Reading the BBC’s “Have your say” comments yesterday, at the bottom of an article about Mrs May’s attempts to sell her deal to the populous, I was once again struck by the ignorance of the Brexiteering public. One comment particularly stood out: someone complaining that May’s deal to reduce immigration from the EU was not what he/she had voted for – it was immigration from OUTSIDE the EU they were concerned about!
For me, the only thing that the Brexit vote underlined, was progressive governments’, and to a large extent the EUs’, inability to explain/educate people as to the way the EU functioned for the good (or bad) of the populous. After all, good education is fundamental to a tolerant, cohesive society – and likewise fake news (like the myth of the straight banana) will achieve precisely the opposite. Yet self-serving politicians, concerned only with their own prosperity, since the 1980s, never saw the need to invest in education.
I recently had an online altercation with a old school-friend who thought that the camps in Calais were because of the EU and that “I, Daniel Blake,” by Ken Loach, was a film about the result of uncontrolled immigration. He, however, did not feel he was without brain-cells – having taught in a higher-education establishment. Needless to say, he wasn’t a professor of political science or philosophy!
This week France saw its equivalent to Brexit spill onto the streets. The masses dressed in hi-vis vests stopped traffic, blocked roads, motorways, petrol stations and generally made a nuisance of themselves on Saturday 17th with the promise of more to come. Why? Officially, because the price of fuel is too high. At face value this seems, frankly, hypocritical – when the very same people have been pushing for climate change action. However, as any conversation with one of these vest-wearing warriors would attest, the real reason for their action lies in a more general frustration at their lack of social mobility and they want change.
This is a symptom of the French psyche, which I have mentioned before. Yes they want change – but they want change to come about by OTHER PEOPLE doing the changing. (Who, precisely? Well – rich people of course! It’s all their fault isn’t it? Oh – and foreigners!) Precisely what change they want to see, as far as I am aware, has yet to be specified. Nonetheless, they’re angry at the way the whole system works, and their anger has been fed by a frightening move toward populism by the mainstream press and the growing support for political extremists like Melanchon and LePenn (who are happy to point the finger at foreigners and the rich). So think of this as the equivalent of the 2011 riots in England – but less violent, so far.
I have no objection to people demonstrating, marching and using collective action to try and force change. However, this movement, like the rail strike and the student protests in the spring, I believe is founded more on passion than any real understanding of what needs to change in order to improve the lives of everyone in the country. If it were, then these very same people would be yelling at President Macron to speed up his reforms and stop hesitating.
If M. le President has learnt anything from this past week – it should be that France’s education system, like that of Britain’s, has failed spectacularly.