Why people voted out in the UK

The character of debate in the UK has been appalling and full of disinformation –  its mediocrity has illuminated the dire state of British politics.

The Vote In/ Vote Out debate has largely focused on two topics – namely ‘trade’ with the EU and immigration. Those two single issues have been predominant topics of discussion across British media and amongst various politicians. It is not necessarily the issues as such, indeed they are important areas of concern for the future of Britain, but the ways in which they have been framed that one should focus on. It is therefore unsurprising that voters have said that the EU debate has largely been stale, immersed in fear-mongering and devoid of any ‘real’ facts about the costs of exit.

Whilst all these things are true, and raise serious questions about the quality of British politics today, in my opinion the debates rarely touched on the most important issue of today’s Britain – namely, the situation of the working, impoverished and struggling classes in British society who more than any other group have been eager to air their opinions and whose interests are going to be expressed in large part in today’s referendum.

At the bottom tiers of British society are those that are frustrated with the ruling classes, particularly middle-classes, who for various reasons will largely vote for Remain. None of the discussions actually focused on class issues in UK society and unsurprisingly, because of a lack of class analysis in the media, it was neither a topic of discussion in the media nor one focused on by politicians.

One has to understand that there is simply no ‘British society’ as such, but rather, a society made up of different stratums of competing economic and political forces, whose interests differ when it comes to such pertinent issues as the EU debate. Who benefits and who loses will largely depend on where you are in British society and which particular class group you belong to. This analysis has never been spoken about openly in the media but is actually on the minds of many voters, especially those who feel the wrenching bite of poor employment prospects and little if any growth in their disposable incomes.

Whilst immigration for instance has been a topical issue it has rarely been linked to those representing the lowest income stratums of British society; indeed, this relational analysis, between class and immigration, has not been discussed, and the reason being is that the elitists’ hold over the media do not want to awaken a ‘class consciousness’ or awareness amongst the poorest segments of society. Such classes may rebel against the rigid hegemonic structures they live under, and which ruling groups continually and desperately attempt to keep in check, and who are now as they have been since de-industralisation, forced to enter disenfranchising retail and other low-skilled job markets.

Indeed, whilst net immigration may and could very well have helped the British economy in recent years, immigration often is multi-dimensional and creates fierce competition in specific sectors and markets, and particularly for Britain’s working class groups – those who suffered under forced de-industralisation and who find themselves competing with other poorly or semi-skilled workers coming from other parts of Europe.

Competition, in this sense, doesn’t occur across all of UK society, but is most evident and damaging amongst Britain’s working classes who have the least means to sustain their livelihoods and ambitions. Now, it is these British working classes that also find themselves facing a huge crisis – not only are their wages comparatively much less in real terms than thirty years ago (in comparison with their then peers) but given the drastic cuts to government services, which affects the general stock of council housing and social provisions find themselves not only frustrated by their inability to move up the social and class ladder but are also enduring streams of relatively low skilled immigrants who compete with them for increasingly scarce government services as well as jobs.

Indeed, this is where the immigration debate is most important especially when it is analysed as a relationship to existing, struggling classes who find themselves competing with other Europeans at the very bottom tier of society. Unfortunately, these frustrations – at times captured by a right-wing press of the Farage type, have rarely been expressed in relation to Britain’s working classes, who are struggling under the forces of neoliberal globalisation, the capture of UK’s economy by large multi-nationals who offer depressed wages to working class groups (and which the media has largely focused on, and whose interests tend to be more important than British workers) and a ruling class that can now afford to be more cosmopolitan and which increasingly looks to Europe for some semblance of commonality. After all, middle-classes in the UK often do their best to stay away from their down-trodden lower classes, and this is exhibited  in all things – from media, food, culture and language to jobs.

Whilst taking back power from the EU is not in itself a solution to UK’s more structural problems, it is, however, a necessary component of reclaiming power for working classes in the UK. It is a step in the direction of holding the ruling classes and British Government to account.This is what is most surprising about the Labour Party, which has traditionally stood for workers’ rights. Today, we have a Labour Party that has probably come to the realisation that its traditional voter heartland, which includes post-industrial communities, are not actually voting for them – indeed, it is therefore not surprising that the Labour Party now looks to other Labour entities in Europe than actually canvassing and proposing an alternative to the dire status quo. In many ways it is in denial about the fragmentation of its voter base as it has done little to recompose itself after damaging electoral defeats. The inability of the Labour Party to make any meaningful sense of the EU Referendum is a massive failure on its part.

For different reasons, many in the Conservative Party, which is in part  beholden to the whims of British business and whose interests are deeply tied to Europe’s Common Market enterprise, will naturally be voting Remain.

What struck me in these debates is also the crisis of economic thinking, with most ‘experts’, who happen to come from large multinational accountancy and consultancies that maintain a London office but who also have a European and international presence, selectively deploying their skills for a Remain Vote. Data and information has only looked at the short-term, often of the immediate repercussions, and there has been little if any long-term assessments. Most of the information provided has only spoken about the general economy, often focusing on what happens to big companies in the UK. The ‘analysis’ has been testament to the continuing disinformation dumped on the electorate over the past two or three months.

What we have today is a large mass of the electorate that have little if any representation, leaving the door wide open for Farage and others to capture, which over time will see a massive transformation in British politics.

It is in part for the reasons above – for a better Britain and one that hopefully and over time serves the most disadvantaged in society that the people of Britain voted Out today. Although it may not be the solution to the UK’s grave and serious structural and economic challenges it is, however, an attempt to reclaim a semblance of representation for those who have suffered from the disastrous policies of existing and previous Governments that have done little to fix the UK’s huge social inequalities.


About Mehiyar

Dr Mehiyar Kathem is a researcher at University College London (UCL). Mehiyar completed a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) where he researched peacebuilding interventions and the formation of Iraq’s domestic NGO sector after the 2003 War. During this research, he looked at the gradual evolution of Iraq from totalitarian dictatorship through the country’s emerging domestic organisations. His research interests include statebuilding, civil society peacebuilding and the ways in which development, politics and money interact at a local level. In 2012 and 2013, Mehiyar conducted field research in Iraq for his PhD programme, spending a year meeting with and interviewing domestic NGO actors, political parties, government officials and international donors. Previously, Mehiyar worked on a number of grassroots programmes geared to build the capacity of civil society organisations and continues to advise international donors on the effective design and delivery of projects in Iraq. He tweets at @mehiyar

One comment

  1. Wyldstyle

    Very insightful article on the Brexit debate. It is the first article that tries to explain voting patterns with class and evonomic interest groups. It is true that the debate was instrumentalised by certain lobby groups to spread panic and fear without giving accurate explanations or arguments.

    Regarding the sterile argument saying that the UK will lose of its democratic values if it leaves the UK, I would say that this country was at the very source of humanism and human rights philosophically and structurally.

    The EU and all transnational entities are a post world war disfunctional institutions. These institutions are out of date and don’t seem to reapond to current national and international needs. The EU is an old burocracy favoring certain voices and disguised as a forteress of democracy. The UK should existentialy distence itself from the sinking ship of Brussels and sail away like a proud island towards other horizons.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: