Somewheres vs anywheres, open vs closed—it all comes down to a debate over which voices are legitimateby Chaminda Jayanetti / January 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
One of the few growth sectors in the wake of Brexit is the science of trying to explain it.
Endless papers, reports and spreadsheets have proclaimed the causes of the Leave vote, which tore up the British electorate’s historical reputation for moderacy.
Economic factors were pushed aside by research highlighting the role of “culture” and “values”—opaque terms that over the last two years have been cited to explain ever more aspects of our political divides.
Liberal vs authoritarian, open vs closed, somewheres vs anywheres; a torrent of multiple linear regressions has burst forth showing that the clue to how someone voted in 2016 is whether they support the death penalty—an issue that played no role in the campaign.
Trudging through this swamp of correlations is tiring. It is more illuminating to state the obvious. Younger people, particularly graduates, tended to vote Remain; older people, recalling a time before the EU, lent towards Leave. Those who prioritised cutting immigration voted Leave; those most worried about the economic risks of leaving voted Remain. And a lot of alienated voters in England and Wales, feeling they had little to lose, took the chance to give the government a good kicking.
Nevertheless, much of the fallout from the referendum has been cast as a “culture war.” There is none of the religious doctrine and little of the overt moralising found in America’s fierce, decades-long culture wars, however.
Instead, the divisions opened up by the referendum strongly resemble a battle over “legitimacy”—whose voice is a legitimate element of British public discourse? Who is it who is valid? Who is it who counts?
The entrenchment of views and formation of identities around Brexit have led to the “otherisation” and demonisation of the opposing side. That is what identity does—people define themselves by who they are not.
On the Leave side, the elderly (who are experienced), plus ex-industrial areas and the “white working class” (both of which have been neglected) are legitimate and must be heard. The liberal young (snowflakes), big business (elites), immigrants (not British) and London (over-mighty) are invalidated and should be ignored.
By contrast, a consistent current of Remainer discourse targets the old (privileged homeowners with no stake in the future), alongside an arguably patronising “you’re voting against…