Wednesday, 8 May 2019

False promises

Over the weekend I went to have a look at the excellent Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum at Flixton. Well worth a visit. Out of curiosity we travelled on to Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth just to see what's there. Turns out there's not much. Lowestoft is bleak. There's a sizable harbour but there's nothing in it and most of the utility buildings on the docks are derelict. Much the same can be said of Great Yarmouth where you can still spot Ukip posters in shop windows. Great Yarmouth voted to leave in 2016 by a majority of 71.5% and it's easy to see why.

For sure it's had regeneration cash thrown at it. There are some new facilities along the sea front, though the pavillion pictured above is semi-derelict. It doesn't look like the picture now. None of it does. As for jobs and industry, there are five wind turbine service boats in the harbour and an offshore wind farm that dominates the horizon. The sort of periodic "green deal" regeneration that politicians just love to announce but seldom enquire what actual value it has. At best it's a sticking plaster. Nothing can replace the lost industries and there isn't much commercial potential in the ports that I can see. We're replacing genuine industry with political window dressing - usually with EU funding.

This, of course, is fertile ground for the likes of Farage promising a return to glory for British fishing. With so little to lose, Brexit is worth a punt. We have nothing to lose but our wind farms. But then with fishing having been radically transformed and modernised, there is no winding the clock back as with much of our former industries. There is no return to shipbuilding on the Tyne and the mines are gone for good.

We are told that Brexit presents us with a golden opportunity to rejuventate coastal communities but I don't see that it does. Crap towns with long expired purpose will remain so unless they're within commuting distance of an economic centre. The East Coast is out of luck on that score. It's not even especially attractive coastline unlike Dorset and Devon. A rainy weekend in static caravan has only limited vacation appeal.

But then while we can chastise the likes of Ukip and the Brexit fantasists for selling their own brand of snake oil, that's pretty much all these places get. Promises of regeneration amount to little of value. It's empty promise after empty promise. The real anger will likely follow when it becomes apparent that Brexit is no remedy and Tory trade policy will likely exacerbate the problems. Ending freedom of movement may well eliminate competition for jobs but there will be fewer jobs for the traditional blue collar workers.

We have seen countless articles on how Labour has abandoned its working class base, turning their back on them by not delivering "the full Brexit" but which is the greater betrayal? Chasing after a pipedream of reindustrialisation that cannot possibly succeed, leaving everyone worse off is hardly the way to serve working class communities. The only thing in Brexit's favour in this regard is that it may create the political impetus to invest in the regions, breaking the current model, but places like Great Yarmouth will be way down the list.

At the heart of British politics is a fundamental clash of values but also an ideas drought. Various big ticket schemes cooked up by London think tanks cycle through the Westminster-centric debate, but over sell their potential while seeking to solve problems that really cannot be solved. We are in a new age of unknowns and we are still thinking in old terms.

It's easy to see why the culture chasm is growing wider. Traditionally you could expect to find a job and a home in your home town. Modernity now demands that if you have ambitions you move south, you join the rat race, do long congested commutes paying eyewatering rents and maybe, just maybe, you can get a foothold. For many that's neither practical, affordable or even desirable. The real investment needs to go in housing, public transport connections and infrastructure which is already failing to keep pace and is reinforcing an unsustainable model. It's hard to see how Brexit offers any remedy to this. I don't see it impacting immigration in the way that is hoped.

Though I am still very much in the leave camp, I see Brexit more as a necessary political re-ordering, and the removal of an obstacle that has long kept our politics off balance. I am not, though, remotely taken in my the snake oil of demagogues and pretenders. The day will come in the near future when Brexiters will have to account for the failure to launch. If there is a solution to what ails Britain, it comes from a series of well thought out ideas working to a particular vision. Something our politics is no longer capable of.

For four decades now, strategic direction and development has largely followed a Brussels blueprint, working toward the European vision. This has absolved politicians of presenting their own ideas instead becoming well pampered administrators. We can remove Brussels from the equation but that does not mean the void will be filled automatically. The ideas and the momentum will have to come from somewhere and it seems unlikely to come from within the Westminster bubble.

But then as per my earlier post, the ideas and the vision is not going to come from the Brexiters either. They are little more than wreckers playing dangerous propaganda games and playing with fire. Many have spoken about how Brexit has re-energised politics but unless that energy is well directed and with a purpose then it serves only to further destabilise the country.

The danger being that tribal trench warfare becomes the new normal, where politics fiddles while the country spirals into perpetual decline. Our political culture has proven adept at absorbing or neutralising threats and Westminster culture ensures that voices from the outside are rendered inert. For as long as politics remains a self-sealed, self-regarding bubble (of which the Brexit blob is a part) it would seem that there is no reason to be optimistic about the future. It was always going to take more than Brexit could deliver. The failure of leavers to craft a credible vision of their own will see Brexit turned into a wasted opportunity.

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