Learning about Britain’s identity post Brexit

Waking up on June the 24th was like looking into a mirror and seeing a face I don’t recognise. The open, liberal, progressive, cultural melting pot Britain that I love wasn’t there; instead, I saw a country divided on race, immigration, cultural identity and economic situation. A country that was split between urbanised and rural, north and south, poverty levels and its own nations. The mirror had been shattered. The liberal, welcoming, Britain that I love was now fragmented; a shadow of what I thought it was.

Waking up on June the 24th was like looking into a mirror and seeing a face I don’t recognise. The open, liberal, progressive, cultural melting pot Britain that I love wasn’t there; instead, I saw a country divided on race, immigration, cultural identity and economic situation. A country that was split between urbanised and rural, north and south, poverty levels and its own nations. The mirror had been shattered. The liberal, welcoming, Britain that I love was now fragmented; a shadow of what I thought it was.

 “A divisive campaign has led to a divided nation.”

71% of voters aged between 18 and 24 voted to remain a member of the European Union. Yet over 60% of those aged over 50 voted to leave. Older voters were twice as likely to vote in the Referendum; a key factor behind the vote for Brexit. A divisive campaign has led to a divided nation.

One of the largest factors behind the leave vote was the unexpected turnout and high Leave vote in white working class areas, especially the North of England, and other poor areas, including Wales. While we on the left may wish to claim that this was due to cuts, low pay and zero hour contracts, this was mainly a backlash on the most divisive issue of the campaign: immigration.

As David Goodhart wrote in the Prospect magazine, this was a “vote against the mass immigration society”. He writes that Britain has “never embraced mass immigration and never been asked what it thought about it—until now”. People’s fears over immigration were exploited in the days leading to the vote. Yet this is not surprising, the mainstream media has lambasted Britons with anti-immigration rhetoric, anti EU rhetoric, backed up by David Cameron who referred to a “swarm of migrants”. This damaging rhetoric bolstered the ‘us and them’ feeling among Britons over Europe, alienating many Brits from the European Project.

Those emigrating to the UK pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits, and as I said two issues ago, help ‘prop up’ our vital public services as teachers, doctors and other highly skilled professions. Yet, despite this, the latest British Social Attitudes survey finds that 71 per cent of people think immigration increases pressure on schools and 63 per cent say it increases pressure on the NHS. There is also a divide on whether immigration is beneficial to the UK economy, with 42% agreeing and 35% disagreeing. As Goodhart said; “there is a class division: 15 per cent of graduates think immigration is bad for the economy, compared with 51 per cent of those with no educational qualifications.” This divide was clearly shown in the appetite for Brexit; those with a degree voted 68% to remain, while those with only a GCSE or lower voted 70% to leave.

 Why would you worry about ‘shaking it all up’ when your situation is already desperate?”

Worryingly for Labour, many of its core voters, in their northern heartlands and Welsh valleys, didn’t listen to the advice of their party. 35% of those who voted Labour in the last General Election voted to leave. Labour’s message of worker’s rights wasn’t heard above the clamour over the economy. Instead, many Labour voters heard the calls of the populist right railing against immigration. The doom and gloom predicted for the economy wasn’t listened to; why would you worry about “shaking it all up” when your situation is already desperate? Politics has been ‘shaken up’, but not to the advantage of the needy. People voted for change, they voted to “get rid of unelected bureaucrats” yet our Prime Minister, Theresa May, has been chosen by 329 MPs. Is this “restoring democracy”?

Now, more than ever, we need to stand up for a better Britain. An open, multicultural Britain must be fought for at the ballot box, in petitions, in newspaper columns and online.  Nigel Farage, a prominent leave campaigner, said “In a 52-48 referendum [in favour of Remain] this would be unfinished business by a long way.” Now the result has been made clear, a 52-48 result in favour of Leave, those calling for a second referendum are mocked, they’re not seen as people standing up for what they believe in.

That mirror may have been fragmented, but now is the time to put it back together; to put an open, multicultural forwards, progressive Britain back on the agenda. We don’t want to “take our country back”, we want to take our country forwards. Together we can do that.

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