Monday, June 20, 2016

The EU referendum: How would George Orwell vote?



This week the UK electorate will be asked to vote whether the UK should remain part of the European Union. Depending on your perspective a vote to leave will either unleash the hounds of economic hell or deliver a new dawn of prosperity and freedom. As always, the reality will inevitably be somewhere between the two polarized extremes.

As someone of a leftist green political persuasion who would cite independently minded, free thinking individuals like George Orwell and Edward Abbey amongst those whose ideas and works have impacted upon my own political philosophy, I have found myself pondering how would an English Socialist patriot like Orwell have voted if he were alive today? Indeed, as someone who fought in the Spanish Civil War against fascism and whose most popular works, 1984 and Animal Farm warned of the dangers of centralized bureaucracies then I have no doubt that Orwell-and Abbey if he had been a UK citizen-would have been in the leave camp. Orwell as a democrat would have hated the idea of political policies being made in Europe by a political elite which by virtue of the make up of the administration,was out of reach of the British electorate. It was a point that the late Tony Benn-a long term campaigner against the EU-laboured. The fact that in the UK we can throw out the government every five years through the ballot box. Something in an EU electoral context we most certainly cannot achieve.Not least as UK MEP’s constitute less than 10%-and shrinking-of the European parliament.


Heading for a landfill site.

As an environmentalist I have witnessed a serious decline in the state of the UK’s natural environment in the last last 40 years, not least driven by the obscene Common Agricultural Policy. Forget Barley Barons, wine and milk lakes, butter and grain mountains; forget ploughing crops into the ground to keep prices artificially high or the fish discard policy which has seen millions of tons of perfect fish thrown back dead into the sea to fulfill the insane fish quota system. I’m taking about the grubbing up of hedgerows, draining of wetlands and ponds, clearing of woodland, the overgrazing of our uplands, etc...all leading to a massive reduction in many animal, bird and plant species. Many driven to complete extinction by the crazy EU CAP subsidy system which encourages greedy farmers and landowners to milk the subsidy system dry while destroying the natural environment.

I was thinking about George Orwell writing of that constituency Edward Abbey described as ‘kneejerk liberals’ or in modern parlance a ‘Guardianista’. Despite both men being on the political left, both had an equal contempt for both this political class and the conservative establishment. Writing in ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ Orwell observed ‘ To this you have got to add the ugly fact that most middle class socialists,while theoretically pining for a classless society,cling like glue to their miserable fragments of social prestige. I remember my sensation of horror on first attending an ILP (Independent Labour Party) meeting in London; it might have been different in the North where the bourgeoisie are less thickly scattered. Are these mingy little beasts I thought, championing the working class? For every person there,male or female,bore the stigmata of sniffish middle class superiority. If a real working man, a miner dirty from the pit,had suddenly walked into their midst,they would have been angry,embarrassed and disgusted...’


I offer this as I have seen both in the news media and in the social media how working class so called ‘Brexiters’ are automatically labelled as racists and bigots if they raise the taboo subject of immigration into the equation. Happily for the Guardianista, established in a profession with a good income, a home and the means to travel and sate their passions, they do not have to suffer to the same extent the very real impact of the EU’s open door migration policies. Despite the often cited-and frankly asinine comment-that as only 2% of the UK is under concrete then we have plenty of room for more people, the fact is that EU economic migrants are not moving to The Knoydart Peninsular, The Outer Hebrides or Dartmoor,they are packing like sardines into London, The South East and the great conurbations. The effect on the working and underclasses has been profound. The depression of wages and rapid social cleansing through unaffordable housing. This sees previous working class districts in London either gentrified or turned into bedsit lands where family homes are divided into profitable single room bedsits or flats. Fine if you are a student or single person with an income,no use at all if you have a family. In London and elsewhere, this has seen the flight of the working/underclass to sink estates and far flung towns,distant from family and friends.

Of course the benefits of having a large pool of labour for the wider market economy means that with a surplus of labour, bosses can select employees who will work for less,work on zero hour contracts and refuse to employ anyone who belongs to a trade union. Not a problem if you are a recently arrived Romanian or Bulgarian who is used to working for peanuts back home but more a problem if you are a UK worker with a family to support and rent or a mortgage to pay. This of course is not to offer a racist spin on EU migration as the Pro EU campaigners would have it, but to point out the economic factors born from a left wing understanding of how market economies function.

In the Scottish referendum the highest support for independence came in the poorest districts of Glasgow and Dundee. Places where the working/underclass perceived they had nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain from leaving a political structure that wasn’t working for them and ditching the political machine-The Labour Party- which had taken them for granted and failed them. In the EU referendum there is the same distaste for a remote establishment which has failed them and it would be ironic if that class of people the Guardianists see as either noble savages or racists and bigots serve their revenge by voting the UK out of the EU.

From my perspective, I think the voters will swing behind the establishment and the appalling murder of Jo Cox by a right wing nut job will further cement the remain vote. However, I remain unconvinced that the EU is progressive, democratic or capable of reform. Whatever the vote, for the majority of people in the UK and in the wider EU, their lives will still be locked into economic cycles of boom and bust. Unemployment across the EU will still be rampant but the big corporations, agri-barons, farmers and the political establishment will still be the ones who benefit the most from locking us into this rigid economic structure. The natural environment will still suffer as a growing population sees more roads, more green field sites and more open countryside built over to accommodate a UK population predicted to rise to 80 million in the next thirty years.

Edward Abbey:No friend of the bureaucrat he.

 Edward Abbey once said “Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.” However, ‘comfortable delusions’ are always going to be easier to set your political compass by it seems.

5 comments:

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  3. In or out? Up or down? Black or white? As a thinking man in this world I agree and care with much in this article, but, being pushed to qualify a stance, would like to contemplate with my ‘other’ head on – in advocating non-action in the socio political order. And this guy said it a long time ago -

    ‘a man cannot solve social problems, but he can forsake them’. Lao Tzu

    George Orwell was ‘dug in’ too deep. He was morally and ethically obliged to fight on the side of the socialists, the communists and anarchists against the fascista regime of Franco. His ideological romance to the working class and his notion of ‘liberty’ only concluded in fighting a war within themselves, an insider battle of who’s who in the political arena of who is in charge of right or wrong. This will always be a battle lost and the fascists will always be scheming. If you oppose a regime you are merely the opposite side of the coin. They need you, and a revolution means exactly that…to revolve around this ‘devil ruled hell’, constantly with heads full of conflict and war. The Marxian attitude of the world keeps people in a ‘futile’ bubble trying to save themselves from the enemy or from this or from that…or to make a few more pennies, getting and spending, instead of seeing a world in a grain of sand. Politics, like religion fails to negotiate man’s inner being with that of nature… it is a busy, dreary, man-made construct, directing and entertaining the world with no vision of the ‘divine’.

    ‘Each man is in the spectre’s power
    Until the arrival of that hour
    When his humanity awakes
    And casts his spectre into the lake… Blake.

    My own ‘Homage to Catalunya’, regardless of its political or economic climate – is to be rooted in the Catalan earth, because this is where I live, and let my creativity run free of any political or ideological agendas. My imagination is my home…and is always a safe haven. It may move. As an outsider artist I am totally aware of the spectre and delusion and almost hallucinatory grip that politics has on man. It is a shadow. This shadow of economics and politics fulfills its role in concealing nature in man. I believe that all men are capable of visionary pleasure with every breath of wind or bird call or rain drop, because nature has no economy or politics that keep its species under control! To be a true anarchist is to live totally and harmoniously at one with nature and humanity outside any institutional system. It is the only form of democracy there is and the planet can only win! Nationalism is always a threat.

    ‘After the kingfisher’s wing
    Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
    At the still point of the turning world…’ T S Elliot

    I was joined in my local café the other day by two migrants asking for money. Upon a meeting of tongues, they sat down, and bought me a coffee and lunch! It was brought to our attention that we are all migrants…relative migrantship… it only depends on how you relate and communicate with it.

    For me, living for the immediate moment is important, and it brings to my attention that the ‘vote’ is a foregone conclusion. So don’t waste time and energy on trivialities…they are only games, only spectres, only a curse of being bored! Life goes on – nature heals – do your worst! People are wealthy when they meet the requirements of their imagination… isn’t it? John Redhead, Catalunya, Europe.

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  5. Thanks for your comments John. Note...the deleted comments were just your original post repeated four times!

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