Globalists can no longer parade under the banner of international unity while ignoring imbalance at home.
If you’re connected to the U.K.’s professed liberal social media network, there’s a strong chance you’ve read a cacophony of Tweets and Facebook status monologues condemning the outcome of the U.K. referendum.
For many in the Remain camp—hailing from London, its suburban corridors and university towns—the June 23 vote to leave the European Union was an apparent victory for “the racists, the ignorant and the uneducated.”
But in their blind outrage many have revealed their very own insularity. There is a failure to understand how different economic, political and social narratives can precipitate alternate belief systems—ones that feel fearful of immigration, subordinated by multiculturalism and disadvantaged by international trade.
If Britain’s avowed progressives are to truly challenge the salience of xenophobic, nationalist and anti-expert rhetoric, they need to first digest that globalism is not a value everyone can afford to espouse, nor is it just unique to Remain voters.
The snapshot analysis of the 17.4 million who voted Leave—the elderly, lesser educated and lower income individuals—offered scapegoats for a result truly cast by the entirety of British society, and borne in the nation’s disparate economic and cultural experiences of globalization.
Inequality and Inequity
Over the past decades, Britain has undergone one of the largest de-industrializations of any major nation. Manufacturing output shrank from over 30 percent of economic output in the 1970s, to nearer 10 percent today, as shifting global trade patterns and technological productivity transformed the nation into a service-orientated society.
Industrial, coastal and agricultural Britain languished in obsolescence, as financial, commerce, research and cultural hubs blossomed into wealthy, tolerant and cosmopolitan havens. And by the late 2000s, income inequality among Britain’s working-age population had risen faster than in any other high-income nation since 1975, according an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study in 2011.
Riding high on Britain's deregulated globalized capitalist system a professional, political and media elite captured the zeitgeist of individualism and a largely feckless working class, caricatured as the “Chav”—a British pejorative used to describe the young lower class.
And, with the post-financial crisis age of austerity, influx of eastern European migrants and the images of last year’s ‘migrant’ crisis on the continent, which disproportionately threatened the less affluent, animosities grew in a largely unequal and upwardly immobile society.
“Many people have grown tired of waiting for the benefits of a vastly interconnected world to trickle down,” wrote Reva Goujon, a global strategic analyst at the Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor, in a company report. “As the world whizzes by them, their wages remain flat and jobs become scarcer.”
It is little surprise then that large majorities who considered multiculturalism, globalization and immigration as forces for good voted to remain in the European Union; while those who felt they were ills voted by greater majorities to leave, according the Lord Ashcroft Poll of over 12,000 voters—globalism dichotomized the nation.
The inconvenient truth for many Remainers is that they benefited most from the post-industrial status-quo, and therefore had the most reason to protect it. While Leavers voted symbolically against a system that did not work for them—and not to frivolously spite liberal principles, as social media feeds may suggest.
Promises to “take back control” from foreign interests and reduce immigration were bound to foment eurosceptic appeal among the disenfranchised and economically excluded millions. And it's a damning harbinger for the U.S., with an equally torn narrative over trade and immigration.
Unless British society can overcome its vogue for mindless virtue signaling, ridiculing and vilifying those who do not effuse liberal values, nuance—like the logic of experts—will forever fall on deaf ears. And, its exclusionary impact will continue to strengthen the appeal of simplistic xenophobic explanations.
Because calling someone a racist, or stupid, is not a policy prescription. It does nothing to tackle the roots of racism, fascism or nationalism, or offer a path for inclusive prosperity. And too many feel its is enough to make a spectacle of globalism and liberal values without actually acting to ensure they can be universally adopted.
A truly progressive form of liberalism in Britain must rather decentralize economic power, devolve politics, fight inequality and elitism, bridge the North-South divide and raise British expenditure on investment.
It must also pragmatically engage with alternate narratives, to avoid a continued destabilizing polarity in British politics—in which the far left and right amplify in reaction to one another—and to regain the middle ground. That challenge is clearly harder now that some see Brexit as a vindication for racism.
The Remain camp must see its own culpability in failing to convince swathes of moderates. In fact, some now emerging, liberal, Leave voters, justify their vote by saying greater constitutional autonomy is paramount in addressing Britain’s long ignored socio-economic fissures.
And so, among the multiple introspective questions Brexit should impel upon militant Remainers, its greatest may be to the in-denial leaders in Brussels themselves. How can an effective political, monetary, and eventually, fiscal, supra-national union of over 500 million people be achieved when nation states are not only disparate to each other, but also, within themselves?
It is this fallacy—carried by a somewhat privileged ignorance—that we all have the same agency and all stand to benefit equally from globalism, that has led to Brexit and an unravelling of the European project. We cannot continue to parade under the banner of international unity, without addressing imbalance at home.