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Frustration leads the ‘have nots’ to revolt

by
01 August 2016, at 1:00am

Periscope continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern.

I WROTE LAST MONTH ABOUT THE BREXIT VOTE and never expected to be returning to it having anticipated a clear (albeit narrow) majority in favour of remaining.

I don’t think I was the only one who was surprised by the clear (albeit narrow) majority in favour of leaving – not least those people who had campaigned for a leave vote, some of them in my view against their true wishes purely in a shameless case of political manoeuvring.

The archetypal example was of course Boris Johnson who in the eyes of many received his just deserts from the equally unpleasant and manoeuvring Michael Gove in a scenario that could have been taken directly from Shakespeare.

And while Gove’s career now seems to be at an end, for the meantime at any rate, Boris (because let’s call him Boris like everyone else does) has been thrown a considerable lifeline in the form of the post of Foreign Secretary. The fact that many diplomats around the world genuinely thought it was a joke when they heard the news speaks volumes about the view held of Boris in the wider environment.

Theresa May appears on the face of it to be an astute woman and so we can assume there is considerable method in her apparent madness. And who knows, perhaps Boris will have been somewhat tamed by his short fall from grace.

May has also included a significant number of other Brexiteers in her cabinet and I suspect it is a case of her deciding that it was appropriate for them to help get us out of this very fine mess they have got us into (apologies to Laurel and Hardy). I hope they have a genuine belief that we will be better off outside the tent and they have a clear vision of how to bring it about.

Now I am certain there are some in the profession who voted to leave the EU, but all veterinary friends and colleagues I’ve spoken to have been as dismayed and disbelieving as I am about the result. Whether that is for reasons of self-interest or a higher altruism in having wanted to assist our poorer neighbours in raising their standard of living up to that enjoyed by us is difficult to say.

There has not just been disbelief from those who wanted to stay. There has also been a considerable degree of dismissal of the Brexiteers as being of inferior intellect and not understanding what they were voting for. While I concur to a degree with this latter thought, one has also to lay much of the “blame” on the politicians who told if not outright lies, pretty blatant untruths about what leaving would mean.

Promises of money saved being directly used to improve the NHS and a virtual stop to unwanted immigration from the day of exit were all bandied about as the gospel truth, when in fact they were anything but. Hardly surprising then that there was a mad rush to the exits from the prominent leave campaigners when the results of the vote were announced and the consequences rapidly sunk in for those who had lit the blue touch paper.

But it seems now that many of those in the wider community who voted leave did so out of frustration with the status quo. They needed to kick the establishment because they had no other recourse to vent their anger at what they saw were the current inequalities in our society. 

It didn’t really matter what question they were asked. They would have voted for anything so long as it was against what the Establishment was urging. 

I have to admit to having not quite understood this mentality until a week after the vote I visited a town in north-western England where I’d last been 25 years previously. I was shocked. The town centre was run down with shuttered shops and depressing decaying architecture from the latter half of the last century. Looking round at the people, many of them looked poor. This was not the Britain that I, in my relatively cosy and cosseted bubble, was familiar with or even aware of.

I suspect that I am not alone in this. As a profession we all know that with some exceptions we are not particularly well paid when judged against other professions. The levels of suicide and substance abuse among our members is high, which indicates an underlying discontent and frustration. But, and it is a big but, I and most of my friends and colleagues lead a fairly comfortable if not ostentatious life.

Most of us have a pretty decent house in a relatively affluent area and a relatively new car. We can usually buy a steak and a decent bottle of wine if we so wish, and go on holiday to somewhere nice every year.

In short we have it fairly good and most of us can probably count ourselves as being in the top 20% of the population (perhaps higher) when it comes to capital accumulation and disposable income. And while we might have some clients who look like the people I described earlier in the article, we won’t have many friends or acquaintances among them.

There is a huge class of “have nots” that by all accounts has increased in size in the last 10 years. The gap between those who have and those who don’t has also apparently increased. And the Establishment that precipitated the banking crisis of 2008 primarily through sheer greed has survived and flourished largely without censure, bailed out by the relatively poor so they can continue with the extravagant lifestyle they feel is their right. 

They are the ones who are complaining again that “the masses don’t understand what they’ve done and will only be worse off”.

What the Establishment failed to notice (or if it did notice didn’t care about) is that those at the bottom don’t see how they can be much worse off. They have no real stake and nothing to lose. So when the opportunity came to kick the Establishment where it hurts most, they took it. As perhaps most of us might have done in their position.

For all the faults in our profession, we remain a fairly privileged bunch. We would do well to remember that when it comes to voting at the next general election, so our children and grandchildren still have a country to live in that is t for purpose and something to be proud of.