Brexit Blues, or Reality Bites?

It’s interesting witnessing the fall-out from Brexit that seems to stay with me, how ever much I try to let it go. I had robust discussions with some that I regarded as intelligent and with many that have been friends for decades. But now I question my judgement about them because I just cannot fathom why they voted as they did and now see them defending the indefensible. Why they stand with a man like Farage who even now is confirming his moronic nature by lording it up at Trump rallies, defending the orange buffoon still. How much evidence do you need that these people are deluded to the extent that they are dangerous. They think they can roll the clock back to a Britain that never actually existed. I can respect a clear, well articulated position. But the paucity of argument was and continues to be lamentable. The level of thinking is so low-brow, ignorant and lacking in any cohesion or attempt to join the dots as to be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. It has me questioning whether I want to spend time with these people. Actually, I’m afraid I don’t. I’ve come to the conclusion that life is too short.

The hate generated by the Brexiters’ rhetoric on immigration is a disgrace. Families that came from for example Poland 10 or 20 years ago have been attacked on the street or in their homes, mostly it seems by people who take no accountability for their own situation and are looking for someone to blame. The parallels with 1930s Germany were and are alarming, made worse more recently by the announcement from the Home Secretary that firms must begin to list foreign workers. Are they to wear yellow stars next? A friend who happens to be Italian living in the UK wrote recently and passionately about what has been happening in the Italian School in London, now required by the government to provide lists of pupils and where they originated from. My friend makes a plea to the Britain that was once tolerant, accepting and understanding of others, embracing culture from all over the world, and wonders where the character of the British has gone. There can be little doubt that the ‘leavers’ have left us an uglier legacy than at least I could have ever imagined. I was proud to be be British, now I can take it or leave it. I feel deep down that the mob has stolen my country and the future holds little prospect of improving. The vote of course was utterly stupid in itself, asking the masses such a blunt question about such a complicated topic was a ridiculous gamble that now we will all pay for.

That bus will go down in history as a turning point in how facts no longer matter. Farage and Trump have shown, the more outrageous, made-up nonsense you can spout, you will still get a proportion of the disenfranchised to follow. In both cases, for sure the people buying the rhetoric have been left behind by globalisation. But too many of those people also lack any kind of accountability for themselves, a generation or two of the self-entitled not prepared to move with the times and events. These are the people who bemoan the dismantling of manufacturing by global forces whilst personally benefitting from it. They hate globalisation but love a £3 T-shirt from Primark, they hate globalisation but expect any food to be available in any season, they hate globalisation but they must have the latest gadget.

I have one friend who perhaps is a kind of cliché. He lives in an area that voted heavily to leave and he did so too with gusto and a swagger. The morning after, he posted on Facebook how excited he was to have ‘set Britain free’. I don’t want to make this personal so let’s call him ‘Y’, representing the winners in the referendum because variations of his rather thin analysis I hear from other ‘leavers’.

Y actually wrote saying “we should just not go abroad, and build a big wall around us”. This is the level of intellectual positioning we’re dealing with.

Y says when he voted he had “no idea what the long term repercussions will be”. So what the fuck did he think he was voting for if he had no idea of what the repercussions might be? Look at the record level of the FTSE he says. I tried, patiently to explain why the FTSE is up — that 80% of the companies on the FTSE earn their profits abroad and so their accounts look good when converted back to sterling thereby enabling short term profit be reflected in the share price, which is no more than the sum of all discounted future profits predicted.

The recent currency collapse Y dismisses as “just the very early rumblings as the world adjusts”. He likes the Harold Wilson 1960s approach to rapid deflation when Harold said, trying to explain it to the ‘common man’, that “the pound in your pocket is still the same pound”. Yes, except that it buys less, much less. Worse today than in the 60s because we rely so heavily on imports of critical commodities such as food and fuel. Inflation, the scourge of the domestic landscape in the 1970s, is about to come back now with a vengeance. New figures out today are the first of the sharp flick upwards. Entirely predictable for anyone who gave it a moment’s intelligent thought. Interest rates, the Bank of England’s only tool in the box, will increase to stem inflation and so put millions of domestic budgets under pressure as families struggle to pay mortgages at rates not seen in decades.

The plunging pound is a sign of a very serious and unpleasant future for Britain. Last summer I was in Europe and the Euro was at about 1.38 to the pound. Last week in Southampton airport it was trading at 0.88. Yes, a pound worth less than one euro. At about the same time the FT published a story revealing that the pound was at its weakest point in its entire history. The Economist presented a piece that showed the pound so weak that our currency, once a world class standard, is now in the same group as Tazjekistan, Albania and Malawi. The pound is one of the world’s worst-performing currencies in the past year. That has never happened before. Ever. It was so unnecessary yet so predictable.

The currency is the real barometer as anyone with half an ounce of knowledge of economics will tell you. The currency is not something that can be spun like £350m for the NHS. It’s not influenced by gossip or rhetoric. It’s a cold, hard measure of how the world sees Britain and the message is they think we’re screwed.

Jam tomorrow

Oh, but it’s alright. In the Daily Telegraph today there’s a report that Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Minister, in a speech earlier this week on behalf of our government has said that jam, tea and biscuits will be at the forefront of the Brexit trade strategy. That must have the Germans and the French quaking in their boots about our negotiating position. The rigour of this approach is about on par with Boris Johnson’s foreign policy strategy on Syria being led by suggesting a few people demonstrate in front of the Russian embassy.

Y argues that now Britain is free we can trade around the world. I pointed out to him that I have spent 90% of my career over the past 30 years or so trading around the world in places such as Malaysia, India, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong etc etc, as well as most of Europe. There was nothing there to stop me. The idea that we have somehow been prevented from doing so in the past 40 years is simply idiotic and ignorant. But what you ‘leavers’ have done now is destroy the relationship with our closest neighbours. Over the coming years we are all going to be poorer for it and suffer.

Y claims he has a ‘radical’ view that the country is financially too well off. Seriously? In a society with more food banks than at any time in its history and the number of children in poverty is a disgrace by any standards. And he wants the nation to be less well off… the nation that can’t afford the NHS already should be made deliberately less well off…? Is this what the UKIP/Brexiters really want? He’s going to get his wish, to the horror of the poor.

Y thinks he’s changing society by setting us ‘free’. He wants a “moral realignment” and to “focus on values rather than money” so that people will stop buying fancy coffee and the latest smartphone and do something “more important like saving for a house”. As if only his priorities are the right ones. His precariously thin argument says that a generation needs to feel a ‘Malthus’ threat (has he read Malthus? Does he mean Maslov?). If this sounds like an old fart saying the young have no idea how hard life can be, then that’s what it is. Brexit is the first step he says and that he can put up with missing Ben & Jerry’s. Perhaps National Service should be brought back, eh!? How dare Y suggest aspiring hard working people should be made less well off. Disgraceful.

Malthus argued that increases in population would eventually diminish the ability of the world to feed itself and based this conclusion on the thesis that populations expand in such a way as to overtake the development of sufficient land for crops. Technology has held Malthusians at bay to a degree, with a world population heading for eight billion compared with about one billion in Malthus’ time. Does Y really think it a desirable and intended outcome for the British population to feel the threat that it can’t feed itself as an outcome of voting leave? Does he think that will help them focus on values? No, it means they will riot in the street and tear down all that is dear to him.

Politically, Theresa May has a difficult decision to make. There is no doubt in my mind that by 2020 significant price inflation together with little or no wage inflation as companies scramble to control costs, will make the population poorer and feel it profoundly. At the 2020 election that feeling could let Corbyn in. I could write a lot about what a terrible idea that would be… Theresa May might go to the electorate early, but then she wouldn’t get the advantage of the revised election boundaries that in 2020 could lose Labour twenty seats before a vote has been cast.

Whilst not all rascists, ‘leavers’ don’t much like Europeans being able to come to the UK. But if they don’t come, who do they think will be picking their asparagus in Lincolnshire? The workshy British? No, instead we are going to see farmers go to the wall, leaving us no choice but to make ever more expensive imports as the pound slides still further. The tax generating banks are already beginning to leave. Nissan is looking again at whether it will remain in Sunderland in the long term. We will never know how many billions of foriegn investment in Britain didn’t come after Brexit. The irony of ironies in all this is that property prices in the UK look even more attractive to foreign buyers because our once great currency is in tatters. London estate agents are loving it, as they can’t lose. Thousands of foreign buyers inflating the price of property and all because of Brexit.

Having written a couple of pieces leading up to Brexit, it gives me no satisfaction to see it unfolding largely as predicted. Britain has not been ‘set free’. It has been cast adrift.