Litchfield Lecture 2017: Jam tomorrow? Prospects for the “just about managing” in Britain

“Brexit means Brexit” or, as Lewis Carroll famously wrote “words mean what I choose them to mean”. Even after her speech on Brexit, described by one commentator as “vague, incorrect, misleading, hypocritical or fantasist”, we are no further forward in understanding how it will work in practice. However, where there is some agreement is that the vote was less about the European Union and more an expression of popular discontent with the precarious conditions in which large numbers of people, described by Theresa May as “just about managing”, now live. This lecture will reflect on the meaning of precariousness and, especially, its impact on health in Britain and Europe today, and the political consequences of failing to tackle this problem, especially the growth of right-wing populism. It will conclude by looking at prospects for the future, showing how leaving the European Union will make things very much worse for those on the margin in the UK, and asking whether our weakened democratic structures are capable of developing an effective response.