This guest blog comes from my friend Ryan Munn, now living in Bristol, in the UK. He is a finance and economy writer, a Canadian expat with a global outlook. He says that he loves to tell stories about how local communities can embody the good society.
This guest blog began as an email response to my second post on Brexit. I welcome any such feedback, in agreement or disagreement. Thanks to Ryan for permitting me to post his thoughts.
I’ve been taking note of your Brexit emails with interest. From my perch here in the west of England, I’m not sure the international/national media really have a handle on things. I’m offering my thoughts on this only in the hope that it could provide another viewpoint: I’ve been encouraging people to consult alternative media sources to balance out their perspective.
Particularly, I have been very disappointed in The Guardian since my arrival in the UK last year. I think that I had a really idealistic view of the newspaper back in Canada—thinking that it was progressive, balanced and unbiased. Unfortunately, none of those things are true. Especially politically. From what I can tell, The Guardian largely reports in a way that is blinkered by the assumptions of the urban internationalist class and seems unaware that there are left-wing voters (especially of the working class) that don’t swallow the Blairite narrative of “Better Together.” My assessment is that its bias leads its writers to live in the London/Westminster bubble that is basically anathema to any significant social change. Case in point: The Economist has recently revealed a strong bias against [Labour Party leader Jeremy] Corbyn from all major media outlets in the UK, but most surprising to me, this includes The Guardian.
(I should say that, to its credit, The Guardian does allow columnists a wide berth when it comes to their online opinions; so at least the commentary isn’t monolithic. But the reporting is pretty dismal, in my opinion.)
The article you shared* is pushing in the right direction, but still fails to take into account the genuine concerns of those left behind by the last 40 years of failed neoliberal economic policy. I hate to say it, but love isn’t going to fix this. Values aren’t going to fix this. Large numbers of people have no job security, no hope and no future. Telling them to love rather than hate just belittles their continuing downward trend. When progressives don’t put forward a narrative that explains this, then the radical right will step in to fill the void.
And things really are getting worse. Bristol is a fairly well-off city, a growing global player—and yet I see this every day. More and more young people are delivering fast food on their bikes to supplement their income (via apps like Deliveroo—here’s a critique of that employment model). They aren’t allowed to unionize. They aren’t allowed to bring a class action lawsuit. They are just trying to make money for extortionate rent charges that are being driven up by property speculators. They are basically debt slaves with absolutely no power. And who benefits? Silicon Valley. The City of London. The so-called left-wing media is bound up in this game and refuses to point out what is obvious to the “precariat” — that this form of globalism is simply not working.
I’m your typical global cosmopolitan (even though I grew up on a farm in rural Ontario). I’ve travelled and I’m outward looking. I love diversity and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I’m your typical Guardian reader, and maybe you’d expect me to be calling for another referendum. I’m not. I’m deeply disheartened that the small numbers of racists in Britain think the country agrees with them.
But I think progress can be made here in the UK where it can’t in the EU. Why? Because I’m also Portuguese. Portugal elected a socialist government on the platform of ending austerity and investing in infrastructure to deal with its incredible unemployment rate. The EU forced this government to abandon this policy through what can only be called financial blackmail. As they did with Greece. And Spain. The EU is turning member states into perpetual debtor-nations and creditor-nations. This cannot end well. I believe in reform and I believe in multi-lateral co-operation. However, not one person has pointed out to me any actual mechanisms in place to reform the EU. There are none. At least in national governments there are institutions that are open enough to hold out the hope of reform. It may not come easily or quickly, but at least I can understand and see how it could happen.
But the biggest problem with this Brexit campaign: there was no Bernie [Sanders]. “Bernie” (Corbyn) was silenced and sidelined. Not one prominent progressive figure came out and said: “I feel your pain. We must create a movement for change. We must make the British economy work for the average person, the city worker, the shift worker, the teachers, social workers, etc. We must reform the UK because it is within our power to do so.” Corbyn abdicated that role because he thought that he could keep his party together by proposing an “in and reform” message. And that failed, too. The Labour party will split or continue to be an ineffective opposition.
I see a huge blind spot here, a failure of the political class. They are trying to fight anger at the status quo with “more of the same—but nicer!” But they’ve flipped Maslow’s hierarchy on its head: people are concerned about their homes, their jobs, their food and their families and what Hillary offers is a path towards self-actualization. It defies belief. I’m not sure if you noticed how grumpy Bernie looked at Hillary’s nomination speech—I’m not surprised at all. He knows the political strategy is completely upside down.
The supremely frustrating thing is that I just don’t know what to do about all this! I’m a recent immigrant [to the UK] with no political or social capital whatsoever—who’s going to listen to me? I imagine that you’re probably thinking that I’ve just taken all that pent-up energy and placed it into this email. I probably have, and thankfully I think it’s a safe place to do so.
*by Pankaj Mishra, in The London Review of Books, July 14