I’ve avoided writing anything for a couple of weeks as the seismic rumble of the political landscape moved beneath my feet.
Coming to terms with the decision in the referendum has been very hard. Radio 4 had a fantastic programme about bereavement this week and how as a way to protect ourselves we imagine we could see our loss coming. Unfortunately I did not see the Brexit result coming and so the shock was added to the disappointment.
So in situations like these it’s time to understand what happened. Last month I visited Peterborough whilst recording my radio programme for Cambridge 105. I was there to interview and ask the people I met in the street about their voting intention in the referendum. Even though this is part of the same county as Cambridge the responses I received could not have not have been more different. Out of the fifteen people I interviewed, only one wanted to remain within the EU and he wished to remain anonymous. Everyone, including the remain voter, believed immigration was a problem and that the EU had harmed their fortunes. They also reeled off the slogan ‘take back control’ about the economy, our boarders and our future. When I inquired into this their explanations didn’t go much deeper than the slogan. I felt disappointed during my time there and realised post referendum that this is a view held by many more than I had realised.
I live in Cambridge a remain city and come from Norwich another remain city. I have seen the positive impact of the EU and have a romantic and pragmatic love of the EU. However this referendum result has shown that many of the poorest areas are hurting and that this was their chance to be heard. John Harris spoke eloquently about this at a Compass event last week (CompassYouTube 5/7/16). He highlighted that the poor communities have been let down and ignored by Westminster and are feeling the acute pain of austerity. He said “please let’s not think about the vast majority of people…that voted leave as stupid, or deluded or bigoted and hateful…If you woke up on Friday morning thinking that the country you lived in was suddenly being controlled by a social tribe you didn’t know much about and you suddenly felt terrified about the future. Bear in mind, that’s how millions of people have lived for decades.” He goes on to describe that Labour has left a vacuum in these areas and that they have been left behind.
This was confirmed when I watched the Panorama programme “Why we voted to leave: Britian speaks.”
One of those interviewed was John Butler a young man paying £800 rent a month, is father to six children and is struggling to make ends meet. He feels that Polish workers are undercutting his wage and have more chance to get a council house. Another interview was with a young lady called Katie Oliver . Katie hasn’t voted in a general election but was very happy to vote leave in the referendum as she said “My vote counted, I never felt that anything I’ve ever said would have counted. I never thought anyone would’ve listened and I’m really proud that finally we’ve been listened to.” There were a number of others interviewed who reflected these views and also believed social and local economic decline was a result of immigration and they wanted to take back control.
These stories should be a huge wake up call to our establishment. We have seen over the last three decades a massive increase in housing and rents, a sharp decrease in social house building (BBC News 14/4/15) and a growing inequality between the wealthy and everyone else. In the last six years this has become worse and austerity as an ideological tool has been wielded against these communities at the same time of mass migration. I do not ever believe the problems have been caused by migration, in fact it has been proved time and again that migration is a substantial net contributor to our country. However I can also see that people see migration as a threat as it is the new face that arrives at the same time as the pain of government failure. The simple and massively deceptive slog ‘take back control’ is a poem of empowerment to the ignored and dispossessed.
I’ll finish with a quote from Katie from the Panorama documentary “I feel like this country is falling apart. I voted leave because I don’t feel that the government are putting enough back into the community, into our councils, the housing situation…we’re helping everybody else but we’re forgetting here.”
We should all be listening to Katie now.