Brexit: Turkeys Voting for Christmas?

By Lisa Mckenzie

An earlier version of this article stated that the total turnout in the referendum on leaving the European Union was 38 million. This was incorrect and the figure has been corrected.

For 30 years in the UK academics, political and community activists, trade unionists, and even religious groups have warned, argued, evidenced, threatened and sometimes begged politicians and wider society to recognise that ever increasing inequality cannot end well. I had hoped that day would be a political revolution brought about by an international solidarity movement led by working class people from all over the world. Instead, we have been subject to a Tory Party internal ideological battle. And the rest of parliamentary politics fell into line because in some way it benefited them.

The consequence has been that marginalised people all over the United Kingdom have used the Tory orchestrated EU referendum as an opportunity to be heard. I have never known such enthusiasm and debate amongst people that even last year had no interest at all in the General Election. Even I was surprised that over 33 million people turned out to vote. Out of that 17 million people voted to leave the European Union and did so for many reasons. Sovereignty, xenophobia, and racism were reasons and we have to be honest about that. However out of that 17 million there were millions that voted leave for other reasons. Millions of people used the referendum and cast their votes in relation to how they experience their lives in the United Kingdom today. They voted leave because they were tired, ignored, cold, hungry, and felt hopeless. They voted to be seen and to be heard.

Since the Brexit vote there has been a lot of hand wringing by politicians, and within sections of the media, asking ‘what has happened? How did we get here?’. I believe they honestly don’t know. There is a general consensus now that working class people have been conned, duped, and they are turkeys voting for Christmas. Some perhaps have been duped, and some thought it was a two-fingered salute to the middle class, and the establishment.

However my analysis is based on the research that I do and the people who tell me about their lives. I have been meeting up with a group of local women in East London for over two years and I have never had a conversation with them about mainstream politics until 3 weeks ago. We usually talk about how difficult life can be living in London. One of the women has learned how to manage her money by eating only every other day. She does this to ensure her two children can eat every day. She voted for the first time in the referendum and she voted out. Not because she thought her life would get better if we left the EU, she voted out because she couldn’t stand it being the same.

Lisa Mckenzie is a research fellow at the London School of Economics. She tweets at @redrumlisa.

Originally posted 4th July 2016

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