Whenever I hear that the fight for a People’s Vote is a middle-class obsession, I think back to that infamous picture of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore emerging from a golden lift in Trump Tower.
Taken in November 2016, in the aftermath of both Brexit and Trump’s ascension to the White House, there could scarcely be a better metaphor for the chaos we now find ourselves in.
The self-styled ‘Bad Boys of Brexit’, crusaders against the elite – fellow swamp drainers.
But we know that’s not the case. That picture shows four very rich, very powerful men from privileged backgrounds, who gleefully conspired to create a situation where they appeared to be on the side of working people, pitting them against immigrants and spinning yarns about the NHS.
Over the weekend, revelations surfaced of previously unknown links between UKIP donor, Arron Banks, and senior Russian diplomats and financiers. Banks and his ilk may claim to be the voice of the ‘silent majority’ of hard working Brits, but I’ve never yet met anyone who had the opportunity to buy a goldmine. If there ever was an example of an un-elected elite, imposing its will upon the people of a nation, then this is it.
Because there is a myth. Created by and for the benefit of people who have accumulated more wealth than you or I will ever earn, and propagated by their friends in the right-wing press. Whisper it quietly: Brexit was a revolt of the working classes. A kick back against the rich elites.
But the received wisdom is just that – received. Ignore Banks and Farage – just look at the facts.
Northumberland Park in Tottenham, an area with significant poverty, recorded an 85% Remain vote. 65% of voters in Bastwell, Blackburn opted to remain, as did over two thirds of the residents of Radford and Park in inner city Nottingham. Werneth, in Oldham? Remain, 57%. East Ayrshire – one of the most deprived areas of Scotland – voted to Remain at 59%. This is not the metropolitan elite – just working class people who saw the benefits of remaining a member of the European Union.
The honest truth is that the number one issue for working class families for the last decade has been the cost of living, and the campaigns on both sides (to varying degrees) understood this. As an example, the UK is the only Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member state where our economy is technically larger than in 2007, but real wages have shrunk.
There is genuine concern – that the Remain campaign largely failed to address – about the inequalities of globalisation and the impact of laissez fairecapitalism.
A system which has ravaged working class communities across the UK, in tandem with eight years of austerity measures. It’s all very well spouting (entirely correct) statistics about the economic benefits of migration, but they’re cold comfort to the self-employed electrician who can’t find work, or the nurse who has gone seven long years without a real-terms pay rise.
But Brexit – even in a form less calamitous than what appears increasingly likely – will do nothing to address these concerns.
Everything points to it making them far worse.
This is borne out in the debate and events since the referendum result. Try telling the 2000 people made redundant by the collapse of Monarch, or the 5000 now facing an uncertain future at Poundworld – both victims of the weak pound – that Brexit is anything but a disaster for working class people.
The overwhelming majority of our trade unions, representing 6.25 million workers across the UK, were opposed to Brexit and continue to argue for the closest relationship possible with the EU. The Royal College of Nursing, the National Union of Students and Prospect have all come out in support of a People’s Vote in the last two months, and this week they were joined by the Labour-affiliated TSSA transport union.
Lots of the Brexit debate has been focused on the higher education sector, but the reality is that the education institutions which serve the most deprived young people in our communities aren’t universities; they’re our further education colleges. Our colleges and their students have more to lose from Brexit than universities do. European Social Fund cash has been a lifeline for the sector in the face of government cuts, while Regional Development Fund money provides vital funding for some of the poorest parts of the UK.
Farage and Co. often speak of a ‘betrayal’ of voters, some of whom took part in the democratic process for the first time, were Brexit not to happen. I will do you one better.
The real betrayal would be for Brexit to not be shown for the shame it truly is, and for people not to have the opportunity to think again and choose a different path.
The betrayal is of those working-class people who did voted to leave in good faith and now know that the promise of a better, more prosperous life was a sham. That the reality of Brexit is poorer job security and employment rights, a crumbling National Health Service, and a bleak future for education and skills training.
So here it is; any ‘anti-establishment revolt’ led by the Bad Boys of Brexit, (and, latterly, Jacob Rees Mogg and Boris Johnson) is probably not worth the 50 pound note it’s written on. We’ve already glimpsed their future, and it isn’t pretty.
A Lexit vote will not deliver sweeping economic intervention and nationalism. It will only enable a Bojo Brexit – entrenching division and inequality in our society.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but here’s a sentence – the case for a People’s Vote is an argument for working class people and prosperity.
Patrick Moule is a Labour Party activist, campaign consultant and serves as an elected trustee of Goldsmiths Students’ Union. He tweets here.
First published on www.leftfootforward.org