. . . AND HOW THE RIGHT DIVIDES US
I live in one of the hippest areas in the world – according to the San Francisco Chronicle – a district which saw the industrial revolution, then dereliction and now redevelopment. We have both a discount supermarket and a convenience store that stocks Bollinger. Where the scuttlers once terrorised the streets, now the greatest danger is being run down by Deliveroo cyclists. The gym opens 24/7 and the recent hot weather has seen the parks full of buff, predominantly gay young men. Gender is very fluid. Tattoos are ubiquitous. And everything is artisinal. The streets are full of people from every corner of the world . It is the classic metropolitan melting pot.
And I love it.
But I understand that to many people these changes are threatening. The local paper often features letters complaining of gentrification and that the children of local people cannot afford the new flats. And there are areas which have been left behind by development and prosperity. There seems to have been only one model for the cities, especially post 2008, everything is for profit – there is no social housing, few community facilities and many of the new jobs are filled by people from outside the city, including from the EU.
So even when an area does become more prosperous it can seem that the benefits do not go to the original inhabitants.
This feeling of being left behind has been identified as one of the reasons for Brexit – older, less educated voters, predominantly outside the metropolitan areas were very influential in an unexpected result. Some Remainers – especially those based in London – have succumbed to a prejudice, which is both tasteless and potentially dangerous. Brexiteers and I am using the term to include those who feel left behind by social and economic changes – are dismissed as thick and gullible.
There are very difficult questions for the Left to ask and talking amongst ourselves will not give us the answers.
We must address the failings of the welfare state and the consequences of austerity – a degrading of the public infrastructure with the resulting lack of social housing, decent transport, education and leisure provision. Austerity came with a cost and it did not impact on everyone equally – we were not all in this together. The results can be seen in homelessness, in unemployment, in health and in a coarsening of public life. People are not stupid they can see that they live in neglected areas, that their children not being educated for the new jobs, that they cannot afford the new housing or enjoy the new cultural developments.
This attack on our social capital is not the fault of Brussels bureaucrats, of migrants seeking a better life or of young people living and working in former industrial areas. It is the fault of Westminster politicians – people whose lives are completely divorced from ‘ordinary people’ – millionaires educated in public schools (that still claim charitable status) who dominate the media, who marry within their class and pass on their privilege.
Politicians of the left have failed to defend the education system from which they benefited, they have failed to address the technological and economic revolution which has taken place and left so many ill-equipped. They have concentrated on social liberalism recognising diversity and extending rights to ‘minorities’, but ignored the economic realities of those left behind.
And politicians of the right – what we would once have considered far right – have hijacked the debate. People may not be gullible, but they have been fooled. For years the media have lied about the EU, about immigration, about welfare ‘scroungers’ and their arguments have now been accepted as truth. Rich white ambitious men have portrayed themselves as the voice of the people. They are media stars who use lies and prejudice to increase their power – our problems are blamed on the ‘other’ and impossible promises are made. Some understand the danger of their actions and the forces they have unleashed – but they know they cannot lose – the rich can always escape the consequences of their actions, for them there is always another chance. And for the cheerleaders of the new right there is always a home in the United States.
These politicians do not care for those who believe they have been left behind, they hope to reap the whirlwind of prejudice and hate, but fail to address the genuine problems of our society. They exploit their supporters as the rich and powerful have always used the poor, in the certainty that they can always escape the consequences of their actions.