Friday, 22 July 2016

The New European?

by Les May
ONE of the unexpected outcomes of the vote to leave the EU has been the creation of a 'popup' newspaper, The New European.  It describes itself as the 'paper for the 48%' that being the proportion of referendum voters who voted to remain in the EU.

The lead story of the first, 8-14 July, edition featured a letter which had been sent to the Financial Times by a lecturer at Imperial College, Dr Robert Gross.

Like Dr Gross I was very unhappy with the vote to leave the EU.  But after reading his letter I concluded that we inhabit different worlds and that my world is probably nearer to that inhabited by many of the people who voted to leave the EU.

So in 'Letter to the Editor' fashion I e-mailed what appears below.

“I'm 74, my wife is 70.  We both voted 'Remain' in the EU referendum, so count us in the 48%.  Ours was the only house we saw with 'Remain' posters in the windows and it took almost a fortnight of phoning and personal visits to get these.  So much for organisational abilities of the 'Britain Stronger in Europe' campaign.  Facebook and Twitter are not good persuaders for our generation.

"Had I read the first issue of 'The New European' before I put my X I'd have been sorely tempted to vote 'Out'.

"You just don't 'get it' do you?

"Robert Gross' letter reads like one long whinge.  Small house, big mortgage:  Don't blame our generation.  My wife and I last intervened in the housing market in 1984.  For some of our immediate neighbours it's even further back.  

"There's a huge sense of entitlement here which we don't share, even though until we retired we too were part of the 'backbone of the country'.  If you've got a steady job think yourself lucky.  If it's well paid, think yourself damn lucky.  If it's got a decent pension attached you've hit the jackpot.  You're doing very nicely really and Brexit, if it happens, will just be a blip, albeit a big one.  Is an 'electable' opposition one that will maintain the status quo for you or one that will build more social housing which you and I will have to contribute to through our taxes, but which will spread the economic benefits of the EU?

"I voted 'Remain' because I think the EU is about creating a 'level playing field', even for football clubs, and preventing a 'race to the bottom' which would impinge most heavily on the poorer sections of society.  I embraced immigration because since I had my kids in the 1960s the UK birth rate has steadily fallen and for the past thirty years we have not been having enough children to replace ourselves.  So whose going to be working to pay the pensions of today's 48 year olds when they start to retire in the 2030s? The latest crop of young immigrants of course. Incidentally low birth rates are a problem throughout Europe.

"Clever idea to start the first editorial with 'Walking in London... ' and following it with 'Lambeth dweller' Miranda Saunders was the icing on the cake.  And was it really such a good idea to have a couple of venture capitalists writing articles promoting the EU? What better way to tell the world that it's just another rich man's club? We don't all view the world through the lens of how much money we have. As I said earlier, 'You just don't get it'.

"Jonathan Freedland would have done well to mention that 40% of the people who voted 'Remain' had voted Labour in the 2015 election and 40% of those who voted 'Leave' had voted Conservative.  Put another way 60% of Labour voters supported 'Remain' and 60% of Conservative voters supported 'Leave'. Dumping the blame for Brexit on a few northern towns and ignoring the great swathes of country which were solidly Conservative in the election and solidly for 'Leave' in the referendum, won't wash.  Check it out on the appropriate maps if you doubt it.

"This played to the mantra that Corbyn hadn't done enough to promote the benefits of staying in the EU, though he appeared in the media 123 times during the campaign compared with 15 appearances by Angela Eagle.

"But Corbyn's qualified support was a view I shared.  Although I knew that I would vote 'Remain' from the day that it was announced that there would be a referendum during the next Parliament I did it in full knowledge that I was choosing the least bad option.  Labour party members also seem to have accepted this as 90% of them are reported to have voted 'Remain'.

"Unsurprisingly I thought the three articles from 'foreigners' were by far the best. Presumably this is because they were free of the sort of partisanship which blights the English media.

"The basic problem, that the economic benefits of being in the EU are very unequally spread both geographically and individually, can be summed up within the experiences of our own family.  We've a son and a daughter who are both 49.  Our daughter, another 'backbone of the country', lives in the South-East of England in a house in the £500K bracket.  Our son lives in Cornwall, works every hour God sends to maintain his family and will never own a house.  Should we really be surprised if, in a scene reminiscent of 'The Life of Brian', our son asks, 'What has the EU ever done for us?'

"Nonetheless I wish your new venture well and will buy the next copy.  Drop the London bias, we see far too much of it already.  Drop the phoney attempt at, 'We're all Europeans now' and recognise that for many of us staying in the EU meant more than a boozy night out in Prague, Budapest or Amsterdam.   Spell out what the EU is really about.  Follow the 'negotiations' as the new government tries, and fails, to square the circle of having access to the single market and not having free movement of people."   

Was I surprised that the editor decided he didn't have space for my letter in today's edition? Not really.  After all it might have driven out 'Why We Need European Fashion More Than Ever' or 'WHAT'S ON IN EUROPE?'. Serious stuff eh?

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