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Wales may now back Remain but our politicians aren’t solving the problems that caused Brexit

08 Nov 2018 4 minute read
The front page of the Western Mail

Ifan Morgan Jones

‘All Welsh constituencies now back People’s Vote’ declared the front page of the Western Mail this morning.

A huge YouGov study that polled almost 26,000 projects that voters in every constituency in Wales now support a second vote.

It didn’t require much of a swing to change Wales from majority pro-Leave to pro-Remain. The vote for Brexit was always a marginal one.

Many I know voted Leave while expecting Remain to win. Wales was never entirely behind Brexit.

But that doesn’t mean Wales is entirely behind Remain now. And politicians need to be careful not to assume that people have ‘seen sense’ and are happy to return to the status quo.

Brexit in Britain (and Trump in America) was to politics what the 2008 crash was to finance – a big red warning sign that we were on the wrong path and needed to change.

But just as the word of finance has returned to its reckless ways after the crash, with the stock market reinflating at a potentially cataclysmic speed, there is a danger that we too ignore the lessons of Brexit.

It’s clear that there is a deep dissatisfaction with life in Wales, just as much as in other parts of the UK. Brexit just provided an outlet for it.

It’s easy for Brexit’s enemies to dismiss those who voted Leave as anti-immigration xenophobes.

Many of those who voted Brexit said themselves that they did so to stop immigration.

But immigration wasn’t actually the malaise, it’s just that stopping immigration was offered as a solution to it.

The hard right took advantage of people’s dissatisfaction by telling them that their problems were caused by immigration.

But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have genuine problems that needed solving.

People weren’t happy, and they remain unhappy. Many of Wales’ post-industrial communities are poverty-ridden. Worst of all, there’s no obvious escape route for those trapped in them.

The dominant ideology of our age tells us that we live in a meritocracy, and that if we work hard we will succeed. But for many people at the bottom of the heap, that’s a con.

The truth is that if you’re born privileged you tend to succeed. If you’re born into poverty you tend to stay there. We live in one of the most unequal nation-states on earth, and the gap is growing.

The antidote to people’s despair is to give them avenues by which to improve their lives. This isn’t just scratching a living, making ends meet, but the belief that if they work hard their lives will get better.

What people don’t want is handouts. That’s why telling people how much the EU had given Wales didn’t make any difference.

Someone living in a council house on a zero-hour contract isn’t going to care about EU funding on Porthcawl Marina, restoring Llanelli House or a new university campus.

No, Brexit won’t improve things for those who voted Leave. They were sold a lie. But to blame them for taking a gamble on improving their lot, when they were not being offered any hope by anyone else, is cruel.

Even if we do get a People’s Vote and stop Brexit, politicians can’t continue to act as if everything is back to normal. A second vote won’t be a time machine. You can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Brexit or not, politicians need to put together a radical new economic programme that works in the best interests of the people of Wales.

Part of that – in my opinion – means Wales taking hold of the economic levers and investing in developing our own economy.

Because the British establishment isn’t going to do it, as they have demonstrated numerous times over the last few years by pumping capital spending into London and the south-east while cancelling projects that would develop Wales’ economy.

We need to do something different. Because as in the financial sector, if we don’t learn our lessons, another damaging crash is just around the corner.

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