The EU Referendum of 2016 was an event which changed politics in the UK forever. And one of the changes which took place was that many of the people who voted in the Referendum were not regular voters. In fact, it appears that a significant proportion of referendum voters were voting for the first time.
And many of those ‘not very often’ or first time voters voted Leave.
After years, in some cases, of feeling that there was no point in voting, because: ‘it didn’t matter; they would be shafted whoever they voted for’, for many people the Referendum, appears to have been a means of expressing their disgust with what they saw as ‘the self-serving political establishment’.
The morning that the result became clear, many Leave voters were jubilant that at last it seemed that their vote had actually achieved something, and that was ‘one in the eye for the establishment’.
And it’s not surprising that they felt this way.
The Effect of Austerity:
After years of suffering the effects of cruel austerity measures and of having their cries for help seemingly ignored, people were then told by the Remain Campaign, without a trace of irony, that they ‘must’ vote Remain ‘for their own sakes’.
This message was pushed by ‘establishment’ figures, including Prime Minister, ex-Etonian Cameron. And was then pressed home by none less than the President of the US, arriving in the UK it seemed, just to tell us all that we must vote Remain ‘for the good of our country’.
Now, this would have been all well and good, if people had been feeling happy and secure in their daily lives and wanting to preserve that situation, but many people were not (and are still not) feeling happy or secure. So, they had every right to ask themselves what did they have to lose?
The ‘Immigration’ debate:
At this point you could argue that people’s fears and unhappiness was stoked up more by Farage, with his racist and thoroughly misleading message on immigration, and tales of the ‘corruption of the EU’. Setting these Farage-defined ‘issues’ side by side as an ‘other’ which ‘the Brits’ needed to repel.
Farage certainly gave many unhappy people a mythical range of scapegoats to blame. And he was definitely aided and abetted by the mass media in getting his divisive message across.
I am certain that the encouragement of Farage and his disgusting message led to the overt racism and violence that now threatens the very core of our society (and that’s even before you count all the dangerous rhetoric spewing from the mouth of our current PM and some who support him).
And back in 2016, as a 7/10 Remainer (sometimes 5.5 out of 10), what made me decide to vote Remain and even be very upset on the day that Leave won, was that at the time it appeared to me that much of the Leave vote was based upon reactions to messages filled with racism and bigotry. I could not be a part of that. I also feared that the result would be seen by the racists and bigots almost as ‘justification’ for their prejudice. And on this latter point I think I was proved correct.
However, with the experience of three years of ever more heated discussion on Brexit, while more and more families sink into poverty, ever more people are homeless, and while our NHS and welfare services are being run down ever more swiftly, I do understand why many ordinary people who are not racist or bigots voted Leave.
I think it was in the hope of political change: and even if that change wasn’t perfect, at least it would send a clear message that people had had enough of politicians not taking their needs seriously.
So, from being someone who calls herself ‘a Remainer’, I have come to the viewpoint that we really do need to take seriously those who voted to Leave the EU. Because:
1: Not to do so would be dangerous – the longer this Brexit shambles has gone on, the more angry and frustrated people have become. Okay, we should never give in to threats or fears of violence by extremists who want to force their views upon others. But the Referendum campaign and the following years have allowed the rise of a violent minority of extreme right wingers, who like nothing better than to build a mob (in the old days they would have been handing out pitchforks to villagers). They have sensed victory (however fleeting). Revoking Article 50 (as the LibDems and some other Remainers want to happen) would give these thugs perceived ‘justification’ to stir up violent protest. and that would be a protest where anyone who doesn’t fit their warped views on ‘Britishness’ and ‘Patriotism’ would certainly not be safe.
2: To ignore Leave voters would be the death knell of any hope of involving ordinary people in politics. Our representive democratic system is not perfect by any means. It is skewed towards supporting the priviledged, purely because it operates within a class-riven society. But, if used correctly (rather than being ‘played’ as it is at the moment by Boris Johnson), it is a way for ordinary people to at least get a say in how the country is run. If people who voted only occasionally, but voted in the Referendum, feel that even when they ‘win’ they will be ignored, how can the UK ever again even try to hold itself up as ‘a pillar of democracy’. And with complete distrust in democracy, on the one hand we have people feeling they are considered worthless by the leaders of the society they live in (and that will include distrust of the political left as well as the right); and worst case scenario, we could then drift into situation 1.
On the democracy note: yes, I know that the Leave campaign cheated big time with the message they put across (and possibly the funds they used to do it). But people don’t want you telling them that they ‘fell for cheats’. How patronising and short-sighted is that?
It’s my belief that whatever the cheating, whatever the messages from both sides, many of those who voted Leave didn’t care about any of that. If you believe that the political system is skewed against you anyway, you will not be surprised if there is cheating. You are more likely to shrug your shoulders and move on to think about what matters to you and your family. For many who voted Leave, their vote was an angry cry for help – or at least to be acknowledged.
And to ignore that cry now would not only be wrong; it would be ‘proving’ that those ordinary people were correct – the political establishment really doesn’t give a sh*t about them.
Now, I’m a member of the Labour Party. Like most things in life, it’s not perfect. But I truly believe that most Labour members and politicians do care about ordinary people (however much that message gets lost now and again with infighting among different party factions). They want to help those who are struggling and they want to achieve a fairer society for the many, not the rich and greedy few. And that society will listen to everyone – not just those who were educated at Eton.
So by that philosophy, Labour has to be the party that listens to Leavers and Remainers. It cannot ignore what still seems like half of the population.
I’ve come a long way in my views since June 2016. I’m still a Remainer (Remain and reform though, at the very least), but I do believe it is correct for Jeremy Corbyn to argue that if Labour wins the next General Election, he and his Brexit team will do their best to negotiate a good deal with the EU, and then that deal will be put to the people alongside the Remain option.
Like several points I’ve mentioned here, Labour’s Brexit strategy is not a perfect solution, but it’s one which, having acknowledged the god-awful mess that the Tories have got us into with their incompetent Brexit negotiations, is the only sensible option left. And it’s the only hope of bringing this fractured country together and fending off the rise and further influence of right-wing extremists.
And when all put together like that, Labour’s Brexit policy seems pretty damn reasonable!