12 January 2018

Leave voters and the Brexit elite

Disconnects are usual between leaders and the led. But nowhere is this more extreme than between the average Leave voter and the Tory Brexit Westminster elite.

According to statistics the typical Brexit voter is likely to be white-English, resident outside the large metropolitan areas, as well as older, poorer and less well-educated than Remainers. In assessing why Leavers voted for Brexit, we find miscalculation of how Brexit would affect Leavers’ own economic interests mingled with the toxic allure of xenophobic nationalism.

The Leavers’ arguments were essentially not different from those peddled against outsiders throughout history, from the arrival of east European Jews at the beginning of the twentieth century to blacks in the 1950s, or Asians in the 1970s. “They take away our jobs, they drive down wages, they push up housing costs, they strain the resources available for health and education.” In 2016 there was also the financial myth that EU withdrawal would free up 350 million a week from EU contributions which could be redirected to the NHS.

These supposed financial advantages were alloyed with xenophobia and nationalism. “We will get our country back.” “We will take back control [against them, the other].” Outsiders would go or at least stop coming. The Brexit appeal was about nostalgia, the recreation of an England long gone: the England of fish and chips and Max Bygraves shows, an England where the only foreigners were the occasional “paki” on the corner and the odd Italian barber. In short, Leavers saw Brexit simultaneously as a step to improving their lot economically and securing a more ethnically homogeneous community, both ethically and socially. Brexit for them was a sub-conscious drive to turn back the clock to the society that existed under the Keynesian state managed capitalism in the decades following the Second World War.

But the Tory Brexit elite have no intention of turning back the clock. Their main complaint against the EU is not freedom of movement, but the inhibitions that the EU places on the even further extension of neo-economic liberalism. They recognise that exiting the EU will lead to capital flight (non-investment, re-location); a mass influx of cheap low quality commodities, including food, from around the world. Unemployment will grow and state revenues will fall, bringing about a near end to welfare spending and disaster for the NHS. But the Tory Brexit elite will “solve” the problem through an internationally competitive economy of low wages with a minimal welfare state and limited employment and consumer rights - and all this while waving the Union Jack.

If Brexit was an act of desperation, driven by the worst of motives, by those marginalised and left behind in Britain, the consequences of the referendum will only tighten the noose around their necks.

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