How quickly a conventional wisdom can be created. Within hours of the referendum result, with no information or data other than geographic available on who voted how, a collective decision emerged about the reason Out had prevailed. It was a triumph for extremism, a successful harnessing and exploiting of ignorance and bigotry, so it went. As murmurs and mutterings of a working class revolt spread, to many, that explanation seemed to make even more sense.
Are you among those convinced that only xenophobia can explain this outcome, gloating that you’ve been vindicated by the final dropping of the mask by the Outers in the last week of the campaign? You should know that for some of you a mask of yours has slipped too. Your story has changed. The portrait of the enemy you depicted has changed. How many times you have raged, rightly, at Westminster’s caricaturing of the working class as scrounging, treating them as politically expendable. You’ve been appalled at assaults on them through the bedroom tax and radical benefit changes.
But now they’ve rejected the campaign you were backing, it’s perfectly fair to paint them as ignorant racists.
You even have well meant theories of how they could be so misguided in their choice. It’s ignorance fed by what they’ve seen on telly, you say. As you decide this labelling is justified because you just saw a bloke on the news say he regretted voting Out. You know, on the telly.
It’s unedifying watching all this apoplexy, on the right, on the left, in all the usual places by lots of usual suspects. Spluttering at the discovery that the rest of the UK has turned out not only to not think like us, but to not BE like us. This shock realization might suggest none of us were bothering to listen very hard. To what they’ve long been trying to tell us.
In many places, Leave will have won in spite of the Out campaign, not because of it. In time research may well show the repudiation of the In campaign resonated more deeply than any acceptance of Faragism. With no positive story to tell, only scare-mongering and dripping condescension, some voters will surely have rejected Remain because to do otherwise was to accept being told how irrelevant their own experiences and instincts were. Nothing Remain offered addressed perfectly legitimate expressions of fears, concerns and even resentment of the EU. No one spoke of its recent glaring failures, its likely direction of travel in the future, its utter impotence in the face of rising extremism. As it went on, the In campaign began to wear its presumption of moral superiority on its sleeve. There could be no specific criticisms of the EU and its workings, only general principles and values that gave an indication of your worldview and by extraction your very character.
Are you feeling confused, disorientated? Understandable. You don’t like the result. Place the blame squarely where it belongs then. No license to demonise people who disagree has been issued. There were massive failures, the campaigns themselves were both failures, the result notwithstanding. Nothing was achieved, nothing was settled. And there should be shame in that. Not shame in leaving the EU, or any perceived victory for populism, but in an inability to have a measured, grown-up conversation. Shame in a widespread and collective failure to reject hyperbole and knee jerk reacting; to make the sacrifices and do the hard work of having and showing basic respect for another point of view.
But if you’re in the camp that is happy to reach a decision about those who voted Out after watching a couple of vox pop interviews – that they’re all bigots, or just gullible, too lazy to inform themselves, that they were manipulated by pandering politicians – you might have some soul searching of your own to do. The remedy to your feelings of dislocation isn’t to double down, to commiserate with your fellow angry/confuseds/betrayeds/disorientateds, to give yourself hope by thinking of ways this judgment could be overturned. You’d be wise to open your ears and open your mind. If nothing else, large swathes of your countrymen and women have just told not only the EU, and Westminster ‘elites’, but pretty much everybody else as well to go fuck themselves. You have no obligation to give them the benefit of the doubt on their reasons, of course, but spare the rest of us your conception of yourself as a progressive, if what you really believe is that the people you call working class are too stupid to think for themselves.
Getting out of this with all of our influence and our economy intact will take concerted effort. It will take imagination, and an openness to other ways of doing things. What’s been lost could well be replaced or substituted through other means. But none of that kind of vision will be able to flourish in an environment dominated by anger and division. And no contribution or voice should be dismissed or stifled out of hand. It’s too late for the referendum, but not too late to consider whether we are in need of more information every bit as much as those who voted differently.
The image used to illustrate this article is from this story by Buzzfeed