25 June, 2016
The Guardian website has been compulsive reading these last few weeks. I’ve been following the referendum the Brits have had on whether to leave the European Union, the so-called Brexit.
I’ve enjoyed in particular the panicked tone of some contributors when polls showed the “leave vote” surging upwards. They were incredulous so many were going to vote contrary to what both the Conservative and Labour Party leaderships were telling them.
Those wanting to leave, we’ve been told, were the racist working class who didn’t want refugees and immigrants coming to Britain. This narrative is far too simplistic, however. Yes, there was a right wing nationalistic current in the leave vote, hence the split in the ruling Conservative Party, and there are, I’m sure, plenty of haters in Britain. But for many working class people the EU vote was a chance to express their disapproval to the political establishment. It was an opportunity to vote against globalisation.
The kind of globalisation which in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis meant it was bankers who got bailed out at the expense of health, education and other infrastructure needs across Britain. The kind of globalisation that has seen speculation in house prices drive home ownership beyond the reach of most people, while rents likewise skyrocket. The kind of globalisation that sees immigration policy used to increase competition for jobs and hold down wages.
Lisa McKensie, writing one of the more insightful columns for The Guardian, argued that the Brexit vote had sparked intense political discussions in working class pubs across Britain, but it wasn’t all about immigration. “In East London,” she wrote, “it is about housing, schools and low wages. The women worry for their children and their elderly parents – what happens to them if the rent goes up again? The lack of affordable housing is terrifying.”
The concern many Brits have over immigration is a product of fear, a fear of losing status and security in an already precarious economic environment. The blanket labeling of working class Brits as racist, however, is both wrong and insulting, particularly coming from middle class and well-to-do types divorced from the harsher realities of life in Britain’s poor communities.
The reason financial markets have been so nervous about the Brexit vote are its wider implications for Europe, and indeed the rest of the world. And this was where my interest was really peeked. The size of the “leave vote” will have given impetus to those in Greece who also wish to leave. For ordinary Greeks the only path that offers them a chance to rebuild their economy and social services is to default on the billions owed to German and French banks, exit the EU and return to their own currency.
If Greece goes, then the people of Italy and Spain will be asking the same question. A domino effect could be set off that sees the global banking class, for once, come out as losers. That’s something I’d like to see.