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Beached whales from a bygone age
18 May, 2021

Throughout the European Movement’s late March virtual conference, we were warned we must guard against the urge to tell Leavers "We told you so". Robert Pringle questions the advice. In truth, there is nobody to tell. Remain didn't get it in 2016 and doesn't get it now.

Most Leavers care little about rotting shellfish, the Northern Ireland Protocol or any other consequence of Brexit. A wave of emotion, anger and fear, surfed to perfection by Dominic Cummings and Nigel Farage, swept away the Remain economic arguments long ago. They got Brexit and stopped EU immigration. Job done.

The main thrust of Brexit comes from the white working class. Only it’s more of a tribe than a class. One which is hermetically sealed with strong tribal instincts. Wealth barely punctures the seal. You stay in the tribe only with more money. That is why 25% of white working-class retirees living in Spain voted leave in 2016, whilst in wealthier parts of white working-class Essex, the Leave vote was 70% or higher.

Upper mobility also has little impact. It is resisted, as it threatens white working-class family structure. It would mean leaving the tribe and joining the middle-class tribe, a world of gap years, table manners and double-barrelled surnames. There would be no return. For most it is not feasible anyway. It has been this way for generations.

This is the principal reason why, especially in the post-industrial North of England, in the era of the digital economy and AI, they are the "left behinds." What binds the tribe further is a propensity to blame others, never themselves, for their predicament. Despite the myth of a classless society, they occupy the lowest social order. The result is tribal anger, which has intensified over the decades, especially amongst men.

For it is they who have fallen the furthest from their fondly remembered “golden era” of the early 1950s, when Britain was “great." That was a time when physical strength mattered in unskilled employment, which was plentiful. When wives didn't work and were totally dependent on men's pay packets. When "no Blacks, no dogs, no Irish" signs were perfectly legal. And the Metropolitan Elite was in its infancy.

Then began the decline. Many of their best and brightest emigrated to the Dominions. Heavy industry, the mainstay of male working-class status and income slowly disappeared. And thanks mainly to the growing Metropolitan elite, the rights of women and ethnic minorities steadily improved.

Eventually, they realised that there was not one social class above them, but two. Not just the Traditional Elite, with which they had learned to come to terms over centuries. Now, the demands of technology and higher education was generating a new middle class above them, the Metropolitan Elite.

Ethnic minorities were slowly joining the Metropolitan Elite. So too were immigrants from the EU. Things were moving. But for white working-class men, especially in the post-industrial north, the only thing not moving was them and their families.

No wonder they didn't buy the Remain argument that "immigration was a good thing for the country". They were now at the bottom of the social order and they knew it. Successful black women in law and media, for example, now served to remind them just how far they had fallen. They were beached whales from a bygone age. Festering in their declining regions and sink estates, their anger intensified towards the Metropolitan Elite and its political correctness.

So did support for UKIP and Brexit.

There are millions in the tribe who would rather walk barefooted over broken glass than vote to rejoin the EU.

Who will never concede that, despite voting for Brexit, nothing is going to change for them? In reality how could it? Their vote for Brexit had little to do with EU membership.

Those who voted Leave did so because they believed or wanted to believe the Brexit lies. Some decided that their lives couldn't be any worse outside the EU so why not try it? Living in a deprived white working-class area or on a sink estate is depressing and bleak. You are at the bottom of the social heap. There are few options or life choices. People have little or no control over their lives. No wonder the " take back control" message resonated.

There are also consequences beyond the physical. There are no good feelings. Instead, there is shame. Humiliation. A feeling of inferiority. And anger. But would these people ever vote against their tribal instincts? Possibly. Even a majority, could well be open to persuasion if there was something in it for them.

Perhaps we should ask them? Sadly, Remainers never bothered last time.

Robert Pringle

Robert Pringle is a member of the European Movement. He worked as a lawyer and is now in the music industry.

London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.

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