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Was #Brexit all about Class?

Photo credit: © Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty
“My father was a miner, I am working class and supported remaining in the EU”, so said a primary school headteacher not long after the Referendum.  Obviously the headteacher was not working class but it is amazing how many people who are middle class or even upper middle class identify as working class. Almost half of those in middle or higher class jobs consider themselves to be working class (British Social Attitudes 33). Six out of ten

people regard themselves as working class in the UK even though less than half the population is working class (45.8%) and, ironically, a substantial number of the working class think they are middle class.

We have a middle class that often votes Labour and since the Referendum has moved wholesale to Labour. A report on the change in membership noted that “high-status city dwellers living in central locations and pursuing careers with high rewards are highly over-represented”. If Labour has fallen into the hands of the middle classes what of Labour’s original role of representing the real working class and the poor?

Being poor is hard.  You come to the end of the week and there is no money.  You have no savings to speak of. Your possessions are cheap and have little resale value.  Your children go out to play with others on your estate and are oblivious to the fact that torn clothes create huge problems. Missing the rent payments can destroy your family.

Being poor is often simply a result of being you. Maybe you don’t understand how to apply percentages despite all those years in school, perhaps you came to the UK with nothing, maybe you are chronically ill or old or your husband has left you with three kids and no maintenance. Paradoxically the more “education, education, education” is applied to the population the more those in low income, low status jobs will simply be those who cannot do any other job.

That so many middle class people believe their family background determines their class shows that the working class population has been drained of its most able: “my dad was a miner and thanks to my degree I’m off, bugger you lot”.  The support that low status workers used to get from their intelligent offspring has been removed on an industrial scale so that these more able people can serve industry.

Why are the upwardly mobile middle class who identify as “working class” pleased to have left their roots?  For surely they must be relatively pleased to have left or they would return home. The answer is not just lack of income, they have little in common with those they have left, they do not like the old estate, they enjoy middle class company etc. Indeed, the answer is even simpler: if they had a big house and big car “back home” all their mates would think they are posh gits. They don’t move back “home” even if they have the money because they would be judged.  They actually don’t like their old pals any more because of this judging and account for the fact that these old pals are still in the old locality with moral high ground counter-judgements such as “xenophobes” and “racists” to mock any cohesion based on locality.

So the middle class, and especially the young studenty middle class, live in middle class networks in middle class or bohemian neighbourhoods. They are not poor, they scarcely budget, life has few challenges beyond the next promotion and their relationships.  They live in a world where mobility is prized and the most serious problem they confront is whether little Johnny might be little Jane rather than whether little Johnny has torn his clothes.  They believe they “love” their fellow humans and give regularly to “poor little black children” overseas.  They blank their background except as a badge of how clever they are to have rescued themselves from it. They blank their background by morally condemning those who must settle as xenophobes etc…

How is this related to Brexit?  A settled population needs local government that has the power to deal with local issues.  Those who must stay in their locality need government that operates regional policies at a fairly local level with an eye to distributing economic activity.  In opposition to this need for government to be sensitive to local concerns at a national and regional level there is always a tendency for large companies to be located where there is most purchasing power so the centre of the economy becomes focussed on one or two prosperous regions.  This pattern is clear in the EU:

This process of concentrating wealth in the centre and a couple of regions of a country is called regionalisation.  The mobile urban classes see the regionalising  EU as an opportunity, many have already left behind their roots and are happy to move to the centre. The settled population of the UK and especially the working classes see that the EU is responsible for damaging regionalisation of the the UK within Europe, creating an economy where wages are low and the best jobs with the big corporations and big government are abroad.

Of course, the mobile urban classes are right about themselves and the settled population is right about the country. The UK is already being regionalized within the EU with the quality of jobs declining and productivity stalled:

It is already being regionalized with Eurozone companies buying UK companies which they then use as pipelines for importing Eurozone goods:

UK exporters do fine in most of the world and fairly well exporting to the EU, the problem is Eurozone ownership of UK business and property which is creating the standard conditions for regionalising the UK economy, transporting cash to the economic centre of the EU.  The current Austerity is very much about the UK-EU Trade Deficit now, rather than due to the crash of ten years ago. Greece had a similar problem and is now subsiding into being a regional economy.

The tragedy of these developments for most young, mobile, British voters is that in 10 years time they will be married or settled in some way so that if they got their wish of Remaining in the EU it would rebound on them. They would then be complaining about the lack of wage growth etc. and, rightly, blaming this on the EU and would be horrified that the next generation would show so little empathy for their plight by backing bankers and multi-nationals in demanding that the UK be absorbed into the EU.

Where do we also find a powerful middle class that approves attacks on the regions? The most obvious case is China. China is a capitalist country where the bosses have most power with a slight moderation from middle class communist party members.  China is almost mobile middle class utopia.  When the racist, xenophobic Tibetans caused trouble the government simply transplanted millions of ethnic Chinese to the Tibetan plateau.  When the Uyghurs of the far west caused trouble the government simply smothered them with hundreds of thousands of militia and is forcibly re-housing the population all over China, replacing the locals with Chinese.  The key to a vibrant capitalist economy unhindered by xenophobic, racist concerns is a powerful central government and complete worker mobility.  Migration is the key to the upper classes controlling the regions.

Brexit does indeed seem to be about class.  Will the UK mobile middle classes develop a conscience or will they conform to the upper class stereotype of finding the lower classes morally reprehensible?  Certainly, with the media in the hands of large corporations and upper class journalists it needs a party like Labour once was to save the settled population.

It is interesting that Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, the founding father of the EU, presaged the divide between the mobile urban classes and the settled population in his “Practical Idealism”.  Kenneth Clarke was the winner of the Coudenhove-Kalergi prize last year.

This post was originally published by the author on his personal blog:

About John Sydenham

Profile photo of John Sydenham
Dr John Sydenham has worked in International Pharmaceuticals and for one of the "big four" International Consultancies. He ran a successful company for 15 years and after selling the company devotes his time to travel, science, black labradors and freedom.

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  1. Thanks you for your information. Obviously I was not aware of this.

  2. John Sydenham, thank you for this post. Its very inspiring.

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