Sweeping structural reform is needed to tackle malaise in society—whatever happens with Brexitby Guy de Jonquières / December 4, 2018 / Leave a comment
For me, as for many Remainers, the 2016 referendum result was a rude awakening. Not just because nobody, not even Brexiteers, had expected it. But because it opened my eyes to how little I knew about my own country and to how much had gone wrong in it. That feeling has only grown stronger with time.
As we know, people voted Leave for many different reasons: economic deprivation; stagnating incomes; job insecurity; deteriorating social services; housing shortages; lack of opportunity for self-betterment; fear of uncontrollable change; resentment at remote metropolitan elites who appeared untrustworthy and deaf to their concerns; and, of course, anxiety about immigration. The referendum turned muttered grievances into a deafening roar.
The EU, however, is to blame for almost none of them. Even the backlash over EU immigration could have been averted or mitigated if Britain had deployed the perfectly legal controls used by many other member states. In reality, if not in the popular imagination, almost all the problems exercising Leavers have been made here in Britain and are attributable to its own policy failures.
The main cause of depressed living standards is a decade of austerity policies since the financial crisis, itself partly the product of flawed national banking regulation. Problems in social services, notably the NHS, have festered for years and were made worse by the Cameron government’s bungled reform efforts; and housing shortages are largely the consequence of restrictive planning laws and failure to build enough affordable accommodation.
Uneven education quality, student achievement levels below international standards and inadequate vocational training have left many young people poorly equipped to compete in the labour market. Meanwhile, excessive centralisation of power in Whitehall at the expense of local authorities has bred a sense of alienation in much of the country. It is no coincidence that Scotland and Northern Ireland, where decision-making has been devolved, voted Remain, while England, still largely under the thumb of Westminster, voted Leave.
“Brussels” has long been a convenient whipping boy for successive British governments, which have preferred to blame the EU than to own up to their own mistakes. It is hardly surprising that 17m voters, many of whom (understandably) view the EU through the distorting lens of jingoistic mass media and misleading Leave…