The two stand-out social factors accounting for the divisions between ‘Brexiters’ and ‘Remainers’ are (a) age, and (b) education. This has been demonstrated over and over again statistically. In short: the older you were, and the less educated, the more likely you were to vote for Brexit. On the other side, young and well-educated people were – and are – far more likely to be ‘Remainers’.
It’s the second of these demographics which poses a problem for us relatively well-educated Remainers. One obvious inference is that Brexiters – and also Tory voters, incidentally – are ‘thick’. But we can’t say or write that, for fear of being calumniated and dismissed as ‘elitist’. That’s a powerful weapon in the hands of the populist Right. As well as that, however, it may not be fair – quite irrespective of whether or not Brexit was, objectively, a stupid choice.
For the fact is that if we consider the ‘stupid’ as a class of people, there are reasons other than their stupidity for how they voted in 2016 and 2019. The following article spells this out: https://unherd.com/2019/12/brexit-has-exposed-our-education-apartheid-2/. Those with lower levels of education have also had a bum deal in other ways over the past decade or so: with regards to employment, for example; pay; prospects for advancement; their perceived position in society; and their self-confidence, or pride, as a class. Their level of education has been one of the main contributors to this situation, but it’s not the reason behind their voting preferences in itself. Education is a social signifier, as well as an intellectual one. That’s as obvious at the ‘bottom’ of the educational scale, as it is at the Old Etonian ‘top’.
Better education for the ‘bottom’, with more status accorded to it, might help correct this. What the solution for the ‘age’ demographic might be, however, I can’t imagine. Something to make us grumpy oldies feel younger, perhaps. Monkey-glands? Face-lifts? Viagra?
I’ll respond later to your ‘immigration/racism’ point. I think you’ll find we’re not far apart on this!
Across Europe, the US and elsewhere, the rise of the populist-Right has been closely associated with resistance to immigration and racial minorities. Why, Bernard, do you think that the UK has been immune from this phenomenon? Because you refuse to entertain the idea that racism was a major factor in the Leave victory, you are setting aside a major piece of the puzzle when it comes to explaining Brexit. The uncomfortable truth is that low levels of education in the ‘Anglo’ population correlate positively with racial intolerance. And opposition to immigration was the crucial factor explaining the defeat of the Remain campaign.
‘….. polls clearly showed that immigration was one of the most, if not the most, important factor for voters. “Immigration is by far the best issue for the ‘Leave’ campaign,” Freddie Sayers, editor in chief of the polling firm YouGov, wrote. “If the coming referendum were only a decision on immigration, the Leave campaign would win by a landslide.”’
It is certainly true that a form of educational apartheid exists in all the Anglophone countries. However, one of the key pieces of this puzzle has also been omitted in Goodwin’s article: in working-class communities, anti-intellectualism – inherited from parents and reinforced by elements of popular culture – plays a major role in young people’s active and passive resistance to schooling. Writing from the left, Paul Willis in Learning to Labour (1977) clearly sets out how youth in disadvantaged sectors of the UK used their ingenuity to undermine their teachers and the disciplinary system, but in so doing also dramatically reduced the young people’s own life-chances. In other words, the less-educated are not just passive victims of educational apartheid, they are in too many cases active agents in the reproduction of their own disadvantage.
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