Keith Burnett: Why the voters believed lie on immigration

Sheffield Forgemasters could be at the vanguard of a new plan for the North.
Sheffield Forgemasters could be at the vanguard of a new plan for the North.
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SAYING immigrants from Europe were to blame for troubles in the NHS, housing and jobs worked a treat for the Leave campaign.

If you wanted out of Europe because you just didn’t want to be part of the greatest unification and self-defence project of all time, that is fine. You got what you wanted.

If you wanted a better future for your kids, you were “done”.

I am sure immigrants are not the root of problems in the North, so why do people believe they were?

Let’s be honest. We all know how tough it is not to be really angry over immigration. If you see someone foreign with a job, and your kid doesn’t have one, it’s really hard not to feel resentment.

But let’s be real about who is
to blame. It is governments that left communities to rot
and then, when they are at the end of their tether through cuts in public services and housing, gives them even more people from aboard to look after. 
Getting rid of the immigrants, without improving funding for those services, will never be enough.

But why did we trust the people who said it would? Because we were told over and over again that it was those Europeans that stopped us
from protecting our vulnerable jobs and services. That might be true, but it is not the reason things were so bad for our
kids in the first place. Without a much bigger change, there simply is no future for many of our beloved communities in Yorkshire.

But the stage was set for the lie to work. The effects of this “austerity” in England, along with migrants from Europe and people fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, have whipped up anti-European fever in much of the country. And these feelings are strongest in those areas that have never had it, never mind having it so good, since Margaret Thatcher wiped out our industrial future. And this
is where my home is. For many,
it has indeed been grim up North.

It is not just us either. There have been brutal levels of unemployment in some parts of Europe, as countries struggle to recover from the effects of the economic crisis. The policy followed by our government and others across Europe, has been to bail out the banks and let the cost fall on the people. As the old song says: “It’s the rich what gets the pleasure. It’s the poor what gets the blame.”

The banks made bigger and bigger bets, knowing if they went wrong they would make them bust. They used money they borrowed and “leveraged” more - betting more than you can afford to lose. They did that because the bigger the bet, the bigger the bonus.

The very banks that lectured us on the benefit of private and free enterprise become our dependants. They spent vast amounts to keep the City of London going.

Why was there no one when the steel industry needed help? And as the system slid down, 
the Government forgot the lessons of the past. If you only look after the banks, and not
the people, the people can rise up.

What next? We need a plan – one that will heal our nation by giving jobs to the communities that free market ideology abandoned.

We need a government that backs our plan to rebuild our manufacturing industries of the North. A real Northern Powerhouse with the cash behind it.

How could that possibly be done? The Bank of England had £250bn ready to defend the pound. Sheffield Forgemasters could blast into the stratosphere with just a tiny fraction of that. So why not put money like that into an investment bank to defend the future of our children?

Well first, you need to have been here and believe in the people and industries of Yorkshire, working with its international partners from around the world. Yes, we need to back the real English spirit, the spirit of Dunkirk.

A myriad of Yorkshire companies of all sorts, big and small, can combine with our schools, colleges and universities to build our own future. We have a reserve of untapped talent waiting to be trained and to work. But it can be done, it really can.

If you had seen a team of 600 Yorkshire apprentices steaming ahead with the skills of the future, you would know it can. Some of them came straight 
from job centres and they are
just as smart as kids who go to Eton. Actually smarter it turns out.

But we desperately need a government that looks at the North as a potential powerhouse and puts in the investment to make it work.

Yorkshire has the capability to build its future if we had a government with the courage to invest in its own people for the first time in a long while. And that is what we need. We need cash, not lies.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett FRS is Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Sheffield.