Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Our Youth Have Been Robbed

The people who have been most adversely affected by the Brexit vote are our youth. It is they who will suffer most from the immediate and longer term damage to the UK economy; it is they who will suffer from the increased social division; it is they who will suffer from the increasing authoritarianism of a Bonapartist regime under Boris Johnson; it is they who will suffer from the limitations on the free movement of labour; it is they who will have to fight in any future conflicts arising from the inevitable tension caused with Europe. Yet our youth overwhelmingly did not want this result. It has been inflicted on them by an older generation, many of whom will not be around long to witness the consequences.

A look at the breakdown of the voting shows just how stark this division is, but it is highly illustrative in many ways. The overwhelming majority of younger voters supported Remain. In the 18-24 age group, 75% voted to remain, and in the 25-49 age group the percentage was 56%. By contrast, in the 50-64 age group 56% voted to leave, and in the 65+ age group the figure was 61% to leave. 

In fact, had the 1.46 million 16-18 year olds been given the right to vote, as Jeremy Corbyn advocated, and as happened in the Scottish referendum, then the vote would have been to Remain.

On that basis alone, this referendum was undemocratic. By denying 16-18 year-olds the right to vote, the older voters were thereby given an immediate added weight in the ballot.

A look at the breakdown of the vote shows why this is important. The older the age group, the higher the vote to leave. But, it has been obvious that, almost from the beginning, this vote had very little to do with membership of the EU. The EU, in the minds of most of those who voted to leave was just a proxy for foreigners in general, and immigration in particular. That has been shown in the aftermath of the vote, in the attacks on a Polish community centre, increased harassment of people with darker skins, and the fact that those who previously kept their bigotry for private conversations have been emboldened to vent it publicly.

That bigotry exists far more extensively amongst the older generations than amongst our youth. Part of the reason for that is that the older generations grew up at a time when the glow of Britain's imperial power was still visible. When I was at school, maps of the world still had vast areas of red, where the British Empire held sway, and for the generation before mine, that colonial regime, and all of the racist accoutrements that went with it, was even more powerful. I remember in the 1970's my father in law saying how terrible it was that Britain had granted independence to India,a nd that it was no wonder the Indians were now starving!

There is a misconception that I will write about in more detail at some point, concerning racism and bigotry. Some time ago, I wrote about the view of the black, Marxist, US sociologist, Oliver Cromwell Cox. Cox described the way that racism develops as a means of capitalism reconciling its ideology of freedom and equality with the enslavement of millions of people. I think that is correct, but the capitalism that Cox is describing is actually Mercantilism. Its Mercantilism whereby merchant and financial capital forms a symbiotic relation with the old landed aristocracy that leads to colonialism and that enslavement of peoples.

But, in fact, large scale industrial capitalism stands in opposition to Mercantilism and replaces it. Imperialism, as opposed to colonialism, is based upon that large scale industrial capital. It has no need of the enslavement of peoples, and indeed its antithetical to its interest. That is why the epitome of that modern industrial capital, the United States, set itself the goal, after WWII, of breaking apart all of the old colonial empires.

Another aspect of “idiot ant-imperialism” and anti-capitalism, therefore, has been a moralistic blaming of capitalism for all ills, whereas, in fact, many of those ills are a consequence not of modern industrial capitalism, but of the legacy of the earlier forms of capital.

Its not surprising then that the older generations suffer from a bigotry arising from the ideas that still flowed from those older social relations. 

But, there is another factor at work, and in part also flows from these different economic and social relations. It is the question of education. The vote for Leave was much higher amongst those that had low levels of education, and vice versa. Only 30% of those who had no qualifications voted to Remain, whilst 70% of those with degrees voted to Remain. It is a simple fact, also that younger people have a higher standard of education than older people, but its also a different kind of education.

When Marx spoke of “the idiocy of rural life” he meant that that when people do the same repetitive tasks, in the same way, year after year, and nothing changes around them, they do not have to think about anything. The same is true when people worked on a production line, or as a machine minder, especially when they came home and everything else they should think was fed to them by an increasingly effective and all-pervasive mass media. In part, this was also why the “traditional” Labour vote existed as a similarly unthinking conditioned reflex.

When I was at Junior school, we were still taught things by rote. By the time I was at secondary school, I was individually learning about set theory. Back in the 1980's, I went on a computer course, and some of the other people on it were twenty years older than me, and some of the others. When it came to doing calculations in binary, octal or hexadecimal the older students simply could not do it, because they could not accept the idea that calculations could be conducted on any basis other than base ten. They had learned unthinkingly, by rote that ten times ten must be one hundred.

A look at the breakdown of the voting in the referendum shows a similar thing. Its not just that the support for leave was much higher in these older generations, but that the same kind of bigotry exists across a range of topics. For example, 80% of those who think that feminism as a force for ill, voted for Leave.

There is a difference between just being wrong and being bigoted. Someone who examines the facts to the best of their ability may simply come to a false conclusion. But, someone who does not bother to examine the facts, or who only seeks to to find reasons to deny the facts, on the basis of their own beliefs and preconceptions, is a bigot. A religious zealot who insists that the Bible is the absolute truth, and word of God, and who thereby seeks to deny the theory of evolution, and all of the evidence that the Earth is more than 7,000 years old, is not just wrong, but is a bigot.

On virtually all of the issues listed in the chart above, the views of those members of older generations are not a question of people having honestly considered the facts and simply coming to the wrong conclusion. If that were the case, there is no reason that there should be such a high proportion of older people coming to the wrong conclusion as opposed to the proportion of younger people coming to those conclusions. The difference is clearly down to bigotry.

And, the fact is that the leaders of the Leave campaign cynically used that bigotry for their own narrow political ends.

In the last couple of days, it has become clear that Johnson and co. did not want to win, and did not expect to win, and they are now flapping around like fish out of water. Johnson saw Leave as his platform to oppose Cameron and secure the Tory leadership. He expected Leave to lose, but for it to win enough support for two things. Firstly, to put him in the driving seat in the elections for Tory leader, in a year or so. Secondly, he has a naive belief that the EU will negotiate further concessions for the UK.

On both counts, he has miscalculated. Leave won and Cameron stood down, basically saying to Bojo, “You broke it, you own it.”

Now Johnson and the Brexiters are frantically rowing back on everything they said and promised. The £350 million a week to the NHS – disappeared; the end of large-scale immigration – disappeared; staying outside the single market, and an end to free movement – disappeared.

All of those who voted for the false prospectus will be gravely disappointed, with nothing they can do about it. The only good thing for our youth is that as the Pound sinks, and interest rates rise, the property bubble will collapse, so that houses and rent becomes affordable, and as the stock and bond markets crash, buying adequate pension provision will become more affordable.

In the meantime, Bojo's hope that he will be able to negotiate some further concessions from the EU, without needing to actually leave, are futile and naïve. The EU has already conceded too much to the UK, and has every reason to claw those concessions back, not grant more. If, as is likely, the UK ends up needing to try to stay in the EU, or seek readmission, as its economy suffers, it will find itself doing so on far worse terms than currently exist, including the requirement to accept all conditions, and membership of the Eurozone. Such is the incompetence of the Tories.

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