Wasters: a blues

Lowell George, the lead singer and guitarist with the American band called Little Feat, died aged 34 in 1979. One of his last songs was called ”twenty million things to do.” I thought of these words as well as his mournful voice and short life, when the latest twist in the Brexit divorce resulted in an extension of the deadline for the UK to leave the European Union (EU). As the pathetic performances of British politicians have underlined, there are still twenty million things to do, most of which are of far greater importance than leaving the EU.

What an incredible waste of time and energy!

Many analyses of the 2016 referendum results suggested that the protesting voters – particularly many of the English – said no to David Cameron’s deal, not as a way of objecting to the (imagined excessive) power of the institutions based in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg, but to the uselessness of the government and parliament in Westminster. In other words, the vote to exit from the EU was mostly about the neglect of many English regions and about the impact of austerity, notably in terms of deteriorating living standards, poverty and unemployment rates, etc. To which a very vocal group of opportunistic populists added immigration and the free movement of labour as phoney explanations for the fall from “greatness.”

In short, given a chance to voice their anger, a large number of English people said no, let’s leave the EU and find a green and pleasant paradise somewhere else, thereby totally ignoring any geographical imperative.[1] Subsequently and amongst the many ironies of the past couple of years, politicians in the House of Commons have been unable to agree on a way forward – either as leavers or remainers – which has confirmed the skepticism of the average voter. The British ruling class has turned out to be catastrophically unable to rule!

But tragically Brexit is really a gigantic red herring.[2] Instead of wasting energies on endless negotiations with other Europeans about a deal or a no deal, the British government could have been reinforcing the peace process in Northern Ireland, devising new measures to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, improving health services, making better provisions for taking care of old people, introducing vocational training schemes, legislating against pollution, finding ways to improve education, reforming world trade arrangements (through the WTO…) for the benefit of the poor in developing countries, etc., etc. Indeed these are matters of high priority for all European governments. There are twenty million things to do!

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, many American politicians (and voters) apparently continue to back a compulsive liar, racist, gangster and tax evader as their ”supreme commander.” It’s hard to understand, but it sure gives me the blues…

PS Then I remembered another Lowell George composition from the album Sailin’ Shoes (1972) called “A apolitical blues”, which includes the following: “my telephone was ringing/ and they told me it was chairman Mao/ you got to tell him anything/ ‘cos I just don’t want to talk to him now!” In conclusion: “the apolitical blues is the meanest blues of all…”

[1] There’s a good assessment of the impossibility of having the Brexit cake and eating it in a recent article explaining why the three options of an open Irish border, the ”territorial integrity” of the UK and the ”freedom” to do trade deals are incompatible. See https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/brexit-impossibility-triangle-by-emily-jones-and-calum-miller-2019-04

[2] The Danish newspaper ”Information” describes the process beyond April 2019 as ”Brexit for zombies”, with 27 other EU member states forced to deploy teams of skilled negotiators in order to seek agreement with an irresponsible bunch of deluded, amateur politicians trapped in a time warp.

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