In a prescient book in 2011, ‘Europe, the Grand Illusion’, Tony Judt suggested that the EU was making economic promises to its member states — promises of unsustainably high rates of growth, employment, and spending on social benefits — that were almost certainly going to prove impossible to fulfill. When those promises were broken, it would inspire an angry populist backlash.
We have seen just that in the Brexit vote. And in the rise of far-right Populist parties across the European Community. It is not just in the UK that disillusionment with the European Union is gathering momentum.
But it is the case that the Leave campaign has persuaded a small majority of voters to blame the EU for the failure to share prosperity across the UK. For the fact that the ‘trickle-down’ effect and the unregulated economy has not worked, blighting and demoralising formerly great regions, towns and cities. While as Judt says, the EU has its faults, particularly in making impossible promises to its member states, it was not the EU that:
- Privatised British Gas, the Electricity Board and BT
- Sold off our Power Stations, leading to the Chinese/French collaboration on Hinckley Point
- Privatised British Rail leading to the highest fares and most overcrowded rail network in Europe
- Privatised the Royal Mail, leading to disproportionate escalation of postal charges
- Privatised the Water Industry
- Shut down most of the UK coal industry
- Legislated against trades unions
- Sold British Steel to India
- Sold British housing stock and failed to replace it
- Underfunded Education and the NHS
- Sold the country’s gold reserves
- Brought in tuition fees
- is surreptitiously privatising the NHS, because it cannot sustain it
- is cutting jobs in the police and armed forces
This is a classic case of projection, where a remote, impersonal, easy to identify entity gets saddled with responsibility for actions that were in fact the depredations of successive UK governments.
So, what will happen next?
I predict that in spite of endless spin blaming the EU for intransigence in negotiations, it will be conveniently forgotten that we initiated this dispute. Next, those in the blighted communities who wanted their country back will gradually realise that NO benefits whatsoever will accrue to them, the broken windows and pound-shops will remain lining the potholed roads and once great cities and industries will continue their decline. While down at Westminster we will become accustomed to empty rhetoric about the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, now to be bigger than just Manchester, and an empty advertising concept if ever I heard one!