The British people are struggling. They are hurting. And they have lashed out in the only way open to them right now – voting to leave the European Union.
Like New Zealand, Britain has never recovered since neoliberalism popped up, seemingly out of the blue, and caught us unawares in the Thatcher years (Rogernomics in our case). Under neoliberalism, cunning corporates managed to get the rules changes so that the rich get richer, those in the middle get poorer, and the poor miss out altogether.
The master stroke was spinning the narrative so that we are ok with that. It’s fun being rich and we should all want to be rich. The rich deserve their wealth because they work so hard for it. If we worked that hard we could get just as rich as they are. The poor are poor because it’s their own fault. They should work harder.
The trouble is, thirty odd years down the track we have all been working hard but still only a few people are rich. And they are very, very rich. Inequality has skyrocketed. People who are not rich are fed up. Many are also jobless, homeless, cold, and hungry.
The culprit is not the corporate neoliberal agenda of low/no taxes for the rich, low wages for the workers, cutting regulations so that it possible to make a profit out of anything and everything, and cutting government spending on health, education, and welfare. Virtually all of the politicians tell us that. We believe them because they say it with such feeling and we can’t see the corporate prompts in the wings feeding them their lines.
Something else must be to blame. Being in the European Union has been good for the British economy, but that has not translated into a better standard of living for the majority of Britons, so they don’t see it that way. All they see is a lot of people from Europe coming in and taking their jobs, forcing wages down even lower, house prices up, and stretching education, health, and welfare services even further.
The British are not alone in that. Australian doyen of the far right Pauline Hansen put it out there: “People are struggling, they can’t even get the services provided to them. Let alone bring other people in.” Donald Trump is making similar noises in the United States.
Whether or not leaving the European Union will be the predicted catastrophe for Britain remains to be seen. But it is unlikely to make anything better. People need to know their enemy. It is not immigration. It is not the lazy poor. It is not religion. It is not environmental action. It is the greedy transnational corporations. It is neoliberalism. It is inequality. It is worldwide, and it needs to be owned and dealt with before things get very ugly indeed.