Glastonbury 2017

Why was Glastonbury 2017 like General Election 2017? Because it started out with uncomfortably hot weather which you thought couldn’t possibly last, was hit by unforecast persistent drizzle that made you long for the 32C you had when it started, followed by Jeremy Corbyn, before finishing with more representative mild sunshine.

OK, that doesn’t really work that well. This year’s Glastonbury was however, probably the most political one I’ve been to. There’s always been a political undercurrent to the festival, both in the small Leftfield Tent and in the nature of the charitable causes supported to great effect by the festival. But it has until recently been avoidable. It isn’t the main draw or reason why we put together complex plans involving organising in groups of four to log on at 9am on a Sunday morning in October to maximise our chances of getting all our friends tickets before they sell out after half an hour of pressing refresh on our web browsers. Back in 2015 I was first aware of people discussing politics while just out and about at the festival – surprising numbers discussing how Cameron was the better choice of PM than Miliband. Last year, with the festival coinciding with the EU Referendum vote, the atmosphere the morning of the result was funereal and many of the bands referred to the Referendum (invariably against the result). And of course, this year was Corbyn’s year after he cancelled his scheduled appearance in 2016 to call for A50 to be triggered the morning after.

I didn’t go and see him introduce Run the Jewels on the Pyramid Stage at 4pm (geddit, JC 4PM?!) so won’t comment on the speech he actually gave. Like with many of the bands at Glastonbury, if you’ve seen them once, you don’t always need to go and see them again. I did however hear the “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” chant to the tune of Seven Nation Army a few times and spotted nearly ten people over the course of the festival wearing Corbyn T-shirts (a missed opportunity there – I’m surprised they didn’t get a T-shirt cannon to distribute them to the Pyramid Stage crowd). I’m sure that many of those who joined in did so to express their deep love for JC, but did hear a few people chant along lustily then remark to their friends that they’d voted for May. It’s a catchy chant for those whose names scan appropriately and it’s no surprise the tune has become a regular at many football matches – at Brentford it certainly helped to cement the cult popularity of Alan McCormack despite him being a peripheral part of the team for much of the last three seasons. Like any good football chant, even for a supporter it is easy enough to feel the need to join in as part of experiencing and contributing to the atmosphere of the event without committing yourself to the literal truth of the words and their implications – despite having lived in Leeds longer than I lived in London I’m as prone as the next fan to a lusty rendition of “You dirty Northern Bastard” when a player for any team in the Midlands or beyond fouls a Bee, even if the victim is himself from the North and the perpetrator lived all his life on the South Coast before being transferred.

Glastonbury is not real life and people don’t go there to experience reality but rather to escape it for a few days. It’s not cheap and the prospect of spending £238 on a ticket and £50 to park while foregoing showers for tactical cleansing with wet wipes and planning movements around the site to give access to the least unpleasant toilets for 5 days isn’t most people’s idea of fun. For those who can’t afford the luxury of paying to experience such spartan conditions there is the option of volunteering to work at the festival in return for a ticket, but that tends not to work out at anything like the £10ph minimum wage JC promised everyone from the age of 16 and I shudder to think what the ticket price would be if it came in. And almost unbelievably, it has been reported that after bloviating on a world without borders and the evils of inherently exploitative zero hours contracts, the festival itself sent home 600 of the 700 workers recruited for two weeks of clean up work at minimum wage after the festival without work after two days.

Ironically while the festival in popular imagining retains some of its original hippy connotations, in reality, since the fences went up to restrict entry to paying guests only, it is both a much safer and more resolutely middle class thing. So there’s not much chance of having your tent nicked while some scally tries to sell you shots from a 3 litre bottle of spirits with an optic which may or may not have been liberated from a pub. It is still a lot of fun even if it is more John Galt’s mountain home for the creative elite in Atlas Shrugged than anything else.

For the first time this year, thanks to Rob’s mate Showbiz Sean, I had a glimpse into how the other half lived with a backstage pass at the Park Stage. Unfortunately I am terrible at recognising people so have no stars to report having seen.

So, on to the acts themselves. Unusually, perhaps because the weather was fine and the rain fell on ground which had been dry for weeks and so drained away rather than turning it to slurry, I didn’t go to see any of the comedy. Usual Simon rules applied, even though Simon didn’t come this year – 3 songs or 15 minutes minimum to count as having seen someone (actually, we weren’t sure if the rule might not have been initially 25 minutes but amended to avoid excessive exposure to tedium from bands which did bad veeery long songs).

Thursday 

The Orb – The Orb’s three sets on Thursday were something I’d been looking forward to as part of the festival’s annual creep towards making Thursday a more official part of the programme. However, to be honest, I can’t say I got a lot out of them as The Glade where they were playing is quite badly affected by noise pollution from neighbouring bar sound systems (this happens on several stages – I’m not sure why the festival organisers don’t require bars to turn off their music during sets on nearby stages). We were also pre-occupied with looking out for Martin who’d arrived that evening and was due to find us there. We discovered that the festival seemed to have been invaded by many False Martins in a live action game of Where’s Wally, each False Martin sharing some, but not all the external characteristics of the real one.

Friday

New York Brass – Glastonbury hasn’t properly started until you’ve seen New York Brass playing their lively arrangements of pop classics. That’s the law.

Hacienda Classical– the first of the proper acts. Started with a minute’s silence in remembrance of the recent tragedies in Manchester and London. Bez came on to be Bez for a bit (without maracas, disappointingly). Peter Hook played Blue Monday. All good stuff. Then a march up from the Pyramid to The Park for…

Bo Ningen– Japanese v hairy v heavy space rock. V good & loud. Also very polite in the usual Japanese way – I could see them being like my trainee when I worked at a Japanese company who, despite sitting at the next desk to me would stand up and walk to a respectful distance behind me and wait until I noticed them before they would ask a question. I saw the bassist a couple of days later in the backstage bar at The Park still wearing the quasi-medieval Japanese robes they had on stage. According to Showbiz Sean that’s how they dressed all the time and they had turned up to set up their camp like that. Discovery of the festival.

Las Kellies– from Argentina, girl trio, spiky guitar pop, “Mind your own business” the highlight.

Pictish Trail– Guillemots/Stornawayish sound with some wibbly noises added in for good measure.

Fujiya & Miyagi– not actually Japanese. Motorik pop, good.

Mark Lanegan– the Screaming Trees frontman started off with a bit of a racket but then settled down to more gentle stuff that were a pleasant backdrop to a gentle mid-afternoon snooze for me and Martin and the cue for Rob to take advantage of the clean toilets backstage at The Park. The set led to the coining of “Lanegan Lie Down” for any act which turned out to offer an opportunity for a nap.


Ride– 10/10! A few off the new album, along with older hits, ignoring the badness of their last pre-split album. Great rendition of “Leave them all behind” (probably their last really good song in their first incarnation, good enough to make Going Blank Again disappointing when it came out because nothing else compared) , ended with the lovely Vapourtrail. A close run thing between this and The Killers for set of the festival, shaded by Ride because it could more easily have gone badly wrong.

Future Islands– I still don’t really get them.

Kuenta I Tambu– Gambian dance, they’re fun.

Radiohead– started very flat & plodding but perked up with Pyramid Song followed by Everything in its Right Place mixed with the emergency broadcast jingle. Only stayed for the first 45 minutes but it was clear that they’d designed the set carefully to build up over the full 2 hours to culminate in the big early album hits (apparently they’d done this at Coachella recently). If there hadn’t been the lure of other acts it might have been worth persisting with but in the event there was the chance to see…

Flaming Lips– who were flaming bonkers good. The photo above is from the (surprisingly straight) cover version of Bowie’s Space Oddity which saw Wayne Coyne walk out over the crowd in an inflatable ball. Other on stage craziness included charging around on an inflatable unicorn. Well worth the trek from Pyramid to Park.

Saturday 

Bootleg Beatles-  they did Day in the life well and otherwise sounded suitably Beatlesish. Got the requisite 3 songs in during the walk from one side of the Pyramid to the other on the way to…

Speak and Spell– Depeche Mode covers band. They have the live act to a tee including Dave Gahan’s “Thangyew”. They really know their material- Just can’t get enough was played with the ending from the 12″ version, which sounded a bit unfamiliar but luckily Martin, who is otherwise often wilfully obscure in his musical tastes has a guilty pleasure in having collected Depeche Mode 12″ and remixes since his teens.

Vieux Farka Toure– Malian music. He gamely tried getting a lunchtime crowd standing in drizzle to sing along.

Inheaven– guitar pop, heavyish, tuneful, anthemic. Boy girl singer combo. Decent enough. Although in retrospect, having heard rave reviews, I probably should have persuaded Martin to come to see British Sea Power instead.

Jools Holland– parp!

Stay Hungry– (bandstand) man with ukulele. “Too sad to wank” and a folk song reminiscing about Britpop. Only at Glastonbury.

Wild Beasts– pleasantly forgettable, although Alpha Female is a neat song. Had a short Lanegan Lie Down as the sun came out again.

Badbadnotgood– Jazz Jazz Not Good

Thurston Moore– a fanboy yay from me as a Sonic Youth fan who always preferred Thurston songs to Kim sings, even if he does like Corbyn.

Katy Perry– apart from pronouncing Aphrodite as Afro-dite pretty good pop of the sort I’d never have any other reason to go and see, not having a teenage daughter.


DJ Shadow– a great example of what a good show a pure DJ can put on. He mixed up tracks from all his albums. Bass at resonant frequency of my trousers. The only disappointments were that he didn’t play a 15 minute version of Bergschrund off the last album (I’ve no idea whether he ever does but it’s one which really could do with being lengthened) and Run the Jewels, who were on site, didn’t come over to guest on Nobody Speak (although I did hear them perform it in their own set from a distance).

Joe Goddard– routine dance music without any of the invention or playfulness of Hot Chip. We were only really listening to kill time before Showbiz Sean gave us a lift in the back of the pick up he’d been transporting artists round the back stage area to get us down to the Other Stage for Alt-J. It is obviously highly superficial of me but it was great fun speeding down the access roads and being waved through busy crossings in the main festival site as people craned to see whether there was anyone famous in the truck. It was also nice being able to have a comfy sit down in the crew bar behind the Pyramid Stage to watch part of the Foo Fighters set (although we did hear more than 3 songs and watching the same screen footage and sound feed that we’d have got had we been the other side of the stage I’m not giving myself a tick for this, anyway, I saw them play in a little tent at Reading 20 odd years ago so no need).

– Not the usual view of the Pyramid Stage!


Alt-J – they played with their usual meticulous and unique sound. I think I’ve probably exhausted the need to see them again. Their meticulousness means that they add very little to their live performances – the records have clearly been crafted to be the definitive works so why fiddle with them?

Sunday 

Slaves– all good fun as before and Isaac could probably do a very entertaining hour of spoken word,  but no Cheer up London- possibly because it might have struck the wrong note in light of the recent tragedies at London Bridge and Grenfell Tower. 

Frank Carter & the Rattlesnakes– grungy swears. Got bottled with piss which made him angry. Song about not coming home after a gig and how terrorists are cowards. Song for lady crowd surfers. A heavy Billy Bragg but basically very happily milking the unique opportunity of a packed John Peel Stage waiting for The Killers who were coming on next. 

The Killers– Peel Stage rammed 2 acts early for secret gig. Triumphant- better than when I last saw them on Pyramid and just unashamedly playing to the audience with a greatest hits package. 


The Cinematic Orchestra– a bit jazz a bit cinematic. More palatable to me than Badbadnotgood but too much jazz for Rob. 

Ward Thomas– folk rocky summery girl harmonies. Only visit to the Acoustic Stage which didn’t have a particularly appealing line up this year. Only got the tick because the Acoustic Stage still has a nice real ale tent and we fancied a sit down and a pint which took us through 3 songs. 

Jagwar Ma– played as a continuous dance mix. Sounded like the music playing in a sophisticated but shady night club in Miami Vice where Crockett & Tubbs were going to suss out a suave and untouchable drug baron. Better than their normal stuff. Also a very beautiful sorceress shoved past us accompanied by a rather rough flunky. She turned out to be Kate Moss. 

London Grammar– modern Enya. Quite nice for a band we caught accidentally as they were running late. 

Metronomy– somewhat like Radiohead they played a set that took a bit of time to get going. Interestingly jumped between songs from different albums which dealt with different aspects of a similar theme (as the albums do). Another band, like Alt-J who don’t add a lot live, even though they were much more inclined to depart from the way the songs played on record. 

– Ancient and Modern, The Pyramid and Glastonbury Tor in the background, waiting for Ed Sheeran, the end of the festival and 7 hours driving home. 

Farewell to Glastonbury until 2019! 

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Glastonbury 2016

26 Bands, 25 Hours without sleep – my Glastonbury in a nutshell

Before I forget in the excitement of everything after the EU Referendum, some thoughts on this year’s Glastonbury Festival, which I’d hoped would be a nice distraction after a seemingly interminable and often depressing campaign. Unfortunately, that’s not how it turned out and instead, the Referendum hung over the festival like a miasma. First thing on Friday morning all you could hear were groups of dazed people sitting outside their tents debating what exactly had happened and I’ve never been to a more political Glastonbury. And I didn’t even get a chance to heckle Jeremy Corbyn as he somehow decided that even he couldn’t justify talking to a few hundred people in a tent in the middle of nowhere the day after the result. Anyway…

Michael Eavis (pictured doing a regal inspection of the site) has said that this year’s festival was the muddiest ever. I haven’t been to all of them, but the mud was much more of an issue than any other year I’ve been. This is probably because unlike other “wet” Glastonburys there had been a lot of rain over the preceding couple of weeks so that the whole site was already pretty saturated even before the car parks were opened. Thankfully the group I drove down didn’t get particularly delayed going in, but another of our party took 17 hours to arrive from Manchester.

Thursday

Thursday at Glastonbury is mainly for wandering around to get your bearings as they always seem to move things around a little bit and to spend the evening drinking beer at the Avalon Inn. Because more and more people each year aim to turn up as soon as the gates open, there are a few bands on, including “secret” unannounced sets in the Williams Green tent. Unfortunately, this year’s secret acts were not inspiring (why would anyone want to see the comeback of Travis?) and nobody really believed that they’d include the rumoured Radiohead set (why would they bother playing a secret gig when headlining the Pyramid is only ever a phonecall away?). So the only act I saw was…

The Smyths- a nearly note-perfect Smiths tribute. Except the singer was trying too hard to sing the songs as Morrissey and wasn’t very good at sounding like Morrissey. Which is a shame because, as Johnny Marr demonstrates in his solo gigs, the songs are good enough to be enjoyed without the distraction of Morrissey’s idiosyncracies.

Friday

Friday morning had the air of a wake, with these obituary posters for Britain in the EU all around.

So, it was high time to lift the mood by letting the festival begin properly. In the rain.

James- were first on the Other Stage (I’ve just about got used to not calling it the NME Stage, helped by the fact that the NME is now completely dire, rather than just patchily so). Their start was delayed by 50 minutes as the area in front of the stage was waterlogged and needed to be covered in wood chippings. Which was bad enough as it meant that the usual meticulous planning of which bands to see through the day was also disrupted, but was made worse by being forced to listen to the entire Athlete album over the PA. We were also treated to our first artist comment on the Referendum, concluding with “fuck em” followed by a spirited rendition of the optimistic Tomorrow.

Blossoms- weren’t really on my list of bands to see but followed James on the Other Stage and my companions, who mainly live in Stockport wanted to stay to watch this local band. Also, there wasn’t really much else on that would have inspired, even if a day and a half on site made me reluctant to trudge quite as far as I have in previous years (a steady 9 miles or so each day rather than the 20 I’ve done on days with better line ups). Blossoms are a sunny synth rock group and very young. So young that it took a little while to realise that their prettily androgynous singer was just too young to shave (and other band members had only rudimentary facial hair, mainly, I think, to show that they were able to grow some at all). And the sun came out

Gringo Ska- ska ozric tentacles. It’s the flute. Probably wouldn’t have got the “tick” (3 songs or 20 minutes) had it not been such a trudge through the Glade on the way to the Cabaret Tent in anticipation of rain (which came in bucket loads once we were safely sat down inside).

DJ Ivan Brackenbury (comedy) – hospital radio act, literally. Jokes with apt songs- 5 organ transplant from crashed netball coach= mambo no 5. An unrepeatable play on the words Country Tracks. Puerile but cumulatively funny just by the sheer weight and pace of weak jokes.

Jeremy Hardy – I’m not a big fan of Jeremy Hardy. I think the News Quiz is substantially funnier when he’s not on it. However, in the context of heavy rain and the likely fertile comedy potential for a professional curmudgeon of the Referendum he was worth seeing. And, although my northern chums did find his implicit “blame thick northerners” approach unfunny, I thought he was pretty good because he was actually angry rather than just a bit tired of it all. I liked his suggestion of going to the Green Fields and telling the hippies they’ve got their work cut out dispelling negative energy. And his full Trump as Cartman worked a lot better than the hint at it he’d done a couple of weeks previously on the News Quiz.

Shappi Khorsandi- OK, fluffed a few gags. Had an unusual explanation for why there are so few women comedians – that it is because women are used to people being supportive if things don’t turn out how they want whereas men are brought up to expect no sympathy, get mocked for it and to try again in front of the people who mocked them.

Lumineers- sun and sunshine. First proper good band of the day.

ZZ Top- beards and hits. “Let’s stay here all night long and make some barbecue “. They looked like they were having fun. Enough to be able to discern a smile through the trademark beards (apart from the drummer whose surname is Beard but doesn’t wear one).

Explosions in the Sky- introduced themselves by saying they’ve been going 16 years and had been told they should play Glasto and here they are. 4 guitars. Feedback. Mogwai from Texas. Liked them from 15 seconds in. Very tight. I’ve just listened to their latest album and it’s a bit more like Storm in Heaven era Verve (without the fag packet lyrics) but quite heavy live. They were on at the John Peel tent which had been relocated about 100 yards up a slope from its previous position and the tent is now much better (last year much of the floor was awash with water) as well as having a decent area to sit outside and a convenient bar.

Savages- a bit like Siouxsie and the Banshees but not as good. Better on record as less waily and more intelligible. Didn’t make the £5 deposit for the much touted steel pint glasses from the Bimble Inn (which initially seemed to have bargain prices with pints a pound cheaper than elsewhere on site) any more bearable. Particularly as there was only only Water Aid kiosk which would give refunds for the “deposit” and that was located back up the top of the Park Stage which I couldn’t be bothered to slog up.

Underworld- meh. Some dance acts (notably Orbital or Hot Chip who were surprisingly good in the same slot at West Holts last year) are excellent live. Others are single-paced and dreary unless you’re in the middle of the main crowd doing what passes for dancing when your wellies are glued into the mud and perhaps chemically enhanced. Underworld are the latter.

Blackberry Smoke- country rock as an unobjectionable backdrop to a pint at the Avalon Inn. One of this year’s welcome innovations is that the tented Avalon, John Peel and Acoustic stages have had most of their sides left open so that you can hear the music and see the performers from outside the tents.

Saturday

Squeeze- meh. Coincidentally got the “tick” while crossing Pyramid field.

Hardwicke Circus- 60s straight rock. Again, not intentionally watched but happened to be on in the Acoustic tent while we sampled the Real Ale bar and its particularly welcome seating (the toilets in this field are also usually the least unpleasant in the whole festival).

Ozric tentacles- did what they do much as they’ve done it for 30 years. Psychedelic space synth rock. Never trust anyone who can identify individual tracks by their titles. Although you’d probably work that out by the way their pupils are hazy and pointing in different directions and the smell of patchouli.

Jagwa Ma- the Australian regular fries but more upbeat because they’re Aussies. Then went a bit orbital which makes them great. First time all festival that the crowd really got going. Although that is perhaps more a function of my choice of acts!

Madness- couldn’t hear well from edge of Pyramid field but they played the hits. Cover of Bowie’s Kooks after band’s children and grandchildren had come on stage. It was a nice cover of a good song from a great album, but I’m not sure many in the crowd knew it so it only got polite applause.

Ralph mctell- got the tick but have no recollection as was wolfing down Mac and Cheese at the time. I don’t think he played “Streets of London”.

Paul Carrack- like a really good wedding band. Fronted by George Galloway.

Tame Impala- meh

Adele- brilliant, potty mouthed, made a little girl’s day by having her up on stage, hits hits hits (so many that she’d done all the ones I knew 45 minutes in and so didn’t feel bad about heading off on the long walk up to hear Philip Glass’s Heroes Symphony at the Park in tribute to David Bowie (I didn’t have my steel pint glasses with me for a refund)).

New Order- walked past on the way to The Park. Bernard Sumner doesn’t have the best voice in the world but seemed this time to be singing in a Vic Reeves club style.

Glass Heroes Symphony- This was excellent. I don’t think many in the audience had heard Philip Glass’s piece which was inspired by Bowie’s Heroes album (I have it on CD having bought it when seeing the premiere of his Low Symphony some years back) and if you hadn’t  you’d need to be very familiar with the more obscure instrumental tracks on that album to appreciate the link. Unfortunately we were stood next to the biggest twat in the world who spent the first three movements loudly complaining that it was shit, that the musicians shouldn’t have sheet music because they should “know the words” and that being a conductor was a complete waste of time because the musicians could just play. I’m not normally one for a confrontation but had to quietly tell him that he didn’t have to stay if he didn’t like it, or could at least keep his opinions down a little. Unfortunately, that rather escalated to “Fuck off or shut the fuck up”. I left it at the point I could see him and his guffawing acolytes slowly formulating the idea of whether to kick my head in. Thankfully they didn’t and instead got bored and left after discussing whether they should set fire to my hat for entertainment (but luckily decided it was too much bother).

– I’m pretty sure Flock of Seagulls weren’t meant to be in the line up

Sunday

Caravan Palace- French electro swing. Doop. Impressive to get people on a muddy field at noon doing a dancercise class.

Bear’s Den- they’re quite hairy but ok over lunch

Mitch Benn- “after 20 years of not quite being funny enough for the Comedy Stage now I’m not quite good enough a musician for the Avalon. Hope you like my new direction”. Was both funny and musical. Highlight was probably his description of how the Beatles recorded Tomorrow Never Knows using improvised technology (like tearing apart a Hammond organ to feed the vocal mic through its revolving speaker) and then proceeded to recreate it by recording the whole thing on his iPhone and playing it live.

ELO- really needed blue skies but got rain. It didn’t make any difference, still sounded as fresh as it did 40 years ago. And Jeff Lynne looks still just like I remember him on Top of the Pops back in the 70s!

Anoushka Shankar- a welcome sitar chill out then she rocked out. The continuing rain and forecast that it wouldn’t let up until the early hours meant we decided to go and pack up so we could leave after the headliners rather than wait until morning. Particularly as one of our friends had just texted to say that it had taken 8 hours to get out of the car park that morning.

PJ Harvey – was wearing a funereal midnight blue dress. Mainly played songs from the current album and the Mercury Prize-winning Let England Shake. These are serious and weighty songs about serious issues, played with serious expressions. Yet somehow in this live setting they were uplifting and even danceable. Also played a couple of oldies in Bring you my love and  50ft Queenie. PJ read out Donne’s “no man an island” as the most eloquent comment on the Referendum from the stage all weekend. And even exited the stage barely able to suppress a smile. One of the highlights of the festival for me, followed  up by another.

LCD Soundsystem – brilliant, even if the set was shortened by 15 minutes (I think in order to ensure that the Other Stage had cleared by the time Coldplay finished on the Pyramid Stage) and didn’t play North American Scum (which wouldn’t have fitted the tone of the set anyway). James Murphy had the look and intensity of a Baptist Preacher. A great end to what was not, in all honesty, a vintage Glastonbury.

All that remained was to leave for the long walk back to the car, an hour or so waiting for the traffic to move and then 250 miles on the road back to Leeds and the welcome of a hot shower and a clean bed.

Brexit & Immigration

Immigration, concern about immigration, control over immigration, seems for many to be one of the very biggest issues in the EU Referendum. As a second generation immigrant, I have something of a personal interest in the way that immigration is dealt with, although that doesn’t mean that I or indeed immigrants of any generation in the UK must automatically support “uncontrolled” immigration or have no “concerns” about immigration. Historically indeed it has tended to be the last wave of immigrants to any country who have been most concerned about the impact of future waves of immigration (there’s an interesting room in the Ellis Island museum of immigration in New York exploring this phenomenon).

As Sartre put it, hell is other people, so it is not surprising that anything involving increasing the number of other people around will inspire concern for most people. Most people are somewhat resistant to change even if that change is intended to be or turns out to be for the better. At a time when we’ve been told for many years that “there is not enough” of many of the things we need and value, it is quite reasonable for people to take the view that “if there is already not enough to go round, how can it be any good to spread what there is more thinly across more people?”. So ignoring either of those reasonable sentiments to steer the debate away from immigration entirely, or to claim that there is no good reason to discuss it at all, will immediately lead to the conclusion that people are not being taken seriously. These are concerns which can and do legitimately arise even in respect of migration within this country by people from this country: the joke in the 90s posters for the Manchester nightclub “South” (“Students, why don’t you F*** off down South this weekend?”) or the embarrassment felt by some at the reaction to their regional accents when they first move to London illustrate this.

However, while agreeing that it is not per se racist to have concern over immigration, I do sometimes feel that focusing on it allows for a relatively polite screen against uglier underlying sentiments.  In this blog I’ll try to explore what I think are the broad arguments about immigration and also whether in fact a vote to leave the EU will address those arguments. At a high level, the answer to the latter is that of course it could, but as in my previous blog, I take the view that the better approach in deciding on how to vote in the referendum involves at least sketching out a plausible and appealing vision for how it would be dealt with in fact. What I won’t do is drill deeply into numbers and statistics. This is because it is too easy to get bogged down in claim and counterclaim about precise numbers and models for predicting movements of people and because I think that most people’s reactions to immigration are not based on data but on personal experience and perception. Which is not wrong when we have to remember that this is a debate about real people and their lives rather than lifeless numbers. That doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore numbers entirely, just that I hope that the discussion won’t stand or fall on where a decimal point can be placed in a table. The main discussion is focused on migration other than for the purposes of asylum, which while related, ought to be distinct and so I’ll deal with that in a separate section.

What are the concerns about immigration, or some of them?

My impression is that there are four main aspects to immigration which motivate people to think that this is a significant issue in the context of the UK’s membership of the EU. I’m not putting them down in any consciously intended order of merit or significance or otherwise. Each of them will interrelate with the others to some extent.

  1. The impact on public services and quality of life.
  2. The impact on employment and wages.
  3. The fact that as a nation it should be up to us and nobody else who may come to the UK to live and work.
  4. The impact on local and national culture of people who may not share it or might even be in many ways opposed to it.

The first two aspects can broadly be described as economic ones. How important they are in referendum voting decisions will depend more on how they are perceived by individuals than on the aggregated economic data. If someone has noticed a worsening of access to the health service when they themselves have tried to get an appointment with a GP, have found themselves ever further away from being able to get the home they want or a place for their child in a local school while seeing immigrants appear to get ahead of them in those things it will be unpersuasive to throw data about waiting lists shortening etc at them. Similarly, if in fact someone has seen their ability to get a job or to get a pay rise reduced, they won’t be convinced by any number of statistics about employment rates and wage inflation.

The third one is a sovereignty argument – if this is of paramount importance, even if in fact there has been no adverse impact from immigration as it has been or even if it can be clearly demonstrated to have been positive, it won’t matter, because the principle remains the same. It is difficult to argue against as a point of principle if you place sovereignty above all else. Many of the most committed supporters of Leave start and finish here, but I think most of those who will decide on practical grounds would see it as the icing on the cake if Brexit delivered more visible change on whichever of the other three aspects they found most personally impactful, rather than the whole cake itself.

The fourth is a more nebulous one to define but still very real as a perception. There have been many discussions about what Britishness, Englishness, Scotsness, Welshness, Northern Irishness actually mean without any clear and uncontroversial conclusion. That is sometimes, mistakenly used to conclude that there is no such thing or worse, that those are mere petty nationalisms principally for “little Englanders”. I think it is more that the fourth aspect of the debate is a general feeling of discomfort about rapid change across the spectrum of life combined with a belief that even if we can’t quite put our finger on what it specifically comprises of, our local environment as it was some time up until the recent past was pretty good in terms of how we got on and related to our neighbours and communities. It doesn’t need nostalgia to the extreme of the Daily Express’s world view (although this is perhaps its epitome). It is for me a negative nationalism to an extent because it is at best merely sceptical about the possibility that change and incomers could assimilate into society let alone be positive. I don’t think it is specific to the issue of EU immigration but immigration more generally. It is a position which if strongly held would not be persuaded at all even by there being big economic benefits to immigration on any basis, in or outside the EU. One manifestation of it was seen in the erstwhile BNP and its open opposition to foreigners, but it is more prevalent in a quieter “very nice, but we’re happy as we are, thank you”, spoken to by Nigel Farage and UKIP.

So where does this leave the EU Referendum debate?

In my next couple of blogs I’ll look into these four aspects. My impression is that all four of these sets of arguments have two angles, a technical one and an emotional one. The Remain campaign started trying to focus on the technical one by bombarding us with data and opinions of the global great and good. The Leave campaign has been very successful in understanding the power of the emotional one. Remain’s response has often been to play on the strong emotion of fear that runs in these emotional angles – fear of change, fear of impotence, fear of failure. But that is a negative line and so not an attractive one. However, Leave hasn’t been very successful in rebutting “Project Fear” with a coherent and  unifying “Project Hope”. Had it been able to do so, I think we would already be very clearly heading for Brexit.