How Did That Happen! The vote to leave the EU poses a direct threat to the futures of Neoliberalism’s expensively credentialed children. Like no other use of the ballot box in their lifetimes, it has frightened the Tops. It’s as if the yobs and the chavs have turned the world upside down, which, in a way, they have.
THE MAGNITUDE OF THE CRISIS now overtaking Britain is difficult to exaggerate. A society obsessed with class has somehow to deal with the impossible fact that those on the bottom have over-ruled those at the top. Yes, that has happened before in the history of the British Isles: in 1381, 1642, 1832 and 1945. But on all those occasions the Bottom was inspired and supported by a small but crucial faction of progressive Tops. Brexit is different. Brexit has turned the progressive historical tradition on its head. This time the Bottom has thrown in its lot with a rogue faction of reactionary Tops.
No one in New Zealand has summed up the situation more succinctly than ex-pat Brit, Josie Pagani. “Nearly every one of the working-class kids I went to school with voted to leave,” she lamented, “while everyone I went to university with voted to remain.” The bare statistics back up Josie’s observation. On the day of the Referendum, the Guardian website affirmed that the factor most closely related to whether a person had voted to Leave or Remain was their level of education.
Josie’s heartfelt cry recalled one of my most intense experiences of the 1981 Springbok Tour .
A protest crowd had gathered outside the Springbok’s Dunedin hotel. People were angry that the deal Hart had negotiated with the Police, under whose terms protesters were to be allowed within sight of Carisbrook, had been broken. In light rain, they sat down on the street and awaited developments.
Pretty soon the “Blue” riot squad emerged from the hotel car-park and jogged into position. Across the street a somewhat smaller crowd of Tour supporters had assembled to watch the fun. “Rug-bee!” they chanted, “Rug-bee!”
The Blue Squad commander ordered the protesters to disperse. Nobody moved. He ordered his men to advance, halting them at the very edge of the sit-down demonstration. From somewhere in the crowd, someone started singing the national anthem.
The officer in command looked at the crowd. He saw university professors, lawyers and school teachers; frail old ladies and young middle-class students. The lone singer had been joined by others: God of nations, at thy feet, in the bonds of love we meet, hear our voices, we entreat, God defend our free land. The Police commander sighed. Slowly, rank-by-rank, he withdrew his men.
The pro-tour crowd fell silent. What was happening? The truck-drivers and shop assistants, freezing workers and bar staff didn’t yet comprehend the slowly emerging truth. The new reality which, by the end of the 1980s, would become frighteningly clear. Their credentials for citizenship weren’t good enough. They no longer counted.
The Springbok Tour supporters’ 1981 vote of appreciation to Rob Muldoon’s National Government was the New Zealand Bottom’s last hurrah. Three years later, Rogernomics was unleashed upon New Zealand. To be recognised in the new New Zealand, citizens had to be appropriately credentialed. Educational qualifications, and the political correctness absorbed while acquiring them, were the new model citizen’s indispensable passports to the neoliberal age of globalisation. Those without either were fit only for exploitation and impoverishment. The “dignity of labour” joined words like “solidarity” and “equality” in the dustbin at the end of history.
The punishment awaiting Britain’s uncredentialed will be no less savage than that meted out to the “Rug-bee!” chanters of New Zealand. Indeed, it is likely to be even more brutal. The vote to leave the EU poses a direct threat to the futures of Neoliberalism’s expensively credentialed children. Like no other use of the ballot box in their lifetimes, it has frightened the Tops. It’s as if the yobs and the chavs have turned the world upside down, which, in a way, they have.
The retribution of the Tops will be swift and unforgiving.
Already there is speculation that the ouster of Corbyn is just the opening gambit in a sequence of political moves designed to overturn the referendum result. Labour’s new leader will mobilise the professional middle-class around the party’s demand for an early election. Having secured it, Labour’s will frame the forthcoming vote as a second referendum on Europe. Those who want to stay out of the EU will be invited to vote for Boris Johnson’s Tories. Those wishing to stay in will have only one viable option. The yobs and the chavs will be bought off with a handful of policy sweeteners. A neo-Blairite Labour Party will secure the Tops’ “Remain” mandate, and Britain will be awakened from her Brexit fever dream by the EU’s forgiving kiss.
And then the nightmare of the British working-class will begin in earnest.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 30 June 2016.