Mistakes that lead to Brexit

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.


1. Deindustrialisation The 1980s changed Britain, most of all above the line between the Wash and the Bristol Channel. Between 1979 and 1986, jobs in the manufacturing industry shrank from 7m to 5.1m. Of all the jobs lost, in services as well as manufacturing, 94% were to the north of that line. Deindustrialisation neither began nor ended in the Thatcher years, but it was under Thatcher’s premiership that shutting down factories, shipyards and mines began to seem like a perverse government ambition rather than the consequence of economic misfortune. Wealth and opportunity moved south. The social ruin was terrible. Skills were lost, traditions ended. Part of what it meant to be British disappeared. What was supposed to happen to places such as Oldham and Paisley? Nobody knew. Worse, it seemed nobody cared.

2. Immigration “Nobody asked us,” said the beleaguered inhabitants of the old industrial settlements, and it was true: nobody had. Nor had anyone explained that we, the natives, would need to think differently about where we lived and the kind of people we were – that integration, if that was the hope, needed adjustments on both sides. Nevertheless, immigration had begun to die as a political issue until, in 2004, Tony Blair’s government decided to open the UK labour market to the eight eastern and central European countries that had joined the EU. Only two other member states, Sweden and Ireland, did so as freely. Between 5,000 and 13,000 migrants were expected; within the first year, 129,000 turned up. Blair and other senior Labour figures later conceded they had made a mistake. “Nobody asked us!” said the people who felt strongly about it. (And then, in June 2016, somebody did ask.)

3. Cultural dementia The phrase is the title of a new book by a historian of modern Europe, Professor David Andress, who argues that France, the US and Britain are all engaged in “particular forms of forgetting, mistaking and misremembering the past”. This is more deadly than straightforward nostalgia, which is a form of homesickness. As a population we are older than we have ever been, but in Andress’s words we seem to be “abandoning the wisdom of maturity for senescent daydreams of recovered youth”, and along the way “stirring up old hatreds, giving disturbing voice to destructive rage and risking the collapse of [our] capacity for decisive, effective and just governance”. An example of the daydreams is the belief that the nations of the old empire are “queuing up” to sign trade deals with the country that once ruled them. Empire 2.0.

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