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It’s all about equality, Brexit, the environment and the economy, not envy and greed

With the most important UK election since 1945 only days away, it is still looking likely that the Conservative Party under Boris Johnson will form the next government. In doing so, the result of the EU referendum will follow through to Brexit. It is also highly likely that the end of 2020 will see the UK exit the EU with no deal. This pivotal issue is marked by a worrying generational divide. But all are agreed that there are problems with trusting our political leaders. Lurking in the darkness are sinister attitudes towards fairness, equality and the abject greed of the advantaged few. Young people will look closely at this and may vote to tip the balance towards cooperation and a shared future.

Brexit dominates the economy.

Brexit is the overarching issue for most voters. But trust in political leaders is at an all-time low. The polls currently show that the Conservatives hold 43% of the vote (BBC poll of polls 12th December) and, when combined with the rump of the declining Brexit Party, it would seem that the leave campaign holds a total of 47% support. In light of this, tactical voting by leave supporters would seem to be a simple choice of voting Conservative to guarantee success.

In contrast, Remain supporters will have to search their hearts if a tactical vote is to be made. This will be constituency specific and many will find it difficult to switch from the Liberal Democrats to Labour or vice versa. The Green Party may be unfairly squeezed out in many constituencies. However, the combined Remain or second referendum votes for Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the Green Party is at 52%. Therefore, if there is extensive tactical voting driven by Brexit then there is an outside chance that the Conservatives will fail to gain an overall majority. But the outcome will be very close. A poll in the last few days (National Centre for Social Research ‘What the UK Thinks’ 3 Dec 2019) shows that Brexit support is at 46%, Remain at 44% and 11% undecided. 

The generational divide is alarming.

With many more young people in training, further education or higher education, it seems that they are better placed to assess the issues. It could be argued that they are more ‘clued into’ the economic dangers of Brexit, climate change and the social problems facing the UK than many older people. The increasingly diverse social mixing in our colleges and universities is also alerting many to the issues of fairness and equality. Although the majority in universities, those from advantaged families can see the stress and worries of their less well-off peers. I spent my 37 years teaching in a Russell Group university trying, along with my colleagues, to foster a spirit of cooperation and collaboration amongst students that was particularly important in Northern Ireland. This manifested itself in tutorials, practical classes and team assignments where cooperation trumped competition. Assuming the same spirit is engrained in other courses and institutions, a future of cooperation is likely to be more attractive than domination by an elite few. One thing that is in no doubt, they have a greater stake in the future. This might be reflected in voting intentions where only 21% of 18 to 24-year olds are looking to support the combined Conservative and Brexit parties. In contrast, the combined Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green Party and Scottish National Party vote sits at 78% (YouGov 2019 general election: ‘The Demographics Dividing Britain’ October 2019).

An economic policy of greed and envy?

The election campaign has been marked by numerous accusations of lies and misleading statements. The resulting debates and fractious media interviews have appalled many voters. We suspect that our political leaders are putting up a façade to hide their true intentions and views. Sometimes the mask slips and young voters can spot an ‘oven-ready turkey’ when they see one. Setting aside Brexit and the environment, equality of opportunity and fairness will be very close to the front of the queue of concerns for younger people. Also setting aside Boris Johnson’s previous support for the EU, that bent with the wind of public opinion into supporting Brexit in 2016, it comes as very alarming to see footage emerge later last week of a speech he made in 2013.

It seems that the mask had slipped in this formal ‘3rd Margaret Thatcher Lecture’ at the Centre for Policy Studies in November 2013. Whilst it could be that he was merely playing to the audience, he also displayed a combination of ignorance and arrogance that is dangerous. In hearing him act as an advocate for the merits of greed and envy as drivers of the economy, we might be wise to beware such ‘false-witness’. Yet the audience lapped it up.

More worrying was his view on the intelligence of the population. He displayed a dangerous misunderstanding of IQ in his implication that the intelligent always rise to the top with “The harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.” He assumed that the natural order is that the rich and advantaged are the most intelligent. Of course it is more likely  that they simply set off in life with better resources and more support. It would be more interesting if Johnson and colleagues divulged their IQ scores. This assumption is based upon a naïve and simplistic view of the genetics that determines ability and the limitations of IQ testing. It also fails to appreciate that our genetic system is geared to generating maximum diversity through a random assortment of chromosomes and genes and, in turn, the vast number of genetic determinants of IQ in humans. This was discussed in more detail by TEFS with ‘Augar and the dark side of Robbins’ 7th June 2019. There is no easy ‘oven-ready’ answer but offering equality of opportunity to all would appear the most logical and intelligent approach to take.

Some of his speech is linked here courtesy of The Guardian www site.

Behind the current mask, Johnson has revealed a dangerous disdain for the electorate and support for an economy that serves to further entrench social class divisions. However, the many talented scientists, engineers, nurses and doctors from less well-off backgrounds, that are wrestling with incredibly complex ideas and technology, might beg to differ. The highly paid few in business and commerce might instead sit at the high end of the greed and ruthless bell-shaped curve and at the low end of the cooperation and compassion curve. We wonder which end of the bell Johnson inhabits. To illustrate this, Johnson himself concluded that,

 “inequality is essential for the spirit of envy”

To put his comments into context, here are some of his observations to illustrate the full horror of what he proposes.
A video of the complete speech is available on the Centre for Policy Studies www site and here is a link to the full text.

Johnson and all politicians might do well to heed the lesson of Proverbs 14:30
‘A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones’
There are also plenty of other clues in Johnson’s own education for him to follow.
‘For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?’
Mark 8:36
Mike Larkin, retired from Queen's University Belfast after 37 years teaching Microbiology, Biochemistry and Genetics.


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