The British political establishment is experiencing an unprecedented crisis over the issue of exiting the European Union. The Conservative government staggers from crisis to crisis over its Brexit deal while politicians off all colours bicker and argue as the UK lurches towards a potentially devastating No Deal scenario. This had lead to a huge distrust in the political class amongst the long suffering public.
As the clock ticks down towards the 29 March exit date it is worth while recalling how this crisis came about in the first place. Regardless of which Brexit option the UK takes over the next period it will not detract from the fact that there is a huge chasm between large sections of a bitterly discontented population and the political establishment that does not bode well for the future stability of a key American ally.
A recent poll of 33,000 people revealed that an overwhelming majority felt that whatever Brexit option is adopted it will not address the rampant inequalities, political alienation and disenchantment that lay behind the vote to leave the EU in 2016.
In June 2016 the UK vote to exit the EU shocked the financial and political elites and led to turmoil on global stock markets. The corporate media was full of shocked pundits lamenting the democratic decision of British people for Brexit. Brexit voters were being blamed for everything from the rise in racism against immigrant families to the increased dangers of terrorist attacks.
The corporate media both in Britain and internationally was and still are furious with the British electorate for voting for Brexit. They never saw it coming and still don’t fully understand why ordinary people voted for Brexit. More than this, they still don’t understand how the Brexit vote reveals how completely out of touch the corporate media and the political/financial elites are with the millions of working class people who voted for Brexit.
Let’s be very clear about this: the vote for Brexit was a working class rebellion against the financial and political elites of Britain who have presided over a massive redistribution of wealth in favour of the super rich leaving a fifth of the population in poverty. Analysis of the referendum vote shows how the poorer an area was the higher the vote was for Brexit.
The working class stood up to massive pressure from the Bremain camp that included: all of the mainstream political parties, the Bank of England, CBI, IMF, ECB, Obama, the World Bank and the trade union bureaucrats.
The vote for Brexit revealed how out of touch the establishment advocates of the EU are with working class people. Millions of people are struggling to get by with low wages, incessant benefit cuts, zero hour contracts, food banks and poor housing that are putting their families and communities under intense strain. On top of this, working class people suffer the most from the cuts to the welfare state and the incessant cuts to local council services.
Working class people are not stupid they can how the EU is a fundamentally undemocratic organisation that is completely unaccountable to them. The secret negotiations that took place between the EU and the Obama administration over TTIP, which members of the European Parliament had no say over, proved conclusively how this is an organisation run for the benefit of the too big to fail banks and the multi-national corporations.
They can see how the undemocratic EU has bludgeoned the people of Greece into living in permanent austerity and mass poverty despite a referendum last year that decisively rejected austerity measures. Obama’s favourite economist Paul Krugman called the EU’s intervention into Greece in 2015 a ‘coup d’etat’.
The advocates of Bremain in 2016 such as Mark Carney (ex-Goldman Sachs), then Prime Minister Cameron (from a tax avoiding banker family) then Chancellor George Osborne (son of a Baronet) warned working class people that Brexit would lower their living standards more than any other group in UK society.
However, millions of people were not taken in by the crocodile tears coming from those responsible for creating a massively unequal society. Quantitative easing and ZIRP have made the super rich fabulously richer as they have benefited from the massive bubbles on the stock market and in property. The top 10% of society own 45% of all wealth totalling over £5 trillion while the bottom 50% of society own a pathetic 9% of the wealth.
Prime Minister Cameron’s government presided over a savage attack upon welfare benefits which have led to one and half million benefit sanctions leaving people totally destitute and leading to hundreds of people committing suicide. The attack on welfare benefits for disabled people have been so severe it prompted the UN to launch an investigation into the human rights violations of disabled people. In 2018 the UN accused the UK government of ‘’systematic violations’’ of disabled people’s rights..
The political and financial elites who advocated that Britain should stay in the EU were puzzled as to why so many working class people stubbornly supported Brexit in 2016. They were and still are incapable of comprehending the anger, pain and suffering of millions of working class people who feel increasing contempt towards a political and financial elite that has no understanding of their daily lives. Over 13 million live in poverty (1 in 5 of the population) while 15 million live in inadequate housing conditions.
This inchoate anger at the daily reality that confronts them has few outlets in life. The EU referendum provided working class people with a means of sticking two fingers up at the political and financial establishment which now presides over a very divided country along lines of class and geography. This sense of alienation and disenchantment with the political establishment has only increased in the two and half years since the Brexit referendum.
The Brexit vote has led to unprecedented turmoil in both of the main political parties in Britain, particularly the Conservative Party.
The financial and political elites suffered a major defeat in 2016 Brexit vote. The Conservative Party is one of the oldest and most successful political parties in history and has served the British ruling class well for over two hundred years. Now it faces an unprecedented crisis and is unable to effectively govern.
Regardless of which Brexit option the Conservative government takes over the next period the UK will face huge challenges as the world economy continues to slow down and heads towards another devastating recession.
This will pose major challenges for the stability of the UK, whose manufacturing base continues to weaken while its financial services sector loses its dominant position in European capital markets due to Brexit. A discontented population may take inspiration from its yellow vested neighbours across the English Channel.
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Leon Tressell is a UK based historian whose research focuses upon geo-politics and economics.