Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Every Vote Counts

Following the big BBC Debate last night, I thought I'd have just one more go at saying something about the extraordinary political machinations of the last month or so. I actually started writing this a couple of weeks ago having watched some 'vox pops' interviews on tv and the penny dropping as to something very interesting developing. 

'I'm voting Labour' said the man stopped in the street and asked for his opinion on the EU referendum. I suppose it made me feel uncomfortable because the piece would inevitably lead to the poor guy being ridiculed, but I now realise it was a graphic illustration of something quite scary indeed, the class divide. This referendum has brought into sharp focus some very unpleasant aspects of our society and some very uncomfortable truths about our 'democracy' and why we could well be making a momentous decision to leave the EU tomorrow. 

At this point it's probably worth reminding ourselves how we got into this mess in the first place. Basically, the rise of UKIP so put the wind up David Cameron prior to the 2015 general election that he felt obliged to promise a referendum in order to try and spike their guns. Despite this, UKIP won a staggering 4 million votes, but the disgraceful workings of our first-past-the-post electoral system delivered them just one MP - job done! How this is called democracy beats me - what if they were 4 million Green Party votes? - but having surprisingly won a 12 seat majority, Cameron realised this was one promise he had to deliver on, hence the referendum.    

It's all been very carefully planned of course and by now 'Project Fear' was supposed to have thoroughly scared us all witless by the extremely well-informed and sensible-looking Remain campaign, so how is it that the opinion polls began to show that the Leave campaign was getting ahead? I think the answer lies in our historic class-based tribal politics, enshrined and perpetuated by the first-past-the-post electoral system. 

It's the system that enabled the closet Tory Tony Blair to gain pre-eminence, move Labour to the right and lay the foundations for extending the privatisation agenda, but kept in power by the loyal white working-class vote. As a group they were cynically used whilst he worked on gaining a greater chunk of the middle-class vote. Of course it's the system that delivered a smoking ban, so loved by the middle-class, whilst the working-class were robbed of their right to a cig and a drink in comfort at either a pub or a bingo hall. It's about beer v wine; North v South; cosmopolitan v provincial.   

This by Lisa McKenzie in the Guardian:-

Brexit is the only way the working class can change anything

From my research I would argue that the referendum debate within working-class communities is not about immigration, despite the rhetoric. It is about precarity and fear. As a group of east London women told me: “I’m sick of being called a racist because I worry about my own mum and my own child,” and “I don’t begrudge anyone a roof who needs it but we can’t manage either.”

Over the past 30 years there has been a sustained attack on working-class people, their identities, their work and their culture by Westminster politics and the media bubble around it. Consequently they have stopped listening to politicians and to Westminster and they are doing what every politician fears: they are using their own experiences in judging what is working for and against them.

In the last few weeks of the campaign the rhetoric has ramped up and the blame game started. If we leave the EU it will be the fault of the “stupid”, “ignorant”, and “racist” working class. Whenever working-class people have tried to talk about the effects of immigration on their lives, shouting “backward” and “racist” has become a middle-class pastime.

Working-class people in the UK can see a possibility that something might change for them if they vote to leave the EU. The women in east London and the men in the mining towns all tell me the worst thing is that things stay the same. The referendum has become a way in which they can have their say, and they are saying collectively that their lives have been better than they are today. And they are right. Shouting “racist” and “ignorant” at them louder and louder will not work – they have stopped listening.

For them, talking about immigration and being afraid of immigration is about the precarity of being working class, when people’s basic needs are no longer secure and they want change. The referendum has opened up a chasm of inequality in the UK and the monsters of a deeply divided and unfair society are crawling out. They will not easily go away no matter what the referendum result.


Well, the beauty of a referendum is, unlike a general election where most votes don't count at all, suddenly the middle-class have woken up to the fact that every single bloody vote counts, even those of the 'uneducated', mis-informed or just plain thick working class. Of course the plan was that with the Labour Party officially supporting the Remain camp, this group would loyally follow, but with such an obvious half-hearted campaign the evidence shows that many Labour Party members either don't know what the policy is, or even worse think it's Brexit!   

I think it's much more than this though. The working-class have been royally shafted and ignored for years. Their concerns and interests are completely unkown to the middle class, the metropolitan political class that runs the country, but they're going to get a very rude wake-up call on Thursday because 1) they are fed up 2) they are going to turn out 3) they don't feel bound by any party loyalty and 4) their vote actually counts for once. 

Now this is so very worrying and dangerous for the middle-classes that I already detect the beginnings of an ochestrated campaign, firstly to blame the working-class for being ignorant and secondly ensure we never have a bout of democracy again where every vote counts. Clearly the working-class simply can't be trusted to soak up the reasoned rhetoric, be thoroughy scared of the dire warnings of all the experts and put the bloody cross in the right box! They can't be trusted to know what's best for them. 

Worryingly, here's a guy I really admire, Owen Jones, being patronising in the Guardian:-

Working-class Britons feel Brexity and betrayed – Labour must win them over

Too many working-class northern Labour voters are being seduced by Vote Leave’s disingenuous campaigning. The party has two weeks to reach them

If Britain crashes out of the European Union in two weeks, it will be off the back of votes cast by discontented working-class people. When Andy Burnham warns that the remain campaign has “been far too much Hampstead and not enough Hull”, he has a point. Even Labour MPs who nervously predict remain will scrape it nationally report their own constituencies will vote for exit. Polling consistently illustrates that the lower down the social ladder you are, the more likely you are to opt for leave. Of those voters YouGov deems middle-class, 52% are voting for remain, and just 32% for leave. Among those classified as working-class, the figures are almost the reverse: 36% for remain, 50% for leave. The people Labour were founded to represent are the most likely to want Britain to abandon the European Union.

When presented with a vote on the status quo, it is no surprise that those with the least stake in it vote to abandon it. The same happened in Scotland’s independence referendum. Threats of economic Armageddon resonate little with people living in communities that feel ignored, marginalised and belittled. “Economic insecurity beckons!” people who live in perpetual economic insecurity are told. A Conservative prime minister lines up with pillars of Britain’s establishment with a message of doom – and it makes millions of people even more determined to stick their fingers up at it.


Finally, it's probably worth reflecting on how the 'Beast of Bolsover' and champion of the working-class, Dennis Skinner MP is going to vote - why Brexit of course.      


  1. Excellent summary. Anyone falling for the "remain" might want to check out the TTIP which is being steamrollered through by the EU. Also bear in mind finace minister Schlauble- the man who insisted Greece must be made an example of- has clearly stated the UK will be joining the euro eventually, whether it likes it or not. Careful what you wish for....

  2. Excellent bit of blogging, JB.

    I've already cast my postal vote; remain, because for me it represents hope there will be checks & balances on future UK govenments. But its fair to counter that with "there haven't been any yet - look at Thatcher, Blair, Cameron." Perhaps I've misled myself? Ultimately I found the tasteless nationalism of the 'brexiteers' unpalatable & couldn't countenance voting with NF, BNP or EDL supporters.

  3. Probation Officer22 June 2016 at 08:14

    This is political propaganda. A vote to Brexit/Leave is a vote for UKIP, the BNP and a Tory dictatorship.

    I wish we were not having this regressive vote. The only vote for working people is to REMAIN IN THE EU. Vote and vote wisely.

    1. Of course it's political propaganda. So is Project Fear, and so is you saying "A vote to Brexit/Leave is a vote for UKIP, the BNP and a Tory dictatorship."

      (I agree with you, by the way, and will be voting Remain tomorrow, but your comment above is arrogantly dismissive of the genuine reasons many people have for voting Leave, just as the articles in Jim's blog have described).

    2. How sad that simply holding & expressing a view - or a range of views - about this referendum is denounced as "political propaganda". Launching the ukip poster was propaganda; standing outside 10 Downing St with an anonymised lectern was propaganda.

      Living through the mendacious, hate-filled campaigning by both sides has been a deeply unpleasant experience. I suspect the seeds of vitriol this campaign has planted in some vulnerable minds will be most regrettable- the recent killing of a member of parliament could be the first example? Regardless of the result we should expect a rise of far right nationalism; perhaps as significant as in the 1980's. The next few years will be bitter, infused with the resentment & anger if whichever 'side' loses the referendum.

    3. "The only vote for working people..." Have you even considered the other side of that argument? Vote wisely, indeed. Inform yourself before you vote.

  4. An excellent piece, although I voted by post some days ago I completely understand both sides of the arguments and have nervousness about whether I have done the right thing!
    There will be a back lash for Cameron , he will go whatever for the sake of party unity and I predict May to be the next PM.
    As for labour , they are riding two horses in the race and will gain credit either way. Stay and they made the difference,go and they are standing up for the disgruntled worker.
    Whatever happens , the Tories have divided the country irrevocably and picking up the pieces will take years.

  5. I am still struggling, my heart says leave, but my head says stay. And I do believe that it will be easier to fight the fight for change from within, rather than be outside with reduced power.

  6. The referendum debate has illustrated how politicians are at ease with telling lies to manipulate opinion. Both sides have engaged in scaremongering and have not allowed facts and evidence to get in the way of ideological aims. There is nothing new in this and we all know how ideology rather than expert evidence drove the TR propaganda. Then, following the killing of an MP there is suddenly a political urge to talk about a cleaner, more decent politics - the need to find consensus and build bridges between opposing views instead of engaging in dog whistle politics. The dogs will soon be barking again.

    According to his former advisor, Cameron is an instinctive leaver. He never expected to get a majority and expected any proposed referendum would be vetoed by the Lib Dems.

    The unions say we must remain because of employment rights, but when you look at the 'flexible' markets and free-for-all, the EU has not offered UK workers much protection, as the millions in insecure employment will testify.
    The EU is neo-liberal as epitomised by its support for TTIP. The TUC argues that one right that may go is the 'right for workers’ representatives to receive information and be consulted, particularly in the context of restructuring.” Well, we currently have this right and a fat lot of difference it's making to the behaviour of Sodexo and Working Links and being in the EU has done nothing for the thousands at BHS who are losing their jobs and are unlikely to get the pensions they expected.

    There are unsavory characters on both sides of the debate and whichever you vote you end up having to wear a nose-peg.

    I think I will abstain.

  7. There are no shortage of repellent characters in both campaigns. But people may want to ask themselves - what outcome would the impovrished people of Greece want? What would the legions of unemployed youth in Spain and Italy want? The masses demonstrating against TTIP across the continent want? The French workers trying to protect their rights? Alternatively, what do the IMF want you to vote? The World Bank? The WTO? The paucity of this debatr has barely touched the real issues.

  8. In today's Guardian by Irvine Welsh

    However we vote, the elites will win the EU referendum

    The debate is essentially a neoliberal argument: which is the better way for citizens to be ripped off, as part of the EU or as an independent UK?

    One of the reasons European integration has stalled is because the EU has adopted this neoliberal model of globalisation, shelving the higher social ideals of a united Europe. These are still wearily trotted out in the grudging rhetoric of a non-taxpaying corporation throwing a Christmas party in an orphanage, and are barely understood by their alleged proponents. With Germany posited as the creditor nation within this model, it is inevitable that its interests will differ from debtor ones, such as the UK and Greece. As integration has floundered, we are stuck with an unelected commission-rather-than-parliament-led EU, anathema for democrats.

    Of course the other, more idealistic side to Europe is evoked in desperate cynicism by remain neoliberal politicians. This, laughably, concerns our “rights”; even as they negotiate with the US to institute TTIP and sign them over to the multinationals. (Rest assured, there will be no referendum on that any time soon!) Yes, the same rights imperialistic UK governments have shown absolutely zero concern with over the past 30 years.

    This nonsense illustrates how, in the age of neoliberalism, that ideology has co-opted all major institutions. After the Greece debacle, it’s hard not to see the EU as just another shady wing of the IMF and the World Bank. But the British government, stripped of the postwar settlement, is now a patchwork quilt of fusty elites, and giving it further dominion over our lives is at least as unwise. The plight of 3,000 refugee children testifies to their contempt for “outsiders”, while Hillsborough reminds us that when our establishment conspires against its own citizens, the bureaucrats of Brussels can’t come close to matching its toxicity.

    The EU referendum is an internecine dispute among the privileged, who use tub-thumping nationalism as a way of convincing others that they hold a stake in this pathetic game. The creeping dog-whistle racism (of antisemitism and Islamophobia) festering in sections of the Labour party, and right at the top of the Conservative party, has undoubtedly been kicked up a notch through its incubation in the xenophobic hothouse of an EU exit campaign.

    One cast-iron guarantee in our polarising age is that this unedifying chauvinism is only going to get uglier. The other certainty is that whether you back red or black in the tawdry, crumbling casino of neoliberalism, and whatever the slimy croupiers of the mainstream media urge, it’s the house that invariably wins.

  9. Remain for me. I don't see immigration as the huge issue it is being made to be although would like some control. Want to be a part of European collaboration but not a federated state. Economically think we are on balance advantaged by being a part of the single market. I have a favourable view of other European countries and think we do have influence that matters. I do believe there is a democratic deficit and in part think that is because we do not understand or engage on a European level. On balance 'remain' but further reform needed.

  10. A useful Blog Summation and apposite Comments - thank you all.

    I had long made up my mind and think Remain is the best option primarily because we need unity between nations to lessen the prospect of armed conflict of which there is far too much already, with millions stateless and living precariously every day.

    I am a little encouraged by the results in the Italian Municipal elections, the folk most at risk seem to be finding something of a political voice, in other places also.

    I was particularly helped by Paul Mason's latest write up in The Guardian and finally amused by the cover of the new Private Eye which seems to clearly understand the new kinder, gentler politics.

    I wish there had been one tenth of the public outpouring when prison officer Lorraine Barwell was murdered at work last year but it seems healthy that folk seem to genuinely care about Jo Cox's murder as a decent representative politician, doing her considerable best.


    This is part of the reason why we are in the mess we are in. This article refers to 'Offender Managers'. No one knows what that means. Today I met a young man for the first time and completed the pile of forms, repeating over and over again his name and date of birth and both of us signing each individual document. I started by saying that throughout this paperwork, he would see me being referred to by various titles, Offender Manager, Supervising Officer, Responsible Officer; but they all mean me. And I am your Probation Officer.

    1. 'Self-harming rise' among prisoners on indefinite sentences

      The rate of self-harm by inmates serving indefinite prison sentences in England and Wales has risen by almost 50% in four years, figures suggest.

      Last year, there were more than 2,500 acts of self-harm by prisoners serving imprisonment for public protection, or IPP, sentences, at a higher rate than among those serving fixed sentences. The Prison Reform Trust said it showed IPP prisoners were in "despair". The Ministry of Justice said it was urgently looking at IPP offenders.

      IPP sentences were scrapped in 2012, but thousands of inmates are still waiting to be released. According to new Ministry of Justice statistics, which were compiled by the Prison Reform Trust, there were 2,537 incidents of self-harm among the population of 4,100 IPP prisoners last year. The figures suggest rates of self-harm among IPP prisoners have gone up significantly every year for the last four years.

      They showed there were 550 incidents of self-harm per 1,000 IPP prisoners last year. That compares with 324 incidents per 1,000 prisoners on determinate sentences and 200 per 1,000 prisoners serving life sentences. Of those still serving IPPs, 3,300 have served more than the minimum sentence they were given, while 400 have served at least five times the minimum sentence they received.