I’ve written a series of blogs on how Remainers are reacting to the Referendum and why we think Leavers voted Leave. You can read them in any order you like but, I’d suggest, you start with the introduction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel ashamed).
Leavers are racist. Vote Leave was a thinly-veiled racist campaign. “We want our country back” they cried; we’re at “Breaking Point” they were told and agreed; Blair’s three promises became: “Migration, migration, migration”.
As clever Remainers, we could see that the Leave campaign was racist to the core and from the start, and now we’ve been proved right as new instances of racism are shared every day… and we love a good syllogism: Vote Leave Campaign is racist, ergo all Leavers are racist. It’s obvious.
We wouldn’t allow this sloppy thinking when it comes to Muslims when we crow about the huge majority of peaceful Muslims whenever there’s an Islamist attack. We do the same for the Leave Campaign’s ubiquitous, statistically anomalous and usually apocryphal crap about foreign criminals, health tourists and benefit bandits. It’s wrong to tar all X with the same brush because of the actions of a few: in the wake of Jo Cox’s murder, our grief was tempered by the irony of Britain First arguing that all its members shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush as the alleged murderer.
Tar brushing is fine, though, when it comes to someone who’s hurt you and your life, just as Leavers have hurt us, our lives and our futures: the reaction is naturally visceral and jumps to making ‘the other’ less.
We Want Our Country Back
“We want our country back” was ominous: redolent of Nazis blaming ‘the other’, it was a call to get rid of ‘them’ because ‘we’ don’t want ‘them’ on ‘our’ land. It was such an obviously racist cry that decent people like us dismissed it as just that.
The British Empire signalled the death knell of slavery when it, the biggest, most powerful force on the planet, made it illegal; in World War 2, Americans coming here to train took their first drink and ate their first meal with someone of another colour because ordinary, decent British people wouldn’t segregate our pubs as they did: we were all fighting that thinking together. I wanted my country back.
I’ve heard “I want my country back” being repeated by many Remainers– I want my country back from these people who voted for a different vision of the future. I’ve also blamed Leavers as ‘the other’, just like, I assumed, the racists among them blamed immigrants for all their ills. Pretty shameful that I’ll stand up to mindless slurs made by fools against people coming here looking for a better life, yet I’ve made similar slurs using similar phrases against my own countrymen who live, work and love in our country and just want a better life. My slurs weren’t based on race but are they any more palatable?
Immigration: racism or economics?
I got sick and tired of hearing about immigration. As soon as Farage opened his gob and his bilious ideas about immigration began to dribble out, I switched off. I was ashamed that views like his were being given the credence of air time in 21st Century Britain. The argument had been won: immigrants pay in more than they take out (unlike our lazy, workshy, feckless indigenous population); immigrants are not health tourists but the doctors & nurses we rely on are; immigrants are needed to keep the economy going. The argument was won… but only on TV political panel shows and in the pages of The Guardian. To keep talking about it was just racist, surely?
In the main, immigrants don’t do the job I do so immigration, pretty much, affects me positively: 5 Lithuanian guys quickly but expertly wash my car for a pittance; the Pole behind the bar is bilingual, intelligent, conversational and is overqualified for his minimum wage roll; I can go out tonight and eat Indian, Chinese, Mediterranean, Persian, Eastern European, African and more; I can probably do this more cheaply because immigration has meant that wage prices may have been suppressed (but I don’t think about that as it doesn’t affect my wage).
I liked that Europeans could come here to do jobs that I wouldn’t, and I liked that I could go to work in Europe, though I never would. The idea of being together and open and free was important to me; the reality of it was that I stayed at home and benefitted culturally and economically from immigration.
But what about Leavers? Is it racism that forced them to vote leave?
Near where we live, there’s a waste distribution centre: bin lorries go in full, dump our rubbish onto a large conveyor belt and the rubbish is sorted so that every scrap of recyclable material is removed, anything that can turned into green energy is removed & bailed, and only the smallest amount possible is sent to landfill. It benefits our economy, climate and ecology. Brilliant, eh?
This place runs 24hrs a day, 5.5 days a week. It stinks. When it was open, the foul smell of bins and rotting rubbish covered at least a square mile and, at points, made you physically sick. After complaining and complaining and complaining, they put a roof on and it’s now, pretty much, air tight so the stink is usually kept inside. Hour after hour, day after day, the smell that used to make us all ill is kept locked up inside. Bins are emptied fortnightly where we are, giving the rubbish plenty of time to begin to decompose, and every day dozens of lorries come in, disgorge their vile, disgusting contents and leave the sorters to pick out bits of glass, plastic, metal, etc. On a break or after their shift, they come into the local shop and they stink: the filth they’ve dug through has tainted every fibre of their clothing, coated every strand of their hair, covered every inch of their skin.
Imagine being in there for 5 minutes. Imagine being in there for an hour. Imagine being in there for a night shift, picking over the contents of thousands of bins. Imagine if that was your job. How much would it take for you to do that job? Seriously, how much would it take for you to work a night shift every night from now until retirement? I’d want such an increase, it’d take me well into the top rate of tax; I know the people doing the job are making far, far less than me.
The people doing the job are, mainly, Eastern Europeans, doing the job British people don’t want to do. (That was our argument for immigration, right? Our lazy lot won’t do it so get a Pole in.) But they’re not doing the jobs British people won’t do: they’re doing the jobs British people won’t do for that money. The economic argument for immigration we Remainers argued for makes absolute sense… for us.
Simplistically (because simple, basic economics is all can grasp, even though I’ve crowed about it in the run up to and after the referendum), if those Eastern Europeans weren’t there, what would happen?
One option is that the place wouldn’t be there. Selfishly, I’m OK with that as sometimes it still stinks and pisses me off. There would be 50 or so fewer jobs and I’d be paying more in council tax to send rubbish to landfill and paying more in tax because the British people who work there would be out of work and I’d be paying for their JSA, housing, etc.
Another option is that British people would have that job. At the current rate of pay, the quality and commitment to the job of those British workers would be poor, so the pay would need to be raised to get people who were willing to stick it out in such a terrible environment. This would cost me more as the company would need to pass on the wage increase to me, the council tax payer; however, unemployment would be down and more people would be paying tax.
Racism or Politics?
If you add to this the belief (and, I have no doubt, reality in more than a few instances), people see others come in and their pay goes down, others come in and rents go up, others come in and social housing is given to them, others come in because the local factory only advertises over there, and on & on, a well of anger fills, fills, fills until it overflows. Thankfully, this was done just how we, the educated and civilised, would want it to be expressed: through democracy rather than violence.
I would think that only two parties went to talk to those with low and no pay: Labour and UKIP. Labour (making sure it stayed steadfastly down the middle so as not to anger the Tory-loving media and us, its new constituency of liberal, centre-left Guardian readers) ignored the problem, or offered complicated and ineffectual solutions they had no hope of implementing; UKIP offered a short, simple solution: these people are taking your jobs; we will get rid of these people. When you’ve been let down so often by so many, it’d be hard not to resist.
Racism or Economics?
We wrote off immigration as racism because ‘they’ weren’t taking ‘our’ jobs; for others, immigration meant seeing someone from outside come in to work when you & your family couldn’t find work or pay rises weren’t coming because someone from outside would the job cheaper than you. It’s happened to every wave of immigrant and every time it’s blamed on racism because racism is the easy answer we can dismiss as ignorance.
I’m not sure most EDL or BNP morons comprehend the genetics behind Aryans, Slavs or anyone else – they just see colour. I don’t think most people with no or low pay are inherently racist. I think what we have seen is better expressed by looking at America and its depression: all I know about it is from Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men and ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ where the dirty, filthy Okies were driven by drought (and banks and conglomerates and corporations, shock horror) from their homes; many moved to California to find work, to find food, to find life and they were treated disgustingly, being put into camps, paid less than they could live on, had terrible living conditions, and had no rights as workers & few as humans. Oklahomans and Californians aren’t different racially or linguistically, yet managed to quickly create a picture of ‘them & us’ every bit as antagonistic and chasmal as any racial divide.
Remainers were shocked at the economically illiterate Leavers who steadfastly refused to heed the warnings of a financial meltdown; I wonder now if it was years of selfish economics which made Leave the best economic choice for vast swathes of our electorate. Immigration meant that I paid less at home and paid less abroad; for those with low or no pay, the effects of immigration may have been to keep them where they were, offering no promise, offering no hope. It was those on no or low pay who voted overwhelmingly to Leave – we should have been thinking about them instead of ourselves.
I believe Brexit will be a plague on both our houses, but that theirs has had a plague upon it for many years and, rather than schadenfreude, our best chance is to make sure we work together to remove the plague from both.
I voted Remain because it was best for me and I believed it was best for my country; I’m not sure I knew what my country was or where it was going because I was so disconnected from so many people I share it with. I saw the result and was ashamed of my country’s racism; now I’m ashamed that a bunch of posh Tories & UKIPpers understood the people I grew up with, live with and share a city with better than me.