Boris Johnson with a brick: can you tell the difference?
As I’ve stated elsewhere, I voted to leave the EU.
That wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy to come to my decision, and it hasn’t been easy to deal with the fallout either.
I’ve been vilified, sworn at, called a racist, attacked, scorned. I’ve been labelled with any number of insulting names, and been unfriended by several people on Facebook, including by some who have known me for years.
I also have to admit that I wasn’t expecting to be on the winning side. Mine was a protest vote directed against the institutions of the EU and the political establishment, as I imagine it was for most leave voters.
We just wanted to tell them how pissed off we were.
The country was divided almost down the middle: 52% to 48%.
Interestingly, this is the exact figure that Nigel Farage gave for not accepting the referendum result had there been a win for remain, and the petition calling for a new referendum was set up by a leave supporter anticipating a win for the other side.
Isn’t irony delicious at times?
I’m also happy to agree with remain voters that it may still be too close to call. It’s not that I disagree with the result: it’s that I think the campaign itself was based upon a false dichotomy.
Both sides lied. Both sides used scare tactics. Both sides twisted information to suit their agenda. If the referendum shows anything, it’s that we are very badly served both by our media and by the people who claim to represent us.
In fact, virtually the whole of the establishment was in favour of remain: the government, the civil service, the financial institutions, the banks, big business, the corporations, the White House, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, the Liberal Party, half of the Tory Party, most of the Labour Party, the majority of the Cabinet and all of the Shadow Cabinet.
The voices we heard from the leave side were entirely disingenuous. The campaign for them was a platform for their own personal ambitions. Take Boris Johnson. Before the campaign he was making pro-European statements, and famously wrote two columns for the Telegraph: one in favour of remaining in the EU, the other against. In the end it was the latter that was published and it makes clear that whatever deliberations he was making prior to his decision were based entirely on what was good for his career, not on what was good for the country. The leave campaign for him was a strategic maneuver in some Machiavellian ploy to take over leadership of the Tory Party, and the half-arsed way he stepped out of the leadership contest once he knew he was facing opposition shows just how detached he was from the result. He was obviously not interested in it or he would have made a point of staying on in order to finish the job he started.
All of the main spokesmen for the leave campaign have now stepped down, which shows the disdain with which they hold those members of the public they were previously claiming to speak for.
So who is left to speak up for the leave voters now, many of them from the poorest and the most deprived parts of the UK?
Do remain voters really think that all seventeen million, four hundred and ten thousand, seven hundred and forty two of them of them are racists?
In fact a recent poll by Lord Ashcroft, shows just how untrue that is.
Nearly half (49%) of leave voters gave the reason for their decision as “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK.”
Only 33% said that immigration and control of borders was their main reason for voting to leave, and even this is by no means an indication of racism. People are concerned about jobs, and mass migration from the EU is having a depressing effect on wages. Itinerant workers from Eastern Europe are able to take low-paid jobs that British workers with a mortgage and a family cannot. If there is simmering resentment at people from other nations and other cultures, it’s not because people are racist: it’s because they are being priced out of work.
It is also notable that the areas in the UK that voted to leave are the among most deprived parts of the country, while areas that voted to stay are among most privileged. By a large margin – 61% to 39% – leave voters think that children growing up today will be worse off than their parents; they see more threats to their standard of living and believe that life in Britain is worse now than it was 30 years ago.
Needless to say, remain voters think the opposite.
And there you have it: the real divide that the referendum has laid bare for us. Not racists versus anti-racists, or socially liberal people versus socially conservative people: it’s between those who have fared well out of the last 30 years of EU membership (or at least haven’t lost out from it) and those who have felt the pinch of austerity, who have seen their communities decimated and their prospects destroyed, who have been finding it harder and harder to get a decent job or to make a living and who, for whatever reason, decided to lay it all at the door of the EU.
Of course, not every remain voter is well off, and not every leave voter is poor, but the divide is all too real. It doesn’t help that some remainers have been accusing the other side of racism and stupidity. If there has been a surge in support for the far right, it’s partially because millions of people in this country feel completely let down by the political process.
So I have one last question to ask of remain voters: how many of you were 100% behind the EU? How many of you are really convinced that the European Union has been beneficial to the people of Europe as a whole?
If you read Yanis Varoufakis or Paul Mason, and other left-wing remainers, they were perfectly clear that the European Union leaves a lot to be desired. Varoufakis said that, despite it’s many shortcomings, we had to remain in the EU in order to reform it from within. Mason said that there was a good case for Brexit, just not right now.
The decision to remain was a strategic one. Most remain voters that I spoke to were no more enthusiastic about the institutions of the EU than were leave voters, they simply had a different opinion about what to do about it.
Both sides had their extremes. For the leave side it was those racist elements on the far-right who have been emboldened by the result and who have been attacking foreigners on the streets ever since: for remain it was the neoliberal consensus, also right-wing and still effectively in power.
Most people disagree with both.
In other words, the differences between leave and remain are nowhere near as great as the results of the referendum campaign would have us believe.