Much has been said in the last week about ignorance and xenophobia in the context of the EU Referendum result.
As leftists, we cannot fall into the trap of painting the working class Leave vote as ignorant. We need to expose it for what it was: a victory for the tabloid press, which took advantage of economic insecurities to promote a leave agenda on the basis of xenophobia.
When politics is made populist, when it is dumbed-down, it gives all the power to the person doing the simplifying
The real victors of the referendum are the small segment of the electorate who voted leave for economic or democratic reasons. But they won because they co-opted a significant segment of the electorate which based its vote on immigration.
When politics is made populist, when it is dumbed-down, it gives all the power to the person doing the simplifying. THAT is why Murdoch is so powerful. He, and his editors, understand the real picture, but they portray it in their own terms to their comparatively uneducated readers.
The tabloids backing leave were doing it to maintain their influence over British politics. That was the incentive. Concerns about immigration and democracy were simply the rhetorical vehicle they used to pursue this incentive.
What the left is missing is a process which conveys the leftist message in simple terms. To an extent the Labour party does this – the ‘unity over division’ example in the remain campaign was a good one – but it’s nowhere near as efficient as the tabloid press. Certainly the leftist tabloids like the Mirror pander as much to anti-immigrant sentiment as the Mail and co.
There is a very good precedent set for how things can be different, in recent memory indeed.
The 2012 London Olympics were a high-point of love, tolerance, unity, joy and optimism. I experienced that summer in London, and I can say without doubt that it was the most politically unified I have ever felt this country to be. And it was brilliant.
Now just four years later the politics of fear and ignorance have taken over once again. I can’t say how far outside the capital the Olympic spirit stretched, but it was certainly felt, to some extent, throughout the country. Since then, UKIP have gained major popularity on what is effectively an anti-immigrant platform.
it is now up to the left to clean up the xenophobic mess left by the leave campaigns
If anything, the Olympics were a brilliant example of how government investment can foster unity and combat polarisation, if done properly. Tory cuts no doubt provided the unstable economic environment that allowed the politics of fear to thrive. I’m not expert enough with economics to say exactly how far was too far, but it is clear that the cuts agenda was pushed forward with little regard for its social and political consequences.
A mistake often made is to see concerns about immigration as ‘real concerns of working people’. Those concerns – in their current form – were planted there by the tabloid press. I’m not saying that working people’s concerns about their economic stability are invalid. Certainly not. But clearly immigrants are a scapegoat for people who feel threatened by economic instability. That much should be obvious – our society was much more tolerant while economically prosperous.
The purpose of the left should be to expose this scapegoating for what it is. It is in the interests of the intellectual eurosceptics to stoke anti-intellectual fear of immigrants, because it ends in the same result – leaving the EU. They’ve won that battle already. The left failed to show fear mongering for what it was before the referendum.
Regardless of the left’s bitterness over Brexit, and regardless of who the Labour leader is next week, it is now up to the left to clean up the xenophobic mess left by the leave campaigns, and show that division and fear cannot be principles on which we base our society.