The Brexit Election: A Working-class Perspective

The orthodox view of Brexit among the so-called Left in this country — which is to say, the view propagated by pro-capitalist liberal papers like The Guardian — is that it was a cunning plan dreamed up by Tory rebels to play on the inherent racism of the British working class and divide the Labour vote into competing factions, voting for the newly-formed Brexit Party, or even for the Conservative Party itself. In doing so, the Brexit referendum has not only overseen the transition to the selling of the NHS and every other asset of the UK state to US corporations, but also destroyed what electoral hopes an anti-Tory vote might have had of stopping this process.

But let’s look at this from the perspective of the demographic that, despite constituting 65-70 per cent of the British electorate, is never considered in public debate and has no national newspaper around which to form a collective opinion and strategy.

From this point of view, what the Brexit vote confronted the so-called Left in this country with is whether its allegiance was with the working class that has been subjected to a decade of austerity and decades more of privatisation, destroyed employment base and pro-business labour legislation under the aegis of the European Union, or their own financial interests as largely middle-class, urban liberals in the capitalism on which they are reliant for the continuation of the privileges of their class.

If the so-called Left really does believe that a Labour Government under Jeremy Corbyn presents a Parliamentary road to socialism, or at least to social democracy, or at least a way to stop Boris Johnson, or if not that something ever so slightly better than the Tories, then the Remainers who have split the Party and — if we are to believe the polls — destroyed whatever chance it had of being elected to the Government of the UK, would sacrifice the financial privileges they have enjoyed from being within the trade and employment laws of the European Union these past fifty years — and which they wish their children to inherit for the next fifty years and more — and vote for a pro-Leave Labour Party.

Of course they haven’t, not only because class trumps identity politics — which is all that the Labour Party represents for middle-class liberals — but because the middle-class liberals — as we have had demonstrated again and again by former members of the Labour Party denouncing Corbyn’s vacillations — who place the class privileges consequent upon the UK’s membership of the European Union above the electoral hopes of the Labour Party compose (rather inconveniently) the Parliamentary element of that same party. I have little doubt that, if Corbyn stopped this balancing act in bad faith and came out with the commitment to leaving the European Union on which his proposal to re-nationalise industry relies, the only thing that would convince most MPs in his party to vote Labour in the General Election is that their own jobs take precedence over even their class allegiance. And those that resigned before doing so would be fêted by the likes of Michael Heseltine as ‘putting their country before politics’ — which means: putting their class first.

Brexit hasn’t revealed — as we are constantly and repeatedly told it has by the liberal press — the ‘hidden racism’ at the heart of white working-class identity in this country. What it has revealed is what those of us who think outside the liberal framework of identity politics have always known: that the political establishment of this country is dominated by the class interests of the ruling class — which is to say, the middle classes. And as opportunist careerists like the formerly Labour MP, then Independent Group for Change rebel, and now Liberal Democrat candidate Chuka Ummuna exemplify, what colour tie they wear, what colour skin they have, what gender they are (or claim to be), what sex they like to have sex with, what religion they follow, and above all what party they are a member of, has no bearing on where their real allegiance lies — which is to the capitalism that has made their class what it is. Compared to that, the continuing immiseration and lack of political representation of 50 per cent of the British population is what the US military calls ‘collateral damage’.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

Postscript

We were up in County Durham last weekend, staying in a former mining town on the coast called Seaham, and we thought we’d start the trip right with a Friday night pub crawl. In the third (but not the last) pub we went into we met a couple of white-haired blokes in their seventies. The thing about the ‘Makems’, as they call themselves, is that not only can a Southern ponce like myself only understand about half of what they say, but they understand about the same amount of what comes out of our gobs, which made for an interesting conversation. Anyway, we finally got around to talking about the general election, and I asked if Seaham was a Labour-supporting constituency.
— ‘Aye.’
— ‘And will you be voting for Corbyn?’ I asked.
— ‘Not likely, bonny lad!’
— ‘Why not?’
— ‘Everyone round ‘ere voted Brexit, didn’t they? Apart,’ he said, cocking his head and thumb at the bloke sitting next to him, ‘him’.
— ‘And why did you vote Brexit?’
— ‘Immigration.’
I looked round the room. I don’t think I’ve ever sat in such a white pub. In fact, over the whole weekend I saw one non-white person in Seaham, and she was an Asian girl who sold me a paper in the newsagent the next morning.
— ‘But the only immigrants in here are us.’
— ‘Aye, and we want t’ keep it that way!’

So I went and sat next to his Remain-voting mate. He’d been an ex-miner, working the coal seams three miles off the coast and 2,000 metres under the ocean. I asked to see his hands. Neither was bigger than the other, and the palms were as soft and pink as my own.
— ‘They don’t look like miner’s hands,’ I said.
— ‘That were years ago, lad. I haven’t done manual work in many a year.’
I asked him what he thought of Labour’s manifesto.
— ‘Brilliant. It’s what this country needs. An’ we gotta get Boris out!’
— ‘Are you a socialist?’
— ‘Aye, ’ave been all me life.’
— ‘And your mate too?’
— ‘Born and bred.’

I asked them both about the current Labour administration of Sunderland council. On this they both agreed:
— ‘Rubbish, mun!’
I told them about the Labour councils in London, what they have been doing under Corbyn’s leadership, and how it had alienated hundreds of thousands of working-class voters from backing Labour. I suggested Labour needs to sort its councils out, or all the promises in Jeremy Corbyn’s Little Red Book won’t mean owt. The first bloke I spoke to looked a little sheepish, and his mate laughed and pointed at him:
— ‘E run th’ Labour council for 30 years!’
— ‘What? But he says he’s not voting Labour!’
— ‘Aye!’
— ‘Because of Brexit?’
— ‘Aye!’
— ‘How do you two know each other?’
— ‘E’s me brother . . .’

Then it was my turn to laugh. Two brothers, both socialists, one a former Leader of the Labour council, divided in their voting over Brexit. They were both nice blokes, intelligent, fun, very friendly, socially aware and politically committed, with the mild xenophobia typical of homogeneous communities, which is not the same thing as the racism casually imputed to them by the young urban liberal prats of Corbyn’s Brave New Labour.

The next morning, nursing our hangovers in the drizzle, we walked around Seaham, and overlooking the bay we came across an iron statue of three miners. It’s titled The Brothers: Waitn t’ gan down, and the three figures represent the three former pits of Seaham, Dawdon and Vane Tempest. As I was photographing it, a van carrying a huge LED screen drove past. It said: ‘Vote Brexit Party’.

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