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Why I Refuse To Blame The English Working Class For Brexit

28/06/2016 12:00 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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ODD ANDERSEN via Getty Images
People walk over Westminster Bridge wrapped in Union flags, towards the Queen Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben) and The Houses of Parliament in central London on June 26, 2016. Britain's opposition Labour party plunged into turmoil Sunday and the prospect of Scottish independence drew closer, ahead of a showdown with EU leaders over the country's seismic vote to leave the bloc. Two days after Prime Minister David Cameron resigned over his failure to keep Britain in the European Union, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faced a revolt by his lawmakers who called for him, too, to quit. / AFP / Odd ANDERSEN (Photo credit should read ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday afternoon, as I returned home from work, I was confronted by two men on the train who pointed to my "Labour In" sticker and pointedly told me, "Get the F*** Out." I was shaken, angry and disappointed that the country I have been calling home for the last six years doesn't consider me one of their own and was asking me to leave. The Brexit campaign, which seems to have been won on the single issue of immigration, has been one of the most divisive things to threaten community and social cohesion in this country.

For a community of people who have never had anything, what more is there to lose from Brexit?

The leave outcome of this referendum can only be described as disastrous -- disastrous for the economy (the pound has fallen to a 30-year low); disastrous for human rights (a Tory Government which wants to quit the European Convention on Human Rights); and disastrous for social cohesion (there has been a growth of xenophobia across the length of this country). Whilst there has been a tremendous outcry from the 48% who did vote to remain, this is not the time to dismiss the other 52% as being a racist and backwater group. The English working class has been for years neglected by the New Labour government (which whilst not necessarily cutting welfare did little to grow the economy in the post-industrial cities), and by the conservative government which through their austerity cuts have reduced welfare and failed on their promise of a "Northern Powerhouse". The Conservative government has blamed immigration for everything. It is a bit rich of David Cameron to call for social cohesion and blame the fear campaign against immigrants on the Leave group when he did not hesitate to do the same so many times in the last two general elections including the London mayoral race where he accused Sadiq Khan of having "extremist" sympathies.

I hear the 'Leave' politicians describe this as a victory for democracy, where the people have spoken. I am simply surprised that they really think this decision is democratic. Clement Atlee, the Labour Prime Minister between 1945 and 1951, dismissed referendums, saying:

"I could not consent to the introduction into our national life of a device so alien to all our traditions as the referendum, which has only too often been the instrument of Nazism and fascism."

Atlee was right, and as we have seen in successive elections around the world such as India, the majority will not hesitate to elect politicians with dubious human rights records on the basis of campaigns that promise economic progress. The EU referendum was no different. The working classes were lied to time and again by the UKIP and the Tory right who suggested all their problems were just down to the immigrants. Many of the people interviewed by the major channels viewed this referendum as a protest vote against the elite political machinery of Westminster, which has neglected them for so many years. For a community of people who have never had anything, what more is there to lose from Brexit?

[W]hilst we are getting angry at the working class, the austerity and the economic collapse that is about to follow will hit them much harder than it hits us.

I have read several black and ethnic minority friends call out the Labour party for chasing "racist votes". I disagree with this position. In a country where successive governments have shied away from making the necessary investments in jobs, houses and the larger public sector, there will be discontent. This discontent as the last two months in particular have shown will be directed at those who they feel are stealing their jobs and taking away their welfare pots. No party leader other than Jeremy Corbyn has so far challenged this narrative. It is no surprise that whilst the metropolitan centres of affluence -- London, Manchester, Oxford, Brighton have voted to remain; it is the midlands, northern cities and former coal mining towns of Wales which have voted out. What saddens me the most is that whilst we are getting angry at the working class, the austerity and the economic collapse that is about to follow will hit them much harder than it hits us. Of course none of us will be shielded from it. As the precarious middle classes of London we might have to make some tough choices but none will be tougher than some of these communities.

Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to be an apologist over here. Pointing out the vicious racism that has erupted in the last few days, weeks and months is not anti-working class. In fact many of the areas which have voted leave out of "fear" of immigrants and foreigners have also had the least immigration compared to other parts of the country. We need to understand and challenge all forms of racism and xenophobia but only through discussion and working with those communities; dismissing them as the "bigot class" will serve no purpose. This is the time to work in solidarity by becoming allies and defeating the ruling class.

Whilst I [hope that] some loophole might yet keep us in the EU, I am not sure if this will heal the xenophobic schisms that this referendum has opened up.

I was amused and surprised at many petitions calling for London to be declared independent from the rest of the country (full disclosure, I signed one of these for fun), but it betrays the privilege that we as Londoners feel we have over the rest of the country. This is even after we have been told we are not doing enough for the rest of this nation. We still want to shut our eyes and complain about the referendum. This campaign has been nasty and my social media is weighed down by statuses from friends and acquaintances who report facing racist, xenophobic abuse on the streets every day. I am saddened and also scared at the direction this country is going in. Both major parties are in disarray -- the Prime Minister has resigned, whilst a replacement is currently underway and Jeremy Corbyn faces a challenge from the Parliamentary Labour Party. Scotland, meanwhile, is already calling for an independence referendum. Whilst I remain hopeful that good sense will prevail and some loophole might yet keep us in the EU, I am not sure if this will heal the xenophobic schisms that this referendum has opened up.

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