Britain Was Divided Before Brexit

27/06/2016 16:57

A lot of graphs, statistics and data are already telling a story we were expecting all along. Poor people, in deprived and neglected areas voted to Leave the EU. Rich people, in affluent areas that attract investment voted to Remain.

Can you blame the first group? Probably not. Successive governments have ignored the needs of the poor: infrastructure, jobs, health, education etc. They have been neglected by a neoliberal system that will not invest in their future, or even their present. Anyone living in such circumstances can rightfully feel angry about such conditions.

I overwhelmingly backed the Remain vote. If I was unemployed, poor, from a neglected region, however, I would be angry. Maybe I would even put my trust, or at least my hope, in a campaign that promised me "control", "jobs" and "investment". We can argue all day about the myths and lies that were bandied around by the Leave campaign, but that would miss the point. How many of us truly understand the economy, job markets, immigration, the legislative process and, on top of that, how all of the above issues relate to the EU? Certainly not enough to make facts relevant in this referendum. The Leave campaign was right in pointing out that poor people have been left behind by "the establishment" and that they "are sick of experts". This is not because poor people do not want facts but because they, rightfully, feel that they have been systematically neglected by the establishment.

There is a horrific irony in this though; leaving the EU is likely to exacerbate the problems poor people were angry about. The "establishment" will continue to rule, and will continue neglecting and oppressing the poor. The poor will continue to suffer at the hands of the rich.

The reason for all of this is not just relevant to the EU conversation. It is about the wider political and social context in which we live. It is not this debate that has divided Britain. Britain was already divided, by social and economic inequality. It is most unfortunate the most prominent figures who promoted Brexit are also the ones who are most likely to exacerbate the inequalities that caused all the anger that led to Brexit. Johnson, Gove and Farage are among some of the most fanatic neoliberals around.

There was a minority of Left-wing activists, commentators and voters who promoted leaving the EU. They probably agree with most of what I have written so far but would argue that it is precisely because of this oppressive establishment that we must topple the EU and fight for social justice in the UK. Unfortunately, it has so far been impossible to see a coherent enough argument from the political Left-wing, or a prominent enough voice. The Left has not led the conversation for decades and does not look like it will any time soon. Significantly for this debate, it even failed to dictate the rejection of the establishment in the face of a Leave campaign that was led by members of the establishment themselves.

We know the leaders of the Leave campaign did not have the interests of the poor and disenfranchised at heart. Their stoking of fear and xenophobia attest to that. The disenfranchised were not presented with an alternative however. It is therefore now more important than ever to tackle the issue head-on, and promote a united society, with solidarity at its core. We must make equality the centre of any political effort. Only that can save us from the politics of hatred, xenophobia and greed, and transform society to politics of hope.