On Tuesday, the Western Mail ran an article on the attitudes towards Brexit amongst respondents on the street in Port Talbot. Like any straw poll, it is inevitably no more than a snap shot of the views of a few people, and cannot be taken as a reliable indicator of the state of public opinion. Nevertheless, it rang true as a cross section of the different opinions which exist still over the issue.
The response which particularly drew my attention was this one: “When we went in there was only five countries and now there are well over 20 countries and the smaller countries all want money from the EU. It’s time we got out.” I’m sure that it’s a view held by many, and reflects the argument put forward at the time that the completely misnamed ‘membership fee’ was too high and meant a flow of cash out of the UK and into other countries. But from a Welsh perspective, we’re one of the poorer areas benefiting from the redistributive process – and by rejecting continued membership, the majority of Welsh people effectively voted against the whole idea of redistribution.
It is, though, very much a ‘British’ view. (And Wales would be one of the smaller countries if it were a member of the EU.) It’s easy – too easy – simply to blame the lack of a Welsh media for the fact that people see the issue in UK terms rather than taking a more Welsh perspective. It’s more complex than that, though – yes, of course people’s views can be coloured by what they read, but it’s also true that people’s views colour their choice of reading. Merely putting more options on the menu isn’t the panacea as which some seem to see it. Horses, water, etc.
It isn’t simply about the contradiction between a ‘British’ and ‘Welsh’ standpoint either. Many politicians are too quick to assume that here in Wales we have a natural tendency to support the idea of redistribution from the rich to the poor. I’d like to believe it, but I really can’t; it may have been true in the past, but the past is a foreign country. The ideology which capitalism builds around itself is winning out, not least because it is inadequately challenged.
People have become convinced that their relative poverty is caused by people poorer than themselves, not by the richer taking a disproportionate share. That is part of what lies at the root of an attitude of hostility to immigration, overseas aid, and regional redistribution at a European level. And it’s exacerbated by politicians saying that they have to respond to people’s so-called ‘legitimate concerns’ when they should be challenging the ideology which drives them.