In the lead up to June’s Brexit referendum, the plebiscite on Britain’s membership of the European Union, there were several things which made me question just how great the expected “Remain” victory would be. While I was presuming that the pro-EU side would win I’d already guessed that the vote would be closer than predicted, not least because of the fluctuating polls in the weeks before the plebiscite. However like the vast majority of observers I had little expectation of the anti-EU “Leave” camp succeeding against the serried ranks of what many perceived as mainstream British opinion.
One knew of course that England would decide the outcome of the vote for obvious demographic and political reasons. The United Kingdom is after all simply Greater England. That meant taking due note of the general antipathy to Europe and immigration, and the rise of a sort of post-imperial nationalism, in that country. However in a tight vote the people of Wales, Scotland and the British administrated north-east of Ireland were expected to provide a comfortable margin on top of a probable pro-EU majority vote among the English. As we know that expectation was dashed when voters in England supported the “Leave” option in far greater numbers than predicted, topped up by a narrow majority in Wales too. The majority “Remain” outcomes in Scotland and the Six Counties were then rendered meaningless (at least in terms of the immediate referendum result).
There has been a lot of soul-searching in Britain since then, while both the Conservative and Labour parties have gone into internecine meltdown. Many have now accepted that the metropolitan elites of the UK, primarily in the “city-state” of London, have lost touch with the country – by which they mean, England. The concerns of the northern and rural English seem in particular to have been ignored or sidelined by the political centre, to the eventual benefit of the “Leave” campaign. That these concerns were of far more importance that credited should have been obvious from the surprisingly high vote for the Euro-sceptic UKIP in the last general election. Shockingly the right-leaning party gained an incredible 3.9 million votes, or 12.6% of the national share, coming second in 120 out of 650 constituencies. Even more shockingly that impressive result yielded it exactly one seat in the UK parliament (or 0.2% of MPs), a perfect illustration of the island’s antiquated “first past the post” electoral system. Denied democratic representation in the House of Commons is it any wonder that UKIP’s supporters used the next opportunity presented to them to register their anger? Of course plenty of Conservative and Labour people jumped on board the out-of-Europe bandwagon to give it a majority outcome in England, however their reasons were not too far removed from those espoused by the followers of Nigel Farage and company (which does not make such folk explicit bigots or racists, however misguided).
The Irish blogger, Fitzjames Horse, has written some excellent posts in recent weeks examining the disconnect between the political, business and media classes in London, and the disdained hinterlands to the north and west. I would recommend a read of the following to get a flavour of the changing situation: “The Day Politics Rose From The Dead“, “EU Referendum: England“, “From “Coronation Street” To “Brexit”“, and finally ““Mock The Week” Or “Mock The Weak”?“. The determination of some commentators in Britain to dismiss “Leave” voters out of hand clearly shows that such individuals have yet to learn the lessons of the June referendum. The sneering condescension so-called “Brexiters” have been treated with by many in the liberal and left-wing press has been shockingly revealing of the ever-present class divide in British society. The sight of young, university-educated men and women from affluent middle class families, self-denying Blairites, damning the views of working-class and elderly voters has been quite repugnant. One might well find such opinions problematic but the way to address them is through engagement and dialogue not condemnation or censorship (which some seem to advocate). The demand for a second referendum, in this case, is akin to the complaints of bitter “Remain” advocates in the United Kingdom who have all but called for an eligibility test for the right to vote based upon educational achievements. Because the uneducated have no right to vote, since clearly only the uneducated could vote against membership of the European Union!
In a similar vein to Fitzjames Horse is this short documentary by Guerrera Films, “Why we voted leave: voices from northern England“.
Of course being Irish, and a republican, I have a very different horse running in this race. Britain’s calamity may well be Ireland’s opportunity. If the UK opts out of the EU, disintegrating its political, social and economic core in the process, then my country may finally rid itself of the last bedraggled remnant of Britain’s medieval colony on this island nation.