Professional and social elites are more likely to oppose Brexit for narrow personal reasons – which makes them bad citizens
James Delingpole writes in the Spectator that the real dividing line when predicting someone’s position on Brexit is where they fall on the posh / oik spectrum:
If you need to know how properly posh you are there’s a very simple test: are you pro- or anti-Brexit?
[..] So there I was at dinner the other evening with a delightful, erudite Old Etonian friend of mine. Let us call him ‘Kevin’ (not his real name). Kevin has an accent so deliciously plummy that if you could somehow tin it and sell it to the Chinese you’d become a billionaire. He is immensely cultured, civilised, wise and sensitive. I agree with him on everything, so naturally, when I asked him his views on Brexit and he launched into his eloquent diatribe on why he believed — and long had done — that the EU was the Abomination of Desolation, I listened in a state of near-ecstasy.
Kevin’s beautifully modulated speech went on for at least ten minutes. (There was hardly a shortage of material.) Then, suddenly, something weird happened. About 30 seconds before the end, Kevin shifted tack, and explained (or actually, hardly explained at all) that for all these reasons the only logical position was for Britain to remain in EU. Something to do with Europe being a lovely place and our having a moral duty to help it set the tone, I think.
And goes on to draw a interesting parallel with the Thatcher era:
What does all this tell us about snobbery and Tory politics? Quite a depressing bit, I’ve begun to realise. You can see much the same sort of thing going on in the Thatcher era. Who were her greatest loyalists, the ones most in tune with her radical programme? Why, they were grammar-school types with slightly suspect accents, such as Robin Harris and Norman Tebbit — not the plummy-voiced grandees such as Heseltine et al, who were the ones who eventually did for her.
This is also true, I think, of the upper social echelons’ attitude towards Nigel Farage. It’s not that they disagree with much of what he says: how could they, when he’s so refreshingly candid and reactionary and un-PC? But they’ve persuaded themselves that, like Ukip, he’s just a bit too spivvy and downmarket to deserve their open affiliation. This enables them to have their cake and eat it: privately enjoying his every home truth but never being tainted by that awkward, embarrassed feeling which tends to accompany frankly expressed views on matters like immigration.
Delingpole sees this as an elitism thing: the closer you are to the establishment or to the top of your field or profession, the more likely to are to have vested in the current order of things and the more likely you are to sense Brexit (sometimes justifiably) as a threat to your current position.
I think that this probably holds true in all manner of fields, from education (How many university Vice Chancellors are brave enough to bite the hand that feeds them recycled British taxpayer money?) to the arts (for the same reason) to the world of business, which understandably cares a lot about economic stability and not so much about democracy.
But this blog maintains that one’s stance on the EU referendum is also determined by whether you consider yourself a citizen or a consumer first and foremost. As Delingpole’s anecdote makes clear, many of the European Union’s biggest advocates within the British establishment freely concede and attack its antidemocratic nature, but still refuse to countenance leaving the club. They are unable take this logical step because they are thinking with their wallets and their social reputation in mind, rather than the good of the country.
By contrast, someone at the sharp end of globalisation – who has experienced the negative aspects of free trade and free movement of people on their employment, living standards and public services far more than the person living in Mayfair – is more likely to vote on the kind of issues that a thinking citizen should vote on, because they are much more likely to be directly touched by those issues.
As this blog recently noted:
If you have grown up and prospered under the status quo, with Britain as a vassal state of a larger and ever-more tightly integrating political union, then it takes an extraordinary amount of curiosity, empathy or insight to come to any conclusion other than that the EU has been a resounding success on all counts. By contrast, if you are self-employed or work in a semi-skilled or unskilled job at the sharp end of globalisation, you are more likely to be negatively impacted not just by immigration, but by the inability of your vote to effect any kind of meaningful political change in Britain thanks to the cross-party pro-EU consensus.
[..] It is those who think primarily with their wallets, as consumers first and foremost, who are most likely to be susceptible to the Remain campaign’s Project Fear and scaremongering tactics about the hysterically hyped “costs” of leaving the European Union, while those who think as engaged citizens and global stakeholders who are most likely to question the European project.
That doesn’t mean that the Oik (in Delingpole’s parlance) is not also often voting for his or her self interest. They may well want to see Brexit as part of a broader package of counterproductice protectionist measures, which would inevitably do Britain more harm than good. But regardless of their personal motivation, they are more likely to discuss the issue of Brexit in terms of policy and of democracy. The oiks thus often act like a better, more engaged citizens than the elitists who lazily support the Remain camp to virtue-signal their distaste at UKIP while overlooking the democratic question.
As for myself, I enjoyed the delights of a state education, worked to get myself into Oxbridge, but then left Cambridge University and went to Warwick. I suppose all of that places me firmly in the “Oik” category, a position I shall hold with even more pride now that it is also a marker for principled euroscepticism.
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