What are the silver linings to the Brexit cloud?
The first and most promising is the effect on the property market. During the referendum campaign, George Osborne and the Treasury predicted that house prices would fall by 18% and David Cameron chimed in to claim mortgages would be more expensive. Of course, it was a little difficult to tell whether this had any basis in reality or was just another scare story blowing around in the blizzard of mendacity that passed for campaigning. However, prices at the luxury end of the London market are falling, shares in property funds plummeting and the construction industry slumped badly last month. So maybe house prices will fall and the building bubble burst before it’s even properly under way.
But if you think that’ll solve Cornwall’s housing crisis and the serious imbalance between affordability and unaffordability then think again. If prices fall developers will just sit on their land and restrict supply until they rise again. That’s how the market works and the provision of houses is almost entirely dependent on market mechanisms these days. Don’t forget the excessive number of planning permissions that have been thrown around like confetti since 2010 and the 17% leap in Cornwall’s housing target. That’ll be more than enough to ensure that after any temporary difficulties builders will be back at work all over our green and pleasant land. Cornwall’s problematic status as a prime spot for asset speculation and a source of unearned income needs a lot more radical, structural reform and will survive any short-term ups and downs in the property market.
Second, EU grants may end. This could mean an end to the high-status prestige projects that have hoovered up a large chunk of EU money – for example subsidising non-Cornish academic institutions or uneconomic tourist attractions and the steady haemorrhaging of cash into Cornwall Council’s pet project – Newquay airport. Maybe, if the tap dries up, this will cause the Council to have a long-overdue rethink. It may conclude it’s got its priorities wrong. Instead of stubbornly insisting on pouring generous wads of public money into plans to boost global warming and subsidise second home ownership, it could decide to pay for communities’ libraries or public toilets.
But again, don’t get too excited. The unaccountable Local Enterprise Partnership and Cornwall Council are already lobbying hard for EU grants to be fully replaced by Westminster grants. This will pay for their latest grandiose but utterly daft plans for a spaceport at Newquay and those less publicised infrastructural ‘improvements’ needed to ‘unlock’ land which can then be used for lots of lovely houses, many right next to that spaceport it seems.
Third, and more tentatively, we’re now rid of the neoliberal austerity politics of the EU. Mind you, this might be a case of out of the neoliberal pan and straight into the neoliberal fire. Yet, as George Monbiot reminds us, there is a window of opportunity here for alternative and more sustainable approaches to organising our economy. However, expect the political class to rush to close it and restore ‘business as usual’ as quickly as possible, just as they did after the financial panic of 2008.
Finally, presumably having got what they’ve wanted, the obsessives of Ukip have no raison d’etre left. I expect they’ll soon dissolve their party, which is now surplus to requirements