Brexit and Trumpism: standing on the shoulders of racism

So we awake this morning to another ‘surprise result’, the election of Donald Trump to the role of President of the United States of America. After the June 2016 referendum and 2015 General Election we in the U.K. should be acutely aware that polls can be wrong. Along with the ‘shy Tories’ who, against the odds, brought a Conservative majority parliament in 2015, and the vote to leave the European Union, we Britons have become acutely aware of the phenomenon of ‘hidden voters’; those who don’t answer polls or lie about their intentions.
However, this article isn’t about polls and how, in a close race, they can be wrong.The topic of this article is the primary reason that the UK voted to leave the EU and why Trump will soon be President of the USA.

And that reason? Racism. Pure and simple.

Both the campaign to leave the EU and Trump’s election speeches led on immigration: “Take back our country” and “Take control of our borders”.


This may be why so many polls were wrong: people were embarrassed to admit to their views. Many claimed they wanted to bring back law-making ability to the UK parliament – though ironically these same people are now planning to march on the Supreme Court, like some heavy-handed lynch-mob, to try to wrest the law-making role of parliament away and give it solely to the unelected executive.

The fact that a significant number of voters had racist intentions is evident by the dramatic rise in racist hate crimes in the U.K. since the referendum. The racists who despised the fact they weren’t allowed to openly harm others suddenly felt vindicated. Cries of “go home” and worse are more commonplace for people of colour and anyone identifying as a Muslim. These are the people who won the referendum, and now they feel that 52% of us are with them, but just too spineless to be honest.
Trump’s openly bigoted and racist assertions about Mexicans and Muslims have uncovered greater hidden racism in the US.

We have moved into dark times. In 2016 the ‘western world’ has become a nasty, illiberal and dangerous place. In June the UK voted against free movement of people and capital; yesterday the US did the same. 

This isn’t due to a ‘resurgent right-wing’ in politics, as I often see claimed. There are many on the ‘left’ who openly (and discreetly) supported Brexit, though they hid their dislike for foreigners behind their protectionism of the indigenous populations: Corbyn was on record for his dislike of open borders and the EU; Gordon Brown, while Prime Minister, campaigned using the slogan “British Jobs for British Workers”. Similarly Trump’s success relied on the votes of the American working class who have seen jobs lost to China and elsewhere. Ironically Trump is actively supporting the same dislike of ‘globalisation’ (read: free-ish markets) as the anti-capitalist protesters who make fools of themselves at G12 summits and on their hilarious “Million Mask March”. Even more ironically is that the protesters wear masks made in China and Trump has his branded clothes made in Mexico.
And this is not a reaction to the rich political class, as many claim: Farage is a career politician; Trump is a billionaire businessman.

These ‘leaders’ are collectivists. They want control of ‘their’ patch of the planet and don’t want others entering that they don’t like. They abhor the free movement of capital and the free movement of people. They abhor liberty.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is here. Did you even notice?

  Between the totalitarian leanings of our rulers, using the threat of terrorism to ramp up surveillance while simultaneously abandoning the rule of law, and the cries for censorship of the individual by the neopuritans, Orwell’s dystopian vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four is in place. We didn’t heed his warnings, and the state used his book as its strategy:

  • the government plans to enact a law that gives it the right to look at all your electronic ‘metadata’, so it can see who you’ve called, your web searches, etc. “If you have nothing to hide them you’ve nothing to fear”: Orwell’s ubiquitous ‘telescreen’ operated by the omniscient Big Brother.
  • the government bombs countries that even its own parliament has denied it the power to, thereby abandoning the rule of law.
  • the government promotes its wars on terror and war on drugs. It aids this by telling us daily, via its press releases and briefings, who we have to hate: currently this is ‘immigrants flooding into the country unchecked, because of the EU’. Orwell predicted perpetual war and the daily two minute hate.
  • the language we use is being controlled, words we use are being banned, even thoughts are being outlawed. If we offend someone with our words on a subscription service we can be reported to the police and prosecuted. Orwell predicted the idea of ‘thoughtcrime’; this is now a fact: people are in prison for writing words on a forum where readers have to actively choose to read them.
  • the government tells us that debt is too high whilst simultaneously increasing debt, that it is fighting for our freedom in the ‘war on terror’ whilst simultaneously reducing our freedom, that we need to save money by reducing wage rises whilst giving itself inflation-busting pay rises. Orwell predicted ‘doublespeak’, where the state can convince the gullible populace of two contradictory views simultaneously.
  • the government uses your worst fears to promote its agenda. You’re not able to afford healthcare or support yourself in your old age? The state can help you there. Afraid of terrorists? The state can help you there. Worried your children will be uneducated? The state can help you there? Unable to choose which vendor is honest? The state can help you there. Whatever your worst fear, the state has its solution. Orwell predicted that the state would use your worst fears against you to promote your compliance. This is your personal Room 101.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is here.

You don’t see that?

2 + 2 = 5 Comrade.

Conflict Time Photography: A Review

I recently attended an exhibition at the Tate Modern called Conflict Time Photography, which I think is worth a visit for any followers of this blog. It is an exhibition of photographs and artefacts from conflict, with a clever twist: they document the period following the conflict under discussion. As such they vary from photographs taken minutes after the atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima, through to 99 years after World War I soldiers were executed in a field by their own compatriots. There are many haunting photographs, though few thankfully are particularly gruesome.

The exhibition is cleverly laid out. It starts in a room called ‘Moments Later’ which features photographs such as the haunting picture of a shell-shocked Marine, taken during the Vietnam war, as shown below. The photographs each feature a caption which explains the context.

Shell Shocked US Marine, The Battle of Hue 1968. © Don McCullin

Shell Shocked US Marine,
The Battle of Hue 1968.
© Don McCullin

As you progress around the exhibition you come further forward in time from the featured conflicts, until you end up in the last room, ’85-100 Years Later’. This room features four photographs taken in 2013 of the execution sites of deserting World War I soldiers.

There are many conflicts covered, including:

  • World War II, including the devastation of Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Normandy defences and the holocaust
  • The war in Lebanon
  • The Congo
  • The first and second Iraq wars
  • Afghanistan
  • Libya
  • Namibia
  • The Cold War, including the partition of Berlin
  • Crimea
  • The American Civil War
  • Armenia
  • The Spanish Civil War
  • Northern Ireland
  • Angola
  • Nicaragua
  • Vietnam
  • Bosnia

The exhibition documents the aftermath of the worst of human atrocities against fellow humans, from the use of indiscriminate bombing of civilians (Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Aqa Ali-Khuja, etc.) through to targeted genocide in Bosnia.

This video here narrated by Dan Snow gives a brief tour of the exhibition, which is on until March 15th at the Tate Modern. It is a depressing experience, but I urge everyone to go to see it.

The only criticism I have of this exhibition is that it ignores the elephant in the room: the state. Violence by individuals or gangs cannot rival the state’s ability to wage war against local or foreign populations. This exhibition is really a testament to the violence that the state’s authority is built upon. This is demonstrated by the photograph below, which shows a devastated Dresden, where around 25,000 people perished in the bombing raid and subsequent firestorms.

Dresden After Allied Raids, Germany 1945  © SLUB Dresden / Deutsche Fotothek / Richard Peter, sen.

Dresden After Allied Raids, Germany 1945
© SLUB Dresden / Deutsche Fotothek / Richard Peter, sen.

As Kurt Vonnegut’s famous experience in the fire-bombing of Dresden is used early in this exhibition, as well as becoming the basis for his famous book Slaughterhouse Five, it is fitting to use the sign-off he used on texts and essays for the rest of his life:

PEACE.

The Thieving State (Or Why You Shouldn’t Complain About UK Booze Prices)

The UK Government charges ridiculously high levels of tax and duty on us. If you don’t believe me here’s an example.

So you want to buy a cheap bottle of spirits – maybe whisky or vodka (two of my favourites). Your budget is £12.

Firstly you need to subtract VAT at 20%, which the retailer has to account for to HM Revenue and Customs. On £12.00 this is £2.00, leaving £10.00 for the net cost of the product. But before the retailer, wholesaler and manufacturer can enjoy this revenue they have to subtract alcohol duty from the product. For spirits this is £28.22 for a litre of pure alcohol.

Assuming a 70cl bottle contains 40% alcohol by volume (a.b.v.) the alcohol duty due for your bottle is £7.90. This leaves only £2.10 for the manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer to share between them and earn profits on. That’s £2.10 of a product that you’ve paid £12.00 for, only 17.5% going to the people adding value and delivering a little bottle of joy to within your reach. Whereas the government, at the stroke of the Chancellor’s pen, reaps £9.90 for doing nothing. Oh, hang on, they do something: they add bureaucracy at every step of the supply chain in accounting for VAT, and at the manufacturer (or importer) for alcohol duty, thereby reducing those businesses’ profits even further.

This is a parasitic relationship.

However, it gets worse…

Consider how much you have to earn to pay for that £12 bottle of spirits?

Let’s have a look at someone on National Minimum Wage of £6.31 per hour, as an example, assuming they work 37.5 hours per week. This would result in gross wages of £236.63 per week (£12,338.30 per annum). On this they and their employer would pay 13.6% PAYE tax and NICs (employers and employees National Insurance Contributions). An employer has to pay them £13.89 for them to buy a £12 bottle of spirits, which only £2.10 goes to the businesses supplying it; therefore from all that economic activity to earn wages, make the spirits, package, ship and display near to this worker’s house, £11.69 goes to the government – 84.9% overall tax rate.

Now let’s consider someone who’s on the average UK working wage, currently £447 per week (September 2013, ONS). Their effective tax rate, from what it costs to employ them, is 26.7%. This means their employer has to pay them £16.36 for them to buy a £12 bottle of spirits, of which only £2.10 doesn’t go to the government. So from overall cost to the employer of £16.36 only £2.10 isn’t tax, an effective tax rate of 87.2%.

Finally let’s look at a salary of £40,000 per annum, which is about the salary of a tube driver. Their employer has to pay out a whopping £19.93 for their employee to be able to buy a £12 bottle of spirits, of which only £2.10 isn’t tax. So the government collects 89.5% of this money.

Note that the above calculations all include the tax-free allowance within their assumptions. If you just consider an additional cost to your employer for them to pay enough to earn a £12 bottle of spirits (a pay rise, as it were) the impact is far worse (this is the marginal rate).

  • National Minimum Wage: employer needs to pay £16.70 for employee to buy £12 bottle of spirits – effective tax rate 87.4%.
  • Average earnings: employer needs to pay £18.21 for employee to buy £12 bottle of spirits – effective tax rate 88.5%.
  • £40,000 per annum: employer needs to pay £22.73 for employee to buy £12 bottle of spirits – effective tax rate 90.8%.

Incidentally, this is why £10 bottles of spirits (70cl @ 40% a.b.v.) are impossible to find now. Only 43p would be available for the manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer, the other £9.57 going to HMRC – a tax rate of 95.7%. The employer of a tube driver on £40,000 per annum would effectively be paying a tax rate of 98.7% for his employee to buy a £10 bottle of whisky.

In summary, don’t blame the shopkeeper who has sold you the booze, or the wholesaler (or distributor) they bought it from, or the manufacturer (or importer): these people all created and added value in getting that bottle of joy into your hands. However the Chancellor of the Exchequer does nothing but remove value from the supply chain and the economy. At the stroke of a pen.

Blame the government.

Always blame the government.