Another lost nights sleep because of post-Brexit anxiety so I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on a visit to the “Leave” heartland.
I have just spent an evening in Blaenau Gwent at a school rugby club reunion. I have to admit I felt great trepidation as a “Remainer” after this week’s events to be going into “the belly of the beast” as it were with this region being one of the staunchest “Leave” voting areas in the UK.
I needn’t have worried of course as I was welcomed with open arms and great affection by my old school friends and teachers.
What was a poor area even when I was growing up is in a slow seemingly-inexorable decline. The mines and related heavy industry have gone to be replaced by little else. It’s hard not to appear patronising or cliched but the poverty is palpable. A town that once had enough venues for a pub-crawl long enough to ruin the must enthusiastic of drinkers is left with one pub that I’m told is “like a zoo every Monday” with near-naked drinkers in a weekly “Monday Club” competition for alcoholic oblivion.
The Pen-y-Waun, the British Legion (that my Grancha, a proud Labour councillor, friend of Nye Bevan, miner, steel-worker and veteran of WW2, strove to get built and that my Nana worked in daily as a cleaning lady), the Ex-Servicemen’s Club, Working Men’s Club, Democratic Club, Conservative Club – all long gone, demolished never to be replaced. Victims of the long, slow post-industrial decline of the region.
Before arriving I was asked by my wife not to talk politics nor to mention the referendum as feelings would be high, we were in the minority and in these parts arguments begun indoors are often settled outside in the old-fashioned style. But of course after a few beers, conversation went to that topic and what I heard was sad and distressing.
I heard from a man with two autistic children at his wits end at having to drive them weekly to Birmingham for treatment because there’s nothing closer. He voted Brexit for the NHS dividend that has now been repudiated.
Another friend retires next week but is worried now after the market “adjustment” this week that his pension will not be enough and he may need to delay retirement for several years. This was met with bafflement from others – “why will the falling pound and the drop in share values affect your pension?”. When I explained the basic economics behind it I was told in all earnestness that I should “run as MP as no-one had explained it to them before”.
Time and again I was told a leave vote had been nothing to do with Europe but had been a protest vote against the Tory government’s austerity program. Time and again I was told that they thought nothing would happen as their votes never count for anything. Sadly, time and again I was told how much they now regretted the vote and wished for a do-over.
No-one I spoke to expressed a desire to leave Europe nor had any knowledge of any trade agreements that might be broken or indeed need to be built post-Brexit. No-one I spoke with understood that countries we might model our post-brexit economy on such as Norway and Switzerland also have to implement European legislation and enforce free-movement of people in order to allow trade with Europe.
One father and son were split a-logically on “remain and leave” lines. The dad explained “My boy thought a leave vote would lose but would shake up the establishment. I told him he’s playing with fire. He regrets it now of course”.
No-one I spoke to was aware that the millions of Euros in European funding the area has received would now be forfeit.
Frankly the lack of knowledge of what they had put at stake was staggering.
Time and again the story I heard was that they wanted to give the government a black-eye and that they hadn’t really understood the consequences of what they were voting for.
My oldest friends have (once again) been sold a fake bill of goods by an establishment-elite rich enough to shrug of any economic effects of the referendum result. They have been sold a fake revolution by a raggle-taggle band of right-wingers and an un-scrupulous press. It would be glib to say I fear a revolution in the coming months or years when they realise that what they were sold will not materialise.
I do not.
These people are poorly-educated, desperately ill-prepared for this globalised economy, leaderless, disorganised, disparate, disparaged by the Tory movement as scroungers and union-rabble, abandoned by the Labour and union movements because they have no labour to speak of and therefore no one to represent their collective views and interests.
Instead I fear for their future.
They have struck out to give the political-classes a bloody nose but in doing so have mortally wounded themselves.
I see no remedy in a second referendum nor in parliament voting down the original result. The mighty democracy has spoken. The blunt referendum hammer has nailed the complex euro-issue forever.
Cameron’s establishment elite is dead – long-live Boris’ new establishment elite.
As I have been told many times in the last few days, we have made our bed and we now must lie in it.
But those who have most to lose have again been abandoned and sold down the river. The country is a vastly poorer place for it