Why are so many of us considering voting for the very radical change of leaving the EU? What is it that we think will get better by leaving? I find it interesting that the issues seem to the same in other countries. One example is Switzerland, where about 30% of the electorate have voted for the Swiss People’s Party, the Swiss equivalent of UKIP, which is anti-immigrant and looking to preserve Switzerland’s political sovereignty and conservative society. Another is the USA, where Donald Trump has risen to be the republican parliamentary candidate by being outrageously anti-immigrant and making quotes such as: “sadly the American dream is dead, but if I get elected president, I will bring it back bigger and better than ever”. Why do the Swiss feel that they need to preserve their political sovereignty, and why do Americans feel that the American dream is dead? These are clearly the same feelings that Brexiteers have, however Switzerland and the USA are not in the EU!
We need to dig deeper to find the causes of our uncomfortable feelings about the direction in which we are travelling. Was life really so much rosier in the past? Half a century ago the American dream was alive and flourishing, as were similar dreams here and in Switzerland. At that time, when I was growing up, the GDP per person was less than one third of what it is now, many men were still employed doing physically demanding work, families ate meat only once or twice a week and never drank wine except on very special occasions, clothes were so expensive that many (women) sewed and knitted for their families, women were still expected to be at home doing the chores, and hardly anyone went abroad for holidays. We were less healthy, only living to about 70 on average, compared to over 80 now. In summary, life was much tougher and we could not afford nearly so much as we can now. Why then, do we look back on this time as a “golden age”? What did we have then, that we have now lost?
It was partly, perhaps, opportunity. Science was delivering amazing technology, which could be harnessed to organise work more efficiently and make things cheaply. Innovative firms thrived. In the public sphere new understanding and legislation was making people healthier (we weren’t allowed coal fires in London to heat our houses any more – thereby preventing the appalling smogs which killed thousands of people each time they occurred). If you worked hard you had a good chance of helping to change the world for the better. The American Dream could be lived out, as could similar dreams in Britain, Switzerland and most other countries in the now-developed world.
So what went wrong with this dream which has made life so much “better” for us? Well, we compare ourselves relentlessly with others – now all too possible with social media. For those of us who earn well, we feel bad because we compare ourselves with people who earn even more. We buy more things expecting them to make us happy but they don’t. Life seems more of a rat-race, constantly having to run faster to keep up to pay the bills. Somehow we feel out of control.
What has undoubtedly been happening is that the divisions in society have been growing bigger. A boss in the 1960s would expect to earn a few times the lowest waged-worker in his or firm firm, whereas now this might be hundreds of times. Wealth is being created, but it’s not being distributed equally, and social mobility is decreasing. We have “globalised” production of many consumables, giving power to huge multinationals who strive only after profits with no loyalty to their workers or customers (except where they absolutely have to, for the sake of their profits). On top of that, the whole financial system is not stable, so when it tips into recession thousands of people suffer through no fault of their own – losing jobs and houses. Right-wing governments respond to recessions by causing further hardship by imposing severe austerity which they see as the only solution. Under such circumstances it is not surprising that people – feeling so stressed – look for what they believe are causes: be it the “scroungers” on benefits; the immigrants; and now, of course, the EU.
The Green Party recognises the failures that have evolved in the economic “system” and has policies to get the economy working for everybody, not just the global elite; and these policies do not rely on ever increasing throw-away consumerism which is destroying the planet to do so.
Sadly, I do not feel that leaving the EU will achieve anything other than another recession and more austerity followed by decreasing workers’ rights , lowing environmental standards and even more immigration – all to try to increase “competitiveness” of our industries. The added stresses felt by the electorate will inevitably lead to yet more nationalism. My very darkest fear is that leaving the EU will cause the EU itself to break up, rising nationalism throughout Europe, and ultimately war.
Please don’t let’s risk this. Please vote “remain” on 23rd.
Dr Emma Dawnay
Chair/coordinator Devizes Green Party