• Staying silent on Brexit

    Terrace backstreet in England with no-one around
    (Photo by Ethan Wilkinson)

    “In the Nazi era they flew the red swastika flag – but only when it became too dangerous not to.”

    This is a quote from Rowan Rheingans – interviewed in Songlines about her excellent debut solo album The Lines We Draw Together (see my Top of the World review of the album in My Latest Work), based on her stage show, Dispatches On The Red Dress

    She is talking about her German grandparents. It’s a revealing little line that rang a bell for me. We again live in turbulent times. Many people in the current Brexit debate in the UK are keen to compare their adversaries with the Nazis of 1930s Germany. 

    While the N-word is unhelpful, the atmosphere of the times has been personally revealing for me. On more than one occasion since Brexit, when confronted with close neighbours, members of my community, espousing pro-Brexit and anti-EU opinions, I’ve remained silent. 

    What price my freedom?

    I have become aware of how uncomfortable it is to contradict a prevailing view. Living in Herefordshire, where Brexit swept the boards, I felt compelled, by my own cowardice, to avoid saying I disagreed with them.

    The prospect of being ostracised in your own community, rejected by your own neighbours, cuts deep. Silently going along with their statements allows you to carry on being accepted. How far does that go?

    You may scoff

    Brexiteers aren’t Nazis, I hear you splutter. They don’t carry a threat of violence. That’s certainly true of the Brexiteers I’ve listened to. But it’s one thing to be a loud and proud Remainer from the safety of inner London.

    Out here the LEAVE billboards have only just about come down in the fields and on the side of pubs. I never saw a Remain poster in the entire referendum campaign.

    Oi, mate! Come over here and say that…

    And now I’ve mentioned the B-word, fancy some Brexit and Morality?

  • Rural voters rule ok

    Voting day signage for US mid-term elections
    Here comes the rural vote (Photo by Element5 Digital)

    Here’s the received wisdom: rural voters are the neglected, the ignored, the forgotten — but in Western democracies, they are fast becoming the kingmakers.

    How did this happen?

    It seems counterintuitive. Power resides at the centre. Kings, queens, presidents and press barons — they are urban, as are most people in post-industrial states.

    Yet, even as the Democrats take the suburbs in the US mid-term elections — for ‘suburbs’ read ‘urban middle class’ — Republican gains in rural states cement their grip on the Senate.

    It highlights a US electoral system with built-in rural bias. Democrats won the popular vote in six of the last seven US elections — yet two of those times a Republican took office.

    In 1790, when the Senate was conceived, 95% of Americans were rural. Today, around 19% are, yet the Senate was conceived to offer equal representation to all states. The result? A rural vote is now worth much more than an urban one.

    Get off my land

    The British Brexit referendum also saw a stark split between urban and rural voting. London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Bristol, Cardiff — diverse cities all voting strongly for Remain in an election that saw countryside and small town Britain vote 55% in favour of leaving the EU.

    Country people are quick to complain of the too-powerful cities and their liberal elites. Yet recent trends suggest that in fact, the rural vote is dictating the political and perhaps cultural direction to the cities.

    Try explaining that to the urban elites in emerging economies.