Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Hooked On A Feeling: There Was Nothing Rational About Brexit.

Britain's Bellwether: The big vote for "Leave" in Sunderland was the first sign that Britain was on the way out of the European Union. But why did Sunderland, a strongly regenerating industrial city, not grasp the rational arguments for EU membership? Because rationality had nothing to do with how people voted. As always in politics, it was about power and control. Who had it - and who didn't.
SUNDERLAND was Britain’s bellwether. When the news came through on (our) Friday morning that 61 percent of its citizens had voted to leave the European Union (EU) the Pound went into freefall. Suddenly, the political class’s smug confidence that Britain would remain in the EU was exposed as wishful thinking. If the prosperous, go-ahead city of Sunderland had decided not to stay, then, clearly, Britain was leaving.
Sunderland prosperous and go-ahead? Well, yes, apparently. Once famed for its shipbuilding, coal-mining and glass manufacturing, this classic north-east English industrial city (roughly the size of Christchurch) has certainly experienced some very hard times over the past forty years. Today, however, it ranks as one of Britain’s more successful “regenerating” communities. The automobile manufacturer, Nissan, set up shop in 1986, and Sunderland now boasts Britain’s largest car factory. More recently, the city’s burgeoning service sector lifted Sunderland into Britain’s top seven “intelligent” cities.
From this distance, the temptation is to imagine a stereotypical group of cloth-capped, blue-collared, left-behind “Mackem”, sitting in the pub and jeering whenever a “Remain” campaigner appeared the TV to warn them of the serious economic consequences should Britain vote to leave.
“Eee, by heck, lad, yer cam oop ‘ere and tell us abart ‘serious economic consequences’, and we’ll sha yer tee rotting docks and tee closed pits and send yer back tee London and all yer canny mates wi’ tee message that lee-if oop ‘ere could ‘ardly git any worse!”
In Maggie Thatcher’s Britain of the1980s, maybe. But not in the “Sunlun” of 2016.
On the basis of Sunderland’s recent economic performance, the response of its overwhelmingly working-class population to the EU Referendum was expected to reflect a cautious optimism. It is, after all, a city in which upwards of 60 percent of citizens own their own homes, and where large numbers of young people are taking full advantage of its expanding tertiary education sector. Sunderland is also an overwhelmingly white city, with fewer than 10 percent non-white residents.
Why then did it vote so decisively to leave the EU?
Exactly the same question is being asked by members of the political class from all over Britain – and the world. Wasn’t “Remain” the only rational choice? Even with all its flaws, weren’t the British people indisputably better off within the EU than without it? Obviously, voting to “Leave” was politically irrational. It made no sense. Why would anyone do it?
But leaving the EU was never about behaving rationally. Those asking their fellow Britons to vote for “Leave” were speaking directly to their hearts – not their heads. Overwhelmingly, the people who voted “Leave” in the referendum were guided by how they felt about themselves; their community; and their nation. And these feelings, like just about everything else in politics, were driven by issues of power and control.
Do you feel in control of your life? Do you feel in control of your community? Do you feel in control of your country? Do you feel in control of your future? Who has power over you? Who do you exercise power over?
To those whose employment is both precarious and/or oppressive, the sense of being in control of one’s life is weak. The sense of being at the mercy of others, on the other hand, is very strong.
The presence of EU immigrants in British communities, with all the attendant pressures on local housing, health, education and employment, not only fuelled anger and prejudice, but also stoked a deep sense of powerlessness. The EU’s rules had steadily eroded local communities’ power to decide who could, and could not, join their ranks. It was a power they were anxious to reclaim.
The growing realisation that the candidates chosen by both major parties were fundamentally out-of-sync with the values and aspirations of the people they purported to represent was alienating significant numbers of voters from the entire electoral process. Democracy means “power is exercised by the people”, but more and more of the British people were beginning to feel that they no longer exercised any power at all.
The flipside to these feelings of diminishing power and control were identifiable in that fraction of the British population who experienced their country’s membership of the EU as both liberating and empowering. Far from feeling oppressed in their working lives, these folk saw the EU as the bringer of ever more exciting opportunities. They welcomed the growing diversity of Britain’s communities and regarded migrants as exciting and valuable additions to the national mix. Nor were they alienated by the sort of people ending up in Parliament. In their eyes, at least, they were admirably representative.
Feeling thus ruled both sides. “Remainers” clearly believed a majority of Britons shared their positive feelings towards the EU. “Do they heck as like!”, responded the good folk of Sunderland.
This essay was originally posted on the Stuff website on Monday, 27 June 2016.


Anonymous said...

All power to the people, I say.

A few lessons to be learnt here in NZ as well for our Politicians.

Anonymous said...

If you go the the north of England - once the industrial stronghold of the world - you will find industrial decay.

Warehouses abandoned, factories gutted, foundries idle, mills empty.

And with it a working class that has been abandoned, gutted, idle & empty.

Brexit is an expression and re-presentation of the working class struggle.

A kind of agitation that has found its supreme voice in the screaming match of democracy.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
The immigrant issue got a lot of coverage during the campaigning but it wasn't the only factor in that result. The EU has got serious problems. Much of the remain's rhetoric was about the employment protection EU laws impose on Britain and how the EU is needed to protect British worker's rights ; What a condemnation of British Govt that would be were it true, and in what way exactly are EU laws looking after worker's rights in Greece? .... The history of Greece in the EU from a country with very little debt state or personal on joining, whatever their quality of governance, being encouraged,manoeuvred, forced perhaps by closing down their old refineries that provided the vast majority of their export earnings, or even just allowed to run up the debt they now have, and be subjected to the treatment they have to pretend to attempt to resolve it , as all anyone needs to know about the EU as it is now. It is a catastrophic failure and it was going to radically change or more likely disintegrate anyway.
What would be lovely to see would be the neoliberal Blairites of the labour party continue to expel themselves leaving Jeremy Corbyn a true social democratic labour party into a snap election, win , and then say to his european counterparts "Look, this isn't woking properly for any of us is it. Let's all take a step back together, don't stop trading or abandon the free movement of citizens,but reestablish all of our national sovereignties and restore the democracy the present structure has destroyed and start this project again as per diem25.
Just a thought
Cheers David J S

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Apparently an editor at the Sun newspaper has come out saying he now regrets his decision to vote leave. I wonder what would happen if there was a new ballot, considering that many people who voted leave were shocked at the result of their protest. It just goes to show, you should be very careful what you ask for.

Simon Cohen said...

Unfortunately David despite your fervent hopes Jeremy Corban is extremely unlikely to lead the Labour party into an election victory anytime in the foreseeable future.If it happens I will bow down your superior acumen publicly on this blog !!

Anonymous said...

My family came from Sunderland, though we lived in Birmingham my part of the family went to live there near Wars end. I well remember the milk van dishing out milk from urns, whilst I also I remember the fresh fish at market laid out on a wooden slabs.
My father went out on fishing ships in the North sea, hoping to get some pay when he was 8 years old and I do no not think anything in the modern world really resonates to a deep degree into the old and present mind of Northern England.
I knew that Geordie would vote against Europe. They are decent folk with simple appetites, a job, home and kiddies, church and politics in the background, no wars, they had seen to much destruction, and then of course a feeling of worth.
The European Parliament did not deliver and then the insult to Labour people of the North of the influx of cheap immigrant or refugee labour and casual and degrading employment terms.
To many in England this smelt of the Nazi Germany slave Labour experiments, I do not think they were wrong.
Do not condemn Brexit.
Fascism and its special and elite civilisation is alive and well.
The fight is not over, in fact it may well be just beginning, Fascism will fight back ferociously against Brexit.

German ,British, French, northern Europe Fascists including the Ukraine Fascists are organising to defeat the non-political world.

Political elitism is growing with wealth and political power.

Democracy is under serious threat.

European Fascism is still looking for enslavement to its culture.

Nick J said...

David, your last paragraph. Its the way to go, echoes my sentiments.

greywarbler said...

David J Stone
I think that the first thing to look at when seeing faults in the EU is that the free-market neo lib shadow has taken all the bright idealism from the plans of states and the EU. At first the noticeable fault was in the rise of the cookie-cutter bureaucrats with their standardisation methods cutting into traditional food and its preparation, some produce was unacceptable because it was naturally misshapen, too small etc.

Then there was the cost of maintaining the whole anthill. It was, I thought, supposed to be a bulwark against the weight and might of the USA, which after being involved in WW2, decided it wanted part of Europe too.

Now the USA are busy in NATO with a nice little earner in missiles and such like to their military compatriots all over Europe. So that has an affect. Then there is the USA habit of supporting dodgy regimes at arm's length so as little ordure as possible sticks to them. Drop enough bombs and the Syrians, Iraqis are running to life elsewhere and ending up in Britain. More stress on Europe and some on USA from population movement. But elite in the USA mingle with the oil elite in the Middle East, so they must have good relations with some oil economies there. and allow their nationals in.

Greece is mentioned. It seems to me that NZ is very much like Greece, very indebted. Apparently the EU is to blame for Greece's bad economy.
I think that the effects of USA neo liberal free market policies that are spread through the IMF World Bank even the OECD recommended methods are to the fore. This economic theory world wide has taken over governments and privatised them. Our own is said to be running on a leveraged basis like some shonky finance house. The EU is not the cause of our hugely indebted economy, teetering on short-term high dairy earnings.

Trade with the EU - a great industry for the USA. It exports subversive economic theories that become dominant and hegemonic, these result in countries at odds with each other and stir up anger and aggression, then sell them armaments to defend or attack, either will do.

Pick all this to bits if you like. Just don't go the easy way and spout the popular, repetitive dogma against the EU and Greece.

charles e said...

It was just the English (plus the Welsh) who showed their classic individualist and independent side once again. So daft of the Remain lot to talk of money. As if that compares to rule by one's peers for an Englishman.

The Dutch will be next as they are similar people.
It will be back to the EEC and in the long rule the English will have saved Europe, again.

Dennis Frank said...

Yes, irrational motivations prevailed. A sign of sanity, since rationality hasn't been in vogue amongst the masses since post-enlightenment kicked in the early-mid 19th century, right?

Now we have Corbyn's colleagues voting no confidence in him, 172 to 40. That would be rational if (a) he had been elected on a pledge committing him to support the EU, (b) the UK Labour Party had endorsed a policy of continuing EU membership, and (c) the membership of that party have lost confidence in the leader they elected in overwhelming numbers not long ago.

As far as I can tell, none of those conditions apply. Therefore we can conclude that only about 20% of Labour MPs in the UK are rational. Can we infer a general principle that only 20% of leftists anywhere are rational? Does it matter?

Only to the extent that reasoning is persuasive enough to influence political behaviour. Clearly, in our era, identity politics is exerting vastly more influence. For a political commentator, this means the capacity for interpreting political trends and developments depends on the aptitude one has for discerning the relation between identity affiliations and group psychodynamics. You are unlikely to find instruction on this in any university anywhere. It's way too hard for academics to figure out. The only people who can do so are those of us born with a natural flair for it.

jh said...

I don't think this one will go away: Ethnic interest and people whose behaviors were forged thousands of years ago (territory, competition, population, pestilence) .

Remember the people of London are (now) mostly migrants.

I recall my reaction to Asian immigration. It began as "well it's good that they will be here in sufficient numbers that they can stand up to skin heads". Lttle did I realise the scale and intent.

jh said...

Farewell to the Sociology and Humanities Department

greywarbler said...

I recall my reaction to Asian immigration. It began as "well it's good that they will be here in sufficient numbers that they can stand up to skin heads". Lttle did I realise the scale and intent.

Funny thing - I understand that's what the Maoris thought here when the foreign money men really got going with their dodgy sales of cheap farmland to all and sundry. Which hadn't even been negotiated for, or had been refused to them by Maori who needed their resource land.

So get used to it fellow palefaces. There is a heap more people movement bound to happen. We should be preparing to take more Pacific Islanders here instead of just trying to deport them like Little Lord Fauntleroy in a fit of aristocratic temper.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Remember the people of London are (now) mostly migrants."

"Foreign-born people constituted 39% of Inner London’s population in 2013 (the highest share among all regions with comparable data)."


jh said...

There is a heap more people movement bound to happen

bound to, be

Be certain or destined to; also, be determined or resolved to. For example, We are bound to hear from them soon, or No matter what they say, she is bound to run for mayor. This usage is derived from the older sense of bound as “obliged.” [Mid-1500s

especially when politicians (as a group) want it to be and vote on mass so no one can be singled out. But that is what Brexit is about: a revolt against elites and no longer listening to journalistic authority.

jh said...

Pacific Islanders have out bred their islands carrying capacity. The pure ecological perspective is missing from liberal circles. The refugee situation is as much an overpopulation problem as anything else; the days of western countries expanding their economies is over.

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guerilla Surgeon said...

There is always people movement. There has always been people movement, since we exited Africa. But it doesn't hold to the fact that your post contains more Truthiness than truth.
Truthiness:(noun) : the quality by which a person claims to know something intuitively, instinctively, or "from the gut" without regard to evidence, logic, or intellectual examination.

Large cities with in migration will probably always have large numbers of migrants living in the centre. Because that's where the cheap housing is. Old buildings, close to being pulled down and replaced with office space or some such. If and when they get money, they disappear into the suburbs. To be fair Paris might be an exception to this rule, as migrants seem to have been banished to shitty, rundown suburbs outside the centre.

I would be a lot happier if you confined yourself to statements that have some evidence or logic behind them rather than what you wish to be true, but I guess that's not going to happen.

jh said...

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There is always people movement. There has always been people movement, since we exited Africa
The Appeal to Tradition: (also, Conservative Bias; "The Good Old Days"). The fallacy that a standpoint, situation or action is right, proper and correct simply because it has "always" been that way, because people have "always" thought that way, or because it continues to serve one particular group very well. A corrupted argument from ethos (that of past generations). (E.g., "In America, women have always been paid less, so let's not mess with long-standing tradition."). See also Argument from Inertia, and Default Bias.
your post contains more Truthiness than truth

Maybe so but what of the altenative position?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Where did I say it was right and proper? I just said it exists, and has always existed. You keep forgetting, I'm in favour of controls on immigration – certainly more than we have today.

Strawman:a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent.

jh said...

Michael Reddell points out that in 1974 the young wanted to join Europe

"But what particularly interested me was the demographic data the author reported. He reports detailed results for 21 different polls from early 1971 to late 1972. The age breakdowns are a little different than in the Ashcroft polls above, but in every single poll the over 65 age group were opposed to the UK joining the EU (typically by very large margins), and the 16 to 24 age group was either in favour of joining or much less strongly opposed."