Sunday, 19 June 2016

Last days of the Ancien Régime

Just a few more days to the Brexit Referendum. It's feeling like the end of an era: a revolution approaches.

For the Conservative government is bound to be fatally destabilised. I still predict a narrow 'stay in' win, but the very narrowness of the victory will deny the winners a proper mandate to continue governing as if nothing much has happened. As if a pledge to consult the people - or satisfy the Euro-sceptics in the Conservative Party - has been honoured, and it's over now, and business can resume as usual.

Oh no, it won't be.

It can't be, when the 'minority' vote to get out of the EU will be so large. When seriously heavyweight politicians have nailed their flags to their masts and said things that can't be smoothed over. When the whole world has seen what the grass-roots feeling is in the land. My crystal ball tells me that the world will in fact be surprised if we turn out to be a nation of timorous sheep, easily frightened, and meekly following the 'stay in or perish' exhortations. I think the world expects a lot of people in this country to behave like lions waking from a drugged sleep, and realising that they can roar.

This is a referendum where the possibility of roaring is the thing that matters. Not at all the issue at stake.

Who isn't tired, dog tired, of the long series of lacklustre senior politicians we have endured for decades? Every one has postured a bit, looked good on TV, made promises, then lost their nerve. Every one has presided over ineffective or failed policies. One or two governments have had the chance to be bold and do something imaginative for the country's greater good. Nothing has come of it. Chances have been missed. Half-measures have sufficed. Targets introduced that nobody wanted and which could never be fulfilled, not while making Britain into Europe's offshore tax haven remained a priority.

We pay considerably less income tax than we did in 1970, and the financial organs of government now exercise more stringent economic control. But there is much less money in the public kitty for the things that the public wants to have.

'Low tax' inevitably means 'low-level public services'. It's no use 'creating wealth' if you don't tax it and build up a sufficient fund for the general good. Successive governments have sheered away from taking money from the income-generators. Instead, they have raided elsewhere. But the sport of the rich - excessive tax avoidance - has lately lost its aura of cleverness and respectability. Time for a decisive change. I expect however that this won't be palatable to the ruling clique.

The wrong people have had the top jobs, and have stood in the way. It feels as if a cross-party community of fellow-travellers has grown up, people (elected or not) who are allied to big business, and not only unwilling but unable to disturb cosy, low-tax arrangements that have pandered to those businesses, merely in order to produce good statistics that suggest the economy is doing well. It maintains international confidence in the country's performance, and keeps international money flowing in. That's essential in one kind of economic model; but it seems a visionless way to keep things going nicely, and forever. How about some genuine investment for the future?

Some people continue to get rich on the current policies. Most don't. Most find themselves having to pay for basic things like their schooling, and professional training, even if it's vocational and badly-needed by the country (it's to be training loans for nurses, next, for goodness sake). The ordinary citizen can't now buy a house, nor save for a pension.

In such a scenario, it hardly matters that Brexit might double the price of Dutch tomatoes or Spanish broccoli, or that a high-tech German car might become out of reach.

I sound rather socialist but I'm not. I'm naturally a Conservative supporter. My father was a Conservative voter with the outlook of a reasonable man prepared to study and work hard if he got a fair reward for his effort. His attitude is something I can't really live up to - I lack his energy and imagination - but I can't (and won't) overlook my father's inspiring example. I expect a Conservative government to produce effective policies that are fair and just - policies that improve the lives of everyone, and discourage only the socially harmful. The current front-bench Conservative Gang in the House or Commons have not delivered that. It's 'time up' for them, I'm afraid. I can't think of any big beast in that front-bench Gang that I would miss if they were swept away into oblivion.

And I think it all too likely that, post-Referendum, a fresh team will be put together, with a brand new leader. Either that, or a wholesale change - a General Election. There are many MPs in all the main parties who ought to be given a chance. I have no objection whatever to the formation of another coalition of like-minded politicians - presumably young - with a fresh 'can do' attitude. If you like, a War Coalition: for they may well have a crisis on their hands.

These are interesting times to live in, nicht wahr?  

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Lucy Melford