a reply to Giles Fraser


Professor Steve Peers,
Unversity of Essex
“Why won’t Remainers talk about
family?” shrieks the smearing, ad hominem clickbait – otherwise known as an article
by cleric Giles Fraser. The answer is that of course we do: for instance, I’ve
discussed family issues and Brexit many
times
on Twitter and as editor of this blog, and
Chris Kendall is one of many people who’ve discussed
Brexit and their own family.
Where to begin with this article?
It’s an incoherent argument for extreme social conservatism which starts out
with a stereotype of Polish and Spanish carers – yet ends with the contrary
trope that “Remain is all about ever new opportunities for the rich”. Who knew
caring paid so well?
Fraser’s argument – such as it is
– is that children should look after their parents as they get older. To that
end, interspersed with three random anecdotes, he criticises “that much over
praised value of social mobility”.  The
problem is people leaving their communities, in particular in the form of free
movement within the EU. But furthermore “it is this same philosophy that
encourages bright working-class children to leave their communities to
become rootless Rōnin”. I was the first Peers in a thousand generations to
be able to go to university. And it seems Fraser would like me to be the last.  
In his view, “No amount of
economic growth is worth sacrificing all this for”, because “robbed of their
most go-ahead young people, working class communities become ghost towns of
hopelessness. And this nirvana of social immobility takes a very familiar form:
“It is the daughter of the elderly gentleman that should be wiping his bottom”.
The rich man in his castle; the poor woman at her picket fence.
The blindingly obvious omission
here is that EU membership enhances
family reunion for those who exercise the right to free movement. There’s a
right of admission for spouses, children under 21 or dependent, and dependent
parents or parents-in-law. This literally matches the extended family in one of
Fraser’s anecdotes (and see the actually relevant anecdote of how free movement
can facilitate care for elderly parents here). The
EU withdrawal agreement would preserve
this position in a limited form, but the position would be more
difficult
for families in the no deal outcome that Fraser says he longs
for. As for future relationships, while some people will still move between the UK
and EU, family reunion rights will be more restrictive, not less. With friends
like Fraser, family values don’t need any enemies.
Indeed, we might well ask “Why
won’t Leavers talk about family reunion?” – if we were willing to indulge in the
sort of smearing over-generalisation that characterises Fraser’s piece. In
fact, some Leavers support liberal rules in immigration in general, and in family reunion
in particular. But so far, it seems like Leave’s liberals have lost this
argument.
As for the issues Fraser does discuss, it’s easy to shrug about the
unimportance of economic growth when it doesn’t affect you.  In fact, one obvious reason for family
breakdown, social problems and working class communities becoming ghost towns is
the loss of good jobs. But Fraser seems not have noticed that Brexit is being driven
by people who welcomed the contraction of manufacturing in the 1980s, and
endorse Patrick Minford, an economist who argues
that Brexit should “mostly eliminate” manufacturing. In its place, Minford
argues that people should take up jobs in design, marketing and law. But Fraser
rejects the notion that anyone should leave their community, and criticises the
ambition of anyone who would seek such jobs.  
It’s that poverty of ambition
which is most striking about Fraser’s piece. Of course, it’s hard to reconcile
paid work with frail parents, as several people have pointed out in response to
him. (See Twitter comments here and here).  But the desire to travel to (and maybe live
in) new places, or to do better paid work, is intrinsic for many people. Far
from opposing their children’s success, many parents aspire for them to do as
well as they can in life. It’s hard to see how “Global Britain” could work
without people still moving to and from the country. Brexit was sold as a future
of sunlit uplands; Fraser seeks instead to recreate a past of narrowed
horizons.
In fact, Britain’s past is all
about movement to other countries: yes, to colonise, but also to trade, explore,
and convert. Fraser’s Christianity would be the religion of a handful of villages
in Israel and Palestine if Christians had not gone forth and proselytised. Not
that he makes much of a case to convert: it’s an aimless sermon from a joyless
priest. It would certainly take a miracle to transform his reheated “citizens
of nowhere” shtick into a coherent and convincing argument.
Photo credit: parentsinapinch.com





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