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Sun 12 July 2020
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James Melville on how Boris Johnson’s ‘Northern Strategy’ continues a 30-year-long deflection game designed to get us to vote against our best interests.

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It took just a matter of hours for Project Blame to kick in.

Just one day after Britain formally left the European Union, the Sunday Telegraph criticised the EU for “reneging on the deal”, while pompously stating that Europeans have to learn to respect Britain’s new-found sovereignty. It is already conveniently forgetting that all the EU is doing is adhering to the terms of the withdrawal agreement and political declaration and yet it and the Government are claiming that the EU is somehow reneging on the deal. 

And so begins the next phase of a never-ending story of the UK Government and its Brexit-supporting media blaming the EU for their own faults. To paraphrase a quote made famous by Nazi chief propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels: they appear to be accusing the other side of that which they are guilty.

The EU didn’t cut public services or cause wage decline. It didn’t cause an NHS crisis, cut the police force, neglect industrial communities or slash school budgets. The EU didn’t cut disability allowances, neglect transport infrastructures, cause the housing crisis or put 14 million people in the UK into poverty. And yet, many appear to be quite willing to blame the EU for Britain’s decline rather than blaming the real source of blame: the UK Government.


Thatcher and the Decimation of Industry

Many Leave voters feel forgotten, disenfranchised and alienated and they are right to. Many communities across the country have seen their infrastructure, industries and public services decline for 40 years. According to the EU, Britain now has seven of the 10 poorest areas in northern Europe. 

A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) analysed the fortunes of 74 UK cities with populations of more than 100,000, developing an index of relative decline based on changes in employment rates, levels of highly-qualified workers, the number and type of full-time jobs, net migration rates and population change. The analysis found that 10 of the top 12 most declining UK cities are in the north of England. This is unacceptable. But many voters have been tricked into thinking that by leaving the EU, somehow they will reclaim lost control.

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The hollowing out of Britain’s historic industrial communities by the Conservatives in the 1980s helped sow the seeds of Brexit. It led to a huge fire-sale of British industry that wasn’t fully replaced by new industries. This created huge regional inequality and many of our communities have never recovered. Our industrial heartlands were decimated. Towns became rust belts.

As the Guardian reported today, in the past 40 years, the UK’s manufacturing sector has shrunk by two-thirds – the greatest de-industrialisation of any major nation.


Austerity and the Credit Crunch

Fast forward 20 years to the financial crisis of 2008-2009. No doctor in Wakefield or nurse from Grimsby or care worker in Sunderland caused the global credit crunch, but they were the ones who ultimately paid the price for the gluttony of our financial services industry, which instead received more than £1.2 trillion in bail-outs and quantitative easing programmes.

To pay for this, public services and welfare benefits were repeatedly cut by a decade of austerity. A handout to a bank was called an ‘incentive’, but an incentive to the poor was called a ‘handout’. Meanwhile, as all of this was going on, our tabloids were constantly screaming that the EU was a threat.

For four decades, millions of people across the country have seen a decline in their social and industrial landscape. But to blame a foreign institution for all of this when that same institution that has pumped more than £1 billion of regional development funding into the north-east of England between 2007-2020, while the local authorities in the north-east were having their central government budgets cut by 50% over the same time frame seems like a misplaced source of recrimination.

In the past 40 years, the UK’s manufacturing sector has shrunk by two-thirds, the greatest de-industrialisation of any major nation.

The UK’s difficulties in unlocking its economic potential lie at home: awful productivity and supply-side issues including poor skill levels among a large portion of the workforce. The slowdown in Britain’s productivity growth over the past decade is the worst since the start of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago. There has been a woeful neglect of an industrial strategy throughout the whole of the UK, inadequate spending on infrastructure and housing, and the centralisation of political and commercial power in London.

Only two British regions – London and the south-east of England – are wealthier than the EU-15 average, and most of the poorer British regions have lost ground.


The Northern Strategy

Those responsible for the economic and social problems of the north are wriggling off the hook by perpetuating the myth that the EU is to blame. It is psychological projection and a trick that has now become so successful that many of the areas hardest hit by successive Tory Governments have just voted for them to “get Brexit done”.

Brexit is part of a 30-year-long deflection game designed to make us to vote against our best interests, and for the best interests of those who designed Brexit for us. Millions of people think that because of foreign incomers or interference, they and their country have lost control. But Brussels isn’t to blame. The Romanians aren’t to blame. Donald Tusk isn’t to blame. The Muslims aren’t to blame. Remainers aren’t to blame.

Those who voted for Brexit may well have had good reason, such as concerns over the NHS, crime, employment, pay levels, housing or education – but concerns over these issues are not the fault of the EU. It is the fault of government and now Britain’s political system is being taken apart by the very rich and powerful against the best interests of the vast majority of UK citizens.

And so we are where we are, in the foothills of a brave new world and already the EU is getting blamed. Boris Johnson stated in his post-Brexit way forward speech that “I am here to warn you that free trade is being choked”. He conveniently forgets that he has just taken his country out of the biggest and most successful free trade zone in the history of the planet.

But to him, as the poster boy of deflection, it’s just an another example of accusing the other side of the things for which he is responsible. It’s a never-ending entrapment in the cycle of Project Blame.


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