"In 2016, shortly before the EU referendum, Yanis Varoufakis warned that the UK was destined for a “Hotel California Brexit”: it could check out but it could never leave. The former Greek finance minister spoke from experience. In 2015, his efforts to end austerity – “fiscal waterboarding” – were thwarted by the EU (a struggle recorded in his memoir Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment).
Theresa May’s draft Brexit deal confirmed Varoufakis’s prophecy: the UK would be condemned to purgatory.
With fortuitous timing, on the evening that May’s agreement was published, Varoufakis delivered an Oxford Union lecture on Europe’s future. [He] wryly remarked that Conservative cabinet ministers praised his analysis in private.
“The UK should never have entered the negotiations,” he told me when we met afterwards. “You do not negotiate with the EU because the EU does not negotiate with you. It sends a bureaucrat, in this case it was Mr Barnier…they could have sent an android, or an algorithm.”
May’s fatal error, Varoufakis said, was to accept a two-phase negotiation: a divorce agreement followed by a new trade deal. “This was a declaration of war because Barnier said: ‘You will give us everything we want: money, people, Ireland. And only then will we discuss what you want.’ Well, that isn’t a negotiation, that’s a travesty. And Theresa May agreed to play along.”
As well as the above short film (with English subtitles) there is this fascinating and insightful study on right-wing strongholds in deprived populations across France and Germany that recently found... "There is a considerable discrepancybetween the issues that people view as the ‘biggest problems’ facing their country (which are immigration and the economy) and the challenges that they face in their everyday lives (precarious working conditions, worries about money and declining social infrastructure). Media and politics at the national level are criticised for not having properly adopted this ‘citizens’ agenda’. This problem also results in a sense of unfairness and disadvantage.
As such, when people in these regions devalue others, especially migrants, they do so as a reaction to their own experiences of devaluation (this follows the ‘logic of comparative devaluation’). Importantly, the interviews demonstrated no intrinsic patterns of xenophobia.
The central narratives employed by the populists are far less prevalent in their strongholds than is generally assumed.
When people are asked to describe political contexts in their own words, issues such as Islamisation, Euroscepticism, sweeping criticism of the media and the emphasis on national identity hardly ever crop up. Instead, more often than not the European Union, for example, tends to be viewed as part of the solution, not the problem.
Nationalist clamouring or demands that include a ‘Germany first!’ approach, are ultimately based on the view that politics sets the wrong priorities and focuses on issues that do not reflect the realities of people’s everyday lives.
However, the interviewees did not necessarily view measures aimed at tackling the refugee crisis, or foreign policy commitments, as fundamentally wrong.
Nevertheless, the interviewees often believed that a focus on immigration and foreign policy tended to result in less investment and fewer policy measures at the local level that would help tackle the tangible challenges that these people face in their everyday lives.
This includes increased economic pressure faced by people on low incomes and the gaps in public services. Finally, many interviewees believe that politics has withdrawn from certain social and geographical areas. Importantly, this feeling has led to a strong sense of abandonment.
Areas now exist which are marked by ‘political abandonment’.
To regain the trust of the people who live in these areas, it will be necessary to establish a local presence, provide recognition and resolve the problems that they face.
This study outlines five relevant fields of action as a means of contributing towards this aim:
solidarity with the resident population is essential if solidarity is to be expressed with newcomers;
infrastructure as a means of promoting equal opportunities;
strengthening structures through the presence of political parties at the local level;
make structural change compatible with society;
and confidence and assertiveness in the face of right-wing populist narratives."
To download the full study from Zentrum click here.
One day near the start of autumn I was watching that uniquely ex-British empire sport of cricket on TV. England were playing India somewhere in the UK and the equally unique face of Rolling Stones front-man Mick Jagger appeared on my screen. He was shown drinking a long glass of sparkling wine, and was mixing with expensively dressed men and women. They were part of the crowd at this match and the TV commentators made sure to refer to him as "Sir Mick."
Apart from the polished hypocrisy of a once rebel and anti-establishment figure like Jagger allowing himself to be 'knighted' by a woman who, by simple birthright has inherited the title of The Queen of England, I was soon to learn of another example of his double-standards. As the (Sky channel) TV commentators were quick to point out, Jagger was offering to donate money to a charity named Chance to Shine. In a sport still hugely dominated at adult level by white men from the wealthiest of private schools, this charity says that it "works to make cricket available to young people in state schools and other communities."
The catch that disturbed me was that Jagger had pledged to hand over between £10,000 and £20,000 but only each time one of the players did his definition of a good performance for their national team. Quite possibly none of them would be able to achieve the specifics of what he was asking for. Alternatively, there was also the possibility of several of them doing well enough for Jagger to give up to about £100,000 or possibly more.
Of course, I'm not against the existence of charities and I fully acknowledge the great work that many do. I have also written about the huge moral and ethical inconsistencies that some charities operate under, as I did nine years ago in an investigative article on The Polaris Project in the USA.
My complaint is that people like Mick Jagger and other noted celebrities, while obviously giving needed funds to organisations working as NGOs, are using the act of donation as little more than an ego trip or some kind of casino-like, grown-up playtime. If Jagger can afford to give say £100,000 to help develop young cricketers then why not just just give it? Instead he turns the whole thing into some kind of measly piece of cheap entertainment for himself and his acquaintances while they sip their costly drinks and nibble on each other's vanity.
Sitting in continental Europe watching my TV in that moment, far from the sporting action, I imagined a group of little British boys and girls being told that financial help with their cricketing passion was not possible because the money had run out. Depending on the vagaries, luck and chance of thirteen men on a field, maybe if one or two of the cricketers had just hit the ball a metre further, their places in the Mick Jagger-sponsored program would have been guaranteed.
In the corporate boxes where Jagger was likely to be, there might have been some back-slapping, congratulating him about what a damn fine fellow he was for being so generous. Instead, I imagined Jagger chatting away to the well-heeled around him, barely watching the game itself, completely indifferent about how many kids his little scheme was going to actually touch. Or not.
[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, November 2018.]
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