BREXIT: Lessons to be learnt
Posted on July 4th, 2016

By Neville Ladduwahetty Courtesy The Island

It would take months and years for the world to absorb the aftershocks of the stunning decision taken by the People of Great Britain to leave the European Union (EU). The consequences of this decision would be felt globally and would affect the lives and livelihoods of millions in Britain and around the world,not only in the near term but also in the long term as well. The decision to exit the EU has been described by some as the end of history,perhaps because the diminished role of Britain in global politics would redefine the role of the West in a manner that cannot be fathomed at this time. The President of the EU Parliament is reported to have stated that “A whole continent is taken hostage because of an internal fight in the Tory party.” (Washington Post, June 27, 2016).

The internal politics was not confined only to the Tory Party. There are divisions within the Labour Party as well. Whatever the nature of the internal divisions 3/4th of the Parliament was for remaining within the EU. However, the fact that the British people voted to defy their elected representatives reflects a disturbing disconnect between all those associated with the political establishment, the elected representatives and their people thus projecting a shocking breakdown in representative democracy.

An article in the Washington Post states: “The gap between the people and their representatives has never before, at least on an issue of this significance, been so wide. You do not speak for us, voters said, and we hold you in some contempt for your failure to represent, or even understand our concerns” (June 26, 2016). What happened in Britain should serve as a wake-up call for all elected representatives in democracies,and of the need for them to be in close touch with their electors if they are to fulfill their responsibilities.

READING the SIGNIFICANCE of the VOTE

A host of explanations have been offered to explain the reasons why the British People decided to opt out of the EU. They range from age differences to class differences to urban versus rural and how each views their place inside or outside the EU. The young see issues in the context of a globalized world in which they are comfortable. To the young remaining in the EU means greater integration, bigger markets and greater opportunities, all of which means support for globalization. It also means economic growth, tangible prosperity for the educated ending in a greater share for the “haves”. As a United Kingdom with the 5th largest economy the young see a greater role for UK in which they could participate in shaping the future of the global landscape.

The older generations and the rural people, on the other hand, see their sovereignty and lives being marginalized from the effects of globalization. They see the influx of immigrants from Europe threatening their job security and straining the social entitlements they had once enjoyed(and threatening their job security). They also see their identity being compromised in a subsumed multiculturalism that they find hard to accept. They see integration as having to conform to standards dictated by a distant bureaucracy in Brussels over which they have no control. The vote to exit the EU is how they expressed their wish to retake control of their lives and their place in Britain.

The concerns of this section of British society are so immediate and compelling that they are not concerned about the consequences of exiting from the EU even if it means isolating Britain from the stage of world affairs because of its diminished role. Similar inward looking trends exist in other parts of the world. The call by a prospective US Presidential candidate to take back America reflects similar sentiments. In respect of class, the wine drinking class see globalization as an opportunity whereas the beer drinking class see globalization as a threat to their identities and to their livelihoods. These differences saw a 52% vote mostly by the elderly and the rural to exit the EU and 48 % mostly young and urban voting to remain.

These contrasting views reflect a divided society with contrasting values attributed in the main to byproducts of globalization. Without addressing such pressing issues political parties in most democracies are preoccupied with their internal politics. Commenting on this situation the Washington Post cites the views of Anthony King, Professor of Politics at the University of Essex who states: “In the face of that change in public attitudes, much of the political class is behaving the way it used to behave, the old arguments, the old fights, the adversarialism. That has created what he calls ‘the palpable disconnect’ between political leaders and ordinary people. That is true across much of the democratic world” (June 28, 2016).

LESSONS for SRI LANKA

The inability of the political establishment in Britain to recognize the divisions in the society arising from contrasting values that obviously had been festering for some time reflects a breakdown in the abilities of elected representatives to be sensitive to the disconnects in their democracies. Similar fractures are taking place in Sri Lanka as well. What is visible in Sri Lanka are the gathering protests by traders in various parts of Sri Lanka against taxes imposed by the government; the protests by the farmers for denying the entitlements they had previously enjoyed, and the concerted campaign by the professionals against globalization in the form of Trade Agreements particularly with India such as ETCA to prevent mass immigration to Sri Lanka; a fact that was downplayed by the British Government but turned out to be in far higher numbers than predicted. Promoters of ETCA in Sri Lanka are also downplaying the possibility of an influx of immigrants from India, but what they fail to recognize is that the combination of serious unemployment in India and much higher wages in Sri Lanka would tempt every loophole in the Agreement to be exploited,after which it would be too late to take any meaningful action to contain the tide.

Instead of recognizing and responding to the concerns of a significant section of Sri Lanka’s citizens,the obsession of the current Government to push for robust urbanization and greater engagement with India reflects the degree of disconnect between the political establishment and the people. The intention of the Government to bring prosperity to the country through urbanization and greater global engagement in the hope that its benefits would trickle down is a flawed approach. While it is hoped that the visible protests would not gather momentum and spiral out of control as happened in the revolt of the English Peasants in 1381,the invisible and yet muted protests against the push for urbanization in the form of Port Cities and Project Megapolis would further marginalize sections of the society outside these urban centers thereby exacerbating the divisions that already exist.

Those who are for urbanization are driven by values similar to the Brits who are for remaining within the EU; these being a wider world view that promotes connectivity with the world and unrestricted freedom of movement etc. etc. Those opposed to urbanization see its effects on the society where those currently outside urban areas would become guest workers who end up living in the margins providing services to the urban elite and yet others who would be left behind in the rural hinterland as it is with most mega cities. When those left behind end up being the “have nots”, the societal schisms could precipitate electoral outcomes that end up being a rebuke and a dismissal of the establishment as has been demonstrated in Britain.

The report cited above states: “The seeds of what has brought Britain to this moment exist elsewhere, which makes this country’s problems the concern of leaders elsewhere. In Belgium and Brazil, democracies have faced crises of legitimacy; in Spain and France, elected leaders have been hobbled by their own unpopularity…” In Sri Lanka too there is a crisis of legitimacy and popularity. There is also a deficit in democracy both at the level of the leadership and at the level of the elected representatives due to their preoccupation with personal issues to a degree that is making them insensitive to the simmering disconnect within the polity.

In Britain it was essentially the agricultural heartland that voted to exit the EU. In Sri Lanka also the discontent is most palpable among those engaged in agriculture, in particular, the paddy farmers and the tea and rubber small holders. Of these, the most vulnerable are the paddy farmers because they live from harvest to harvest. Consequently, they are victims of the money lenders in between harvests and are victims of powerful millers after harvest. One possible way to bring relief to this significantly large section of the population is to arrange for a percentage of the guaranteed price for paddy based on average yield per hectare to be paid to them monthly. This would make the farmer independent of the money lenders and place them in a position of strength to negotiate with the millers for the best price. Whatever the arrangement, successive Governments have failed to address the plight of a section of society that assures food security for the whole nation.

CONCLUSION

The prevailing disconnect between the political establishment and the people’s needs whether in Britain, Sri Lanka or any other democracy is due to a failure of the political leadership and the elected representatives in democracies to read the rising anxieties in their respective countries. Collectively, they are preoccupied with either retaining power or gaining power. The effect of this preoccupation is to ignore the issues that matter to the people. Stark evidence of this phenomenon is the decision of the British majority to exit from the EU much to the shock of the political establishment as well as to others associated with the establishment.

At the end of the day what really should be the role of elected representatives and their leaders in a democracy? Are they to lead the nation in a direction that from their perspective is best for the people, or should they work towards fulfilling the needs of the People in respect of what matters to them or is it a combination of both. What we have today in Sri Lanka is a trend towards the former.This is reflected in the focus for greater global engagement for which the needed infrastructure is urbanization in the form of Port Cities and Mega-cities with facilities to meet the demands of the high rollers both within and without who patronize them. The fact that such a direction has a social and environmental cost not to mention the attendant cultural degradation is not factored.

On the other hand, the priorities of people in most countries concern their immediate livelihood. To them the GDP rank of the country means little. What matters to them are freedoms and opportunities to pursue meaningful and prosperous lives that are sustainable both for themselves and for the future generations. This was the message that the people of Britain brought to the attention of the world. They were not prepared to bear the cost of the global engagement that their leaders set out for them. The message in the protests in Sri Lanka is no different.

For the people of Britain their place in Britain is more important than Britain’s place in the world. Such a vision also goes for most in Sri Lanka and most other countries. This does not mean a tendency to look inward or a hard-nosed nationalism, but a view where people in general want to engage with the world without losing sight of who they are and the values they nourish and stand for. The people of any country would respect a leadership that could answer such a call.

5 Responses to “BREXIT: Lessons to be learnt”

  1. Cerberus Says:

    Mr. Ladduwahetty, You have clarified the chaos of Brexit in clear terms with your razor sharp mind. Thank you. Now shortly Ranil is going to lose the “Big boy” he depended on as pointed out by Gandara John in his article “Whites Only’ Esmond Wickramasinghe Creates a Bridgehead in Sri Lanka for Corporate Colonialists – RW Files (Part 1)” Wonder who he will turn to?

  2. Dilrook Says:

    Unlike Brexit, no referendum will be held for ETCA. That is the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    Mr Ladduwahetty has written an excellent article on the current situation in Lanka in relation to Brexit, for which we thank him.

    ———–

    Brexit referendum ‘watchdogs’ made sure that there was no cheating at the voting.
    They told voters to even carry their own black pens and not to trust the pencils or pens in the voting booths !
    Did such vigilence happen during the Jan 2015 Elections in Lanka ?

    Sri Lankans have to be more pro-active & vigilent, without violence.

    The current Yahap people have resorted to silencing the Parliament (Peoples representatives) through Bribery & Fear.

    The President & the Exec PM (who has been appointed ‘because the west wants it so’ – per Prez) are happy to down the Economy of the country (or else why allow two Central Bank Bond scams ?), and also have Grand Plans to “sell off” the country to neo-colonists ?

    See the Yahap Agenda :

    – ETCA
    – Sea tunnel to Tamil Nadu (INDIA)
    – 5,000 acre lots on 99 yr lease to foreigners
    – New Constitution (what might that bring ?)

  4. anura seneviratna Says:

    All should be immensely grateful to Neville for your immaculate expression of truth as it is. Your final para. puts it briefly and brilliantly as below:-

    ” For the people of Britain their place in Britain is more important than Britain’s place in the world. Such a vision also goes for most in Sri Lanka and most other countries. This does not mean a tendency to look inward or a hard-nosed nationalism, but a view where people in general want to engage with the world without losing sight of who they are and the values they nourish and stand for. The people of any country would respect a leadership that could answer such a call. ”

    Just an additional note especially to SL as well as every other nation to PROTECT and DEFEND each one’s sovereign territorial integrity i.e the respective lands taken for granted where we emerge, stand, nurture, resources of all we depend upon and what we leave for posterity. Globalisation is the plot to destroy diversity of nations in their respective countries hence, the selfish dominating culture agenda of the so called world power, also massive diversity within one country threatens and destroys its natural and independent entity.

  5. Ananda-USA Says:

    The way out of the dilemma of high labor costs IS through high productivity, that can enable higher profits for the investors, and higher wages for the current working citizens of our country.

    Higher productivity can be achieved by training our workers more to become more skilled, and surrounding them with the high technology and the capital equipment necessary to put those skills to work and produce high value goods at low cost per unit. In that way, we will create a workforce that is able to earn a higher wage relative to the cost of living, and improve their standard of living.

    The goal should be to enable our workers to enjoy a better, more fulfilling life, in the land of their ancestors, among their loved ones, contributing to the growth and prosperity of their Motherland and not to EXPORT them to other countries as cheap skilled or unskilled workers, or to IMPORT cheap or skilled labor from abroad

    Furthermore, from a national perspective, our goal should be to produce a very good life for ALL of our people, and NOT TO PRODUCE UNLIMITED PROFITS for investors, Sri Lankan or foreign. We should have a CLEAR VISION and UNDERSTANDING of our goals and when what we have is ENOUGH! Wit hour such an understanding of what is good enough for us, we could in time transform our beautiful island into an unlivable highly industrialization place like Hong Kong!

    Furthermore, the solution IS NOT to import cheapest foreign workers to replace our high cost citizen workers of our country, nor is it to OUTSOURCE the work to a foreign country with cheaper labor costs.

    The USA also had an insurmountable problem of coping with high labor costs, but manufacturing is being resurrected in the USA now by increasing labor productivity through the use of technology, training andinvestment in the necessary capital equipment.

    If we import cheap foreigners just because either our labor costs are high, or we do not have workers with the necessary skills, we will convert our country into a land populated by foreigners, who will inevitably become citizens, swamp the local population, and will inherit the country replacing us.

    Furthermore, as we displace current citizens by importing cheap workers, our people will be forced to flee abroad to earn a better living. That accelerates the replacement of the current population with foreigners and Sri Lanka eill cease to be the land inhabited by the descendants of our Sinhala ancestors.

    Again I ask, WHAT IS, OR SHOULD BE, OUR NATIONAL GOAL?? Is it to replace ourselves in this land, or to devise the solutions to enable our people and our descendants to live in this blessed land of the Sinhala People in perpetuity??

    Judging from its current activities, the Yamapalana GOSL seems to be hellbent on replacing the Sinhala Buddhist people of Sri Lanka with imported foreigners and converts to minority religions.

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