There have been a lot of things said about leave voters in the North of England, but also all over the UK, who voted to leave the EU last Thursday. But it is not as simple as just saying that they are simple, ignorant, and racist (although some may be), don’t understand the arguments etc. It just isn’t that simple.
There is no excusing any racism or the verbal and physical attacks that have taken place, mainly down south but everywhere to varying degrees against other EU citizens and people from overseas, even other UK citizens have been subject to some abuse in England. Those found to be guilty of that crap need to be hammered by the courts, and I mean really hammered, I also don’t except the excuse that because some in the leave campaign, like Farage, are right-wing nutters they were baited to violence and abuse.
But as I blogged before, when people have nothing they have nothing to lose. Globalisation and neoliberal economics being pursued in the UK since Thatcher, and increasingly becoming the mantra of the EU, has resulted in many people feeling left behind. I remember growing up in the 1980’s, we had little or nothing as Thatcher’s de industrialisation policies, social security cuts and cuts to public services, rendered many parts of my City Dundee to waste but also huge parts of Scotland, Wales and Northern England. At its peak nearly 4 million people were unemployed, the coal mines were decimated after a bloody strike and never replaced, and national assets such as BT, British Gas and the Railways were sold off along with the fabric of a decent society, social housing, while the ever-increasing rise in-house prices have taken most out of the housing market since that period.
Thatcher chose to gamble the future of the United Kingdom on the financial sector, telling us that there would be trickle-down economics but what in reality became trickle-up economics, making the rich richer, bringing about a culture of greed and of the individual, continued under Major, Blair and Cameron and resulting in the worst financial crisis since the great depression in 2008. Thatcher said “there is no such thing as society “and “that it is our job to look after ourselves “. This for me was the start of the situation we find ourselves in today.
This drive to neoliberal economics in the UK resulted in a further reliance on the financial sector, greater privatisation of public assets and austerity; in response the EU brought in ever closer political union and the disaster that has been the euro resulting in austerity and high unemployment, esp amongst the youth. What this has done is to continue to lay bare working class areas all over the UK and the EU resulting in resentment of poor people, and to those affected by the disastrous foreign policy of western democracies in the Middle East.
This ideology has also led to ever-increasing dis-satisfaction with the EU as commented on in the Guardian which found that in Britain, 48% said they had an unfavourable view of the EU and 44% said they had a favourable view. In France, the anti-EU sentiment was much more pronounced at 61% and 38% in favour, while in Germany there had been an eight-point drop in support for the EU in the past year, leaving those in favour only narrowly ahead at 50% against 48% . I would also argue that the abandonment of the Labour Party of its founding principles has left many in working class areas all across the UK feeling unrepresented and undefended against this neoliberal economic attack against those with the least resulting in a drift to the right and parties such as UKIP, and the disillusionment of Westminster and for many the European Union. As Larry Elliot of the Guardian says “Bad economics leads to bad politics”.
Now some will argue that poor people are only hurting themselves by punishing Westminster and the EU by actually supporting those who would erode our rights even further and bringing about increasing support for the far right with their leave vote. That is a valid argument and one that has a lot of traction but that is again the failure of the systems we allowed to govern us and the political parties who have failed to protect us, in the North of England and Scotland for many years that would be the Labour Party. I also believe that sometimes you have to take a step back to take two forward.
The result of the EU vote has certainly concentrated minds; it has resulted in a virtual civil war within the Labour Party, the shambles that is the UK Government, the question of Scottish Independence and the reassessment of the European Union. How it all ends up no one knows, and we do have to take a breath, but to say that leave voters are simpletons, racists, ignorant and have gone mad is just a refusal to accept that those with the most, those in power, the political parties being filled with entitlement and careerists has brought about a situation where many people who voted leave had no option, because no change was not an option for them.