Forget Europe, Brexit was really a peasants revolt against smug elitists
Oddly this referendum has restored my faith in humanity
Just over a week ago the global establishment and their cheerleaders in the liberal intelligentsia got the fright of their lives. They had failed to persuade the British electorate to vote remain in the referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. When Labour lost in 2010 and again in 2015, the metropolitan elite did not seem all that bothered as the resulting coalition led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg offered more or less the same neoliberal politics, albeit with a little window dressing and hype about tackling the country’s deficit through minor cutbacks in welfare and public services, which the left insisted on calling slash and burn austerity. Yet when the British public voted against their beloved European Union, hell had truly descended on earth. It hardly mattered that this supranational organisation had imposed real austerity on Southern Europeans, brought about mass youth unemployment through a one-size-fits-all currency and led millions to migrate across the continent in search of work destroying close-knit communities and widening the gap between rich and poor. Rapid globalisation may have benefited the upwardly mobile professional classes, keen to exploit new business opportunities and enjoy a wider selection of restaurants and more malleable foreign workers, but it has left behind vast swathes of the traditional working classes unable to adapt to our post-industrial present. Their voice has been largely ignored. Mainstream parties have merely pitied the remnants of the British working classes, talking glibly about new business investments in industrial wastelands, while defending welfare dependence and social interventionism. Whenever the topic of unlimited immigration of unskilled and semi-skilled labour from Eastern and Southern Europe cropped up, the pseudo-liberal elites would downplay its extent, misrepresent its economic benefits and, ever so subtly, suggest the native underclasses were too lazy and inept to fill vacancies in the country’s booming service sector. To add insult to injury, over the last 6 years of Tory-led government, the phoney left has not only championed welfarism, but via myriad charities, has condescendingly treated growing sections of our communities as sufferers of mental illness. Rather than viewing the working classes as the true creators of the nation’s wealth, the postmodern left now regards the underclasses as just another victim group alongside other underprivileged groups such as low-paid migrant workers, single mothers and ethnic minorities. In the new world of virtue-signalling, victimhood status matters more than hard work. If you’re mentally ill, obese, gay, Muslim or a recent Bulgarian migrant, the bien-pensant left will pretend to champion your rights, but if you’re just a low-paid or jobless native worker concerned about unfair labour market competition they will write you off as ignorant and potentially racist. Indeed many actually regard angry nativism as a form of mental illness, i.e. a phenomenon that must be managed and tackled, but not expressed in the ballot box. If working class white British males could rebrand themselves as a victim group, the trendy left may just listen. Indeed in many urban areas this ethnosocial category is already a disadvantaged minority.
The big Surprise
As the polling stations closed and the last opinion polls indicated a marginal lead for the remain side. I was braced for a big anticlimax. If the leave side could muster 45%, then maybe in five or ten years time, when the whole EU project goes pear-shaped, we might get another chance. In all comparable referenda, the public voted for the status quo, better the devil you know. I’m sure many remain voters were concerned about the EU’s lack of democracy and unsustainable migratory flows. They just believed that the consequences of leaving the EU were much worse than any potential gains of greater national self-determination just as many proud Scots voted to stay in the UK just under 2 years earlier. The Remain side appealed to emotions, international solidarity, our love for our European neighbours and, above all, economic expediency. Indeed a common theme in the closing stages of the referendum, and one repeated endlessly by the bad losers now, is that simply leaving the EU will have little effect on migration. If the British economy continues to prosper, it will, according to free marketeers, attract more migrants than it exports. I think all this talk about trade deals and regulations bored most voters, partly because it’s so hard to gauge how economic growth translates into a better quality of life for ordinary people, e.g. property speculation may drive GDP growth, but it also makes houses unaffordable for workers on typical salaries.
As the results piled in, we saw two clear patterns emerge. The United Kingdom was divided primarily along class lines, but also by ethnocultural identity. Outside a handful of cosmopolitan urban areas, in England and Wales the more affluent tended to vote remain. Much of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and the posher parts of Hampshire and Hertfordshire had remain majorities, while less affluent areas, especially those with more elderly demographic profiles, voted more heavily to leave the EU. The biggest leave majorities came not from the Tory-voting Southeast of England, but from Labour’s traditional working class heartlands in the Midlands and North of England as well as Wales. In Northern Ireland the protestant community followed their English and Welsh cousins, while the Republican catholic community voted overwhelmingly for Remain, following orders from the Sinn Fein and SDLP leaderships. In Scotland the result was more mixed. If the UK had had a referendum on EU membership 15 years ago, I would have expected a healthy, but not crushing, majority for staying in the EU across the UK. That was before the Lisbon Treaty and before the EU's eastward expansion. Two factors swayed the vote for remain in Scotland. First all main parties, especially the ruling SNP, favour continued EU membership. Second, Scotland has seen much lower net immigration and only very limited population increase. For most Scots unfair Labour market competition is a side issue, but Scots compete with new migrants in the UK-wide labour market and are thus not immune from wage compression. Even in the areas with relatively homogenous populations like Fife, migrant labour is common in many sectors. The leave campaign here was very low key. I've seen more Stronger for Scotland stickers and posters, with their distinctive SNP branding, than VoteLeave signs. UKIP enjoy only limited support, but some cracks in the united front did appear when veteran Scottish independence campaigner, Jim Sillars, supported Brexit. After all if little Iceland, with a population of just 300,000, can manage outside the EU with its own currency, then so surely can Scotland. 62% of Scots supported the status quo, but a fair number not out of any love for Byzantine EU institutions, but simply to spite the English and trigger another referendum on Scottish independence. Alas 38% rebelled against their political elite and opted to protest against globalisation and gain greater control over fishing and agriculture.
People did not vote along party lines. Polls suggest only majority of conservative and UKIP voters supported leave, while most Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and SNP voters supported remain (Nonetheless 25% of Green voters and 30% of LibDem voters rebelled against their staunchly EU-phile party leaderships). A closer look reveals a different picture. Turnout was highest in many deprived areas that often see lower turnouts in general elections, the kind of backwaters where Labour or Conservatives take their voters for granted. Just consider Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire. In the 2015 general election only 57.7% could be bothered to vote, but in the 2016 EU Referendum a whopping 72% turned out. In London and Scotland we saw almost the opposite scenario with lower turnouts than in general elections. Remain supporters clearly lacked enthusiasm despite all the scare stories about a post-Brexit abyss of economic stagnation and rampant xenophobia. The brutal murder of pro-EU campaigner and Labour MP, Jo Cox, just a week before polling day had enabled the globalist media to appeal to the public’s emotions, especially by associating the mentally ill murderer with far-right grouplets. #VoteRemain thus became the ultimate virtue signal akin to the #refugeeswelcome hashtag just a year earlier.
Back in 1975, it was mainly the left who opposed membership of the then EEC (European Economic Community). Leading Labour politicians such as Tony Benn, Barbara Castle and Peter Shaw as well as the bulk of the era's trade union movement all opposed the EEC just two years after Britain joined in the midst of an economic downturn. The key arguments were over democracy and trade. Immigration hardly figured in the debate because most viewed it as an issue only with people from Commonwealth countries. Apart from a few language students the UK did not see a massive influx of migrants from France, Germany, the Low Countries or Italy. There were few overriding economic advantages and citizens of other EEC countries did not enjoy the same acquired citizenship and welfare rights as British citizens until the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. Indeed in the early years more Britons may have taken advantage of work opportunities in the rest of Europe than vice-versa. EU migration only really became a bone of contention with the superstate's eastward expansion.
The result has sent shockwaves across the world as ruling elites become aware of the strength of opposition to global governance. In hindsight we may view such a reversal as a necessary adjustment to technological developments, which will soon allow a much smarter and more humane form of international cooperation to supplement viable compact nation states. Outsourcing production made sense when markets could take advantage of cheap and more malleable labour in other parts of the world. It makes little sense with the emergence of artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D-printing, which do away with the need for cheap semi-skilled labour or gargantuan manufacturing facilities. We will need more highly skilled software developers, engineers, designers and scientific researchers and fewer machine operatives, cleaners and hauliers. More important we can share expertise and cooperate closely without having to physically move to another country. Mass migration is driven primarily by economic insecurity and environmental instability, not by demand for low-skilled labour or a need to boost retail sales.
The referendum also shows growing conformism among the affluent chattering classes, all too willing to recycle orthodoxy. However, truly intelligent people do not blindly accept official advice from powerful institutions who may not have their best interests at heart. Everyday we are deluged with messages from advertisers and lobbyists, often masquerading as charities. Our high streets are teaming with professional awareness raisers, subtly pushing various hidden agendas that may not seem immediately obvious. This referendum has shown that ordinary people have lost their trust in condescending experts and pundits. There cannot be a soul in the whole wide land who has not heard the neoliberal elite’s view on the benefits of the European Union and mass migration. Love of global institutions and multiculturalism are mandatory parts of today’s school curriculum. The main TV channels have long subtly injected their universalist themes into popular sitcoms and soaps. Eastenders, the UK’s most popular soap opera, portrays a fictional community where people from the most diverse backgrounds all get along fabulously in stark contrast to the reality of parallel communities that barely talk and transient agency workers replacing the previous bunch of underpaid labourers.
As a result opposition to the European Union was until recently a fringe concern. Affordable holidays in Southern Europe have given millions of working class Britons a taste of Europe’s delights, although most tend to gravitate to tourist resorts and mingle more with their countryfolk than with the locals. I always make a point of venturing away from the madding crowd of British holiday makers. True diversity can only thrive when native cultures retain their homelands. Otherwise they become a mere flavour that blends into an indistinct melting pot.
Gradual change may be good, but rapid change is nearly always disruptive
Currently popular discontent with rapid globalisation and cultural change is filtered through a handful of tabloid newspapers with their sensationalist stories about benefits-cheating migrants and fake refugees. However much the wishful-thinking left may find these stories distasteful, they do seem to reflect the everyday experiences of ordinary Britons struggling to cope with rapid change more accurately than the sop stories one reads in the Guardian or sees in BBC documentaries. I have personally visited London housing estates where most residents are not only recent immigrants, but are also clearly in receipt of substantial welfare handouts. Otherwise they could not pay their rent and most do not pay enough taxes to compensate for the true cost of additional public services. Reassuring official reports attempt to contradict such anecdotal evidence, but often do so through selective data sets. However, midway through the referendum campaign not only did official statistics show another rise in net migration, but evidence also emerged of massive undercounting of temporary EU migrants owing to a large discrepancy between official immigration figures and new national insurance numbers. We thus have two contrasting narratives. One presents a progressive community of gradually converging European regions and view migratory imbalances as mere temporary and easily manageable phenomena that can only create minor inconveniences for local inhabitants. The other presents a failed superstate project that drives millions to seek work in high wage regions displacing local workers. The elites see these people movements as way of forging a new pan-European identity. While this international camaraderie may work in university campuses and affluent neighbourhoods, it has created new conflicts between natives and newcomers elsewhere.
The challenge ahead
In any case mass migration is a much more complex issue and certainly not confined to the European Union. Indeed the biggest challenge over the next decade will be to deal with growing migratory pressures from Africa and Middle East, two regions with high birth rates. I have long argued the best way to address these challenges is through sustainable development. That means helping these countries acquire the skills and technology they need to feed their people while transitioning to a more sustainable birth rate. China has already transitioned and India is well on its way to an ideal fertility rate of 2 children per woman (currently 2.45, but just 2.0 in Kerala). Greater migration to Europe or North America will do little to alleviate the environmental impacts of rapid population growth. Besides the real challenge will be to develop smarter and greener technology to reduce massive waste and inefficiencies.
Could the Native English have halted Cultural Convergence?
The Brexit saga reveals another irony. Today’s globalisation is largely built on British and later North American imperialism. The English language has become one of the primary vehicles of cultural convergence. As a rule the more globally connected a place is, the more its people are likely to be fluent in English. Ironically as the European Union has morphed from a Western European free trade area to a pan-European superstate, the dominance of international English has grown. While paying lip service to French and other major European languages, Eurocrats have an unnerving habit of speaking a kind of Euro-English that alienates not only millions of continental Europeans who still prefer their mother tongues, but native English speakers too. Their diction, replete with neologisms, bears an an uncanny semblance to George Orwell’s NewSpeak, namely it serves more to preclude unwanted thoughts than to expand mutual understanding. If the UK leaves the European Union, Ireland may be the only country where English spoken as the primary vernacular. (see English language could be dropped from European Union after Brexit) I’m beginning to feel the tide is turning on globalisation as people become more aware of what they are losing. We can actually harness modern technology to break language barriers without jettisoning our traditions and cultural identity. Will machine translation kill English as Lingua Franca?