I, like many people around the world, have followed developments in the UK and Europe with curiosity, confusion, concern, and since early June 24 incredulity and trepidation.
The Remain cause and arguments made sense to me. The Leave arguments seemed misguided, basically blaming the EU for economic decisions that the Tory-led UK government had made. The faces of the Leave supporters on news and in social media were, for the most part, unsympathetic portraits reminiscent of Trump supporters baying their prejudices and resentments in full voice.
And in the wake of the vote, a 57% rise in reports of hate crimes in the UK doesn’t do much to counter that impression.
It’s not that simple, though.
The majority of people I know in the UK skew toward scientists and researchers whose companies and universities are partially funded by the EU. Many have worked and/or studied outside the UK as have their colleagues, whether UK citizens or not. They almost without exception supported the Remain cause, and they are dismayed by the future they anticipate as the UK severs its EU membership down the road and negotiates a new relationship.
Among my acquaintances who voted leave, not a single one was over-concerned about immigration, and not a single one fits the well established stereotype of a low-information, bigoted voter striking a blow against the status quo their Remain brethren would tell them is created and maintained by the Tory government, not the EU.
They voted to Leave because they don’t see globalization as a good thing. They see it as a means by which the 1 percenters of the world continue to transfer wealth to themselves while beggaring developing and developed countries alike by stripping them of resources, selling them crap, and destroying their cultural identities. It’s difficult to argue with that perspective. This vote was one of the first opportunities for the populace of a developed nation with global economic impact to strike a blow against that kind of invasive, opportunistic globalization in the 21st Century. The positions and arguments of the leaders of both the Remain and Leave campaigns were scorned because the leaders are (correctly in my opinion) perceived as largely being a part of the global 1 percent.
I found this blog article by Oliver Humpage to be particularly helpful in explaining the perception gap among different classes in the UK. He describes and fills in the gaps of an email conversation he had with his father about the reasons to vote Leave. It reminded me of my own perception that the economically stronger countries in Europe are willing to impose distressing levels of austerity on more impoverished countries to pay off near-predatory debts. Greece is far from the only European country to experience great hardship at the behest of Eurozone bankers.
While watching the last week’s events, I wondered if the same disgust and revolt against forms of globalization that further enrich the rich and further grind down the poor will spread. And I wonder if the electoral lash-out moves the UK toward a better future or a worse one. So much depends on how the various parties position themselves and ally themselves over the next few months, and if they develop a compelling vision and well-conceived roadmap for negotiations with the EU as an outsider.
Very similar factors and forces in favor of and in opposition to globalization and corporatist hegemony are in play in the United States this election season. Like Pied Pipers, privileged buffoons play an alluring tune of change and abundance in both countries. An electorate that is given a choice between an insufferable status quo and a chance for change may grasp the unknown. That was the choice the majority of voters in the UK made.
It’s not at all clear how this grasp of the unknown will work out for the UK. In the US, it doesn’t look like this is the year for a reckless leap.
A week ago it didn’t look like this was the year for a reckless leap in the UK.