Brexit: it was deindustrialisation wot done it.
The Brexit vote was concentrated in areas where deindustrialisation has destroyed communities – not immigration.
It’s Brexit. Once an unimaginable, fringe idea concentrated among little Englanders and people who didn’t really know that much about the EU, now an uncertain reality that is going to happen in the next five years. The last thirty six hours have been the most politically turbulent in recent British history. It is interesting that any time of political and economic turbulence in Britain usually stems from the fact the Tories are in power. David Cameron has resigned, Labour MPs have issued a motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn (for what reason, we do not know), the markets have plummeted, the pound is at it’s lowest since 1985 and Nicola Sturgeon has started fresh bids for Indyref 2. It’s Christmas for political journalists — not however, for the rest of us.
Brexit has been lauded (by Nigel Farage, ironically enough) as a victory for “decent working people”. It may feel like that now, but it will not in future. What about “decent working people” who happen to be migrants to this country? What is to happen to them? The most angering thing about the referendum isn’t ultimately that we voted to leave the European Union, it’s that we left the European Union without any kind of plan for what would happen upon Brexit. Brexit was predicated on having an extra £350 million a week to spend on the NHS. In an economy the size of Britain’s with an NHS budget the size that it is, £350 million is a relative drop in the ocean.
Why did Brexit prevail? We can really only ask those who voted Brexit. It is easy for us, the remainers of varying enthusiasm to speculate as to why Brexit won and to what extent working class people voted to leave the EU. Vote Leave exploited the concerns of people who worried about the impact immigration has had on our economy and public services. Stronger In did nothing to counter those claims either. The only high profile person to counter any claims about immigration and had a pro-migrant attitude was Jeremy Corbyn.
This begs the question – why do some in the Labour Party want to get rid of the only person who actively challenged anti-immigration rhetoric throughout the referendum debate? Is it because he was too nice to immigrants? Is it because he “didn’t do enough” to convince Labour voters to remain? There is a disconnect between urban Labour areas like London and Manchester and more suburban and rural Labour areas like Northumbria and Durham. The places most “affected” by immigration – London, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow actually voted to remain. The places arguably least affected by immigration like rural Yorkshire voted to leave.
Perhaps Brexit has less to do with immigration than some remainers have reckoned. Perhaps it has more to do with the destructive neo – liberal economic agenda that has been adopted by the European Union as an institution. We can see that the areas most affected by deindustrialisation – Yorkshire, North East England, South Wales and the Midlands voted to leave the European Union. Deindustrialisation has brought to these areas rampant unemployment, crap jobs, low wages and drug and alcohol problems. The EU have put money into these places, but what difference does it make when people still have to deal with the systemic effects of 1970s and 80s deindustrialisation – even now? Subsequent governments have failed to deal with the consequences of deindustrialisation – not everybody wants to go to university to go and work in Morgan Stanely, which is still the career path that most non-vocational degrees at most universities are still set up for.
The Labour third way ideology, did nothing to help and instead exacerbated the situation. The people who believe in third way politics believe in them in much the same way North Koreans believe in the Juche ideology. They are ideologues for a project that largely failed the people it was supposed to help.
Corbyn is an opponent of said ideology. He believes that the people Labour should be helping are those who are disaffected, who voted for Brexit and may or may not be flirting with the idea of voting UKIP. These people have never voted Labour, or have in the past. During the Blair years, more middle class people voted Labour because they were in an economic position to be able to do so. Incidentally, during this time, Labour became an incredibly pro-EU party and it still is today, despite the fact that the EU perpetrated the kind of outlook that crippled Labour’s traditional communities. Labour took the horse to water and forced it to drink and now, Corbyn is the whipping boy for a group of MPs that can’t accept some of their constituents don’t have the same enthusiasm for the EU as they do.
Labour MPs need self awareness. It is the people living in their communities who voted to leave the EU because they need more money spent on public services, not because they hate the Labour Party or immigrants. Immigrants have been used as scapegoats for the right, once again. The Labour Party need to counter these claims and promise to pump money into areas that have experienced deindustrialisation.
Corbyn won the Labour leadership election promising an economic policy in the vein above. He needs to ignore those who would call for his head on a plate if they had put their slippers on the wrong feet. He needs to press ahead with his ideas for economic reform.
Ultimately, this referendum had little to do with the Labour Party. It was chance for ordinary people across Britain to upset the apple cart and vote for something that could actually evoke change. Brexit in itself isn’t terrible. It was the circumstances and the right wing’s dominance of both sides of the debate that was. David Cameron has only himself to blame – it was him who was responsible for this referendum and convincing people to vote remain- not Jeremy Corbyn.