As we descend further into 'Us vs Them' territory over Brexit, we need to talk about working-class Remainers

I was raised on a council estate in South Yorkshire by a single mum who voted to Remain, but I don’t see myself or my local, Remain-voting community represented in the mainstream

Jake Hall
Wednesday 27 March 2019 11:33
Femi Oluwole chats to Put it to the People marchers

It’s no secret that Britain is a country divided. The last two years have seen hate crime rates swell in the wake of a Brexit victory driven by thinly-veiled racism and a breach of electoral law. Statistics trickled out and soon solidified stereotypes.

Brexiteers were classified as older, uneducated white people driven by nationalism and anger against right-wing voters; on the other hand, Remainers were described as millennial, university-educated liberals out of touch with the political landscape outside of London.

The referendum was about so much more than the EU: it was about division between different races, locations, age groups and class demographics.

The same can be said of last weekend’s historic Put it to the People March, which saw protestors – although probably not a million of them – flood the streets of London to call for the revocation of Article 50.

Reports have described it as “polite”, which also applies to the “protest placards” which have since gone viral. Some boasted about their grammatical correctness (a clear dig at “uneducated” Leave voters); others bemoaned the potential loss of pet passports, whereas some just bitched about halloumi and Gucci becoming more expensive.

Even if some of them were tongue-in-cheek, none of this did anything to dispel the caricature of Remainers as white, middle-class, London-based liberals more concerned with their skiing holidays than the crippling effects of austerity.

Arguably, the most telling placard was brandished by a woman who “doesn’t usually make a fuss”, but felt compelled to campaign against Article 50.

White, middle-class Britons are taking to the streets now that their free movement could be curtailed, but where is this energy when workers are striking in protest of pay exploitation? When people of colour are calling for an end to police brutality? When queer people are raising awareness of the migrants being deported to countries which criminalise their existence?

The overarching message was that politeness and protest don’t mix, but the idea that some of us can turn a blind eye to injustice is steeped in privilege.

Sadiq Khan said it best when he explained that “nobody voted to be poorer.” Leave politicians lied and made unrealistic promises which have collapsed over the last two years; as a result, Brexit looks set to create even more acute economic instability.

Women already shoulder the burden of austerity measures, and as it stands, our rates of in-work poverty are rising faster than employment can match them. Disgusting numbers of families are being forced to turn to food banks, and yet Tory MPs like Dominic Raab sit back comfortably and claim that these are people with occasional “cashflow problems” as opposed to victims of lethal income inequality.

Working class people are being trodden underfoot. But to understand the extent of this marginalisation we need to stop focussing solely on the “white working classes” and understand that immigrants can be working class, that people of colour can be working class – and that the stereotype of the white, working class Leave voter leaves no room for discussions of how racism and classism intersect.

This is especially true outside of the capital city; it’s been said that people of all descriptions, especially those in “forgotten areas”, feel ignored outside of London.

Other valid concerns were that resources are being strangled and cuts are claiming lives (hence the infamous £350million NHS pledge being so popular), but these conversations were drowned out by anti-immigrant rhetoric.

As for working class Remainers of all age groups and ethnicities, their voices have been sidelined because they’re inconvenient; they don’t fit Brexit stereotypes, and therefore mainstream media disengages with them.

But we need to talk about working-class Remainers. I was raised on a council estate in South Yorkshire by a single mum who voted to Remain, and although I’ve seen anecdotal evidence of the generational gap being true, I didn’t see myself or my local, Remain-voting community represented last weekend.

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Why? It’s simple: working-class Remainers across the country have got more pressing things to do than pay extortionate train fares to commute to London for a rally.

The most marginalised among us have the most to lose if we crash out without a deal, but they don’t have the luxury of amplifying their concerns as loudly as the Remainers worried about the price hike in halloumi, or the harrowing injustice of fluffy dogs losing their annual skiing holiday. Brexit has been gentrified.

Whether or not Article 50 is revoked, there’s a rift in this country which needs to be healed. Constant reliance on “us vs them” rhetoric is stripping issues of their political nuance; it’s masking vital concerns like the government’s reluctance to engage with working-class communities, the threat of worsening income inequality and the xenophobia which Brexit has only served to amplify.

There’s no easy solution, but these debates are about more than pet passports and imported cheeses. For the most vulnerable amongst us, they’re literally a matter of life and death.

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