Hearing, but not speaking
Holidays in times past were spent in south-west France where an hour could be spent in the morning reading Sud Ouest, the regional daily newspaper. Having no more than phrasebook French was sufficient to allow the enjoyment of tales of the locality, once it even meant reading of a man, who lived next door to a house rented a number of times, having discovered a murder.
Of course, there was a difference between reading French and speaking it. Words in the columns of the newspaper could be read in context, there was no need to understand every word in order to gather the gist of the story. If there was a particularly hard word, the Collins dictionary was usually in a pocket of the car door, from which it might sometimes be taken to comprehend difficult road signs. Trying to speak to people in French was an altogether different matter, the proprietrix of a hotel suggested that I addressed her in English, or, if I was going to attempt to speak French, to tell her afterwards, in English, what it was that I had said.
Speaking demanded a vocabulary and an understanding of grammar, and the ability to pronounce words in a way that did not sound like the stumbling efforts of a monoglot Anglophone. Initiating a conversation always brought the risk of a reply that would require a response that was beyond my ability.
Hearing seems always simpler than speaking. Spending much of the day struggling with algebra, a concept not encountered in forty years, there was a feeling that it was like trying to speak French. Reading equations was not a problem, it was when the question asked to write algebraic proofs of the relationship between numbers that there was a sense of being overcome with complete incomprehension.
The feeling of being able to hear, but not able to speak, seems descriptive of British politics at the moment. Working class people felt alienated by what they perceived as the elitism and bureaucratic inflexibility of the European Union, but no-one articulated that alienation in terms that were not negative. Consequently, they voted for a political dispensation that threatens to remove from them the rights and protections that had been acquired over more than forty years. Among the neo-liberal politicians there is glee at the prospect of reducing labour costs and increasing profits. In the twenty-two months since the referendum, no-one has provided those who will suffer most after March 2019 with a vocabulary and grammar adequate for the situation they face. When one can hear, but not speak, it is hardly surprising that people grow tired of the entire sound of politics.
I think Ireland being sent to redo their EU votes was indicative. And had the powers that be across the EU really studied the results we may not be where we are.
There is a notion abroad that at core the EU is a good, if not for all, then for most. And I don’t think that is in fact the case. The truth is we are spending vast treasure answering questions from the 50s and 60s, which when converted to society in the late teens of 2000’s means poor French speaking Belgians are transferring across to the wealthy landowning Flemish. Or the poor English in Birmingham transferring to large landowners.
The problem is that the Left has never articulated the injustices of the system in a way readily understood by working people, allowing them to be susceptible to the arguments of xenophobes.