Kingston? What's new?

 

MODERN-DAY PEASANT'S REVOLT

 

Brexit was a proper modern-day peasant's revolt. The little people decided they know what's best for themselves, and it's not the EU. So, of course, the verdict has utterly shocked and horrified Eurofied cosmopolitans, big businesses that prefer seamless markets and a world safe for capitalism, and those of us in the aid-recipient-latitudes who like the EU around to give us sizable foreign-aid packages.

Also, to the cosmopolitan transnational elite, the very idea of a nation is slightly backward; nationalism is positively atavistic. Instead, they nurture a quasi-theological belief that the much-invoked "arc of history" will eventually result in a post-national legal order that will subsume all ethnic, religious, linguistic, and national identities. It's been dubbed humanitarian universalism, and it brings tears to the eyes of the indoctrinated, all of whom fervently believe it can and will appear from the Heavens when everyone just fervently believes.

Oh, in that secular heaven to come! We will hum Imagine at sunrise, decide our gender during midmorning devotions to the United Nations, enjoy a solid meal of government-sponsored, low-sodium, non-fat, gluten-free, ethically processed tofu at lunchtime, then have a safe, guilt-free abortion and a nice cup of chai tea before bedtime. Trust me, I know these jerks ... . This is my class. Sorta!

Globalisation works for lots of people. But it's a huge mistake to assume that the experience of those Stalin called "rootless cosmopolitans" is in accord with that of many other people.

So why did the Brits vote Leave? The top concern for 53 per cent of Leave voters was "the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK". Solid! A demand for responsive democratic institutions. We Yardies, who the emaciated CARICOM skeleton makes uneasy, must understand British unhappiness with the EU behemoth.

Then there's immigration, which 34 per cent of Leave voters cited as their top concern. Many Brits are concerned about their neighbourhoods and country changing too fast. They note the strain on government services, and the increased competition from cheaper labour. They see the completely free movement of labour as dangerous.

 

CLASS REVOLT

 

Is it really so shocking that the working class registered their disapproval? As noted in The Spectator: "Of the 50 areas of Britain that have the highest number of ... semi-skilled and unskilled and unemployed people - only three voted Remain." Class revolt!

Here's a staple of Old Labour: The human component in the production of goods and services is unlike capital and raw material. Capital will flow anywhere for profit, and raw materials are unconcerned with what or whom they are rested beside. Not so with the human animal. New Labour seems to have breezily forgotten that.

Obviously, we know this concern can be morally odious if, for example, it's based on racism. But it's not automatically racist to be concerned about immigration.

Now I know our people tend to take a dim view of any concern about immigration. That's because we have been far more of a 'sender' society than a 'receiving' one. But imagine if the tables were turned. I'm not so certain we would be enthusiastic about mass foreign migration into our own towns. We haven't exactly thrown open our doors to the Haitians. Since we're so fond of immigrants, why not?

Asian assimilation here hasn't been without its blemishes. The so-called 'Chinese riots' weren't so long ago, and, based on grumblings to be heard in the countryside, could actually recur. Contempt for the 'coolies' has diminished extraordinarily, but still bubbles up when it's convenient.

In sum, for those of us who live in gated communities, or for whom immigrants just provide cheap labour and more interesting restaurants to visit, the concerns of the displaced lower classes will, of course, seem strange and unimportant.

Britain isn't in trouble; the European Union is. And so it should be. It's a 1970s solution to a 1940s problem, has proven itself incapable of serious reform, and the power-grabbing attempts at top-down national-building are failing.

It's not only the British saying this. Here is Laurent Wauquiez, the former French Minister of European Affairs, and a possible future French president:

"Europe dissatisfies its peoples. Everyone knows it. But the present political class ... has done nothing to change it ... . [T]he result would have been the same in any other country in the EU. Perhaps an even greater rejection in France."

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.