Working class discontent drove the Brexit vote

The Brexit vote was not simply about our relationship with the European Union. 

It was also about working class discontent and the deep divides that exist within modern British society, according to recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Society. They found that many people who voted in the referendum were deeply divided along economic, social and educational lines.

The research revealed that people who had been pushed to the margins of society, living on low incomes, with few qualifications or the necessary skills needed to find decent jobs or housing were more likely than others to support Brexit.  Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “The research shows how Britain cannot afford to return to business as usual following the vote for Brexit. The result was a wake-up call: for too long, many communities have been struggling as the country’s prosperity passed them by and missed out on opportunities to build a better life.”

I am one of those people who voted for Brexit not merely because I felt we would be better off outside the EU but because I wanted to express my anger with the status quo and hence felt a wake-up call was needed. I’m not anti-Europe but I am anti-EU. Working class communities have borne the brunt of austerity but our voices and concerns are too often ignored not just by the Tory right but also by sections of the liberal left, who profess to support social change for a more equal and inclusive society, but ignore the concerns of working class communities. Many of their concerns, for example on immigration, are simplistically dismissed as ignorant or, worse still, racist. There is little understanding from those living in middle class affluent areas on the impact immigration has had on those living in marginalised communities who are most affected by immigration. A lack of housing, cuts to public services and the length of time it takes to see a GP have served only to increase tensions in many working class areas.

I’m well aware how easy it is to make immigrants scapegoats, like the far right do. Attacks on immigrants are wrong and serve only to deflect attention away from the government’s attacks on deprived communities.  Some on the liberal left have described the Brexit campaign as a racist one but this is wrong.  Austerity, falling wages and mass unemployment is what fuels racism.

For me and many others it wasn’t just about immigration. It was much more than that. The EU dilutes democracy. It’s an undemocratic, unaccountable and elitist institution that is increasingly moving toward a free market direction. Look what happened to Greece. They elected a socialist government on an anti-austerity ticket, but the EU forced the Greek government to make a humiliating U-turn, forcing them to impose savage cuts on its people.

The late Tony Benn described the EU as a neo-liberal project that was “designed on economically conservative ideas.” I believe he was right and that’s why I voted for Brexit.

Professor Matthew Goodwin, author of the research at the University of Kent, said: "This research reveals how the referendum was not simply about our relationship with the European Union, but also shed light on the deep divides that exist in our society.

Unless these deep divisions are addressed, the far right will exploit this. We cannot allow this to happen for all our sakes. 

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