Brexit is a fake revolt — working-class culture is being hijacked to help the elite

Paul Mason writes: I love fake revolts of the underclass: I’m a veteran of them. At secondary school, we had a revolt in favour of the right to smoke. The football violence I witnessed in the 1970s and 80s felt like the social order turned on its head. As for the mass outpouring of solidarity with the late Princess Diana, and by implication against the entire cruel monarchic elite, in the end I chucked my bunch of flowers on the pile with the rest.

The problem is, I also know what a real revolt looks like. The miners strike; the Arab spring; the barricade fighting around Gezi Park in Istanbul in 2013. So, to people getting ready for the mother of all revolts on Thursday, I want to point out the crucial difference between a real revolt and a fake one. The elite does not usually lead the real ones. In a real revolt, the rich and powerful usually head for the hills, terrified. Nor are the Sun and the Daily Mail usually to be found egging on a real insurrection.

But, all over Britain, people have fallen for the scam. In the Brexit referendum, we’ve seen what happens when working-class culture gets hijacked – and when the party that is supposed to be defending working people just cannot find the language or the offer to separate a fake revolt from a real one. In many working-class communities, people are getting ready to vote leave not just as a way of telling the neoliberal elite to get stuffed. They also want to discomfort the metropolitan, liberal, university-educated salariat for good measure. For many people involved, it feels like their first ever effective political choice.

I want to have one last go at convincing you that leaving now, under these conditions, would be a disaster. First, let’s recognise the problem. For people in the working classes, wages are at rock bottom. Their employers treat them like dirt. Their high streets are lined with empty shops. Their grownup kids cannot afford to buy a home. Class sizes at school are too high. NHS waiting times are too long.

I’m glad it has become acceptable to say: “You are right to worry about migration.” But I wish more Labour politicians would spell out why. Working-class people, especially those on low pay in the private sector, worry that in conditions of austerity, housing shortages, wage stagnation and an unlimited supply of migrant labour from Europe has a negative effect on their living standards. For some, that is true.

They are right, too, to worry about the cultural impact. In a big, multi-ethnic city, absorbing a lot of migrants is easy. In small towns, where social capital is already meagre, the migrant population can feel unabsorbed. The structure of temporary migration from Europe means many of those who come don’t vote, or don’t have the right to – which feels unsettling if you understand that it is only by voting that the workforce ever achieved progress. It feels as if, through migration, the establishment got to create the kind of working class it always wanted: fragmented, dislocated, politically distant, weak.

But a Brexit led by Ukip and the Tory right will not make any of these things better: it will make them worse. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Brexit is a fake revolt — working-class culture is being hijacked to help the elite

  1. Dieter Heymann

    Quote: “They also want to discomfort the metropolitan, liberal, university-educated salariat for good measure”.
    Although I do not know what “salariat” is I know what you mean with “university-educated”. I lived in the Netherlands until 1963. I was a member of the “Afdeling Watergraafsmeer” of the P.v.d.A. and experienced its conversion from a reformist labor party to a party that was derisively called “P.v.d.D. or Partij van de Doctorandussen”. A doctorandus degree of a Dutch University is roughly the equivalent of a bachelors degree from a US university. By-and-by many in a leadership position had a doctorandus degree or even better, a PhD.
    The real joke is that the meaning of the Latin word “doctorandus” is “he/she who aspires to become a doctor” (PhD). In other words if you never make it you are a failure!

  2. Paul Woodward

    salariat refers (I assume) to people who receive salaries as opposed to hourly wages

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