Opinion

John Bird: What now, after Brexit? We continue to provide a hand up

The Big Issue will always be there for the desperate and the needy – whatever governments throw at us.

Last Thursday was a grim day. I was supposed to talk at an educational conference in the country, west of London, and stayed the night in Reading. Reading to me means rough sleeping and begging, even now, for I have only ever been there as a boy and young man on the run from somewhere else.

But the trains out to the small station where the conference was held were disrupted. A tree had fallen on the line. Floods and a kind of war-torn feel to the day descended.

I did the talk and went back to London, which seemed to have increased its crowds four-fold, as if we had been turned into refugees. I have never been on such packed underground trains, nor taken an hour for what was supposed to be a 10-minute journey.

An aura of disaster seemed to have engulfed the bits of London and England I moved through that day but eventually I got back very late to cast my vote.

The British Isles is once more where it has spent most of its life: on its own

Interestingly, for me, all of this rushing and interruption to the services of London centred around my post-war childhood home in and around Paddington Station. So the sense of worry and concern took me back to the days even before my post-war birth.

I voted. I went to bed. And I arose to the new dawn of a Europe-less British Isles. Those 18 miles will become important again. The damage of the day before may be cleared up as the waters recede. But the British Isles is once more where it has spent most of its life: on its own.

As a Marxist-Engelist-Leninist-Trotskyist back in 1975, I voted in the referendum for us to leave the Common Market, which we had only recently joined. Us Marxists didn’t want to save British capitalism by giving it more prosperity and a longer role on the stage of history. Anything that would destroy business, which was bringing some prosperity to the people, was good in our books. Staying in Europe, back in 1975, threatened to make the poor wealthier. And therefore happier.

If you wanted a revolution you didn’t want a contented working class and middle class. You wanted, if you wanted revolution, the people to be disgruntled.

Back then we knew that fat-cat capitalism would prosper, and some of the crumbs would fall from their table to give some prosperity to other classes. Hence our revolutionary group put in a lot of efforts to get us out of Europe.

Now, of course, the left in 2016 almost completely campaigned to stay in Europe. But then they weren’t revolutionaries. They didn’t want to see Capital trip and fall. For who would guarantee continuing payments to social security recipients, if the whole enterprise of business and government went tits up? Who would protect the NHS if capitalism lost the plot and did not employ taxpayers, and pay the taxes themselves that paid for the millions of local authority and NHS jobs?

The expansion of the EU to include Romania meant the free movement of Romanians out of their collapsed, blasted, broken economy into the UK

What I hated about Europe was its seemingly distant wire-pulling, decision-making at another level of government. Its seemingly stupid ability to not understand that we operate largely on a basis of common sense. And that our common law is based on common sense.

So that other layers of government and decision-making made you feel that increasingly you were not in control of even the small bits of your life. That the people who decided about your life had no understanding of that real life you lived. Not only unelected but of a mandarin class who knew nothing about day-to-day living.

I remember some of the dumb-arse decisions made by British governments around the EU and the free movement of people. Tony Blair’s administration presented The Big Issue with one of its biggest challenges back in 2004.

The expansion of the EU to include Romania meant the free movement of Romanians out of their collapsed, blasted, broken economy into the UK. And then supposedly to protect the poorer jobs in the UK, Blair’s government said that this new intake could not get a job. They had to be self-employed or independently wealthy.

So the fact that for hundreds of years the UK had allowed the poor to come to the country and take all the crap jobs and try and work their way out of poverty was denied them. Irish, Jews, Huguenots, Kenyan Asians, etc: all had been allowed to pass through the prism of crap employment.

But not the Romanians. Hence they came to us. And we, knowing that they would get into trouble, for a lack of money creates trouble, we took them on.

We turned into a kind of social services because government had ruled it so in their stupid way.

And of course the right-wing press were always there to remind us of the contradictions this threw up, as numbers of Romanians started selling The Big Issue.

The Big Issue will always be there for the desperate. The needy. And hopefully by that will make the streets a safer place for us all. In spite of what governments throw at us.

John Bird is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Email him: john.bird@bigissue.com or tweet: @johnbirdswords

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