Riding the tiger
At 10.15 on Thursday evening, after one of the busiest days as a polling clerk I can remember, I was sitting outside the polling station on a bench.
The caretaker finished up closing the community centre we were based in and came over to chat. Early 40s. Affable enough chap.
He explained he’d voted out, and told me how it basically devolved to the fact he worked longer hours and was left with less than 20 years ago.
I admit biting my tongue and not explaining that there may be many reasons for this being the case – from lack of pay rises for the public sector to changed familial situations – 20 years ago he may not have had kids, may have still lived with his parents, or if he rented or had a mortgage may have had a smaller place, so on and so forth. He was convinced it was down to immigration.
The area I was polling clerk in, by the way, is almost predominantly white. Almost predominantly “indigenous” white.
From dealing with various agencies in my time, I know you’ll occasionally get a group of jobbing Eastern Europeans moving in for a short period, the odd group of asylum seekers housed, but immigration isn’t really an issue there (and, indeed it’s quite a comparatively affluent area compared to, say, the town in which I live, or the town in which I work, both of which are similarly relatively untouched by immigration, both of which are far less affluent than this town and both of which – like him – voted heavily towards out).
There was a lot of talk during the campaign from people who had never set foot in such towns – dead end towns – about care for the working class.
A lot of noise was made about successive governments failing them. A lot of noise was made about how we couldn’t argue against misapprehensions, misunderstandings, misinformation because we would be patronising the working class.
That this noise predominantly came from expensively educated men in well paying jobs who don’t have to live my daily reality galled more than somewhat at the time. But this is dwarfed by the unpleasantness of what will come after the result.
Say – say, for arguments sake – say the predictions of doom are at least half true. Say our economy shrinks but not calamitously – that we enter a recession but not a huge one. An unpleasant one.
Tell me, oh tribunes of the working class, tell me what happens then? The government’s revenue shrinks. How are you and your leaders going to deal with that shrinking?
Will you, patriotically, accept that we are all – hah – in it together? Will you take tax rises to bridge that gap? Shoulders to the wheel together, will we all push the economy out of the mud of the road, towards sunlit uplands?
Or will you instead vote for parties and individuals who advocate more cuts to services, services that the class you invoked so freely rely on? Services that help them, services that employ them?
Which will it be, do you think?
Will you replace the millions of pounds of EU funding that went to Cornwall, Wales, Yorkshire, Scotland, Northern Ireland pound for pound now you have that fabled £350 million a week (caveats about it not being actually £350 million a week at all aside)?
Because I don’t think you will, you see. And when industry moves out of the U.K. because it no longer has access to that European market in the same way, I can’t see your newly minted concerns for the working class having much impact. I can’t see you giving a shit.
And all the while you’ve been playing to their nativism. All the while you’ve let your cartoon villain – with a wink and a nod from you, this guy with the baggy eyes and the pint in his hand, he isn’t really with us but listen to him anyway – play to their basest fears while you’ve just kept up a corrosive attack on expertise and knowledge.
What do you think will happen when that betrayal comes? You’d better hope it’s merely surly disengagement. Because the alternatives are worse.