Brexit: Are you Listening

By Nicola Eccleton

In some ways this whole Brexit thing is a bit of a relief really. I had begun to think that those who are not used to having a voice had stopped even trying to use it. The fact that such an important vote was used as a means to reject the establishment rather than determine whether membership of the European Union was useful is a bit of a fly in the ointment, but you can’t win them all.

What bothers me most is the condescension with which people are talking about those who voted leave – writing many off as racists whose vote is somehow less worthy than their own. If that’s what you think, you’re not listening. We all know that anti-immigrant, racist rhetoric thrives in situations where people are disaffected, disillusioned with the system, struggling to raise their kids and pay their rent. We know that the tendency towards looking inwards is a coping mechanism, and that a genuinely outward looking worldview is the purview of those who are lucky enough not to have to fight their own fires on a daily basis.

I read that the single biggest indicator of a leave vote was a low level of education. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that democracy and low education do not function well together. Decision-making 101 requires that people who are asked to make decisions have the information required to do so. The reality that higher education in the West is much easier to attain for those with money allows the wealthy elite to strengthen their claim to being the legitimate holders of decision-making power.

As a student of politics I am fascinated by Brexit’s implications for multilateralism, the Northern Irish border and the Scottish independence movement. As someone who has spent much of their career working with people for whom the current system does not work, I despair that the sum total of the negative outcomes of such a decision will be placed squarely on the shoulders of those UK citizens who can least afford to be negatively affected.

This concentration of power, and ultimately wealth, is currently shaping politics throughout the Western World. Those who are looking to provide an alternative model of politics in the 21st Century need to come up with a version that not only speaks to those who are disaffected by the current system, but genuinely serves them.

The blame lies with those of us who continue to vote for parties and policies that convince us that labour market flexibility is more important than high employment, that education is a private good with solely individual rewards rather than a public good on which our entire system is contingent, and that those who are not well served by this system can ‘choose’ different outcomes. For these are the conditions under which we create space for those that play into the fears and insecurities of the disenfranchised, the Trumps and Farages who reiterate that the system doesn’t work and give people someone to blame.

And if you think that’s not what’s happening here, you’re not listening.