The Hypocritical Elites Deserved Brexit
British voters have given a glorious poke in the eye to the vast, amorphous, and seemingly all-powerful entity variously described as “the establishment,” the “elites,” and the “political class.” UK politics is in turmoil following the historic vote to leave the European Union.
The Conservative Party is looking for a new leader -- and prime minister -- to replace David Cameron; the presumed favorite Boris Johnson, the Brexit leader and former London mayor, is already out of the running. The Labour Party is desperately trying to get rid of its own leader. On July 4, Nigel Farage -- who as the leader of UKIP changed the face of British politics and almost singlehandedly forced Cameron to hold a referendum on the country’s membership of the EU -- stood down. He told party supporters:
I now feel that I have done my bit.
Much has been written in recent years about the growing divisions within Western societies between the rulers and the ruled, and the simmering resentment of ordinary people. Those divisions, and this resentment, have been on display in a number of countries. In Europe, the phenomenon has manifested in the protests against “austerity” being imposed on southern eurozone nations such as Greece and Italy, and the growing popularity of parties of the far-left and far-right. In the U.S., it began with the emergence of the Tea Party, followed by the Occupy movement, and the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
In the UK, it contributed to the rise of Farage’s UKIP amid growing discontent with the European Union. In particular, anger was fueled by the hardships imposed on working-class Britons as a result of mass immigration; this was the result of EU policy regarding free movement of citizens between member countries.
While these disparate movements disagree on much -- Occupy and Sanders are mostly preoccupied with class warfare; they see centralized government as the solution rather than the problem -- they all share a belief that the system is increasingly rigged against ordinary people.
Britain’s EU referendum was the first true battle of wills between the elites and the people -- and the people won. The result has, not surprisingly, unleashed a torrent of fury from the elites directed against the 17 million Britons who had the temerity to defy them, the likes of which has never before been seen in a Western democracy.
The referendum campaign, and the fallout from the result, has also clarified just who the elites are. The deep divisions within British society had long been obscured by left-right political distinctions.
The well-educated vs. the less-educated; young vs. old (furious youngsters claimed to have been ”screwed over” with Brexit by their elders -- until it emerged that only around a third of them had bothered to vote).
The provincial towns and shires voted for Brexit, the multi-ethnic metropolitan centers for Remain. Wealthier people tended to favor remain while the less well-off voted for Brexit.
The elites scoff at the notion that there’s any such thing as “the elites” -- but they’re real, all right. They comprise most left-wing politicians (just a handful of Labour MPs campaigned for Brexit) and a smaller proportion of ostensibly conservative politicians, epitomized by Cameron. They are banks and multinational companies, academics, NGOs, and much of the media/celebrity set (prominent “Remainers” included actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Harry Potter author JK Rowling, and musician and Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof -- who led the abuse of fishermen who sailed up the River Thames in London to protest the EU’s destruction of the UK fishing industry).
Many of the elites are, naturally, in positions of power and influence, but millions more vote for the establishment’s political leaders and share its values: professionals such as doctors and lawyers, along with those working in the arts and creative industries. If further proof of these distinctions were needed, it came with the news that anonymous business figures and academics have hired the favorite law firm of the rich and famous to mount a legal challenge to Brexit.
What the elites all share is the fact that they either benefit directly from EU membership -- for example, multinational companies that can afford to lobby EU officials for policies that benefit them and disadvantage smaller rivals -- or are well-off and well-connected enough to be immune from the devastating effects EU membership has had on less well-off sections of society.
Much of that devastation has been the result of mass immigration, which has negatively impacted the poorest areas of the UK, particularly the north of England. Mass immigration depressed wages for unskilled workers while driving home prices and rents up and putting pressure on schools, health care, and other public services.
At the other end of the scale, the well-off have seen the value of their homes soar while benefitting from a steady supply of cheap eastern European service workers.