In the early hours of Friday morning it became apparent that, after some back-and-forth in the polls, the United Kingdom had in fact, voted to leave the European Union by a narrow margin. As events continue to unfold, we’ve seen the value of the pound plummet, David Cameron announce his resignation and members of the Labour party submit of motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn.
The people of Britain face an uncertain future to be sure, but one thing is clear: the result of this referendum is a clear protest against austerity, privatisation and immigration by predominantly working-class voters. It’s no coincidence that the areas hit hardest by government cuts and those concerned most with immigration have so boldly embraced a ‘leave’ vote. But while inequality, immigration and withering democracy are side-effects of the neoliberal project endorsed by the British state as well as the European Union, the Leave campaign have pulled off the greatest reapportioning of responsibility by the state in recent memory. With this referendum, the Conservative government has effectively managed to diffuse criticism of its crippling policies and lay the blame for austerity, privatisation, immigration, inequality and underrepresentation at the feet of the European Union.
Nigel Farage has talked at length about the vote being a victory for ‘ordinary, decent, working people’ and while those ‘ordinary’ people have indeed made their voices heard, they’ve been convinced to transfer power from one undemocratic, impenetrable corpocracy, staffed by privileged elites to another – and that’s the real tragedy of this referendum, that the energies of working-class rebellion have been so effectively channeled in the wrong direction. These criticisms of Europe are, in reality, criticisms of the free market, neoliberalism, capitalism; call it what you will, but it is these projects, adopted the world over, that are the source of working-class frustrations. Our NHS is not in crisis because the EU demands tribute of £350 million a week, or strained because we face high levels of EU mandated immigration: these are not unfortunate side-effects, but deliberate consequences of conservative policy. The EU, though imperfect and somewhat complicit in this project, offers a great many protections, for both workers and the environment, which will surely be subject to ‘review’ in a Britain outside of Europe. Because the truth is, that the competitive future the Leave campaign envisions, necessitates a reduction in workers’ rights and corporate responsibility. They want us to be more like China, like India or Malaysia – they want us to be competitive, but they won’t be honest about the sacrifices that must be made in order to compete with these economies.
Scotland, of course, faces an entirely different future. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has already announced that a second referendum on Scottish independence is definitely ‘on the table’ in the wake of Scotland’s unanimous decision to remain. Our separate parliament has served as a bulwark, shielding us from the worst Tory austerity – and so, the leave camp had little to prey upon.
And so, here we are: Faced with the future of a Britain outside of Europe, broken, with Scotland and Northern Ireland poised leave England and Wales behind. The working-classes across the country were effectively drafted into a right wing civil-war, duped by men like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage who positioned themselves as working-class heroes, all the while mirroring the traits of those politicians and institutions they attacked as ‘establishment’.
There are only so many times (one hopes) that the people of England and Wales can be deceived – and if I have any hope for them at all, it’s that now the European Union can no longer be scapegoated, they will finally see the face of their true enemy: a cabal of privileged conservatives who want to see our nation, its workers and its public services cut up and served to their corporate paymasters.
The question that remains is, can what’s left of the Left put its differences aside and galvanise to protect the British people?