What do Brits do in a crisis? It used to be a cup of tea, but now it appears that we turn to Facebook. We were all there yesterday, us 48ers, sharing the misery and the shock, numbed by the feeling that we live in a country that no longer represented us.
We searched for the post which gave words to our feelings, and landed (self-)righteously on those which characterised the other side as ignorant, racist and stupid. We shared and liked posts that cried foul at the lies of the Leave campaign, and the open dishonesty of the Murdoch/Viscount Rothermere press pedalling the most absurd anti-establishment narrative.
Some of the more balanced posts noted how the leavers were not necessarily all racist scumbags. They were characterised more moderately as misguided and manipulated by a process they were not able to understand. They shouldn’t have been trusted, we decided, with something so clearly beyond their mental capacity, but that was our fault not theirs.
I’m as upset as anyone about the result of the referendum. I’ve found myself going through the stages of grief from that funny post that the person shared with you. And I think a large proportion of those who voted to leave are racist scumbags. There’s more in this country than we like to think.
But I can’t go along with the sentiment, expressed by many reasonable and otherwise kind people, that the 52% are all stupid, ignorant, racist, and undeserving of the franchise.
The main motive of the 52% wasn’t racism, I believe. If you actually listen to people who wanted to leave (which doesn’t appear to be happening much on the echo-chambers of the cliques we all unthinkingly cultivate on facebook and twitter and that), their main motives, it seems to me, were fear and a feeling of voicelessness. They voted to leave because they didn’t feel like they have a say in politics, or the power to change the conditions of their lives. And they were scared of feeling powerless.
We, the liberal 48ers, are all about giving the disenfranchised a voice, normally. Our facebooks are all rainbow flags and disability living allowances and anti-islamophobia. And they should be. This is good. But where is that sentiment now? Where are the posts celebrating the enfranchisement of the previously disenfranchised? Where are the voices advocating hearing the message sent to us by a working class who have been systematically ignored for, well, for ever?
Nowhere. No-one’s listening, much less hearing.
What we should be saying now, alongside all of the anger and sadness, is “We fucked up. We ignored them and that’s part of the reason this has happened. We are, in part, to blame”.
It’s too easy to find the cause outside ourselves. I’m pissed off about the right-wing press too, and about the way the bbc (and probably sky and itv too – I don’t know about that, I never see them) dealt less-than-bravely with the lies of the remain campaign. I’m furious with the sloppy-faced shits who have led the leave campaign out of self-interest and pretend nostalgia. We all are. But these are soft targets, and complaining about them isn’t going to get us anywhere.
If you’re not convinced, lets’ try a thought experiment.
Imagine, just for a minute, that the leave vote was made up entirely of members of a group we normally consider to be oppressed or unheard: an ethnic minority, for example, or the disabled or the transgender community. If that group had sent a message of dis-empowerment, we would have heard it as such. We would have worried about the way that group has been systematically excluded from public discourse, and perhaps we would have noticed our own complicity as variously-privileged insiders. We would have thought about ways to ensure that those groups are better represented, and changed our attitudes towards them.
But it wasn’t one of these groups. It was the old and the working class. When it’s the old and the working class, we don’t even hear the message, let alone let it change us. We ignore it, and find ways to locate all responsibility for the problem in others – in the press, the deceitful shits leading the campaign, or the old and the working class themselves.
I’m not saying that the problems don’t lie outside of ourselves as well – they do – but to ignore what we, the 48ers, have been told is the worst kind of small-mindedness. To dismiss the message of dis-empowerment as the product of an all-powerful media without even trying to talk to any of the people sending it is ignorant in the extreme.
We are not in a position of power like the press or the privately-educated scum who run it are, but we are in a position of relative power to the 52%. We are relatively privileged, and are relatively complicit in the divided state of the nation. How often have you (have I) been out and tried to hear the voices of those that fear immigration, rather than argue with them (or more likely simply dismiss them)? How often have you (have I) genuinely been open to having your mind changed by someone who belongs to a lower class than you and didn’t go to university, or by someone from an older generation who is less than perfectly liberal?
We, the privileged middle classes, have been pretty happy to be buffered from the economic crisis by the working-classes, especially those in the north. We’ve kept quiet as we’ve piggybacked on their exclusion, happy to have our liberal views become the mainstream outside of a small pocket of right-wing press. But this quietness is part of what has caused the ukexit. We’ve kept quiet and have not heard. We’ve failed to challenge or engage with those outside of our bubbles, just as we’re doing now, on the facebooks. If we continue to ignore the message we’re being sent, we will continue to perpetuate the inequalities in this society and allow a space for the real scumbags (Murdoch, Viscount, Boris and Farage) to get a voice.
Remember that feeling of living in a country that doesn’t represent you? A country you don’t recognise? Hold on to it. That’s the feeling. That’s the message. It’s fucking horrible. Listen to it.