In the aftermath of the EU Referendum, in which 51.9% of the UK voted to leave the European Union, many disheartened Remain campaigners are looking for someone to blame. Over the past two days I have seen countless accusations that the working class, or simply ‘the poor’, caused this. As a working class Remain voter, I am angry.
Bigotry is above class in the UK; David Cameron alluded to this the day he agreed to a referendum on the United Kingdom’s place in the European Union. Leave politicians declared the same thing to be true once they ensured that the issue of immigration became a platform for racist remarks and anti-refugee rhetoric. Though it is undeniable that many working class people were swept up in the ferocity of this movement – suggesting that UKIP could gain more seats in the 2020 General Election – the same thing simply cannot be said for every member of the working class.
Taking a look at voting patterns in the UK, England and Wales predominantly voted Leave. The areas where the majority voted Remain are Scotland, most of Northern Ireland, and the fair majority of the biggest cities in England and Wales. London, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Cardiff are just some of these.
To suggest that the cities that voted Remain are in some way absent of a working class is ridiculous. Liverpool itself came third in a study on the most deprived towns and cities in the UK; Birkenhead, a town on the Wirral, came ninth. It must be shocking then to learn that both Liverpool and the Wirral voted for the UK to Remain in the EU, by 58.2% and 51.7% respectfully.
Contrarily, the study found that the towns with the least number of deprived areas were mainly situated in the South East, an area heavily concentrated with Leave majorities. Solihull, in the West Midlands, made number seven on this list and also voted Leave. In a 2012 Halifax report on housing prices, Chichester and Salisbury made the top ten, places that, again, voted Leave. Yet there seems to be no great correlation between wealth and Brexit emerging in the recent media coverage.
Looking more specifically at the Leave campaign, its board and campaign committee, the leading figures are not typically working class; nor, I’d argue, would they identify as such. Many attended Oxford or Cambridge; some – including Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage – were privately educated, a few were aristocrats. These not the average people you’d see down the pub in Thanet, but politicians largely detached from the section of Britain that supposedly supported them fully. It all seems a bit off, doesn’t it?
In recent years, a caricature of the average working class man has been cultivated by the right-leaning media figures. He’s a UKIP voter, seen permanently holding a beer, bald, complaining loudly about immigrants taking jobs, all the while having no intention of working – he wouldn’t pass a CRB check. Let’s call him Dave. Dave is most likely married to Emma, an overweight, constantly pregnant woman, permanently in tracksuit bottoms and twenty year old trainers. They couple has matching tattoos of the English flag. These two caricatures, developed by toxic prejudices and a limited working class voice against such discrimination, are obviously not true of the whole of the working class. To force dehumanising judgements on a section of the UK in light of this image, and then to blame the result of the EU referendum on them, is vastly unfair.
The rise of UKIP has focused on the traditional working class Conservatives in an attempt to gain support in its heartlands. But a key base of support for the Leave campaign was the Eurosceptic socialist working class, which believed the Leave campaign’s devotion to NHS investment – a devotion now revealed to have been completely false. The insincere right-wing concern for NHS funding the Leave campaign projected presents the fragility of the UKIP movement among the working class. The need to appeal to a broad section of ideologies, no matter how fictitious it was, presents the reality that the working class does not have one active opinion on the rest of the world. It, like the whole of the UK, is divided.
Brexit came as the result of some discontented working class people who believed that high levels of immigration were the cause of their hardships, whilst they looked up at the social ladder and hated what they saw. The richest looked down and despised their inability to control the masses. The result of the EU Referendum would have been far different without this inter-class relationship. After Britain has left the EU, power will remain in the hands of the same rich, white men; only this time, they will have a different ideology than that of the ones before them.
I will not accept the further demonisation of the working class because of Brexit. Blame the people who actually voted Leave, not an entire class, from which some might have said ‘yes’. Blame the under-educated and prejudiced majority in Britain, those who are unified across class boundaries. Please don’t blame people like me for this. Brexit has caused enough polarisation.
Words by Caitlin O’Connor