Am I Not A Citizen?

Posted on: 28 March 2017 by Ana María Sánchez-Arce in Posts

Theresa May

The following talks to and mirrors Theresa May's infamous ´Citizens of Nowhere´ speech delivered on 5 October 2016. I wrote it a few days before Article 50 was triggered.

When I started writing this piece, some big questions were hanging in the air.

Does the Conservative government have a plan for Brexit that doesn't include destroying the economy, wrecking the Union and flaming the fires of fascist thinking? No, they don't.

Are they able to ensure the above doesn't mean this country only works for a few, not everyone? No, they aren't.

Can they pull back from demonising migrants and engaging in neo-Imperialist rhetoric to be honest with people about the immense benefits immigration has had for this country, and the fact that its impact on wages has been negligible? They could do… but they won't.

Why not?

Because, despite what Theresa May and many others say, this country isn't "built on the values of fairness and opportunity" but on those of exploitation, self-centredness and double-standards. The clearest examples of these are colonialism and Empire (something that making Britain "great" again reeks of) and the exploitation of UK citizens themselves. May recognised that the EU referendum "was a vote not just to change Britain's relationship with the European Union, but a call for change in the way our country works – and the people for whom it works – forever". What politicians on all sides don't want to admit is that "the way our country works" is the way it always has, before and after becoming a member of the EU. The UK works for the same old people, and these are precisely the "citizens of nowhere" May held up for abuse, and rightly so, those who avoid paying tax, perhaps using tax havens, often exploiting loopholes through clever accounting, occasionally becoming residents of other countries or registering their business in more accommodating ones. These people may beat their chest patriotically whilst begrudging the national minimum wage and EU regulations ensuring workers' rights. Some of them may benefit from an exploitative 'gig economy' that offers nothing but insecurity and precarious conditions to UK workers and which would increase should the current Conservative chancellor Philip Hammond's threat to turn Britain into a tax haven come to pass (15/1/2017).

Let's be clear, Theresa (if I may): these citizens of nowhere, just like Jack in The Shining, have always been this country's caretakers; they have taken care of themselves while pretending to care for the country. They have more in common with international elites (who govern their respective countries either directly or indirectly) than with "the people down the road" or "the people they employ". They are not, however, citizens of the world, or citizens at all. They are selfish individualists who take your predecessor's mantra, "There is no such thing as society", for granted, or, if there is such a thing as society they think it should serve them. Your chancellor's threat to turn the UK into a 'tax haven' shows how this Conservative government puts big corporations ahead of its citizens since low corporation tax and lack of employment rights batter the many to support an economy working for the few. This lost tax could be used to fund public services like Social Care or the NHS but this is obviously not a priority. This sense of entitlement is enshrined in the social fabric, in a particularly nasty way, as seen by the neo-imperialist rhetoric that blinds many Britons to the double standards that they employ, referring to those coming to the UK as migrants whilst Britons abroad are expats.

Last year I met a middle-aged, middle-class English woman who was planning to emigrate to Cyprus to work and complaining about the bureaucratic processes. I said she was lucky it was an EU country and that she could simply move there like I did nearly 20 years ago. Without a hint of self-awareness, she said, "That’s the problem with this country. We let anyone in."

Let’s be clear: The self-serving few (also called the 1%) who rule directly or indirectly most countries, including the UK, have come a long way in the past six years. Private debt has been taken on by countries as national debt. Taxpayers and normal people are paying for this with austerity. You may want to congratulate yourselves on the handling of the economy but 'your' economy does not stand for real people and real economy. The EU referendum was a happiness predictor, so to speak. Needless to say this country isn't happily expecting. You've come a long way: you've removed in-work benefits and a huge number of people in work have use food banks to make ends meet, rising by 2% last year to "1,109,309 three day emergency food supplies" in the 2015/16 financial year  (The Trussell Trust, 15/4/15); you've underspent on the NHS and social care resulting in a breaking point crisis (the British Medical Association reported on 30/12/16 that Sustainability and Transformation Plans "will have to deliver £26bn cuts by 2020/2021 in order to balance health and social care spending […] raising serious concerns about cuts to services and the impact on patient care" );  you've underinvested in mental health services with terrible consequences for some of the most vulnerable members of our society (a Feb. 2016 report from the independent Mental Health Taskforce to the NHS in England, talks of "chronic underinvestment"); you've underfunded councils so they carry the can for government cuts ("despite the efforts of local government the poorest places and the poorest people are being the hardest hit […] cuts at the scale and pace of the last few years are unsustainable", Joseph Rowntree Foundation report on the consequences of cuts since 2010, 'The Cost of the Cuts: The Impact on Local Government and Poorer Communities'); you've syphoned off money for schools and promoted a system which perpetuates inequalities among schools and allows people who can afford it to buy into the right catchment areas (BBC 22/3/17 reports on the "'diabolical' budget squeeze as the government "prepares to introduce a new funding formula for schools"; the National Audit Office reports schools face £3bn shortfall by 2019-20); and you've harassed and deprived of rights those on disability income (Employment and Support Allowance disability benefit cut from April 2017). And the biggest cuts are yet to come. Some achievements. These are the roots of the revolution this Conservative government celebrates.

I would very much like to know who are the people you know who find "themselves out of work or on lower wages because of low-skilled immigration", or are these imaginary like the old lady in Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech? The Financial Times published a review of reports in May 2016 noting that "there is little evidence that more migrants push wages down or unemployment up. Economists from the Centre of Economic Performance at the London School of Economics say that when they look at the areas with the largest increase in EU immigration, these have not seen the sharpest falls in employment wages since 2008". It also reports, citing a former member of the government´s own Migration Advisory Committee, that "there is still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, [or] on wages." In semi-skilled and unskilled sectors there has been a very small impact of about 1% over 8 years. Please compare this to wage depression of 10% as a result of the financial crisis and austerity measures in the period 2007 to 2015 (numbers from the OECD employment outlook analysed by The Trades Union Congress). Please stop demonising migrants and look at Conservative policies and the causes of the financial crash.

In any case, you are right that "change has got to come". It seems rather unfair of you, however, to offer migrants as scapegoats for policies that have in effect been put in place by successive British governments. We did not fail to promote the building of affordable housing; you did. We did not cause the financial crisis or take on investors' debt so that the whole country had to pay for it, and we certainly contribute more to the economy than we take ("Immigrants who arrived in the EU since 2000 […] were estimated to have contributed £1.34 for every £1 they took out", Full Fact, UK Independent Fact Checking Charity).

You talk about this country's values, of its fairness. How is it fair to blame us? But I forget… these values do not apply to the 1%. You are engaged in changing everything so that nothing changes in effect. The poor will be poorer, salaries will slump and inflation will go up. But you and yours will continue to reap the benefits of deregulation and exploit the 99%.

You say that Britain is built on family, community, and citizenship. Citizenship hinges on intersubjectivity. There are rights, but there are also duties. Migrants fulfil their duties to this nation through raising families, taxation, participation in social and community events and institutions. They form a large part of this country's researchers and NHS staff, look after your elderly relatives, take jobs that British people don't want to do, and engage in many civic tasks. Migrants do this without being granted the same rights. I have lived in this country for nearly 20 years, I married here, I am raising a son with double nationality, I work full-time. And yet, despite a strong engagement with democratic processes (I participate in extra-parliamentary political activity as demonstrated by this piece). I am not allowed to vote in general elections. I now find myself wondering if come 2019 I will be allowed to stay in this country and continue exercising the limited rights I have here as an EU citizen, the right to access free health care, and have a state pension to which I contribute, the right to unemployment benefit should I lose my job, etc. Am I not a citizen? Do we not have a common past? If citizens "can only take from the community, in the form of rights, what they put into it in the form of duties", does it not follow that by putting so much into this community migrants deserve citizenship rights?[1]

I specialise in contemporary English literature, particularly Britain as postcolonial. My students keep asking why they haven't been taught certain aspects of British history. It is more convenient for the 1%  to promote a certain narrative about this country (see Liam Fox's recent tweet about 20th c. British history and having nothing to be ashamed about, forgetting support for apartheid, the Dresden bombing, Bengal famine, Ireland…). I see it as my duty to give university students the tools to see how they're being played by the hegemonic narrative of Britain as great, how behind calls to a return to a nostalgic golden past there may be animosity towards multiculturalism, how patriotic fervour and taking back control are being used to undermine their rights as EU citizens to free movement, employment rights, etc.

It feels like our dreams have been sacrificed in the service of others. It is time for British people to take a look at themselves and those who lead them and consider who is not contributing to this community, who is taking them for granted, who is expecting them to pay for their mistakes, and who blames others for their actions. These are the citizens of nowhere for they only care about themselves.

[1] Nick Crossley, “Citizenship, Intersubjectivity and the Lifeworld”, in N. Stevenson (ed) Culture & Citizenship, p.37.