The vote for Brexit was the revenge of the people and the regions left behind. It came from the old industrial heartlands, the less well educated, the unskilled and the older people who remembered better times. None of them are fashionable but should neither be viewed as if unworthy to take such an important decision nor dismissed as oldies who'll soon be dead and replaced by a smarter, younger generation which loves the EU
To understand it we must ask what makes Brexit voters feel as they do? Why have they been left behind ? What's wrong with Euro Britain which makes so many want to reject the wisdom of the elite? The answer cant be the spread of dementia. It must lie in the way the economy has been run and the consequences of this for the people and their lives.
In the first decades after the war, les trente glorieuses (which translates as the Never Had it So Good years) the economy was run to reward the people for their sufferings in depression and war by full employment, maintained by Keynesian demand management, a welfare state, and steady economic growth all underpinned by the post war settlement of fixed exchange rates.
This fell apart in the seventies. Growth stalled, inflation roared and competition became a zero sum battle between workers and business. Governments tried incomes policy and high benefit spending to cushion the failure but this produced its own nemesis .The trade unions lost control of their members and destroyed the Labour government . The Conservatives came in to offer punishment In place of appeasement by disciplining labour and imposing neoliberal policies: monetarism, high interest rates and an overvalued exchange rate to control inflation and destroy jobs.
This was the revenge of the rich, a group embracing the wealthy, big business, the banks and Britain's well off elite. Having fretted through decades of pleasing the people they took their revenge by breaking the trade unions, destroying their base, manufacturing and basic industries , privatising public assets for private profit and rolling back the State, the protector of the people, to give power to markets which benefit the strong not the weak. To him that hath shall be given, and it was to encourage initiative , enterprise and the proliferation of gold Rolexes.
Labour, the party of the people, initially protested but soon found that to win it had to accept the new norms, take its base for granted and reach out to the south and the middle class who'd not been as hard hit.As a result the Blair government embraced much of Thatcherism and didn't deliver enough to either its people or the depressed areas but gave generously to Finance and the City, the architects of the new paradigm. It encouraged globalisation and became passionately pro European both of which which drained demand, money and jobs from Britain.
Labour was brought down by the Great Recession, produced by the financial forces it had ,liberated . This brought in a Tory party to implement a cruel austerity, cutting benefits to the poor to give tax cuts to the rich. It turned London into taxhaven on Thames and encouraged the inflow of funny money to buy up companies, property, land and citizenship .Deregulation made the labour market casual and uncertain. Immigration, unemployment and offshoring kept wages down. The economy was kept running by rising debt, a form of privatised Keynesianism and a lax monetary programme which boosted asset prices.The South East, the City, Finance and wealth got the best of the deal. The suffering heartlands were ignored.
In other countries this might have produced resistance and revolt but what could Britain's losers do? Riots are not the English way. We're better grumblers but the whole game was slanted against the people.The media preached neo liberalsm, and Labour, becoming more middle class, spoke their language rather than that of the people..Critics were viewed as scroungers, dinasaurs and relics. Trade unions and workers were powerless. Unemployment and immigration kept incomes flat. The middle class could manage by coping, doping, hoping and shopping, to which one could have added, viewing, for television is the opium of the people, and borrowing on an enormous scale to keep up living standards. The result was a growing burden of debt, pressing hard on the poor for whom credit terms were harsh and punishments vindictive. The only consolation was watching celebs and a greedy, grabbing, elite enrich themselves.
Their only chance to fight back was to seize the opportunity David Cameron had unwittingly provided in his referendum . This allowed them to use the by-election weapon of slinging off, by focussing all their discontents on a European union they had no reason to like. The high vote for Brexit was an outpouring of the bitterness and resentments accumulated over thirty years of punishment and pain from globalisation, neoliberalism, immigration, austerity, high unemployment, growing burdens of debt and all the other punishments to which the people had been subjected in the name of a business friendly dynamic economy.
Here wasn't just a verdict on Europe. It was a people's protest, a plea for help which requires government not just to come out of the EU, but to tilt the economy back to the people and give them the fair deal they're demanding and deserve.
Sent from my iPad