The Times was only just catching up today with it’s print edition to Friday morning’s momentous news. Two things in particular struck a chord with me. Firstly in an article about an upmarket corner of Clapham in Lambeth, the south London borough that registered the highest Remain vote, a young woman was portrayed:
She and her husband have well-paid jobs in the City — she works for a US investment bank — but there are still plenty of things for her to worry about: the economy, their mortgage (a large one), the stability of Europe and, not least, the prospect of Boris Johnson becoming prime minister.
“I used to be a real BoJo fan,” she said. “But that’s when I thought he could never be PM. I’m massively not a fan now.”
Until yesterday she was convinced that Remain would win.
“Most of my well-educated, intelligent, politically engaged friends were all Inners,” she said. “I lived in a bubble of young, university-educated mates. I was arrogant.”
Next there was a piece by the commentator , Janice Turner, which I reproduce here in full at my own risk and hope that Murdoch’s copyright lawyers are not paying attention. Those feeling that they have been betrayed by those “racist, liitle englander old people” for whom apparently you will no longer be giving up your seat on the bus for, perhaps would do well to read and consider:
Ragtag rebels who had nothing left to lose
Why are we surprised the working class gave two fingers to a future of uncontrolled migration and zero-hours shifts?
A referendum is a binary choice: yes or no, stay or leave. As was the breakdown of results: north or south, working or middle class, young or old, city or shire. But what if, like me, you are — to borrow the jargon of the “gender fluidity” brigade –— Brexit non-binary? Prole roots but bourgeois life; northerner living in London. Sitting at the fulcrum made a voting decision more tortuous but the result less of a surprise.
Travelling back and forth to South Yorkshire, I’ve marvelled for years at the contempt such communities are held in by London friends, supposed progressives, people with power. You could see a ragtag rebellion kicking up dust, gathering strength, a long way off if you’d bothered to look.
In London I hear people rave about the “gig economy”, the cheapness of Uber, the snap-your-fingers-and-it’s-here Amazon Prime and Deliveroo. So modern, and the people who serve you, well, they’re young dudes or hard-working migrants. It’s cool! Outside cities, the gig economy means fiftysomething ex-miners turned minicab drivers, the jobcentre presenting you with a list not of sits-vac but temp agencies that may give you six weeks packing salad or a week of warehouse night shifts.
Success has a thousand fathers and Farage, Gove and Johnson will be writ large on Brexit’s birth certificate. I’d add plenty more. Sneering Remain sophisticates banging on about how the EU means Bach and Bergman; second-homers Instagramming burgundy passports and weeping they’ll never see Paris again; any narcissist with a man-bag who characterised the British working class as wholly bigots, loudmouths, ugly chavs, racists and fools.
Are you surprised they disdained “experts” when bankers and politicians have ravaged their life chances, or that they ignored George Osborne when his “£4,300 worse off” claim just echoed his endless austerity budgets? Of course, when they finally got a chance, they’d stick two fingers in your face. Those whose forebears fuelled the industrial revolution, whose parents fought for and lost whole communities, are now told they’re no longer the workers we need. They’re not flexible, eager, young Stakhanovites who don’t mind being strip-searched before minimum-wage shifts. They want — the outrage! — training, job security, to raise families, pay mortgages.
Mike Ashley and Sir Philip Green, Next, Amazon . . . every employer that treated its workers like interchangeable slave-bots helped take us out of the EU. Hearing the left proclaim Brexit would mean a bonfire of employment rights, I’d wonder where trade unions have been in this zero-hours decade protecting workers who already have no rights at all.
Immigration was, let’s not pretend otherwise, the central issue here. The unsaid was now said, often and crudely, feeding viciousness and rancour. However, 52 per cent of Britain is not racist: we have long absorbed great shifts of people, are more inclusive of other cultures, have more interracial relationships than any nation in Europe: we’ve made foreign dishes our national cuisine. We have not changed.
Rather, a specific angst had incubated for years about unrestricted freedom of movement, a concept I believe for many — especially the most economically insecure — is psychologically unendurable. Stripped back, it is a mind-blowing proposition: all of Greece, say, could move here tomorrow. Yes, of course, they won’t. But they could! No, they won’t. But what if they do? This principle, regardless of numbers, activates a primal fear, a nagging worry that your back door is unlocked but you’re forbidden to shut it, while people tell you it will be fine.
Free movement suits big business, which benefits from cheap, limitless labour; it suits a young, educated cosmopolitan workforce; it suits our now-stymied children who long to study abroad; it suits me. But try selling it in poor provincial towns to people who may not even have a passport; those who feel no benefits from this shiny fast-flowing global world; who are lectured by all parties about the GDP benefits of migration while their own wages are undercut.
That towns with the fewest migrants fear immigration most is always seen as a measure of working-class stupidity. But in a diverse city, migrants are just a few extra pixels in the frame; in a small town they are a distinct event, a challenge to a fragile identity. And identity — as we have seen — is not a phantasm but a banner that people are prepared to risk economic destruction to protect. Besides, there are the unprecedented migration numbers — half a million added to our population in a year — which no one ever has the courage to address.
We didn’t wake up yesterday in “Nigel Farage’s Britain”, as hyperbolic Remainers lament. Few want a Ukip government: its charlatans and raging free marketeers offer nothing to the dispossessed. Brexit revealed austerity-weary, frightened voters who want housing, security and proper jobs. Jeremy Corbyn’s In campaign may have been half-hearted but after a decade of Labour misleading its voters about migration he could have had Jean-Claude Juncker tattooed on his chest. Far, far too late have Ed Balls and Tom Watson acknowledged that free movement needs reform. Without this the whole European project will fall.
As a Brexit non-binary I had bitter, upsetting rows for weeks with everyone I love. I voted Remain in the end. The Breaking Point poster was my breaking point. These Leavers were not my people and would never deliver social justice. But here we are! Everything to play for, if only the Labour Party can eject Jeremy Corbyn and seize the day. In the meantime, as our eyes shift from our European neighbours to each other, it is time for a less binary Britain — more understanding, less hate.
I wonder how many of the well-educated, young , politically savvy disappointed remainers who are now tilting at windmills such as an Independent London or are petitioning Parliament for a re-run of the referendum ( Best of three please ) were also among those who swept Corbyn to power last year.
Perhaps if the Three quid, Tinpot Trotsky had ignored his advisors such as Seamus Milne and engaged properly with the campaign to Remain, had managed to mobilise just one in twenty of disaffected old labour out there in the sticks then it would not have come to this.
You want someone to blame – Jez you can !