Last week, Britain stunned the world by voting to leave the European Union, with a lead of 1.3 million votes for the leave campaign. Almost every region of England voted to leave, with the exception of London and with a turnout of 72 per cent.
The reaction has been one largely composed of panic, blame and negativity. Despite the apocalyptic doom and gloom scenario we were repeatedly warned of not yet materialising, one quick scroll through Facebook and Twitter is enough to remind you of just how we got to where we are now.
I have read outbursts from the keyboard warriors ranging from “I am ashamed to be British” to “My future is screwed thanks to a bunch of small minded little Englanders”, as well as the flood of people calling for a second referendum. It seems like they love democracy unless it doesn’t produce the result they want. It is exactly this kind of smug, out of touch, patronising attitude that has been adding fuel to the anger of so many people for so many years and it all came to a head on Thursday.
So what makes me so qualified to come to this conclusion? Well I feel uniquely placed. I grew up in a small town in Yorkshire, became the first in the family to go to university and moved to London a few years ago. In other words, I’ve mixed with every demographic, been part of every argument and seen this debate from every angle. I’ve also never felt that I’ve fit the categories that the media try so desperately to put us in. I’m in the 18-24 bracket and I’m university educated and yet I do not share in the despair of the defeated remain campaign. What’s more is that many people my age feel the same. They may not be particularly political and you won’t catch them filling out a survey or going on a Twitter rant, but the over-educated, under-experienced, big-mouth university students who keep popping up on TV and saying what a catastrophe the Brexit vote is certainly don’t speak for them. Let’s also remember that the turnout among 18-24 year olds was a pitiful 36 per cent. In other words, the notion that the young wanted to remain is as accurate as the belief that Jeremy Corbyn was a passionate remainer.
For many years now I feel I have watched this event unfold. Decent, hard-working and tolerant people in the North of England constantly subject to the London-centric view that anyone who dares to challenge the positives of immigration is a small-minded bigot. Hearing university students, many of whom have never had to do a hard day’s work and yet feel positioned to dictate the wrongs and rights of the world, talk about the ‘backwards’ nature of people outside of London and the university campuses and then finding myself having to take a step back and realise that they are referring to my friends and family back home. This attitude could not be better symbolised by the sight of millionaire Bob Geldof and his metropolitan pals making vulgar gestures towards hard-working fishermen whose livelihood has been destroyed by the choices of a political class who have nothing in common with them. I’ve lived in London for two years now but I’ll never forget what a rough adjustment it was for me. The lack of community and identity, the transient feeling of everything and the realisation of just how deprived everything and everyone was back home. Recent polling by IPPR illustrated that the average spend per resident on publicly funded infrastructure stood at £5,426 in London, compared to a measly £223 in the North East. For all the rhetoric the Conservative government has given about creating a ‘northern powerhouse’ nothing has actually changed. While London needs more spending on infrastructure, the difference is unjustifiable. No wonder the people of the North-East might want to vote against whatever the Conservative Government tells them is best. Hopefully the silver lining in Thursday’s result is that Westminster will realise they can’t just overlook the north.
I have talked to the students, the middle class liberals and the party loyalists and it seems that nothing has been learned. At a time when we should be pulling together as a nation and looking for opportunities in our new world, we are seeing the same old snobbery and hysteria that followed the 2015 General Election. A reluctance to accept the will of the people, a belief that anyone who doesn’t share your view must be stupid and an elitist mentality that the masses cannot be trusted to determine their own future. All this of course is hyped up by a media, celebrity-set and corporate scene that is just as out of touch as our politicians. It certainly raises alarm bells when every single major political party except UKIP backs remain and the public choose otherwise.
So what am I suggesting? Well I’ve had plenty of conversations over the last few days, with my parents back home, colleagues in London and university ‘friends’ enjoying their expensive gap years that never seem to come to an end and it is clear that there must be a shift in the way we do politics. For politics to work for the people, it needs people of all ages, backgrounds and experiences to come forward. The old London-centric and privileged set cannot go unchallenged. I have been in Parliament many times with my job and I am always left shocked at the ‘Old boys club’ feel it still has to it. I said I wasn’t shocked by this result, as when you’ve spent your life with everyday people who feel like Westminster is a million miles away, you understand how big the gap is between people and politics. It’s about time our Parliament included people who may not have the loudest voice, but they speak for more people than you can imagine. Perhaps the looming General Election could be an opportunity for new blood, for new faces and a new kind of politics. The leave campaign has proven itself to be a broad church of people on different incomes, education, careers and beliefs and Parliament should be the same.