Comment: Cash, not lies

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, reflects on the EU referendum and asks, what next for Yorkshire.

Cash, not lies

By Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, 26 June 2016, published in the Yorkshire Post

Saying immigrants from Europe were to blame for troubles in the NHS, housing and jobs worked a treat for the Leave campaign.

If you wanted out of Europe because you just didn't want to be part of the greatest unification and self-defence project of all time, that is fine. You got what you wanted.

If you wanted a better future for your kids you were "done".

I am sure immigrants are not the root of problems in the North, so why do people believe they were? Be patient, I am certainly going to tell you.

But before I give you the chapter and verse on why the big lie worked, let me remind you of something. Nigel Farage has already said that the promise on the NHS was a "mistake". I'm sorry to have to tell you that the NHS would still be in crisis if we got rid of all the immigrants. In fact it will be worse if we lose the immigrants doctors and nurses.

But why were we so easily "done"?

First, let's be honest. We all know how tough it is not to be really angry over immigration. If you see someone foreign with a job, and your kid doesn't have one, it's really hard not to feel resentment.

But let's be real about who is to blame. It is governments that left communities to rot and then, when they are at the end of their tether, due to cuts in public services and housing, gives them even more people from aboard to look after. Getting rid of the immigrants, without improving funding for those services will never be enough.

But why did we trust the people who said it would? Because we were told over and over again that it was those Europeans that stopped us from protecting our vulnerable jobs and services. That might be true, but it is not the reason things were so crap for our kids in the first place. Without a much bigger change, there simply is no future for many of our beloved communities in Yorkshire.

But the stage was set for the lie to work. The effects of this "austerity" in England along with migrants from Europe, and people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, have whipped up anti-European fever in much of the country. And these feelings are strongest in those areas that have never had it, never mind having it so good, since Margaret Thatcher wiped out our industrial future. And this is where my home is. For many, it has indeed been grim up North.

It is not just us either. There have been brutal levels of unemployment in some parts of Europe, as countries struggle to recover from the effects of the economic crisis. The policy followed by our government and others across Europe, has been to bail out the banks and let the cost fall on the people. As the old song says, "It's the rich what gets the pleasure. It's the poor what gets the blame."

The banks made bigger and bigger bets, knowing if they went wrong they would make them bust. They used money they borrowed and "leveraged" more - betting more than you can afford to lose. They did that because the bigger the bet, the bigger the bonus. Individuals made big bonuses on false profits and, when the bets went bad, we had to pay to keep the cash machines working.

The very banks who lectured us on the benefit of private and free enterprise become our dependants! They spent vast amounts to keep the City of London going.

Why was there no one when Steel needed help? And as the system slid down, the government forgot the lessons of the past. If you only look after the banks, and not the people, the people can rise up.

The people could have blamed the bankers, the European Central Bank or the Bundesbank, but they were too far away. In England they heard someone say that immigrants from Europe were taking your jobs and housing. And what is more, they said, you can get rid of them!

And that advice rang true in many parts of South Yorkshire, where we are still feeling the effects of Austerity 1.0, that happened under Margaret Thatcher. The free market that was going to bring prosperity to our region never delivered on the promises that were made. It started the slide into the future we see of much of our industry; just look at Steel to see what happened.

Blighted and abandoned communities didn't see their children go into better jobs. Then they were told about a capital paved with gold, riding on financial money uncaring of the north, dismissive of its capabilities. (That is why George Osborne's much maligned Northern Power House was so crucial to the fabric of our future.)

Austerity 2.0 put the lid on it. Drastically reduced spending on housing and social care has been a disaster and the fruits on globalisation thin gruel. People looked for the enemy and they were guided to it by a Leave Campaign that said they could "take their country back"

So what next?

As politicians of all parties pick themselves up with a hangover and wonder what happened the night before, we need a plan - one that will heal our nation by giving jobs to the communities that free market ideology abandoned.

Because we know that if you want someone to be a good Englishman you don't give them a copy of the Magna Carta? No you give them a job.

So we need a Brexit government that backs our plan to rebuild our manufacturing industries of the North. A real Northern power house with the cash behind it.

How could that possibly be done? Can you believe it is possible?

We have been told so often that it is just economic reality that stopped us from being great in manufacturing against international competition. Just remember that this is the line given to you by people who said the banks were safe. They were wrong about the banks and they are wrong about our people.

The Bank of England had £250 Billion ready to defend the Pound. Sheffield Forgemasters could blast into the stratosphere with just a tiny fraction of that.

So why not put money like that into an investment bank to defend the future of our children.

What could, we do with it?

Well first you need to have been here and believe in the people and industries of Yorkshire, working with its international partners from around the world. Yes, we need to back the real English spirit, the spirit of Dunkirk.

A myriad of Yorkshire companies of all sorts, big and small, can combine with our schools, colleges and universities to build our own future. We have a reserve of untapped talent waiting to be trained and to work. But it can be done, it really can.

If you had seen a team of 600 Yorkshire apprentices steaming ahead with the skills of the future, you would know it can. Some of them came straight from job centres and they are just as smart as kids who go to Eton. Actually smarter it turns out.

But we desperately need a government that looks at the North as a potential powerhouse and puts in the investment to make it work.

Yorkshire has the capability to build its future if we had a government with balls to invest in its own people for the first time in a long while.

And that is what we need. We need cash not lies.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett FRS is Vice-Chancellor and President