Update

A quick update – I’m back from South America. I’m glad to say I wrote many poems out there so now I’m just editing away.

You can find my poems here.

As always, keep up to date by following me on Twitter, @ChrisMatthews98, Instagram, @chrismatthews1998, and of course on WordPress!

Best,

Chris

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Why The Young Will Vote Tactically

A General Election. Great, and I’m on a gap year, a 19 year old first time voter stuck out in the middle of South America. The last part’s not so terrible, I know.

There’s no denying that Theresa May has called the election at almost a politically perfect time. Even though she utterly ruled it out. Last year she definitively stated, “I’m not going to be calling a snap election. I’ve been very clear that I think we need that period of time, that stability, to be able to deal with the issues that the country is facing, and have that election in 2020.” Still, Labour is split by Corbyn, the Lib Dems are still fighting back from their university U-turn of the 2010 coalition with weak leadership, and UKIP have realised that as their own dream is realised, they dwindle back into irrelevance again. Of course, the election is still a gamble. The main issue is Brexit, and it means that voting priorities might change dramatically.

Britain is divided. It is split. Half the country is disillusioned with the other half’s opinions. 52 to 48; a majority of just over a million. Brexit was always going to tear the country apart. Yet unlike predictions of a new political age, the burning of the traditional party structure, and of course the continued rise of populism, with the newfound uncertainty, most people returned to their roots and traditions. With no obvious path to choose, families of labour supporters steady themselves by standing by Labour, and the same for the Conservatives, regardless of whether they voted remain or leave. It seems that in an attempt to reboot their sense of political direction, people are aligning themselves to their traditional parties and conventions: so again it’s a two horse race. The Conservative Party, or The Labour Party.

Yet there is still a large number of people who are unsure of who to vote for. I present you with THE YOUNG. Yep, that’s me too. The first involvement in democracy I had was voting in the EU referendum. I’ve never voted in an actual election. A vast number of people my age haven’t either. In fact no one aged 18-21 has ever voted in a general election. They are mostly without allegiance to a particular party, and so not only is the way we vote interesting, but our vote is hugely important as well. Any undecided voters are key to the swing of an election. The real question is how disillusioned are the young? How much did Brexit affect their view of the current government?

It’s true, usually the young don’t vote in their swathes. Remember though, in the EU referendum, over 70% of young people like me voted to remain in the EU. And remember all the 17 year olds who couldn’t vote even though they have an average of 65 years to live with the decision. The majority of the old voted leave, and they have an average of 15 years to live with it. Fair? Ask the young people what they think. Those 17 year olds can vote this year. Already a record number of young people have registered to vote. I’m printing out my vote by proxy form at the moment in a Paraguayan Internet café. The Paraguayans around me are no strangers to political unrest, even political violence. But this voting form is innocent. I know other travellers across the world applying to vote by proxy or for a postal vote. Would they’ve been so bothered if this was a normal election? Perhaps not, however this is effectively a secondary Brexit vote, so yes, they’re applying to vote. Imagine that they’re unforgiving of the people who called an EU referendum. Perhaps unforgiving of a government that tried to put down democracy. Remember, most of the young don’t have party allegiances. Most parties have only betrayed them.

This is the election when tactical voting will matter most. It’s happened, and it’s worked, in Northern Ireland. In 2015 a DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) and UUP (Ulster Unionist Party) pact not to stand against each other in four constituencies resulted in a unionist candidate winning in three out of four seats, and Newry & Armagh’s Sinn Fein majority was halved. Already the Lib Dems are considering not contesting Caroline Lucas’ seat in Brighton & Hove, and they might consider it in constituencies that are only Conservative by a small majority, with Labour the main opposition. My own constituency is Newbury. It’s Conservative. Has been for over a decade. Yet from 1993-2005 the seat was held by Liberal Democrat David Rendel. The main opposition in this constituency remains the Lib Dems. If Labour and Green didn’t field candidates, the likelihood is that those votes would go towards the Lib Dems in a bid to oust a Conservative seat. Traditional allegiance is the only hinderance.

Uncontested seats encourage tactical voting, but it’ll be young British who lead the way in the manner they vote. In constituencies up and down Britain, it’s likely that many young people will vote for the main opposition against the current Conservative government. This is the Tory Party who led us into Brexit, and then tried to make it a Brexit of only their creation, appealing the Supreme Court’s ruling in a bid to block out parliament and thus the actual will of the people. What will decide whether the Tories remain in power or not is whether other voters are prepared to abandon old allegiances and vote for a party as opposed to a person.

My local MP is fantastic. He is a benefit to the community. Yet he is Conservative. Without his seat, the Tories are one seat weaker. It is the same all around Britain. Will people be able to vote against a great candidate to push the Conservatives out of power? I assume young people will do so owing to their lack of past allegiance.

Many predict a change in the way people will vote. Even before the EU Referendum populists were calling for an upheaval of the current system. Thankfully many of those populists have voted themselves out of a job. Yet if the current figures are correct concerning the number of young applying to vote, and if sentiment on how we will vote is correct too, then there will be an upheaval of sorts. Not of the political system, but of the Conservative government. The party that allowed Brexit, and the party of Theresa May’s 2020 election promise. Their party is already on its way to becoming an anachronism. When all people join the young in voting tactically, voting for the main opposition to The Conservatives in each constituency, then this government will see the result of their continual betrayals.

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A Little Update

Sadly, for the next five months or so, I won’t be able to post much on this site. Since I finished my A-Levels I’ve been working in a local coffee shop so I could fund some travelling. Tomorrow I leave for South America, and although this means my site will mostly lie dormant during the time I’m there, I will of course be taking a pen and notebook with me, and I hope to build up a bank of material that I can post when I return!

I hope this make sense, and as a kind of parting gift I’ve published three more poems on my site today. To read them, click here.

Please follow me on Twitter, @ChrisMatthews98 / @IntheirPrime, On Facebook, and on Instagram, @chrismatthews1998. I will post to these outlets more regularly over he coming months!

Thanks and best wishes,

Chris

A British Saga: Political Betrayal and the Ironies of Farage & Co.

The Tories seem to disapprove of parliamentary sovereignty. Theresa May and her government are appealing against a court ruling that ruled in favour of parliament having a say in forming political laws and negotiations concerned with Brexit. Before the referendum Brexiteers claimed leaving the EU would help us regain our parliamentary sovereignty. Nigel Farage stated, “I believe in Britain…a proud, patriotic country that…makes its own laws in our own sovereign parliament”. Aaron Banks, the co-founder of Leave.eu, an anti-immigrant campaign group, proclaimed, “If parliament is sovereign we can either do a brilliant job or an awful depending on who we elect. It’s called democracy.” These advocates of Brexit claim we left the EU to escape political tyranny and give power back to Britain. However, when a British judge ruled in favour of parliamentary sovereignty – that parliament should have a say on the terms of a British exit from the EU – Farage, Banks, and Davies acted outraged. It’s odd… I thought they admired parliamentary sovereignty.

Ironically they’re speaking out against the very British parliamentary sovereignty that they were keen to fight for in the run up to the referendum. Some argue these leading Brexiteers only declared their support for parliamentary sovereignty to win over voters to the radical right of Brexit. These are the facts: there were two options on the ballot paper. There was ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’. There was not ‘Leave because we want to curb immigration’ as the current government claims, nor ‘Remain because we adore Brussels’. The choice was to remain in the EU or to leave it. As the vote to support Article 50 on 7th December showed, almost all MPs agree that we should leave the EU. Even though the government’s top lawyer, James Eadie QC, called the vote “highly significant”, all it made clear was that parliament accepts the result of the referendum, not that they accept the rejection of parliament’s involvement in Brexit negotiations. Shouldn’t parliament (representatives of the people elected by the people) decide on the terms of Brexit rather than an elite posse of Tories? Some might perceive the government’s Court Appeal against the original decision as an attack on British parliamentary democracy. By implication this would be an attack on the ordinary person’s vote as well.

In addition there’s been another affair suggesting a Tory dislike for parliamentary sovereignty. At least one Senior Conservative called for UK-US trade negotiations to be aided by a man never elected by the British people as a member of parliament to represent their views: Nigel Farage. Sir Gerald Howarth, the former Minister for International Security Strategy, told the BBC “if Nigel Farage is well-connected with Donald Trump, and it would appear that he is, then we should certainly be talking to him.” Farage might be popular with his own party and take support from the same kind of people as Trump, but that gives him no right to represent the views of the British people. Of course Farage has no problem with it. He shares a similar vision to Trump, but whereas Trump will be one of the most powerful people in the free world, Farage has no political power and, like UKIP, may be doomed to irrelevancy once we leave the EU. The fact that some senior Tory members have suggested his co-operation as a possibility suggests a move against the will of the British people. (How many times has that phrase been trotted out in recent weeks?) Yet we did not vote Farage into parliament, so why should he represent us? Donald Trump might think he should be made ambassador but by the way, Donald Trump doesn’t speak for the British public nor does he have any power to fire or nominate British ambassadors to the US.

Perhaps the reason there isn’t mass protest against the current government is that British people don’t believe the Tories mean what they say. After all, they might take inspiration from Donald Trump who has not only backtracked on eradicating Obamacare, but in terms of Hilary Clinton he now reckons he won’t try to “lock her up”. It seems Mr Trump sees himself as a bit of a joker. Just as some might argue that Trump’s election campaign was rife with meaningless rhetoric designed to garner support from radical right-wingers, some might think that the government’s appeal of the original Brexit court ruling is simply meaningless Tory rhetoric aimed at garnering support from right wing radicals, or UKIP.

Maybe no one can come to terms with the fact that the ruling government has made two attacks on British democracy in the space of a few weeks. Or perhaps, having freed ourselves from the tyranny of Europe, we don’t want to label ourselves as an oppressed people.

Thankfully, as Lord Neuberger pointed out in the Supreme Court, they are not trying to “overturn the result of the EU referendum”. Instead they are ruling on who can take part in “the process by which that result can lawfully be brought into effect”. The government’s Appeal of the original decision shows intent to rule without involving parliament and the views of the British public in the process. The Supreme Court will not overturn the original decision that favoured parliamentary democracy. Yet, if it does, we will have no need for parliamentary elections as we will have no need for MPs. Rather, we will elect a ruler who will do what he or she sees fit with no regard to the views of ordinary British people. This would be the point at which there were mass protests in favour of parliamentary democracy.

 

Blind Utopianism – How We’re All Addicted to Progress

Both the election of Donald Trump and Brexit are symptoms of an illusion. The illusion is utopia. Many people believe that our lives should be described by an upward curve, and that everything must always be improving. As a millennial, being born at the turn of the century, I’ve been taught to deify this idea. We’re addicted to the promise of utopia. To reach it we must progress in every way possible. Each year we must be richer, happier, and stronger as a nation. This belief, or this craving of bettering ourselves, has resulted in growing support for the radical right wing, for populists such as Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. Opportunists tap into our cravings all the time. I think I might buy a new shirt and suddenly every website I go to advertises ‘fashionable shirts for men’. People’s attraction to the radical right is the same. People such as Trump and Farage are simply tapping into the desire for utopia.

The reasons behind a vote for Brexit and those behind for a vote for Donald Trump are largely similar. Both were votes against the establishment, against tradition, and against big money (apparently most are able to forget Farage’s millions and Trump’s billions.) Many voters for Brexit and for Trump share an end of the century negativity. “It was better in my day,” they claim. Suddenly life isn’t getting better and better and so there are scapegoats. There is the current administration or government. There is globalisation. There is social progression. There is the acceptance of all people being equal, and there is anyone who looks, acts, or sounds different to us. There’s nothing wrong with optimism, but as realistically life isn’t going to steadily improve, we shouldn’t be dependent on improvement.

There is a huge difference between hoping for improvement and devoting yourself to the continuation of progress. Most people hope that their lives will advance. We hope that the economy, and in turn our bank balance, will flourish each year. But we can’t kid ourselves into thinking that we will reach a point of ultimate bliss and utopia. As a millennial I was always told that in this day and age I could be anything owing to technological advances and the possibility of job fluidity. As a millennial I would not be stuck in the same job for life. No, instead I could set myself free and progress as the world improved around me.

The problem is that we’ll keep changing our allegiances in a bid to find the perfect leader who will lead us into the Promised Land. The irony is that meanwhile no one else will be able to push forward with any kind of reform. If we continue to buy into this craving for utopia, there will be no change whatsoever. Yet this idea of utopia is addictive. We’re obsessed with progress, and yet there’s no sensible reason why every year should bring new heights of prosperity and satisfaction. Still, when people feel we aren’t progressing, they turn to the populists: to Farage and Trump. Each year we will ask, “Have we progressed, are we closer to reaching utopia?” In many years we will answer, “No, we are not.” Already people are gripped with the idea that it’s the fault of politicians, of the government, and of an elite administration. We banish expertise and facts, placing our trust in opportunistic populists. These are people who fuel our addiction with bold, yet hollow phrases. “Take Back Control,” they muse, and “Make America Great Again” someone cries out amid the fog of senseless hope. We need to accept that life is not an upward trend. For most, life is just a straight line, and that is perfectly fine.

Until we control this addiction, the growing admiration for radical populists will continue. This irrational dependence is tearing apart our current society. People will continue to be enraged by administrations and governing bodies. Millenials such as myself will still believe in the possibility of the utopia we were forced to cherish as children. We should hope that everything is improving, but we cannot devote ourselves to this idea. Doing so is harmful to democratic society.

I HAVE A CONFESSION

Okay. I’ll admit it. I watched ITV’s Victoria instead of Poldark. The costumes, the youthful, liberal, this-girl-does-what-she-wants attitude – I loved it, and they’ve promised another season in 2017. The directors trembled excitedly at each liberal step against the old elite by the new monarchy, culminating in the frenzy of the penultimate episode when Prince Albert publicly showed his support for the abolition of slavery across the British Empire. I wonder if they’ll make such a fuss over an event that’s extremely relevant at the moment: the repeal of the Corn Laws, 1846. Wait, what?

The Corn Laws, tariffs on corn imports that meant that while Tory landowners benefited from high prices, everyday people had to pay those prices. The repeal signalled an end to British isolationism. Yet Tory landowners (suddenly turned prophets) foresaw an age of economic doom. Britain actually experienced The Great Victorian Boom: 30 years of economic success, all down to the move to free trade pushed through parliament by Sir Robert Peel. Well great, why should we care today?

There’s a trend emerging. A growth in support for radical right-wing politicians prophesying the only way to take back control or make their country great again is by cutting ties with foreigners, and abandoning free trade. As in free trade, which Britain hasn’t looked back from in 170 years? Yes, that free trade. In America Donald Trump has gone against it. He completely opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), calling it “a rape of our country”. In 2012 Hilary Clinton said the “TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements”. She helped negotiate the deal. Now, in a bid to win over Trump’s supporters, she has changed her mind. “I oppose it now, I’ll oppose it after the election, and I’ll oppose it as president.” And this trend of hate for free trade has dribbled across The Pond. It’s odd, because companies only selling their products in the domestic market offer far less in wages than those that export their goods. Free trade leads to better paid workers, and still Britain voted to leave the EU, to reject globalisation, and to reject free trade with Europe. But it’s fine! Forget Europe, a huge block of countries willing to partake in free trade right next to us! We have the Commonwealth. We can trade with India (that famously protectionist country). Maybe not. But Canada, they love us. They’d definitely trade with us. (Apart from the minor fact that they’ve spent the last seven years negotiating a free trade deal with the EU and wouldn’t risk that by associating with a recent EU outcast.) Oh but America, that country we created. We made the language; we’re their greatest friends. This is the answer. There is a little hurdle. Some question why the US would consider trading with a little island riddled with political, social, and economic uncertainty when they could trade with the EU. But the US and Britain – we’re buddies right?

Britain’s divided between people who voted on hope and those who voted on facts. Now we all hope that Brexit will benefit Britain and the economy, but most remainers realise that hope doesn’t pay the bills. Facts do. Financial certainty is needed, but instead Brexiteers are pushing for a hard Brexit because they hope it will work. They hope the economy will succeed. They hope we will rise above the earth on a mountain of pound coins and break into a land of heavenly bliss. Enticing, but I prefer the tried, tested, and proven methods. The pound is steadily dropping. The FTSE 100 is steadily improving, and that’s a bad sign (see my article). I won’t lie, when I heard about the Tesco-Unilever pricing dispute I thought it was beginning. Again I hope I am wrong. I hope that Brexit is the start of a new golden age in Britain. But again, hope doesn’t pay the bills. We’re not only heading towards a rejection of free trade, which has undoubtedly benefitted Britain since the move from protectionism 170 years ago, but a rejection of democracy too. Recently MPs were facing no say over the Brexit negotiations. Instead all would be decided by an elite few, who happen to be in power. Thankfully the British justice system ruled in favour of parliamentary democracy. Yet this elite still claims that the British people voted to leave the EU because of immigration. Funnily enough I don’t remember the ‘state your reasons for your choice’ area on the ballot paper. Most people hope we aren’t heading for an undemocratic Britain, a country of isolationism and protectionists, but then again, hope hasn’t proven too successful so far.

Voting Leave Would Always Send Calais Migrants To Britain, And Everyone Knew It

The Daily Mail has dubbed it ‘Le Stitch-Up’. A very British use of Franglais. Most papers’ front pages this morning reported that Xavier Bertrand (President of the Calais region in France) wants to renegotiate the Le Touquet agreement, which allows British border officials to police migrants wanting asylum in Britain on French soil, and French officials to undertake the same on British soil, thus stopping a surge of illegal immigrants across the shared border. Papers such The Daily Mail and The Telegraph seem aghast at the prospect, which is likely to mean less security in France and thus more illegal immigrant reaching the UK. Yet these very papers wanted their readers to vote to leave the UK. When the result came out, the Mail even congratulated them. “Take A Bow, Britain” they boasted. Now these papers accuse France of scheming against Britain by proposing this migrant asylum plan. But what did they expect? Most people could work out that a vote to leave the EU would result in the Le Touquet agreement falling apart, and that a vote to leave the EU would result in more migrants entering Britain. What’s more the Brexit result didn’t change the widely held perception that Britain will receive more migrants. (At the time I mentioned it in my article ‘Brexit Unpicked’ below). This is not news to Britons, or to politicians, or even to the papers.

Yet incredibly, many people still seem shocked. The Mail correctly pointed out today the proposal to abandon the Le Touquet agreement “contravene[s] EU rules” as if it’s always cared about EU rules. The Home Office agrees, attempting to reassure us that migrants need to register in the first EU country they enter, that this is the “international norm, and we’re going to stick with it”. It’s not though. Le Touquet is an EU agreement, and since we’ve voted to leave the EU, why would these guidelines affect us? Hardly anyone has looked at this migrant crisis from a French perspective. Jean-Claude Delage, the General Secretary of the French National Police Alliance, the union for French police, believes that by the end of September the number of migrants within “The Jungle” migrant camp in Calais will reach 10,000 – all wanting to get to the UK. It is problem both for Calais and for Britain, and it’s one that’s not going away. Why would the French carry on paying for security to keep them in France now the UK’s voted out of Europe – why wouldn’t the French just let them through? Sir Peter Ricketts, former national security adviser to David Cameron and former UK ambassador to France told BBC Radio 4 in February 2016 that if “Britain made a major decision to leave the EU [he thought it] highly likely France would review its position too.” So we’ve known about this “stitch-up” for almost the past seven months. It’s odd then that Britain is apparently in shock with this ‘news’.

This phrase, “stitch-up” implies that Xavier Bertrand’s plan has no positive aspects. Yet for the French it is a viable solution. Like Bertrand, both Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé, the two main candidates for leadership of the largest opposition party in France, Les Républicans, have called for an abandonment of Le Touquet agreement. Britain has rejected alliances with the European Union, which includes France, and so France is proposing to reject an alliance with us. It sounds pretty fair to me. It will almost certainly lead to an increase in the number of migrants travelling from outside the EU to Calais, but once they reach Calais, instead of being stopped by Border police they will simply go on to Dover. As I said, this is a solution for the French. Whether it will be a problem for the people of Dover and Kent is irrelevant to the French who might understandably believe the British can’t vote to leave the EU and then complain when they don’t like the terms of leaving the Union.

Even now British politicians, including some who campaigned to remain in the European Union, are trying to persuade the French that their plan will have terrible consequences. They’re arguing that it will lead to a rise in crime, and that British security services might stop sharing information on matters such as terrorism with the French if they go ahead with the plan. I doubt this will faze the French. If there is an increase in crime, it will affect Britain too, and probably lessen the burden on Calais as well. Similarly French security officials will realise that just as British information aids French homeland security, French information aids British homeland security, meaning that it’s unlikely that the two services will break off all relations.

Britain’s newspapers shouldn’t be writing of this affair as a “stitch-up”. Nor should they claim as the Daily Express does that “[the French] must play their part in dealing with the migrant crisis”. It is Britain that is the country not playing its part in dealing with this crisis, which could turn into a “disaster zone” according to Jean-Claude Delage. Perhaps the only comment papers should be making is that in voting to leave the EU Britain has rendered itself helpless to stop the flow of EU migrants into the UK. Again people must ask, what does “take back control” actually mean? If you want an answer I think Xavier Bertrand is doing a fantastic job of showing us.

Chris Matthews

Russian Paralympic Ban Shows How Little IOC Care

The Rio Olympics has transfixed the world with its showcase of top athletes competing for the ultimate prize of a gold medal. But many forget that it’s already a disaster for the IOC (International Olympic Committee) because there are Russian athletes competing in Rio. After WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Agency) investigation revealed that Russia had set up state-sponsored doping, there were calls for the entire Russian team to be banned from the Olympics. When the IOC decided not to ban them in their entirety, many people, commentators and Olympians alike, pointed out that the IOC was shying away from the decisions that it needed to make as the governing body of a world-renowned sporting event.

But there’s a further twist. On the 7th of August, the entire Russian team was banned from the Paralympics. This decision shows a lot about the IOC’s real ideals and its true nature. The IOC and IPC (International Paralympic Committee) are two organisations that are fundamentally connected. On the 14th June the IPC and IOC signed a Memorandum of Understanding to further entwine the two organisations. IOC President Thomas Bach stated, “The IOC and IPC share the same goal of making the world a better place through sport”. IPC President Sir Philip Craven added that the Memorandum would help to “further strengthen and support the Paralympic Movement”. Neither organisation can claim that they are completely separate from the other.

The decision to ban the entire Russian Olympic team from the 2016 Rio Paralympics is the right decision. The fact that a less wealthy and less publicised event, the Paralympics, has done what the Olympics didn’t do is extremely embarrassing for the IOC. Unlike the IOC, the IPC has put Olympic ideals before money.

However, although radical, the decision will not set a precedent for change. To some extent both the IPC and IOC must have made the decision together as the members of both are so interwoven. The decision to ban all Russians from the Paralympics strongly suggests that in the view of the IOC the Paralympics doesn’t matter. The only full-blown sanctions of Russian athletes are in the less prominent Paralympics. The decision appears to be a cop-out devised so that the IOC can claim to be taking a stance against doping.

Banning the Russian team is going directly against the IOC’s vow to increase the prominence of the Paralympic brand. It seems to me that they are taking advantage of the Paralympics, suggesting just how little they care about the movement. The first Paralympic Games took place in Rome, 1960, and since then the brand has grown to be recognised in many countries. By agreeing in 2001 that each host city must hold the Paralympics as well as the Olympics, the Paralympic brand was being brought further into the public eye. Lord Coe of the 2012 London Olympics organising committee said in 2010 that he wanted “to enshrine from the very outset that the two Games are an integrated whole”, allegedly reflecting the IOC’s current opinion. Yet even though approximately a month ago the IOC and the IPC signed the Memorandum of Understanding, the IOC has already shunned its partners with the joint decision to ban all Russian athletes from the Paralympics.

A governing body must be fair. It must know when to be lenient or merciful, and yet most importantly it must be consistent. The inconsistency in decisions between the Olympics and the Paralympics is worrying. Some people might wonder if the IOC only supports the Paralympics to promote a liberal image and in turn attempt to draw more sponsorship deals into the Olympic brand. In banning the whole Russian team from the Paralympics, when they haven’t done so in the Olympics, it might seem that the IOC has told the world that it’s not ready to shrug off dated opinions regarding disability, or reject corruption in sport.

The differing decisions of the IOC and IPC show the confusion at the heart of the Olympic movement. The IOC is both disregarding the future of that movement as well as the need to make the Paralympics further recognised by the global public. Organisers need to understand that if no kind of change occurs the public will become increasingly disinterested in both the Olympics and the Paralympics. Of course, the people that suffer will be the athletes, especially those who have never doped in their lives, and the Paralympic brand, which will remain under-funded and culturally sidelined.

Chris Matthews

Brexit Unpicked

Introduction

“Take back control”, they shouted. “Of what?” replied everyone else. That said, 51.9% of the British public reckoned they knew what they were taking back control of – that’s why the majority of them voted to leave the EU. It’s confusing that the only reason the Leave Campaign gave was that “losing control costs a fortune”. ‘Take Back Control’ is one of those meaningless phrases that politicians invent, like ‘British Values’, and Theresa May’s “Brexit means Brexit”. So what could it mean? Perhaps take back control of the United Kingdom. Scotland voted 62.0% to remain, which allows the SNP to viably ask for another referendum on Scottish independence. Nicola Sturgeon said herself that a second independence referendum is “highly likely”. Similarly, like Scotland, Northern Ireland voted 55.8% in favour of remaining. This aids Sinn Fein’s want to unite with the Republic of Ireland. The fact that there is an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, promoting trade and prosperity, means that violence in Northern Ireland has been minimal. Yet even though the Republic maintains that the border will remain open, the UK’s want to ‘take back control’ makes it hard to believe this will be possible. Voting Leave certainly hasn’t made the UK any more unified. In fact the French now have no incentive for allowing the British to police migrants in Calais, and could justifiably transfer the migrants to Dover in the coming weeks. Maybe we’re supposed to take back control of ‘Great’ Britain. What makes us uniquely British? Democracy, which 116 other countries have a form of? A monarch, found in 43 other countries? Tea, which per person both the Turkish and the Irish drink more of than the British? Then language? Yet 105 other countries speak English. 93 of those countries use English as a de facto, statutory national, or working language. The phrase ‘Take Back Control’ is one crafted from the political mist for propaganda uses only, and one that on an even brief inspection is shown to have minimal substance. I don’t believe that the British public understood what it is they were supposed to take back control of. The decision will affect the life of every British person. It will most probably affect the lives of many other Europeans as well. People will still survive, but we won’t be as well off or as financially stable as we could’ve been.

The vote to leave the EU has caused huge uncertainty. Uncertainty is one of the largest threats a civilisation can face. There are three keystones of civil life: the economy, politics, and society. Any form of uncertainty is a problem for a country’s welfare. Any kind of uncertainty results in less investment, and an unstable country. It is in this way that uncertainty is a danger to any kind of civilisation.

Economic uncertainty

Voting to leave the EU has created a massive amount of economic uncertainty for Britain. “We have the 5th largest economy in the world”, the leavers scoffed. Not anymore. With the fall of the pound to a 31-year low after we voted leave, the British economy dropped to be the 6th largest in the world. That’s an economic failure. France is now 5th.

Britain’s credit outlook has also changed from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’, and on top of this, the government has stated that it will take years to actually leave the EU, with the estimate being 2019. These reasons might seem to be insignificant changes that won’t really affect the country. Yet what kind of investor would put their money into a country with such economic uncertainty? People like safe bets. They like to be able to predict what will happen, especially if their own money is involved. No one will invest in an economically uncertain Britain when they could easily invest in an economically stable country inside the EU, such as Germany. The Chancellor Phillip Hammond said after the G20 meeting in China, “The reality is there will be a measure of uncertainty continuing right up to the conclusion of our negotiations with the EU”.

Not only is Britain’s economic climate uncertain, but the economy is slowing down as well. In the second quarter 66 companies registered in the UK released profit warnings, which for that period is the highest number since the credit crunch of 2008.The IMF’s World Economic Outlook has cut the UK’s growth forecast for 2017 from 2.2% to 1.3%, and 2016’s forecast from 1.9% to 1.7%. It further stated that of all advanced economies the UK would suffer the most. Moreover, whereas before the vote the IMF predicted a promising growth in the global economy, the global growth forecast for 2017 has now been cut by 0.1%.

Another effect of this economic slowdown will be a decrease in immigration, which in turn will further put a dampener on the British economy. EU immigrants are net contributors to the UK economy. The average British person is more poorly educated and more likely to claim benefits than the average EU migrant too, showing that immigrants are extremely important to Britain and its economy.

Leave campaigners cited the growth of the FTSE 100 in the financial turmoil after the vote as a reason to show that Brexit was beneficial to the UK’s economy. After all, the FTSE 100 is up 3.7% since the referendum. However, the increase of the FTSE 100 showed the exact opposite. As most companies involved in it are based outside of Europe and the UK, they are better off when the UK’s economy is worse. In turn, the FTSE 250, which is more representative of the UK’s economy is still down 5% since the 23rd of June. The vote to leave the EU has undoubtedly damaged the UK’s economy, and the uncertainty in the markets will cause a plummet in foreign investments as well as make a less financially secure British economy.

Political uncertainty

Our political system is in shreds. Although Theresa May has taken over as the new leader of the Conservatives, their party is still split. Labour is similarly fragmented, with many members wanting a new leader. Moreover, Britain has failed to retain working parliamentary democracy. We elect politicians to make key decisions for us, to represent us, and take responsibility for us. It’s the same as any club. We give away the power over ourselves, and they take the responsibility for us. It’s a simple trade. Uncanny how similar it is to the EU. We pay a fee to be in the club, and reap the rewards. Not many people realise that Britain’s parliamentary democracy is in pieces. There have been calls for a second referendum. Over 4 million British people have signed a petition calling for one. The real reason why there can’t be another one, even if we want one, is that there was no agreement to hold another referendum even if the outcome was extremely close in the terms of the original referendum. However, many people think that there should be no second referendum because, as one reader wrote in an online Guardian discussion, the decision “was democratically arrived at”. This is a delicate point. What is democracy? If you look at its Greek origin, it is ‘the people’s rule’. This is democracy in its purest, and yet base form. This is total democracy. If total democracy ruled a country, then for each law to be passed there would need to be a referendum. Of course this is ludicrous. Logistically it is near impossible to hold a referendum on every single law, and most people don’t want to vote on every single law. That’s why we don’t live in a total democracy. We live in a variation of that pure version of democracy. Our democracy is a parliamentary democracy. We choose representatives at every election who we believe know best. We believe that they are perhaps more intelligent than us, and that they should delve into every law to help to make life-changing decisions in our best interests. In this light it is fair to say that a referendum is a failure in what we call democracy. The referendum is concluded, yet still it represents the huge political uncertainty in Britain. In the days after the vote, Steven Erlanger of the International New York Times asked “Will [Britain] retreat to become a Little England, nationalist and a touch xenophobic, responding to the voters that drove it to quit the European Union?” The new Prime Minister will hopefully quash those fears of the outside world, but even with Theresa May in power the country is split down the middle. The real question, one that no one knows the answer to, is whether in the next election those who voted remain will back the Tories as May was a Remainer, or will they turn elsewhere in a vote against the Party that called a referendum in the first place?

Social uncertainty

British society has been split down the middle. The vote was 51.9% to 48.1% in favour of leaving (a majority of only 1,269,501 people). The EU referendum has clarified the generational gap in Britain, but it hasn’t created it. As one 21 year old graduate wrote on twitter, “Baby boomers screwing the younger generations over YET again.” 73% of 18-24 year old voted to remain; 68% of 65+ year old voted to leave. On average, those who are 65+ have 15 years left to live with their decision. In comparison, 18-24 year olds have 65 years to live with it. Some people have argued since that the voting age should have been lower, and even that there should’ve been an upper limit age cap on voters. Many countries are inundated with the debts and problems created by past generations. What the referendum has done is show just how large the division is. In addition the referendum has shown the North-South divide in Britain. The top five areas with the highest percentage of people voting leave were all in the Midlands or the North, and away from the London and the South, the two areas that have seen the most economic growth in the past decade, as well as received a higher number of immigrants, who as the mayor of London Sadiq Khan said “make a huge contribution to our city”. Yet most importantly, the referendum has illuminated Britain’s class divide. People who are generally less academically strong, and rely on primary and secondary industry jobs voted to leave and this was largely a vote against globalisation. As Nicholas Barrett wrote in the FT, “millions… felt disempowered by the seemingly uncontrollable winds of globalisation and mass mobility.” Of course, they wouldn’t see their vote as such. Their reasons for voting leave are personal. Their cities are still run-down, and their wages pushed down by the lure of cheap labour in the form of EU migrants, and yet the government in London and the media that surrounds them have persisted that the economy is growing and that globalisation benefits the country. A vote to leave was anti-establishment, but it was more a blind bid for something new. People have looked at the problems in their life, accepted the hard-line view of parties such as UKIP, and blamed the EU and immigration. They feel that this system isn’t working, so they might as well try a new one. It’s the same as a game of football – you’re 75 minutes in, 1-0 down, so you throw on a 17 year old to add something new to the mix. However, many people don’t realise that whilst life inside the EU does have problems, life outside it has many more. Britain must re-write most of its laws. It must deal with 3 years of political uncertainty, and thus lower foreign investment, before we actually leave the EU.

Conclusion

The UK has voted for Brexit, and to ‘take back control’, but nobody has a clue what those two statements mean. Although Theresa May told the public, “Brexit means Brexit”, it is still unclear what sort of Brexit deal will actually transpire. The Prime Minister needs a deal in which she can claim to control migration whilst obtaining as much access as possible to the European markets. Of course, to gain access European politicians would force the UK to surrender its control of migration. It is now a month since the referendum and there is no feeling in Britain of a land of returned ‘control’. The EU referendum has clarified latent divides in Britain. There is a gender gap, a class divide, a North-South divide, and there is a generational rift. Brexit has not only shown up these divides, but has flung Britain into uncertainty. This uncertainty has already damaged the UK’s economy, and will undeniably continue to do so. People will live, but not as comfortably as they have been in the past years. It is clear that the vote to leave the EU has left Britain economically, politically, and socially weak.

Chris Matthews

Thanks to Trip Magazine, who also published my article on their site: click here

Have a Look at my Poetry

This site isn’t only about current affairs. I also love to write poems, so please do check out my poems as well, either by clicking ‘POETRY’ on the menu above, or by following the link here: Poetry.

This year has been an especially interesting one so far, with two of my poems winning awards and a further two being published by United Press.

Thanks!