It is five years from now. Economic growth has slowed, prices have risen, wages have fallen. The economic and political climate is unstable. Racism and xenophobia continue to rise. Life is bad.
But at least now we live in Great Britain, ever since we took back control. Control of our identity, control of making Britain great British again. A Great Britain that is about being British. British values. Values of Britishness. The British people. The patriotic British people, who have pride in their country and their heritage and their people. Because pride, after all, is a good old British value.
Yes, life is bad. But we don’t mind. At least we have our patriotism.
You head home from working eight straight hours without a break. It’s hard, but you don’t mind too much – you need the money to cover the petrol costs of the commute, even though you carpool. The buses haven’t run for months, now. Unfortunately, you’re only 23 so you’re not entitled to the gloriously generous National Living Wage. Otherwise life would be a breeze.
The referendum debate was dominated by ideas and ideals of nationality, identity, patriotism
There’s just enough time to pop into the bank before heading home. Your financial situation had a bit of a complication when the last branch moved out of your local area. For some reason a lot of the people who worked there have moved to Dublin now.
On your way to the bank, you see a dirty foreigner being verbally abused in the street. At least, that’s what you would have thought was happening a few years ago, but now that we’ve done away with political correctness the abusers aren’t really doing anything wrong. They’re entitled to their opinions, anyway. The foreigner doesn’t say anything about it. Stiff upper lip and all. The few non-Britons who are left are finally learning our values.
You turn off your windscreen wipers as you pull into a parking space next to a “Nissan” car, whatever one of those is, and you tut loudly at the car opposite that’s taking up two spaces. Isn’t Britain great. You have to wait half an hour to see anybody, but at least everybody waiting knows how to queue properly. But how couldn’t they, after all. They’ve got British values running through their British blood.
The default nature of patriotism is extremely dangerous
The city centre is starting to get a bit rundown since EU funding for projects was withdrawn. On your way back home, you switch on the radio. Your local BBC station was shut down after the Tories cut funding for it. White noise. You consult the depths of your knowledge archives for the best British value to mitigate the situation. Ah, got it. You apologise to the other people in the car. They say it’s fine, really. You feel good about yourself, your country. You are a Great Briton, and proud to be one. You live in a great country, and you are happy to do so.
The referendum debate – and, indeed, increasingly politics in general in this country – was dominated by ideas and ideals of nationality, identity, patriotism. The narrative was created, and created successfully, by the Leave side that they were patriotic optimists, sticking up for Britain and everything that made our country great in the first place.
They invoked ideas of duty and betrayal, of past greatness and future return, of pride and patriotism. People listened.
But why should they have? Regardless of which option was “patriotic”, why should we be patriotic?
please do not use ideas of pride and duty to further ideas of racism and xenophobia
This, increasingly, is not a country that I am proud of. I don’t think I do “vigorously support” my country. Of course, there are aspects of it that I love and that I am proud of, but in its current state and undertaking its current endeavours I cannot call myself a patriot.
In fact, I think the default nature of patriotism – the fact that national pride is something we should all feel, something that unites us, and something that those who don’t feel it should be shunned and stigmatised as traitors for – is extremely dangerous.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with being proud of your country, but when this pride is a default or an expectation or a feeling that comes from a position of assumed superiority, then it moves precariously towards being frightening.
I am perfectly happy for people to belt out the national anthem while waving St George’s crosses or Union flags. Please do queue properly and apologise needlessly. No, really, do, I love it. But please do not use ideas of pride and duty to further ideas of racism and xenophobia. Patriotism easily becomes nationalism. And that only leads us towards a dark, scary road that I thought the world would never travel down again.
the calls for change and the desires for political revolution must be answered more positively
However, it seems to me as if this road is currently under construction.
Of course the referendum was not singly about immigration, but it would be a lie to deny that it wasn’t the main issue for most of the public. And the public attitude appears to be becoming more and more intolerant. Hate crimes rose 500% last week. Across the continent, and, indeed, the world, the xenophobic far right are making ground. The current economic and political instability, coupled with the public’s disenfranchisement and (rightful) mistrust, will do nothing to help this.
But this is a situation we have been in before. And this time the calls for change and the desires for political revolution must be answered more positively.
Hopefully, in true British style, the roadworks will do very little. Hopefully we will choose a different journey.
But if we don’t, then I dread to think what this country will become. There will be chaos. And that definitely isn’t very British, is it?
If the referendum result has shown us one thing, it is that our nation is divided.
There is no doubt that the referendum has thrown up some serious questions for our country as a whole to deal with. But it has also brought into contention the issues and the divides within it.
Not only do we see division on the issue of the EU, but on wider issues of the economy and immigration, the latter in recent years having seen a (largely unmerited) huge increase in public importance.
And more than that. The nation is divided with itself.
We see a nation where the people who will have to deal with this decision for the longest period and in the most direct manner, with it affecting not only our future careers but our current study and our future life prospects in a world where such things are becoming increasingly uncertain as it is, were wholeheartedly and unequivocally against our leaving. Unlike in Scotland’s referendum, 16 and 17 year olds were deemed unworthy of deciding their own future. I wonder what number that decision comes in at on David Cameron’s list of regrets.
Our best chance of recovering from this result – and, for that matter, the havoc wreaked by the Tories – is to engage the youth of our nation in its politics
Ironically, for the first time in my life, I feel like I may want to spend my adulthood elsewhere, though my opportunity to do so has likely just been curtailed.
In contrast, pensioners as a whole were largely in favour of Brexit. Clearly there is a generational divide emerging in the UK, with a progressive, socially liberal, and largely left-wing youth emerging – indeed, the General Election showed that votes for Labour and the Greens were higher the younger the voters were. I hope such voters do not feel further disenfranchised by this result, although it would be hard to blame them if they rejected the political establishment afresh after it. Our best chance of recovering from this result – and, for that matter, the havoc wreaked by the Tories – is to engage the youth of our nation in its politics, however defeated they may feel at its current state.
But our nation is not just divided by age. Scotland especially and Northern Ireland as well were both strongly in favour of Remain, with every district in Scotland voting to stay. Surely, depending on the clout they can carry into our negotiations with the EU, a second referendum for Scotland is not far away, and nor is an independent Scotland.
In Northern Ireland, too, Sinn Féin have already put forward a case for reunification with the Republic, and a curtailing of free movement within the EU would surely cause problems for Ireland.
But at least they will have the right to complain if things go wrong. The same will not be possible for the working class districts in England which voted to leave.
Make no mistake, this vote is one laced with concern about immigration
Both my home city, Newcastle, and my adopted home city, Nottingham, have been huge recipients of EU funds over the years, as well as many other traditionally industrial towns and cities across the UK. Ironically, funds received from the EU were negatively correlated to the amount of people who voted to carry on receiving such support; support which is at the heart of the EU’s mission to alleviate poverty and promote equality. In fact, in England, London was the only region to vote Remain.
I fear for the fortunes of the neglected working class, especially in the ignored north of the country. I would be thoroughly unsurprised if George Osborne’s so called Northern Powerhouse, which has done little to help anyway, was cut back as part of the Chancellor’s emergency measures. Perhaps the government’s relative economic abandoning of these areas in the first place is what has led to such a strong showing for Leave there.
But such a vote is not an empowering act of establishment rebellion or a manifestation of chagrin at decades of southern-orientated financial policy, rather an astonishing case of misdirected anger, unjustified scapegoating, and economic self-harm.
Make no mistake, in the east and the midlands, where UKIP polled highly at the General Election, this vote is one laced with concern about immigration, despite low levels in many parts of these regions.
Despite my fears, it is for immigrants that I fear the most in the wake of this result.
But reduced immigration, even if it does come – which, if it does, will certainly take several years and probably trade concessions to achieve – will not be the answer to the working class’s woes.
As we move through our Brexit, the economy will suffer. Funding will be cut. Jobs will go. Support will be slashed. This is the journey we are now embarking on. Yes, immigration may fall, but if it does it will not be to the benefit of the working class and their communities. And it will undoubtedly not make up for the losses they and their local economies will face.
Their disdain should be with the austerity and wage cuts brought by a Tory government, not the EU that funds vital projects in the areas, or the immigrants who contribute to their struggling economies. Any downward pressure on wages that they may bring could be solved by implementing a real Living Wage rather than the government’s phony version, cracking down on employers who pay under the Minimum Wage, getting rid of zero hours contracts, and firmly punishing exploitative employers.
But despite my fears for the working class, the economy, workers’ rights, environmental protection, animal welfare, global security, and much more, it is for these immigrants that I fear the most in the wake of this result.
Scapegoating and xenophobia has just been dealt a massive legitimisation and a huge boost
Throughout the referendum campaign, the Leave side has consistently highlighted immigration and immigrants as a drain on the economy, a pressure on public services. This result is a justification of that sentiment.
We need look no further than celebrations of “Independence Day” for the UK to see the views behind many – not all, of course – Leave campaigners. In a country they see as under attack, traditional values they see as being threatened, their scapegoating and xenophobia has just been dealt a massive legitimisation and a huge boost.
For the sake of the immigrants living here and our country as a whole, I hope we are able to crush this viewpoint. Perhaps, even, Brexit will serve to show that economic policy and not immigration is to blame for many of the problems our country has. Perhaps it will show that we are better cooperating and working with our neighbours, rather than breaking away from them. But until that happens, the scapegoating and ostracizing of immigrants will only escalate. I am afraid on their behalf of the increased prejudice they will face.
And make no mistake, we are the pace-setters and the flag-bearers here. Other countries in Europe will follow, buoyed on by our “success”. A European climate that is already feeling the effects of a far right resurgence is about to change dramatically, unless it is seriously combatted: legitimate concerns on immigration and national identity must be addressed without slipping into nationalism and xenophobia.
Our country is divided, there is no question of that. But we must try to patch up our rifts, not push scapegoats into the chasm that we have created.
Regardless of your preference for Remain or Leave, the time has come to look at what the respective campaigns – and, more importantly, their powerful political backers – will do after the result.
While both campaigns have support from a fairly wide range of the political spectrum, it cannot be ignored that the left is largely Remain and the right largely Leave. In fact, the situation is perhaps more extreme than this, with Leave being backed by far right groups such as the BNP and the EDL.
But more dangerous than either of these groups is the identity of those closest to the political power centre on the side of Leave, the likes of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, and Nigel Farage.
If you vote Leave, you must be all right with the gains it will give to far right, nationalist, xenophobic groups
If the UK does vote to Leave, there will be negotiations between the government and the EU over the terms of this. Negotiations which would involve going over 100+ trade agreements, laws on workers’ right, environmental legislation, free movement plans, and a whole lot more. Negotiations and transitions which would take at least two years.
Such negotiations would surely have to be led, or at least strongly influenced, by someone other than the current Prime Minister, who is firmly behind the Remain campaign. As much as I despise David Cameron, I fear the evils of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove more than I do those of Cameron.
Indeed, Johnson especially, with his self-interested, power-hungry leadership ambitions, would have an awful lot to gain politically by pandering to those on the right both within and outside of his party.
While the Leave campaign may be flattering voters with promises of increased NHS spending and VAT breaks, the voting records of its backers and the continuation of the unnecessary and ideological austerity narrative by the Tories suggests these claims are slanderous.
Undoubtedly, negotiations would involve breaking from EU legislation on workers’ rights, environmental policies, wildlife protection and more, before we even begin to get into trade and migration. And it would all happen under the guise of reclaiming our national sovereignty and fighting the bureaucracy of the EU.
There is yet to be a coherent claim for what should, could, and can change after a Remain vote
Moreover, two years of negotiations would leave the likes of Johnson and Farage firmly in the political spotlight: perfect timing for them to begin their election campaigns with renewed public and media interest.
If you vote Leave, you must accept the fact that such a result will be a huge boost to the political right, no matter your reasons for voting so. You must be all right with the gains it will give to far right, nationalist, xenophobic groups. You must consider the ramifications it will have for a Conservative party currently at war with itself, and the MPs lining up to be its next leader.
For its part, Remain has thus far failed to pin its colours to the mast in terms of post-vote aims. For all the talk of reforming the EU and repeated assertions that nobody thinks it’s perfect, there is yet to be a coherent claim for what should, could, and can change after a Remain vote.
Perhaps the answer is not much. Perhaps Cameron would be happy with his pre-vote reforms. Perhaps the left would have some voice in the matter. Perhaps any possible negotiations would be stopped by the influx of five million terrorists from the new member states that sneaked in when we weren’t paying attention. Perhaps Johnson, Farage and co would be very upset (the poor people, they’d have all my sympathy), and perhaps the xenophobes on the right would take a hit. Perhaps, even, we’d see them making a grovelling apology to the SNP, asking them to team up for a Double-Referendum Super Slam Thursday in another couple of years.
But one thing is for sure. I’d much rather have the possibility of all this than the certainty that a Leave vote would bring to the far right in apparent justification of their xenophobia, their nationalism, and their bigotry.
And if you haven’t done so already, then don’t forget to register to vote! It only takes a couple of minutes. Students, make sure you’re registered in the right place for where you’re going to be on 23rd June!
A couple of days ago I had a discussion about how to pronounce “mayor”. Needless to say, things got heated. My opponents went for mare, I staunchly stuck to my multisyllabic may-er. I know, I’m/they’re [delete as appropriate] disgusting.
But however you might pronounce it, is one way “wrong”? Is there a “correct” way to pronounce mayor?
No. There isn’t. There’s not.
When it comes to language, especially spoken language, there is – for the most part – no wrong and right. There is only standard and non-standard. And the standard version, which so often is equated with “correctness” (think RP/Queen’s English being “proper English” and “speaking properly”), is little more than an outdated ideology that benefits the upper class and paints non-users as stupid, inferior, and wrong. (Note my use of the Oxford comma there, which has now been deemed incorrect by the UK government. Rebel 4 lyf.)
For centuries, probably millennia, some grammarians have attempted to fix the “rules of grammar” at a certain point, under the pretence of allowing communication to be at its most effective and clear. This is a hugely misguided belief.
The entire history of the English language – and probably all languages worldwide – is filled with change. Change in language is good and natural and should not be fought against. Refusals to adhere to standardisation are the reason that we no longer end words like “physics” with a c and a k. How pointless a convention was that? They are the reason that nobody really cares anymore if you say “Turn the light off” instead of the supposedly correct “Turn off the light”, because we all know that Latinate rules proposed by aristocrats have no relevant bearing on how we use language in everyday situations in today’s society. Not that many people ever really cared anyway.
So if you want to keep prepositions away from the end of your sentences, then fine. If you want to pronounce scone so that it rhymes with stone and latte with par-té (that is how the kids say it, right?) then be my guest. But I won’t be joining you, and you shouldn’t expect me to.
Language diversity and change has existed in English ever since it began. It is something that should be celebrated, not stunted and stigmatised.
Not only does the standardisation ideology prevent change and adaptation in language, but it prestiges certain styles of speaking over others. Under the ideology, upper class accents carry more prestige than working class or local ones, despite the fact that the amount of people who truly speak in an RP accent is incredibly low – estimated at 3% in 1974, and surely lower now.
And there’s no intrinsic reason why RP has any more linguistic “worth” than any other dialect. Because that’s what RP is, a select dialect that has been elevated to an invented position of authority. The only reason it has such prestige is due to migration patterns in pre-industrial England, with movements between the midlands and London leading to the creation of an upper class dialect which was then dispersed via the country’s political, economic and power centre.
But there’s no reason for it to have this prestige any more. And while speaking in RP may allow users to adhere to common grammatical “rules”, this is not a constant or an absolute. Grammatical rules, if they exist at all, are not met by RP. Rather, RP creates these rules because it meets them. If you were to speak in any number of other regional dialects, then using “was” rather than “were” would be a “rule” for speaking in that particular dialect, and that would be the standard grammatical construction.
And such apparent deviance from grammatical norms is not wrong, just different; non-standard. English is a language full of irregularities, whether that is spelling, pronunciation, grammar, or virtually any other aspect. There will always be irregularities in English. A “correct” version of English which fully negotiates these irregularities does not and most likely cannot (or should that be can not?) ever exist.
Up until the 19th century, it was entirely common for writers to use multiple negatives. In fact, Geoffrey Chaucer, often held up as one of the greatest British writers of all time and a standard of eloquence to which we all should aim, sometimes used quadruple negatives in his writing to add emphasis to his point. Was he wrong to do this? Was Chaucer obscuring the meaning of his communication and making it more difficult for readers to understand? Do we read a quadruple negative and think, actually, wait a minute, four wrongs do make a right! Of course we don’t.
In a note on standardisation and ensuring that the English language maintained its correct forms and was not corrupted by abbreviations, Jonathan Swift complained of shortenings such as “mob” for “mobile” and “fan” for “fanatick”. Such suggestions seem absurd now, and in centuries to come, students will look back on 20th century literature and think how ridiculous it was that they wrote “information” instead of “info”, and “people” instead of “ppl”.
When Shakespeare invented the verb “to knife”, he was breaking the “rules” of grammar that existed at that time. Today, the process of verbifying a noun is so real that the word verbification is a legit verb. Deal with it.
Language diversity and change has existed in English ever since it began. It is something that should be celebrated, not stunted and stigmatised.
Grammar “rules” and “correct” pronunciation do nothing for the survival, upholding, or improvement of the English language. All they do is paint people who speak in other dialects as inferior and uneducated. Standardisation is a class-based ideology, and a dangerous one. So next time somebody says they don’t know nothing about the local mayor, don’t form an angry mobile to attack them. Just let it slide. You know what they meant.
A generation from now, maybe two, we will look back and see the 2010s as the beginning of mainstream politics’ death.
Mainstream politics is dying. And it isn’t going to be a slow, drawn out death, a gradually-developing tumour that corrupts the base of establishment politics and brings it down cell by cell over decades or centuries. It will be a quick death. In fact, it may well be a car crash.
Across the Western world, voters are beginning to reject the establishment and the mainstream politics it has for so long endorsed. Whether we look at Austria, Spain, France, or even the bastion of status quo mainstream politics that is the USA, people are turning away from the same old same old that has dominated the West since the end of WWII.
And it is precisely that timeframe which should make us worried.
Whilst the rejection of establishment politics is beneficial to those further to both the left and right than the mainstream, it seems to me as if the far right is doing more than the left to capture the minds of the – to use a surprisingly establishment piece of political jargon – “disenfranchised”. We need look no further than UKIP’s rapid rise in this country for proof of this.
Unfortunately, the current far right tactic of scaremongering and demonising is, for many, a lot easier to swallow and a lot more inspiring than the left’s idealistic promises and progressive policies. And it’s not hard to see why.
By scapegoating and demonising, promising crackdowns and offering dreams of the good old days when [insert country] was about being [insert nationality], and everybody shared [insert nationality] values, the right has conjured an associative nostalgia based on the basic notion that [insert country] was and would again be better off on its own, without any foreign influences or anyone from the outside or any namby-pampy loony-lefty utopianism.
I mean, come on, you remember those values, right?. Man, I love those values. Those were good times, weren’t they? With the values and the nationality and the pride we all had. Back then, in the Good Old Days, we didn’t have any foreigners invading Our land and nobody told Us how to run Our country. Don’t you miss those days?
Currently, the left’s alternative isn’t quite as catchy or as easily palatable. Suggesting radical new change taking us further away from the current establishment instead of harking back to the establishment we used to have is a bit more difficult to get on board with for many. While the right proposes going back to what we know and what we’ve done before, the left proposes a bold new frontier, a leap into the relative unknown. And convincing people to make that leap isn’t exactly easy, especially when they’ve been used to standing still for so long.
And yet, while people are perhaps not quite leaping yet, they are certainly starting to take a run at the chasm that has opened up before them. Nowhere is this more evident than the USA, where, despite the headlines of Trump’s bigotry, there have been monumental gains for Sanders. If the left can make such gains in a country where socialism is still something of a dirty word, then surely it is not long before the rest of the West embraces it. To what extent it does so remains to be seen. The right may be winning the race at the minute, but there’s plenty of time for the left to catch up.
There is no question, in my mind, that radical change is coming. What is yet to be decided is exactly what form this change will take. The battle for this change will probably be bloody and it will definitely be hard-fought. But if enough is done to promote a politics of new hope instead of one of fear, then we can raise a phoenix from the ashes of mainstream politics.
Motivated leafleters stand by the road,
arms outstretched, glove-covered fingers
offering me an ode,
with typed up gospel singers
belting out the chorus of their cause. I take one of the shedload;
my eyes carefully cover the case of their inflicted curse.
“Now, what seems to be the problem?”