Vague ramblings

Balkanisation: the shape of things to come?

Posted in Life, Musing, Regionalism, Urbanism by Ian Cundell on 24 June, 2016

The trouble with economists and political scientists is that they do not understand space. While the notion of borders may seem clear to them, they are not properly trained to understand geography.

So forget the market turmoil and the potential threat to the UK’s dominance in key markets, especially financial. Forget that the UK has chosen to complete its transformation from global superpower to complete irrelevance.

Consider these two maps (you can click for larger versions, or follow the links to the source). The first, from the Guardian, shows the distribution of referendum results, adjusted for population. The source has some interesting graphs as well.

The second, from the BBC, shows the distribution of various immigrant groups (no Scotland because that’s how Census data is published).

In the context of a Leave campaign that was shamelessly (and shamefully) racist, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the areas where people have actually met migrants, day-to-day – worked with them, socialised with them, talked to them are the ones who voted most strongly for Remain – the main exception being Birmingham. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. UKIP’s heartland in the East of England is the part of the country with fewest immigrants (although farming relies a lot of migrant labour).

The big cities and the centres of knowledge voted Remain.

But the largely white, English (not British, English) working classes in areas that have been pretty well bankrolled by the EU voted for Leave and a truly impressive case of cut-off-nose-to-spite-faces.

This white son of a truck driver has written quite often (sometimes intemperately) on the capacity of the white English to find other people to blame for their woes. But, really, it is to do with the crushing of aspiration more than anything. They do not care that our kids will find it harder to travel for work to 27 countries. They (we) are no longer expected to aspire – indeed aspiration is actively discouraged, so when times get tough the fingers get pointed. Compare and contrast with the get-up-and-go of the stereotypical Polish brickie, who could be a poster child for Norman Tebbitt’s childish aphorisms.

When I graduated there was nobody in the room prouder than my Dad – left school at 13, Burma Star, drove all over the continent for Marconi, grafted his way to a senior position, dyed-in-the-wool Conservative. He and Mum couldn’t afford the “parental contribution” to my grant, and I only once made the mistake of asking for it.

And, of course, that was in the days of a grant: even if the modern white English working classes could be persuaded to aspire, to lift their eyes and look around the World of opportunity, they would be discouraged by the prospect of a lifetime mountain of debt.

It is an ugly, ugly situation in a homeland that is becoming nastier by the day.

But look back at that map. It takes no imagination at all to see Scotland opting for independence. If I were Nicola Sturgeon I’d be seriously considered going for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.  OK, probably not – but it is hard to see David Cameron as anything other than the PM whose hubris cost us the Union.

But what of those cities, and especially of London?

How well will England’s great centres of finance and knowledge respond to being asked to pick up the tab for regional policy that is, right now, 100% EU funded? Anything that is seen as moving resources out of the capital – financial or physical – will, history shows us, be seen as anti-London and resisted fiercely. Twitter jokes about a London Independence Party will remain just that, of course, but the underlying feeling will not go away. London, for better or worse, has kept the UK afloat since the days of Thatcher (and there is a very strong case for saying “the worse”, but that is entirely moot).

Add the Government’s (perfectly laudable) taste for city-regions exercising greater autonomy – and note that the main one, Manchester, voted Remain;  season with the thought that Plaid Cymru might see a nice anti-English stick to beat the campaign drums with, and division may not be limited to the exit of Scotland.

It’s called Balkanisation for reasons that history (not just recent) teaches us. It doesn’t need to be at all literal.

It will still be cancerous.

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