John Harris writes: “If you’ve got money, you vote in,” she said, with a bracing certainty. “If you haven’t got money, you vote out.” We were in Collyhurst, the hard-pressed neighbourhood on the northern edge of Manchester city centre last Wednesday, and I had yet to find a remain voter. The woman I was talking to spoke of the lack of a local park, or playground, and her sense that all the good stuff went to the regenerated wonderland of big city Manchester, 10 minutes down the road.
Only an hour earlier, I had been in Manchester at a graduate recruitment fair, where nine out of 10 of our interviewees were supporting remain, and some voices spoke about leave voters with a cold superiority. “In the end, this is the 21st century,” said one twentysomething. “Get with it.” Not for the first time, the atmosphere around the referendum had the sulphurous whiff not just of inequality, but a kind of misshapen class war.
And now here we are, with that terrifying decision to leave. Most things in the political foreground are finished, aren’t they? Cameron and Osborne. The Labour party as we know it, now revealed once again as a walking ghost, whose writ no longer reaches its supposed heartlands. Scotland – which at the time of writing had voted to stay in the EU by 62% to 38% – is already independent in most essential political and cultural terms, and will presumably soon be decisively on its way.
Sinn Féin is claiming that the British government “has forfeited any mandate to represent the economic or political interests of people in Northern Ireland”. These are seismic things to happen in peacetime, and this is surely as dramatic a moment for the United Kingdom as – when? The postwar datelines rattle through one’s mind – 1979, 1997, 2010 – and come nowhere near.
Because, of course, this is about so much more than the European Union. It is about class, and inequality, and a politics now so professionalised that it has left most people staring at the rituals of Westminster with a mixture of anger and bafflement. Tangled up in the moment are howling political failures that only compounded that problem: Iraq, the MPs’ expenses scandal, the way that Cameron’s flip from big society niceness to hard-faced austerity compounded all the cliches about people you cannot trust, answerable only to themselves (something that applied equally to the first victims of our new politics, the Liberal Democrats).
Most of all, Brexit is the consequence of the economic bargain struck in the early 1980s, whereby we waved goodbye to the security and certainties of the postwar settlement, and were given instead an economic model that has just about served the most populous parts of the country, while leaving too much of the rest to anxiously decline. [Continue reading…]