Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Metropolitan Elite Myth - Part 3 of 4

The real division is not between the people of somewhere like Stoke, and the metropolitan elite of London. The division is between people in Stoke itself, just as it is between people in London itself, and similarly, it is not a division between Britain and foreigners, but between people in Britain.

The Alt-Right politicians throw up concepts such as “the metropolitan elite”, in the same way that they throw up “foreigners”, as an ill-defined other that can be blamed. In the same way, there is an attempt to divide younger generations from baby-boomer generations, by ludicrously claiming that baby-boomer workers are to blame for today's astronomical property prices and pension black holes that were actually created by the conservative economic policies from the 1980's onwards, designed to inflate asset price bubbles, whilst failing to invest in productive-capital, house building or employer pension contributions.

In a place like Stoke, as elsewhere, the real division is between capital and labour. But, even within this context, and even in a place like Stoke, there are further divisions that do not tally with the concept of the metropolitan elite, and the conclusions drawn from it, by the Alt-Right. If you are an older worker, with relatively little education, who for decades worked on a potbank, in the mine, or at Shelton Bar steelworks, then your experience of the last 25 years, after those industries largely disappeared, may have been pretty miserable. The same can be said for workers in similar conditions elsewhere in Britain, or in the US rust belt. You are probably not going to have been re-educated or trained, so as to be able to find a job in some new higher value employment. Yet, such jobs do exist, and have been created in North Staffordshire.

Its tempting to hope that those old jobs and industries might come back. I too would like to re-live all the good things of my youth. Unfortunately, hope and reality are not the same thing. Those old jobs are not coming back either here in Britain, or in the US rust belt. Its not, in many cases, foreign workers that have taken those jobs and industries away, but machines and robots, and if the UK or US wants to compete in those industries, with the same industries in China or elsewhere, it will only do so, by introducing even more machines and robots, and clearing out even more workers. What is more, to do any of that on a sufficient scale, and with sufficient overall planning and regulation can only be done on a continent, i.e. EU wide basis.

Whether it is Trump or the Brexiters, the hope they give of those jobs returning is false hope, thrown out simply to garner short-term popularity and electoral support, whose failure to materialise will lead to only further anger and alienation.

There are higher value jobs that have been created, for example, in Stoke, such jobs have been created at the Science Park at Keele University; the NHS is the largest employer, and employs large numbers of often younger, and better educated workers; and a range of new industries have developed in the areas of design, computing and media production. Even in the pottery industry, the large-scale production jobs may have disappeared, but there are now a smaller number, of higher value jobs in design, and materials development.

In large part, many of these newer jobs are taken on by the new generation of younger, better educated workers that have grown up in a world where those ideas that the Alt-Right attribute to the metropolitan elite, are, in fact, taken for granted, rather than seen as, in some way, alien, optional extras. That is one reason that across the country, including places like Stoke, those younger workers were strongly in favour of remaining in the EU, and are far less likely to hold all of the other bigoted views held by sections of the older generations.

When the Alt-Right attack the metropolitan elite, who they are actually attacking are all those workers, particularly younger, better educated workers, in places like Stoke, who are also concerned with all of those issues that workers consider necessary for a decent life, in respect of freedom from discrimination, the ability to move freely, and to enjoy and create a better environment. But, its precisely for that reason that the Alt-right define the metropolitan elite in such vacuous, anonymous terms.

But, nor is it just young better educated workers for whom this is true. If we take the issue of Brexit, and the EU referendum, for example, its clear that the very narrow margin in favour of Leave was driven by a very concentrated vote amongst a relatively narrow section of the population, a section that is more or less economically and socially irrelevant. It was driven by a very high number of old, mostly retired people, who voted by a large majority for Leave. It was supplemented, in parts of the country, like Stoke, by a similar large majority of people who have become detached from economic activity, for the reasons described above.

Its quite clear that big business did not want Brexit, even many smaller and medium sized businesses opposed Brexit, whilst the Richmond By-Election showed that amongst the educated middle-class there was a large opposition to Brexit. What is also now clear, however, is that, even in places like Stoke, the majority of Labour voters, also opposed Brexit, by nearly the same kind of majority as elsewhere in the country.

The idea that the Leave vote in places like Stoke was driven by workers in those areas rejecting a forward looking agenda, associated with the metropolitan elite, therefore, simply does not tally with the facts.

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