Monday, 21 January 2019

Brexit: and the "myth of the left-behind"

Trying to find reasons for the Brexit vote has coalesced around the notion that it was a cry from the 'left-behind':
Futures Forum: Brexit: and Somewheres and Anywheres

As featured on this blog the last couple of days:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and fly-over Britain > "Brexit will compound the disadvantage of the UK’s small towns and its regions"
Futures Forum: Brexit: forget it > "The future of political power is going to belong to whoever can empower the ‘little guy’."

The Times carried a piece last week questioning the idea: 

It’s a myth that the ‘left behind’ were ignored

january 14 2019, the times

The mantra that Brexit is the fault of an establishment that marginalises the poor is a complete distortion of the truth

Repetition is the mother of conviction. Repeat something often enough and we believe it to be unquestionably true. So it is with the narrative that Brexit is down, in large part, to a high-handed and callous establishment’s neglect of the “left behind”. Those in poor northern constituencies and bleak coastal towns were left trailing in the gold-flecked dust thrown up by the golden chariots that bore the wealthy, the Londoners, the elite onwards — throwing back their heads to laugh heartily and pour some more Bolly down their gullets while failing to give a monkey’s about those in their wake.

This theory unites Remainers and Leavers, those on the left and right, politicians and commentators...

It’s a myth that the ‘left behind’ were ignored | Comment | The Times

In fact, it's a notion which has been questioned for some time...

From a member of the global liberal elite: 

The myth of a global liberal elite hides the reality of Brexit

Tuesday, 9 May 2017 12:02 PM

By Steve Harman

"I can't remember a time when it seemed like the Anywheres were calling the political shots."

In the early eighties my family moved away from a big city and bought a barn conversion in a Cumbrian village. That wasn't the only stereotype of the liberal middle classes we lived up to. Mum and dad were social workers and New Internationalist subscribers. We weren't like the other kids at primary school. We went on camping holidays in the Loire and they went to Butlin's. When they were going to watch submarines being launched, we were on CND demos.

To put it in the terms invented by David Goodhart in his new book 'The Road to Somewhere', we were a family of Anywheres (outward looking liberals) living among Somewheres (social conservatives with a strong sense of regional and national identity). With painful memories of the Wild West fancy dress party where I was the only kid dressed as an Indian, I recognise this picture of two distinct tribes, but disagree with the rest of Goodhart's analysis. He argues that the Somewheres have been marginalised and excluded from the public conversation while the confident Anywheres have gone on to rule the world.

It never felt like that to me. I can't remember a time when it seemed like the Anywheres were calling the political shots. We were a Labour family and watched our team get a kicking at every general election. Our constituency, Barrow-in-Furness, was home of the Vickers shipyard which built submarines, and anti-nuke Labour were about as popular as I was at school. When Neil Kinnock abandoned the commitment to unilateral disarmament, that changed. Labour captured the seat in 1992. But they had to go further to win over the rest of the country. The change they underwent in the Blair years wasn't just about ditching socialist policies but also about showing that it shared the cultural values of the Somewheres.

New Labour politicians are now remembered as a bunch of Islington luvvies, but they were never embarrassed to wrap themselves in the imagery and language of British nationalism. From employing a bulldog in a party political broadcast to promising “British jobs for British workers”, their rhetoric wouldn't have been out of place at a Ukip rally.

In power, Labour ran scared of any conflict with the Somewheres. Caving in to pressure from angry truckers with union jack placards, it froze fuel duty, costing the country £2 billion a year. Similarly, facing a revolt from older voters, it quickly U-turned on unpopular plans to increase the state pension by 75p a week, in line with inflation.

By contrast, New Labour relished any opportunity to pit against itself against those it could portray as part of a namby pamby elite. It justified top-up fees on the basis that dustmen shouldn't have to pay for the education of doctors and was happy to ignore everyone who marched against the invasion of Iraq.

When Labour was eventually kicked out, it was largely on a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment. David Cameron, terrified of Ukip – the militant political wing of the Somewheres – maintained the policy of giving them everything they wanted, including a referendum on EU membership. From this perspective, Brexit was not a popular revolt by people who had been left behind, but the logical outcome of the domination of British political life by nationalism and social conservatism.

None of this means that governments have always implemented policies that have really helped the Somewheres. Employment rights have been eroded. Inequality has grown. Public services continue to decay. But by failing to challenge the lie that such problems are the result of immigration rather than underinvestment, politicians excuse themselves from the responsibility of dealing with them.

The impact of Brexit remains to be seen, but there aren't many economists who believe it's going to help communities like Barrow. And if any government does succeed in cutting immigration, it will be harder to build the homes and provide the health and social care services they need in decades to come. The problem the Somewheres have is not that they've been ignored, but that they've been listened to.
Steve Harman is a writer and PR professional who has previously worked for the British Medical Association and the Green Party.

The myth of a global liberal elite hides the reality of Brexit - politics.co.uk

From Political Commentator of the Year before the 2017 election:

Politicians love the ‘left-behind’ cliche. It masks their own failure

Party leaders have interpreted the Brexit vote to suit their own purposes, and that version has absolved them of all blame

Wed 22 Feb 2017 06.00 GMT
Last modified on Wed 14 Feb 2018 15.45 GMT
Comments 1,138

Labour candidate Gareth Snell (far left) with two voters and Jeremy Corbyn in Stoke-on-Trent. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

On 9 June 1994 there was a byelection in the east London constituency of Barking. Labour had held the seat since its creation, in 1945, and that wasn’t about to change. The Tories needed a sacrificial candidate – the kind of ambitious rookie who can take a beating as an electoral initiation rite. That punishment was taken by a 37-year-old Theresa May. She came third, with 1,976 votes.

That contest is hardly ancient history, but it still belongs to a different epoch. For one thing, “safe” Labour seats were safe back then. It was unimaginable that within a generation the party would be defending Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland in Cumbria as if they were hyper-marginal: “on a knife-edge”, as Jeremy Corbyn put it to a meeting of his MPs earlier this week.


There might not be many safe seats left for Labour, anyway. MPs in parts of northern England and the Midlands fear a crumbling of their vote equivalent in scale to the collapse of their bases in Scotland. In areas that are still described as the party’s “heartland” the relationship with voters feels like a weak pulse sustained by habit.

Canvassing for the remain side in last year’s referendum revealed the scale of the problem. It was not the weight of Eurosceptic opinion that shocked. Nor was anti-immigration sentiment a surprise: that had been coming up on the doorstep for years. What struck canvassers in once-safe Labour seats was a feeling that the referendum was an opportunity to do something at the ballot box that, for once, could not be ignored. Elections had come and gone before. Promises had been made and broken. Every few years, the leaflets would drop through the letterbox. Maybe someone would knock on the door, but they wouldn’t bother on some estates. The signal was that voting was a duty the loyal Labour-supporting masses were expected to do by their party. Brexit felt different. It was the first time that voting seemed to offer big change – and the proof was the ashen faces of the people who urged no change. It was, as one Labour MP put it, a way of saying: “Now you have to listen.”

That sentiment has since been bundled up with a story of economic dissatisfaction. A conventional wisdom has coalesced around the image of leave voters congregating in areas that were “left behind”: taken for granted in the boom years and disproportionately afflicted by the bust. In this account the victims of globalisation sought shelter behind the Brexit barrier when it was offered.

It is a story that resonates as an analysis of social and political trends. It works less well for engagement with actual people. The condition of being “left behind” has become a convenient affliction projected on to diverse voters by politicians who need simple answers to complex questions.

May and Corbyn disagree on many things, but they share a glib account of millions tragically marooned on some remote economic shore, and they both cast themselves as the saviour sailing to the rescue. Neither seems interested in consulting on the destination. Ukip, meanwhile, looks at the conditions that led to Brexit as a resource to be mined – a seam of anger running across the country, regardless of regional contours, that might be converted into parliamentary seats.

Those attitudes aren’t much less patronising and lazy than the old habits of neglect that treated safe seats as stepping stones for career politicians. Party leaders have taken the referendum result, rewritten it in their own words, and are now declaiming it back at people.

When the results are in from Copeland and Stoke, they will be interpreted to fit the national stories May and Corbyn already want to tell about the anger of the left behind, how it manifests itself, and what to do about it. But no one was left behind. The same people have always been here. The problem is not enough people listening.

Politicians love the ‘left-behind’ cliche. It masks their own failure | Rafael Behr | Opinion | The Guardian

And from the 'architect' of Brexit himself:
Dominic Cummings: how the Brexit referendum was won
9 January 2017 


‘Connected to this is the big “why?”. I don’t think we voted to leave the EU because of clever tacticians or not-quite-clever-enough pollsters, or even because Johnson decided that one of his columns was better than another. I think we voted to leave because so many British people had been left behind economically and culturally for so long, and were furious about it; and because, from the 2008 financial crisis onwards, they had accumulated so much contempt for the political elites. In these circumstances any referendum narrows down to a single question: “Are you happy with the way things are?” The answer was “no”.’ Andrew Marr, October 2016.

‘The big why?’ is psychologically appealing but it is a mistake. In general terms it is the wrong way to look at history and it is specifically wrong about the referendum. If it were accurate we would have won by much more than we did given millions who were not ‘happy with the way things are’ and would like to be out of the EU reluctantly voted IN out of fear. Such stories oversimplify and limit thinking about the much richer reality of branching histories.



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