There are fires and there are fires. There are limp summer barbeque fires, more wisps than roars, singeing the edges of paper before fading disappointingly into embers. There are mighty wildfires, broad, destructive and all encompassing. And then there's the incandescent rage that a lot of us have been in since about 7am on Friday morning when we woke up to the collapsed game of political Ker-Plunk that we're currently stuck in.
The argument that I keep hearing from voxpops of Brexiters for the smouldering ruin of good sense that we're currently plummeting to the depths of has been "I did it for young people, to secure their future." This is the biggest load of bile I've been unfortunate enough to hear throughout this campaign and my ears have been cemented hourly with the stuff from both of the sides since the referendum campaigns officially kicked off. So, from the mouths of babes, here's my view on why that is totally and utterly farcical.
This referendum has been a disaster for the English language whose keeping has been left in the hands of politicians who I would no more trust to come back with the right change from the bar as to handle delicate socio-economic predictions. Every word of every promise has been stretched, changed, subverted and moulded as to be unrecognisable from its current definitions. Ian Duncan Smith, Daniel Hannan and the rest of the prominent Leavers have spent days now wriggling and squirming away from their concrete promises on £350 million pounds more for the NHS, on immigration control, as if a promise was anything other than a binding statement of intent.
These figures and claims were not, as Ian Duncan Smith claimed, an "extrapolation". An extrapolation is an estimate or conclusion built on continuing trends. By definition, this was an entire shift change for the whole economy so all current trends would be naturally disrupted. Secondly, to campaign on a mere extrapolation that was based on these existing trends, one would have to point out "Oh, but this is a guess based on everything else staying the same. Which it won't. Of course, it'll be a monumental success. Do you have a minute to look at how well Universal Credit is going?" That's not what was said in debates, on television, in radio interviews, printed in newspapers, circulated on social media or delivered to the markets. Yet these were the figures the press, the media and politicians used in their judge's summing up prior to their trip to the polls. Here's an idea, when you are merely guessing and want to fairly reflect that your prediction is a guess, an estimate, a finger in the air - don't regurgitate it as fact, repeat it as often as your inward and outward breaths, don't share it as gospel. Do not have it printed on a sodding bus.
A lot of the questions about benefiting the young could actually be answered by simply putting the EU question into other contexts and removing all mention of the word EU, which seemed to set off an emotional chain reaction of spluttering and fury. They might look something like this.
Does it benefit young people to be able to live and work in 27 other countries as opposed to erecting boundaries such as immigration rules, visa requirements? Yes, obviously. There are over 2.2 million Britons employed overseas for whom we are responsible. The possibility of vacating the EEA ends our tenure as a beneficiary of freedom of movement. Suddenly our candidates require extra paperwork, sponsorship, time restrictions due to bureaucratic processes. Employers in cities like Dusseldorf, an engineering hub, looking at two similar candidates from within and without of the economic area will have reason to place extra scrutiny on our candidates given the potential extra hoops they will have to jump through in order to secure them. No politician can give guarantees that we will not be subject to employment rules governing visas and potentially employer sponsorship. Even subliminally, to say that that will have no effect on the way applications from British candidates are viewed is overly optimistic.
This will especially hit young people who are seeking to make a career in science and engineering where the current status quo means that our candidates can take advantage of facilities abroad that as a nation, we are failing to fund properly or to host due to our catastrophic treatment of science, space and technological funding in previous budgets. It's no surprise that the majority of research-led, leading universities came out firmly in favour of Remain, citing the disastrous effect on recruitment of staff, availability of attractive lecturers from overseas alongside the horrendous loss in their own funding of Brexit. In a time of zero-hours contracts and a lack of graduate level jobs, there is just a further example of the failure of the older generations to adequately feel the pressure on young people to look further afield to acquire gainful, meaningful employment.
We've seen the repeated kicking and beating of young people, directed right into their right to a higher education for some years now from both Labour and Tory governments. Higher fees, cutting grants, squeezing the working class out. So the question we can ask is do students benefit from wider access to universities and cheaper fees? Again, a no brainer. The benefits of EU membership have given grace to providing a more varied, cheaper, employability focused alternative to students that will now be taken away from them.
Currently, as EU/EEA students, young people are able to apply to universities across the entire EU while making the most of paying the same subsidised tuition fees as home students. Universities like the University of Leiden in the Netherlands charge around €1906 per year for tuition as opposed to £9,000 at home, a substantial saving. The courses are taught in English at a number of universities across the continent and students get the benefit of living away, expanding their horizons and seeing new parts of the world.
Even as a home student studying in a UK university, the EU also pays for the Erasmus programme which allows students to spend up to a year as an exchange student in an EU university. Not only is this an excellent boon to a student's CV in these competitive times, its particularly valuable to working class students for whom extensive travel for study is not financially viable. The Erasmus programme affords young people the opportunity to make friends and experience different teaching as part of their usual university experience, at no extra cost than their home fees. As of the weekend, Erasmus affirmed that is not clear whether this will be an ongoing privilege for UK students. Certainly it may not be economically viable, given the almost certain withdrawal of EU funding for UK education programmes.
As these depressing answers pile up, let's address the question of democracy. Throughout the referendum, there were a multitude of slurs thrown at the EU that it was undemocratic, that the Commission proposed legislation we were all held by - mostly from politicians that couldn't give us a good explanation about how the EU even actually worked and overlooking the amendment process that legislation goes through in the European Parliament. Most people, in fact, didn't seem to know how the EU worked yet felt entirely able to reject it. "I don't know what it is, but I don't like it. It's looking at me funny, trying to subsidise Jobs Growth Wales. Grrr."
Overlooking entirely that the Commission, since the Lisbon Treaty, is far more beholden to the elected European Parliament and even ignoring that we had British representation on the Commission representing our interests, let's ask the question "Is it fair to impose rules, trade directives, social directives on young people that we used to be able to vote on and amend as a nation, via elected representatives, but for which we have now given up our seat at the table - despite still having to adhere to all of them in order to protect trade and investment." It's like having a meeting about deciding where to go on holiday as a group except one person decides to go outside where they start singing songs from yesteryear with their fingers in their ears, only to come back in and find out they're off to wherever everyone else wanted to go. And seeing as no one liked them deliberately disrupting the proceedings, they're now sitting in the back with Auntie Deirdre who smells of cat wee. Happy days.
Do you believe that the government will make up lost funding to the historically deprived regions subsidised by EU handouts, protect the rights of the vulnerable without an external figure? Have. You. Met. The. Tories. These ragtag bands of Old Etonian sadists have gotten every economic prediction incorrect for six years. They plunged us into recession after their failed austerity experiment. Ian Duncan Smiths' Atos and fitness to work tests have been implicated in the deaths of thousands of disabled people on benefits without any significant saving to the country and without incentivising or facilitating people back into work. This is while restricting young people's right to claim social housing or benefits, cutting education allowances for poor students and failing to invest in areas outside of London culminating in a society where the average resident in the North-East receives 24 times less money for infrastructure than a London resident, according to the IPPR. All whilst propping up a housing bubble that prevents young people from getting a home at all - not the odious "starter" home, not an investment/gamble/risk, but a home for what a house provides for ordinary people - a shelter, a safe place, security. A government of people who are so privileged that the term "affordable housing" encompasses properties worth almost a half of a million pounds. That's so far out of the average family's grasp, I don't know who would even stretch their neck to look at the vast expanse between what they want and what they can afford. I'll just look downwards at my rented bin and think about convincing my landlord to let me paint the lid.
Our presence in the EU has meant that it is lucrative to come here, to open companies and to headquarter here. How many young people's jobs will be disrupted as corporations chase the subsidies and tax benefits which are benefits of remaining inside EEA territory? How many young people in deprived areas like South Wales will lose out from the apprenticeships and jobs provided via the £25 million pounds of funding given to projects like Jobs Growth Wales, which - unlike Ian Duncan Smith's welfare projects and unregulated, unfair, unpaid internships - guarantees a minimum of six months' work and experience at a proper wage. There's the answer to immigration that the Leave campaigners want! We will just ensure that they don't want to come here in the first place by haemorrhaging jobs at their doorsteps within the EU! They hadn't taken our jobs, turns out we had merely been holding onto their jobs this entire time.
The fostering of Tory austerity politics didn't just break down our economy into what was and wasn't financial viable, it broke our communities down into an outsider's privileged view of what the poor could afford to live without. Goodbye libraries, to learn when you couldn't afford books. Goodbye community centres, respite for disabled carers, subsidies for the arts to show young people culture and to foster learning for young people for whom the creative subjects, much maligned by Tory governments, are where their talents and skills lie. Creative and artistic skills that, unlike pen pushers and bureaucratic dictators of Whitehall, cannot be simply replaced with a computer programme in ten years.
People went into this referendum hyped up on the lies and vague epithets of British values trumpeted by the Leave campaign, spoiling for a fight. Kick the EU! What has the EU ever done for me! It seems like the British public swung their fist at Brussels when the hurt to them had been inflicted by Westminster, again and again. My community is deprived! It's the EU's fault! Even though we were the fifth largest economy in the world with a democratically elected House of Parliament which could have directed money at local authorities to spend on services, education, the NHS at any time. On the one hand, complaining that Westminster broke our ankles and left us socially immobile before kicking the EU nurse when they brought painkillers in the form of desperately needed handouts for deprived areas. Snarling viciously that the EU was undemocratic, that it was meddling in our affairs without a democratic mandate and on the other, complaining that it didn't meddle enough because how could we have ended up in this state of affairs without being so overlooked?
Sooner or later, once the dust has settled and the extent of the mess left by the earthquake is revealed, the responsibility will fall on us to concede it wasn't Spanish nurses and Polish baristas, it wasn't Brussels diplomats and it wasn't a political union of member states that rendered our country unrecognisable for young people. It was a bloated right wing media that cast aspersions on members of the community with foreign names and told you to be uncomfortable when someone in a headscarf spoke a foreign language on the bus, even when that language turned out to be Welsh. It was proto-Establishment demagogues with everything playing to insidious populism that made us jealous of the little we had being taken, demagogues who made promises that couldn't be filled. Certainly, it was Establishment governments that decried, derailed and diverted funding from planning for school places, care in the community, the NHS, ensuring that an economy of low paid, insecure jobs favoured their fat cat corporate friends. These untouchable business barons in turn piled money into the bloated right wing media and demagogues to convince us that really, the socio-political union who had recently proposed new powers on tax evasion was the enemy of social mobility.
Now you can tell me you voted on any of those issues and I'll tell you it was your right to choose the box that you did. But don't, not now or in a million years, tell me you did it for me. Don't tell me you did it for other young people like me when young people voted at a significant 75% to Remain. You didn't ask me. You didn't ask us. You voted on the idea of a Britain that either ceased to exist or never existed, a Britain that tries to turn its back on the world because it doesn't want the hard work of reforming the peaceful union it was instrumental in building. You voted to devalue the contribution of other cultures and nations in forming the Britain of tomorrow, to ungratefully single out EU citizens without whom our public services grind to a halt. That isn't idealism. That isn't building a better nation. It's no different than building a wall to the outside world, one that we can't even build high because we have to reach over it in order to do anything.
This wasn't for young people. And if anything comes out of this, I hope young people do not forget it.
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