I predicted it would happen in our 2016 predictions article: yet the shock still hit me the morning I woke up to the news – a sickening feeling as I questioned how the nation I thought I knew could be so naive. I have since spent a lot of my thinking time trying to get into the heads of those who voted to leave (a thing we must all do to respect each other and move forwards). Granted, the EU is not perfect, but make no mistake that in the current climate Britain will be worse off without it. Many who voted to leave will never get what they voted for and what was suggested, if not actually promised, they would get from Brexit.
A huge factor that contributed to the success of the Leave campaign was that the vote utilised the anti-establishment torrent and wave of disenfranchisement that is currently sweeping through not just Britain, but much of the developed world: it was a two fingers up to the status quo. Both the traditional left working class, and the far right voted en masse to leave – a cross-party and politics movement which we have not seen the likes of before. The same mobilisation that saw Jeremy Corbyn elected Labour leader, and the rise of Donald Trump in America was truly at play. But the consequences may prove that this was somewhat misjudged, and a great deception of the nation, as I will explain.
Yes, the EU in its present form has been built largely on the interests of the wealthy and the big businesses, is somewhat undemocratic: the way it treated the Greek people showed just how inhumane it could be, dismissing the wishes of the democratic decision of the Greek people and imposing austerity measures. But the EU has been silently acting as a cushion from a far right movement that has been mobilising in British and European politics, and in one half of the Conservative Party: protections on workers rights, as well as environmental policies that will be missed when the Tory right rip them up to please their big business buddies – as they undoubtedly will sooner rather than later.
The tabloid newspapers have been stoking the fire for years, with headline after headline about immigrants getting into the public consciousness. People are rightly angry at our failing NHS, spiralling rent prices, lowering living standards and stagnating wages: but the EU was not at the heart of these problems, it was the Tory lead austerity project that has taken money out of the back pocket of the hard working and given it in tax breaks to the rich.
Of course, the Leave campaign now has very little to say for themselves and don’t seem to know how to move forwards: the fact they had no exit strategy has been well and truly shown up and they have already made a climb down from a few major campaign promises, most notably that an extra £350 million a week would be spent on the NHS. They made cast-iron promises that, Iain Duncan Smith now admits, were only ever ‘possibilities’. Boris Johnson was both sacked by The Times and Michael Howard for lying, and he and his colleagues were up to their old tricks again. Emotions were raw and they did a lot of shouting during the campaign, telling us the experts were corrupt and that we should ignore them which found a resonance in the current socio-economic climate: but now the pound has slumped to its lowest in 30 years and businesses have announced their intentions to move jobs abroad. It is clear the leave camp did not believe they would win, this was them playing the game politics to further their careers – and now we must suffer the consequences.
The vote to leave does not liberate the working classes as Nigel Farage night be keen to claim: it only hands more power to the right wing of politics who will certainly not act in the best interests of the hard workers of this country who have already suffered so much. The left of politics must now mobilise: the working classes have not needed a voice this much since Margaret Thatcher was tearing apart working class communities. We must fight against any changes to employment rights, environmental policies and up the pressure for a crackdown on industrial scale tax evasion, as well as continuing to encourage more employers to pay a living wage and lower the wage divide and the gap between the rich and the poor – the big businesses might have the financial clout to lobby Parliament, but we have the numbers.
Most importantly, wherever we are across political spectrum we must now unite and learn how to get on with one another again, no matter which way we voted and for what reason. Especially as the older generation voted predominantly to leave, and the younger to remain the tensions divide generations and even families . We are a fiercely divided country, and reports of hate crimes surging in wake of the referendum result disgust us all, and fill us with shame. We must fight racism, intolerance and inequality, as the Leave campaign has given such views a certain validity in the public domain: this cannot be allowed to be acceptable. It was not surprising to see a banner bearing the National Front logo appear on Newcastle’s street’s soon after the result, a vitriolic organisation who many would have hoped would never rear its ugly head again – but it’s what happens when you taint your arguments with poisonous racist sentiments.
The whole political system is in turmoil at present, and in an ideal world both Conservatives and Labour should split: the divides in the parties have certainly played their part in how horrendously the campaign was conducted. We have been sold lies, and there is no return policy or cooling off period: we rightly should angry with our political system. We should be looking towards a form of proportional representation – however with the two major parties and the status quo at odds to lose the most from such a move do not expect it to be on the agenda.
The divides in our society must be bridged, sooner rather than later, before we spiral into a cycle of insular sentiments, intolerance and nationalism. Britain is currently the laughing stock of Europe, and it is time to prove that it is great again and build bridges, not walls.