Last night I watched Panorama documentary about people in the West Midlands who voted for Brexit. (Incidentally, I voted ‘shake it all about’ – where are my views represented?) Anyway, it was a really interesting watch. He interviewed a dozen or so people about why they voted for Out: they were all white and working-class and although not overtly racist there was a persistent perception that immigrants and refugees get houses and services ‘ahead of’ them. So far, so predictable. But there was a strain in their thinking which I hadn’t been aware of. A lot of Brexiteers seem to want to turn the clock back to some kind of golden age; and whereas for many this is a time when Britain was ‘great’ – 1966, perhaps, or when we had an empire – others (and these were the ones represented in the documentary) simply want a time when there were jobs and an industrial base. And I can’t blame them for that. Where I obviously differ from them is in who’s responsible. Whereas they tend to blame foreign workers for undercutting them I would point the finger at the system which fosters this ‘divide and rule’ mentality, ie global capitalism. This probably highlights a difference in our thinking: I am happy dealing with abstract concepts whereas they see things in more concrete terms.
The thing is, though; the thing that really got to me, is that every one of these interviewees said, over and over ‘nobody’s listening to us.’ And you know what? They’re probably right. It’s too easy to categorise them as ill-informed racists or uneducated tabloid-fodder; it’s too easy to dismiss their views. But they have a point; and the fact that they feel so ignored and sidelined made me feel sad. And it made me feel a little guilty, too.
What’s good about it is that the referendum engaged people who were otherwise disengaged: many people had voted for the first time because for the first time they felt they had a voice, and that people would listen. And that’s why – though I hate the thought more than I can say – we have to go through with it. God knows I don’t want to: I think it’s a bloody disaster and I feel those who voted for it are in for a massive disappointment – but if I want the Labour party to respect Corbyn’s appointment (and I do) I have to want the government to respect this vote. Otherwise those who voted for the first time will lapse back into anger, apathy and resentment. Otherwise it’s a betrayal of democracy. Otherwise we don’t deserve to be trusted.