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Jun 27, 2016

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Hello and welcome to this extra episode of the 21st Century Work Life podcast, I’m Pilar Orti. If you’re a regular listener and managed to listen to last week’s episode, you might know that I was not going to release an episode this week, as I needed to catch up with myself and also, I’m in Madrid at the moment, where my set up is not ideal for working and also, not great for recording, so excuse the audio quality of this impromptu podcast.

So today it’s Monday and I never release an episode on Mondays and this week I wasn’t suppose to release any anyway. But, Brexit happened and, almost against my reserved nature, as in, I’m very careful with what I release on social media, and a podcast is considered social media, almost against my reserved nature I do want to share my reflections on this whole… let’s say, situation. But I’m not just talking about Brexit, also about the political situation in Spain and also about the importance, more now than ever as the political class is crumbling, the importance of creating a world of work that makes people’s lives better.

 

As I said, three parts to this episode and the first is Brexit.

On 23rd June, 52% of 71% of the UK’s British nationals aged 18 and over – and you do the math, voted for the UK to leave the European Union.

So, the first thing I’d like to say is, if you’re British and are ashamed of being British right now, of which there are many, I’ve heard it first hand and second hand, don’t be. Because 48% of the population voted remain. Not just that, I was actually incredibly touched by how much people, in my circles, put themselves out there showing support for the Remain vote and even asking others to do the same. And remember, foreigners residing in Britain like myself, couldn’t vote. So these were British people making it very clear that they wanted to remain in the European Union. More about that later.

In contrast to the couple of posts I saw during the campaign by foreign residents in the UK saying they didn’t feel welcome, I’ve been really touched by people speaking against the xenophobic vote. And hang on, I’m not saying that everyone who voted to leave was xenophobic, but there was a proportion of the vote that certainly was.

So, I’m not angry at the fact that people voted Brexit. In fact, pretty much like the lovely Bernie who writes a newsletter every Sunday (as opposed to myself who is just incapable of doing one every month) I was actually very surprised at the amount of people who turned up to vote – 72%! Considering that the turnout for the last set of local elections was under 40% and I think the same for the last general elections, not bad at all.

So, I’m not angry at that. I’ll tell you what I’m angry at. Two things in fact. This morning on Spanish radio I heard one of the journalists say, “ There’s something I don’t understand. David Cameron calls a referendum to see if people want to leave Europe. And then he campaigns to stay. So why did he call it then?” Ah, of course what this very insightful Spanish journalist didn’t know was the context in which the referendum was promised. The UK Independent Party was promising to do quite well in the last general elections, until Mr Cameron and friends, because I very much doubt that Cameron has been ruling the country on his own, they decided that they couldn’t let their votes go to UKIP. UKIP had done really well in the European Elections, when their flagship promise in their manifesto was to get out of Europe. So, as the Tory votes, and politicians, started to migrate (ha ha, I thought I’d use that word), as the Tory votes began to migrate to UKIP, Cameron needed to do something drastic. And that something was promising a referendum. I need to say here too, that a few years ago, I heard Cameron say on Radio4 that Britain would never leave Europe. It wasn’t a reporter summarizing what he’d said, it wasn’t even a soundbyte. I heard the interview live on Radio4. Liar.

 

So I’m angry at that. At the fact that someone or someones wanted to be in power so badly that they promised something they knew would throw the country and our relationship with the European Union down the drain.

The other thing I’m angry about of course, is that I’ve lived 26 years in London. (And yes, only London, which is an entity in itself). I’ve lived 26 years in London and yet I couldn’t vote in a referendum which, let’s face it, is going to affect me more than it’s going to affect many people who could vote. And no, I didn’t ask for a British passport in 26 years. What for? Didn’t need one. Now we shall see. Everyone is asking me, what will you do? Will you become British? I don’t know. We’ll see what the options are and then we’ll see. In all honesty, if I could become a Londoner, I’d do it tomorrow.

Which brings to me to a couple of other reflections from the past few days. If you’re in Europe, you might have heard that there’s been a petition on the internet for London to become independent. That’s nice. Whereas I understand the anger of Londoners, which is probably the place in the UK where there are indeed more Europeans and the numbers were more or less 70% in favour of remaining, whereas I understand that I also say, come on… Think about it, what would happen if London left England? (And I’m saying England, because if we did move towards making London independent, it would be more or less at the same time as Scotland and northern Ireland left, yes, they’re pretty angry too…) But if London left England, the rest of the country would probably not do so well. So really? Do you really want London to be independent? Well, maybe you do, it depends on how pissed off you are…

And there’s of course that other petition asking for a new referendum if either vote won by less than 60%... Over a million signatures in like 24 hours… a lot of which were fake…. If you believe the Twitter stream of the Petitions Committee, about 20,000 came from North Korea and about 40k from the Vatican. What a laugh. Not just that – I came across the petition on Facebook , by the way, everyone in my stream was so angry with the result…, anyway, I came across the petition, went to the website and of course the website was down. When I finally was able to read it properly, I thought, 60%... say this petition went ahead, how are we going to get form 48% to 60%? Say there’s another referendum, then Remain wins, by 55% to 45% and then… well, you need another referendum, because we didn’t get to 60%... and meanwhile, no one is paying attention to the nhs, to education, to Syria, Turkey, the threat from Isis and oh, immigration. Oh, and Donald Trump. OMG.

So I didn’t sign the petition because I thought, well, we’d never get to 60% remain. But, oh, was I wrong. Was I wrong because I thought people had brains. And here’s the third thing that’s getting me angry. Well, not really angry because there’s no point in getting angry. So today I came across a new word: Bregret, what people who voted Brexit are now feeling. I’ll give you some anecdotal examples. On Facebook, when I made the point about the petition putting us in perpetum referendum, someone said, well, four of my very informed friends had voted Brexit but they never thought it would really count if the majority was so near 50%. Well, you should have informed yourself a bit better, didn’t you. Or another one, Oh, I only voted Brexit because I wanted to scare off Cameron. Well guess what, a vote is not a suggestion that you are behind something, a vote counts people.

And now the Bregret is also increasing as you know, and you’ll be surprised at this, apparently the Leave campaigners were lying. According to an article in El Mundo, which I think has been taken from the Independent, Johnson and Farage were lying about what Brexit would mean for the NHS and immigration.

Yes, my friends, this is the problem with democracy, An informed vote counts as much as an uninformed vote. And this goes too for parents of expats in Europe wanting to vote Brexit and children of immigrants in Britain voting Brexit.

 

Aside from all this, and the other repercussions like the mess that Labour is now in, Scotland and Northern Ireland now threatening with having referendums themselves to leave the UK.

 

While I’ve mentioned Labour, I know that Jeremy Corbyn has been given a really hard time about not backing Remain earlier or more vigorously but, you know what, his words after the results were the most sensible. This result reflects the divide in society in the UK. It reflects inequality. It reflects a system that focuses on the short terms and doesn’t look at the long term consequences. In one way, it’s no wonder that most of London voted to stay. Those that have been pushed out of London because of the housing prices are probably not that happy. Luxury flats continue to pop up all over London in all sorts of areas. Why are we obsessed with having luxury flats? How can normal people afford to live in London??? And that’s just a small example. In a way, I can’t even blame some of the British for being scared of uncontrolled immigration – did you know that you can get the leaflets that come through your door from Hammersmith and Fulham in, I seem to remember, 17 languages? And you can choose to have the website translated into over 20 languages? Another anecdote, a friend of my husband’s went to take the UK citizenship test and apparently, you had access to a translator. What? In the Netherlands you need to pass a Dutch test if you want to become a national.

I know I’m privileged and have never had problems with the language but, you really don’t want immigration without integration, because this is what you get. The UK has always been so tolerant, so welcoming and so afraid of being intolerant that they’ve gone too far in that direction, forgetting that unless you have integration of all the different nationalities, you can’t live as one.

So I’m with Corbyn and many others, thinking that this Brexit mess is unfortunately a symptom of a lot of what’s going on, on many levels and in many different places. Some of it is completely irrational (like those people voting Brexit without knowing it would have consequences like, oh, leaving the EU…) but others, well, there’s a lot that the UK and the European Union need to be looking at, before the whole thing crumbles.

 

Now before I move onto Spain, where does the world of work come into this? Ok, pause and disclaimer. I can only talk about this form my point of view. From a knowledge worker, middle class European. (Ha ha, I’ll say that again) European. In fact Western European, because the differences between West and East are still quite noticeable.

The political class seems pretty much rotten. I’m not saying that they horrible individuals but they’re a little bit out of their depth, some more than others. They’ve got challenges they never thought they’d come across. A flood of immigrants running for their lives, kids who feel like foreigners in their countries of birth but who are looked as foreigners also in their countries of ethnic, who finally find a place to belong to under the wings of terrorists. And economically, let’s face it, we’re not doing that well…

So, ok, I’ll speak for myself. I don’t feel like I can do much about who’s governing the country I live in. We seem to be constantly let down by every political party. So where can we gain a bit of control? Well, I think at work. It’s no coincidence (even though I know it’s not the direct result) but it’s no coincidence that the whole rise in self-management is happening now. Maybe finding more autonomy at work is really what we need. I’m not going to go as far as saying that we have to have a purpose (although some of you will say that that is important), but that at least, we have some sort of control over our destiny.

This is where I bring back the world of work. I feel like we need to think of companies and organisations as places where we can belong to; places which we can shape through our actions. It will need a change of mindset, but to me, it seems the only way forwards for now. Make a difference at work and through work, because making a difference in society seems to be getting harder and harder. But work is connected to society, who makes up the world of work if not?

 

This was the end of the script, I adlibbed after that. I talked about how people looked miserable in Spain in the voting queue on Sunday and how many of my friends just didn’t know who to vote for.

Wherever YOU are, whatever you’re doing, please enjoy.