I am not a fan of the EU Referendum result, for many reasons. It was built on a pile of bullshit; it opens the door to the Conservatives trying to scrap the human rights act again; it has concerning implications for immigrants in the UK; and it seems to have been taken by a small number of racist wankers as a signal that their views and behaviour are OK.
I signed the petition for a second referendum, even though I don’t think it’ll happen, because I wanted to show my dissatisfaction somehow. And I signed the petition for London to become its own city-state, or a special economic zone, even though I don’t think it’ll happen, because if any kind of positive change is going to come, it’s probably going to originate in either London or Scotland, and I don’t want to move back to Glasgow.
Then last night I went along to the Conway Hall London Thinks event about the referendum, and it was interesting because I realised that I’m annoyed on behalf of people who voted Leave as well.
Not just because they’ve been lied to. Not just because a lot of them probably aren’t racists but are now being villified as such.
But because of the smug way the Remain campaign is treating them.
Throughout the evening I agreed, for the most part, with AC Grayling. Unsurprising: he’s a left-wing philosopher who’s passionate about building a better world. But I also thought Matthew Goodwin made some interesting points; ones that weren’t being heard by a lot of the audience (if the relative levels of applause were anything to go by).
Here’s the full thing, if you want to watch it:
The biggest deciding factors for how people voted in the referendum were age and education level.
Young people generally voted to remain – but, as usual, they didn’t turn up as much as older people.
People with a higher level of education generally voted to remain, too.
But in this referendum, people without college degrees, living in areas where social inequality is high, turned up and voted in their droves.
And even the way we discuss phenomena like this irritates me.
You see, I’ve been there. I’ve been one of the uneducated masses.
I’ve sat back and watched in horror from a Scottish council estate while rich men in suits hundreds of miles away decided that my family’s benefits should be cut. I’ve felt powerless and helpless and overwhelmed by the bureaucracy that came up every time I tried to get practical help as a child and teenager.
Even as an adult, after pulling myself out of the background I came from, up through the ranks of university life (skipping a few rungs on the way), and ending up living in London, earning enough money to survive here, I still listen with rising levels of annoyance while people discuss “the poor” and “those people on benefits”.
I’ve listened to people who have never had to worry about the most basic needs of life debating in comfortably-temperatured rooms whether my concerns as a child were valid. I’ve been at conferences where people swanned around in suits eating tiny burgers off cocktail sticks while well-dressed waiters refilled their glasses of post-conference-networking wine, hearing them spout on about how it’s all a matter of hard work. How they’d like to do something to help people in deprived areas, but it’s bureaucratically infeasible for some excessively labyrinthine reason.
And on a smaller level, I’ve watched people’s eyes widen in surprise when they ask what my parents do and I don’t come up with a classic middle-class answer. I’ve had the patronising comments, the “well done you for managing to get here”, the reminders that I am somehow other.
I’ve had people blatantly dismiss the experiences of my family members, purely because none of them were university-educated (or educated at all, very much).
I’ve had people tell me my mother can’t really believe what she believes, because “No educated person would”.
I’ve had people tell me my family probably “just don’t understand” whichever problems we’d been discussing – problems which directly affected them, far more than they affect the people who were pontificating about them in comfortable conference halls.
I’ve had people laugh at me for not knowing how to pronounce words; words I’d never heard spoken because no one I grew up with had read the books in which they appeared. Words I had to teach myself in a long programme of supplementary self-education that continues throughout my adult life.
And trust me, over time this becomes very wearing.
The reminders that you’re a sort of other breed of human. The feeling when you’ve just begun to believe you might be fitting into a conversation, when someone gives you that look because they’ve just realised you haven’t read the same books as them, or listened to the same radio shows, or grown up on a well-balanced diet of Radio 4 and Question Time.
This has been going on for decades, at least. Certainly for as long as I’ve been alive.
There’s only so long you can expect people to be pushed down and not listened to, before they will rise up and make a controversial choice just to get you to hear them.
This was, in my opinion, largely what the 2011 riots were about.
And it’s what the EU ref was largely about, too.
A group of people who are sick of being told they’re uneducated, when they’ve had to be scrappy and gritty and work through knotty problems all their lives that would completely floor their university-educated naysayers at the first hurdle.
A group of people who are tired of being maligned in the press, looked down on by others, and pushed aside by politicians.
A group of people who are terrified of their livelihoods being jeopardised again – because everyone knows London will be OK, London will pull through this mess somehow, but what about Blackpool? Castle Point? Thurrock? Great Yarmouth?
And if you read that last sentence and thought “I don’t even know where most of those places are”, and are finding it hard to care about them, well, that kind of underlines what I’m saying.
There’s only so much you can push people down before the pressure begins to rise too high.
Yes, I’d love it if somehow we had a second referendum and the tide of public opinion had turned. I’d love it if we somehow managed to remain in the EU and iron out the various problems we see with it.
But I suspect that won’t be the case.
Hell, the places that have the highest number of votes for a second referendum are the places that had the lowest turnout at the first one.
Which again underlines the smugness that a lot of Leavers are voting against.
This middle-class belief that you know best because you’ve got a degree. That it’ll be OK for everyone because it’ll probably be OK for you. That London might be a bit different from the rest of the country, but not that different, surely?
I know it’s easier to hate on the Leave voters. I know it’s easy to call up the disgusting, ugly incidents of racism that have increased since the referendum and blame it all on the Leave camp. I know it’s easier to talk about what we can do to make sure we get our own way than it is to try to engage with other people’s concerns.
But easier does not necessarily equal better.
A significant proportion of the country showed up to vote Leave. And while some of them are no doubt experiencing a kind of buyers’ regret, not all of them are. While some of them are racist, a lot of them aren’t. While some of them hate immigration as a concept, a lot of them are just afraid that the shakily-constructed lives they’ve built for themselves are going to come tumbling down due to the preferences of the comfortable middle classes in their ivory towers. Just like they have before, so many times.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m leaning towards a kind of radical togetherness. We need to open discussions. We need to get out of our little bubbles that only show us how our friends are voting, and we need to engage with other people. We need to speak to people in an unpatronising way, talk to them like the human beings they are, recognise that their problems and concerns are as valid as ours.
Because only by coming together as a community of humans can we build a better world, whether we’re in the EU or not.