We woke up on Friday to a changed country, and a changed world. Britain has voted to leave the EU, and as a liberal young Remainer living in London, my friendship group is devastated. My Facebook feed has been alive with people furious at the result, blaming the Remain campaign, blaming Labour, blaming David Cameron, blaming anybody and everybody they could think of. But amongst all the fuss and hysteria, what struck me was the anger towards those places that voted to leave, and the implication that voters in these generally working class areas must be stupid.
I was born and raised in Boston, Lincolnshire, one of the most Eurosceptic areas in the UK and the town polled as most likely to vote to leave the EU in the entire country. These voters are my friends, my family and my ex-colleagues, and they aren't stupid - they're scared because their community has been neglected for decades and they feel powerless to change it.
Boston has suffered in the last century. In this once wealthy market town, the prospects for education, employment and a happy, prosperous life can be terrible. Unemployment is a problem, drugs are an epidemic, the murder rate is the highest in the UK, and life expectancy is significantly lower than the national average. Boston is in a bad way, and to deny that is to deny the facts.
There's no one explanation for this, but there is an easy one. Boston has experienced massive immigration in the last twenty years, and it's fundamentally changed as a result. The vast majority of those who have come are hardworking, valuable members of the community and I count many of them as my friends. Yet it is undeniable, even to a soft liberal like me, that a minority has failed to integrate.
At the same time, Tory policies have put public services under huge pressure and the locals have suffered as a result. To the average person, these budget cuts are a much less visible cause of their problems than the Polish family next door, the Lithuanians in the doctor's waiting room, or the Latvians out drinking on West Street on a Saturday night. And our media has done next to nothing to explain the real cause of these problems to the public, preferring instead to whip up anti-immigrant and anti-EU sentiment. Obviously, hordes of benefit-stealing migrants is a far sexier story than a Tory government enacting its manifesto pledges and a no-brainer for most editors - but in this case the media has betrayed its fundamental obligation to deliver facts to their public. In Boston, the result is suspicion, antipathy and a tense and hostile atmosphere.
A disconnect between the politics and the people
My hometown's Leave voters aren't stupid - they're angry. Angry at the decades of neglect they've suffered at the hands of successive governments, angry at the damage their communities have sustained, angry at the apparent favouritism that's seen London and other liberal metropolitan areas become flushed with cash, investment and opportunity while their own facilities are squeezed by the strain of new arrivals.
Yet the left seem unable to grasp that these aren't the paranoid fantasies of aging racists, but genuine problems, hence the disconnect between the Labour high command and their traditional supporters. The real causes are slippery and difficult to pin down, but voters are looking for someone to blame - and the media and Leave campaign has been hugely successful at convincing them that their real enemies are immigrants and the EU.
Not the Tory government who imposed cuts that have so badly affected their pubic services.
Not the gangmasters who consistently hire immigrant workers in appalling conditions and in the process price locals out of the job market.
Not the CEOs who've relocated their factories overseas and kept their profits high.
Not the business owners who advertise jobs in other countries rather in their own town, taking advantage of the disadvantaged for their own bottom line.
Not even the electorate, for voting this Tory government to power on a program of austerity, swingeing cuts and pro-business law making.
For decades, Bostoners have been fed the lie that this is all the EU's fault. That if only we could somehow rid ourselves of this bland, well-meaning but overbearing bureaucracy, everything would somehow get better. It's a tactic that makes total sense from the government's point of view - shift blame to Brussels and they won't see our hands in their pockets - but it's a fallacy
That in itself is unforgiveable, but what aggravates me most is that the people responsible for this corruption of the truth - Murdoch, Johnson, Gove and the like - don't seem to be doing it out of any deep-seated principle. There are a few exceptions, Nigel Farage among them, but the majority of them don't even seem to believe the arguments they're making. And why would they? Not long ago, many of them took the opposite position.
The UK has voted to leave, and that is what our government must now do. But as we come to terms with this new era in our nation's history, we should remember who orchestrated this result and hold them to account for what follows, rather than the voters who simply set out to make their lives better. This campaign has divided us, and now is the time to listen and to understand. And the next time you hear someone call Leavers stupid, think about whose fault it really is that we're in this situation.
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