Dinner party liberals are appalled that I’m in bed with Galloway, Farage and white-van racists. They need to get out more
My husband has a new party game. When friends come round, he solicits their views on the EU referendum. Naturally being bien pensant London liberals, they express horror about the ghastly prospect of Brexit, and the even ghastlier Little England swivel-eyed, provincial, tattooed, white-van racists who support it. Then my husband turns to me with a wink: “And so, Janice, what do you think?”
It’s lonely being a left-wing Brexiteer. It’s like declaring at dinner in Le Gavroche that you hate bloody foreign food. I might retreat to a nunnery until July. Anything to avoid middle class high-horsing about threats to prosperity, human rights and national security, when really they mean threats to my second home in Puglia, to my Czech nanny (who, unlike a British girl, will also clean the house) and of reimposed duty-free limits on Bordeaux. David Cameron dog-whistled these folk this week when he warned of an end to budget flights. First they came for our mini-breaks . . .
What is this sudden passion for the EU? It is like football fans crying, “I love Fifa”. Such affection for a gargantuan, unaccountable, self-serving bureaucracy, synonymous with progressive, internationalist, bigger-together unity, yet as capable of taxing Google or stopping Russia annexing Ukraine as Nick Clegg in a Benetton sweater.
For my Europhile friends, the current arrangement is all win. I often wish the English working class had an exotic restaurant cuisine or made handicrafts which looked fetching against Farrow & Ball walls. Maybe then the middle class would find them charming, rather than the only group it dares treat as Untermensch. A Labour-voting Mr Fairtrade Coffee Bean jokes to me about shipping his Polish builders up to revamp his country residence because local tradesmen are more expensive and lazy. Some commentators dream of amputating the inconvenient Ukip-voting north or visit seaside backwaters to mock poorer compatriots for their weight and dress-sense. Companies don’t want to train these people: cheaper to buy some energetic graduate Poles. Why don’t they hurry up and die out.
Left social liberals and right neo-liberals alike see themselves as global citizens, cruising smoothly above crude national boundaries, with no more fealty to a Croydon builder than the bloke from Bucharest who undercut him. The former because it would be “racist” to care, the latter because they love cheap labour. But freedom of movement — which, let’s not kid ourselves, is the throbbing heart of the EU issue — doesn’t benefit everyone equally. If, for example, Romanian citizens who earn four or five times less than British workers are allowed unfettered access to our jobs market, people lose out. But who cares: they’re already poor.
In Ben Judah’s startling book This Is London, he describes the British builders who once earned £15 an hour but, after waves of migration, are down to £7. He notes the minimum wage is a fiction when Romanian labourers stand outside Wickes in Barking at 6am beating each other down to get a day’s work, just like dockers in the pre-unionised 1930s.
In broken northern industrial towns, companies such as Next, Sports Direct and Amazon, not content with an already cheap local workforce, prefer to recruit migrants via employment agencies because they have fewer rights. They, along with Lincolnshire’s agricultural towns, will vote overwhelmingly to leave the EU, and not because they are stupid. A 2015 Bank of England study showed net migration has driven down pay for the lowest paid. Across the economy, although employment is high, wages have stagnated because the pool of labour is almost infinite.
Moreover these voters have experienced huge and rapid changes in their streets and GP surgeries and their kids’ schools. These are not global but rooted citizens. Their identity, once attached to a job — being a miner, a steelworker — is now defined only by place. Islington lawyers and Shoreditch dotcom millionaires will not, like the people of Hexthorpe, in my home town of Doncaster, have 500 Slovak Roma move into their village in the space of months, bringing every kind of social problem from fly-tipping to knife fights. The well-off transcend community so care nothing for cohesion. They remain untouched by culture clash, overcrowding or fights for limited resources. Yet they condemn those affected — if they dare to complain — as bigots.
And it would aid the Europhiles’ case if they declared how Britain is supposed to plan for limitless migration. Alarm about our rapid population growth is always wafted away as Malthusian angst or — once again — racism. But we will need 880,000 more school places by 2023, 113,000 in London alone. As for housing, the ONS reckons we need an extra 68,000 homes a year just to accommodate net migration assumptions. Is that okay? How will Europhiles tackle this? And can we at least discuss — honestly for once — if this is the society we want.
Only two things make me hesitate from voting Out. The “Britain will turn into a neo-liberal hellhole” argument that the EU is the last bastion of workers’ rights. Not that it helps those on zero-hours contracts now, nor did it stop the troika asset-stripping Greece. At least the Tories are our neo-liberals: we can — if we had an opposition — vote them out.
Then there are my fellow Brexiteers. What a horror show! George Galloway and Nigel Farage shaking hands like the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Head-bangers Priti Patel and Chris Grayling. Slippery Boris. While the In camp has . . . Emma Thompson. But I can’t be the only leftie for Out. Join me. Brazen the dinner party rows. Let’s make a badge.