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The Disenchanted Brexit

In the ocean of Brexit analysis, here is my drop. I am going to oversimplify and stereotype and generalise all at once by saying the very obvious thing: Britain doing what Nigel Farage and Rupert Murdoch and Boris Johnson wanted isn’t just about an anti-immigration xenophobia agenda, although it is related to that. No, the Brexit is a symptom of the mass anxiety felt by the people who were once considered the working class, and are now not sure what they are except anxious and scared all the time.

These are the people who feel left behind by globalisation, over-priced, not able to compete, not sure what their futures hold, wishing they could go back to the safe-old-days when they had jobs in manufacturing and coal mines and could work in the same company for 40 years and retire on a comfortable pension. This is what Brexit is about. Such anxiety and fear is very easy to stoke because it’s there, living inside people, all the time. Casualized jobs. No job security. Offshoring of manufacturing. A hollowing out of social services which used to catch people from falling. And a government who constantly tells them their anxiety is all their fault. If they can’t make-good in a capitalist, free market, globalised world, they’re told, the problem is with them. Not the government who refuses to implement policies which ensure the wealth created by globalization is shared fairly and equally amongst everyone who contributes. No, the problem is with those losing out, whose wages haven’t grown at the same rate as the profits, who feel a deep-seated resentment towards ‘the system’ which has left them behind. It’s no wonder they’re resentful.

This anxiety and fear is also very easy to transfer onto easy targets. To some, the villain is symbolised by free trade agreements, fears of world government and unelected EU officials. To others, and I would suggest many, this anxiety is encapsulated by immigration; the faces of the newly-arrived families in their towns are representative of their loss of confidence, of the death of the good old days, the end of the stable, comfortable Britain they grew up in. No matter whether life was better back then or not (and for most, it wasn’t), when resentful, anxious and fearful people see their communities becoming increasingly multi-cultural, it’s incredibly easy to blame those who don’t look like them for every problem they perceive as being caused by a globalised world. So they want these people gone. They think with them gone their anxiety will subside. They’re wrong. The real villains aren’t the immigrants next door. The real villain is an economic system which advantages the rich at the expense of the poor.

Frustratingly, bitterness and resentment make people vulnerable to fear campaigns. What Murdoch, Farage and Johnson didn’t mention was that the Brexit is predicted to make the UK’s economic situation worse by reducing the value of the Pound, thereby decreasing savings, cutting the value of pensions and possibly causing a deep recession and massive job losses. I’m sad for the UK today because I think they’ve made a bad decision. I’m sad for those who voted not to leave, and for those who wanted out. I don’t think anyone wins from this situation and everyone will likely live to regret it.

But this is not the UK’s problem alone. The same resentment, fear and anxiety account in large part for Trump’s popularity. Trump is also promising to tear up free-trade deals, to put up tariffs and to not just metaphorically, but literally build a wall to keep immigration and globalisation out.

The same phenomenon accounts for working-class, manufacturing towns like Whyalla in South Australia madly swinging their vote behind the pox-on-both-the-major-parties local Xenophon candidate. They feel the system has let them down; they don’t trust either Labor or Liberal to fix it, and somehow they think an outsider, anyone else, something else, will.

But how do you ‘fix’ globalisation? You can’t unscramble an egg. You can’t go back in time, and by the way back in time our living standards were worse, but of course everyone remembers the best bits of the past. If people feel left behind by a changing world, the only answer is to support policies which reduce inequality, to ensure globalisation’s spoils aren’t massively disproportionally shared only with the rich.

Bill Shorten this afternoon said the Brexit result proves that Australia needs inclusive growth in order to avoid the type of disenfranchisement experienced in the UK. Inclusive growth means policies such as Labor’s investment in education, healthcare, a social safety net and infrastructure spending to make Australia competitive with the world economy. Did I mention there’s an election next week? Let’s make a smarter choice than the UK.


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  1. Jack Russell

    Yes … Sherriff of Nottingham, or Robin Hood?

    Not saying that lightly either. Even 5-year old kids know the implication of that question, and the correct answer.

  2. Clean livin

    It might not be next week, but it will be coming…..

    The Chipp led democrats, the Greens, the Indipendents, and now NXT.

    All increasingly bleeding votes from the major parties.

    Until our so called “elected representatives” of the major parties actually represent their constituents, their numbers will continue to decline, and democracy diminish!

    And the sooner the better!

    Next week could see a start of t his movement in BOTH houses.

  3. The AIM Network

    Too good not to pass on. By Richard O’Brien (from his Facebook page):

    So the nation that invaded and colonised Aden, Anguilla, Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Basutoland, Bechuanaland, Bermuda, British East Africa, British Cameroons, British Guiana, British Honduras, British Somaliland, Brunei, Canada, Cayman Islands, Ceylon, Cook Islands, Cyprus, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Gambia, Gibraltar, Gold Coast, Grenada, Hong Kong, China, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaya, Maldive Islands, Malta, Mauritius, Montserrat, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Nigeria, North Borneo, Nyasaland, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Rhodesia, Sarawak, St Helena, St Lucia, St Vincent, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, South West Africa, Sudan, Tanganyika, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Trucial Oman, Turks and Caicos Islands, Uganda and Zanzibar has voted to leave the EU, potentially sparking a global financial crisis, because they thought their sovereignty was under threat.

  4. nurses1968

    Clean Living
    I want to be around for this “It might not be next week, but it will be coming…..

    The Chipp led democrats”
    I REALLY want to be around for this! It would have all the happy clappers Hallelulahing all day
    Chipp died 10 years ago

  5. Matters Not

    AIMN network, you might also want to look at all the ‘ethnic groups’ that historically ‘made up’ the current British citizen.

    A real ‘mongrel’ mixture. (But don’t tell anyone. Don’t let them become informed. Let them dream on.)

  6. paul walter

    There seems an overwhelming consensus amongst reasonable people that Brexit is a long pent-up protest that has been building since Thatcher, through the Meltdown and Cameron’s Austerity where the poor paid the casino debt, to now.

    And of course it is not surprising that the Leavers are astroturfed, as was the infant USTeaParty by the Kochs and turned into a vehicle for populist conservatism.. these moved into a vaccuuum vacated by a timid Brit Labour Party terrified of Murdoch and City of London high finance hub.

  7. Kevin Brewer

    The Guardian had a nice map showing where it all happened. I think Victoria should add a few lines in tribute to the poor quality of British democracy, and the very poor quality to their political leadership, not only in this, but for the last 50 years. The political establishments on all Anglophone countries got suckered into neo-con economics, shedding their responsibilities and the role of the state faster than a flowering peach sheds petals in a springtime gale. This is a decline and fall event, the recognition at last of the end of Empire. They simply don’t like the answers to unasked questions they are being fed. Murdoch etc can take little comfort from the result because one day not too far away people will realise the con and roll out the tumbrils for him and his kind. As for Trump, he is a symptom of the failure of America to recognise that fact. As is Abbott and Turnbull.

  8. mark delmege

    Many reasons no doubt but …
    I agree in part but I think you contradict yourself – more later on that. I reckon the immigration fear was what pushed the numbers up sufficiently to Brexit – this to me is blow back – un expected consequences of the (empire) waging of war in Libya – a once wealth developed country and also in Syria. Two countries destroyed by the Atlantic Alliance partners that have led to a waves to refugees into Europe and fear on the home front across Europe and Britain. (back to the footy)

  9. Kevin Brewer


    If you click on the map you can see the disparities between constituencies, this is a tribute to democracy in style. I first noticed after the 2010 election where the Islands in Scotland with 22000 voters had the same pull as those in constituencies with 100000. Its called gerrymander, usually, but the brits don’t seem to notice. It is noticeable that the big cities all wanted to remain.

  10. Annie B

    @ Victoria – – – –

    “and by the way back in time our living standards were worse, but of course everyone remembers the best bits of the past.

    Surely you realise Victoria, that you cannot compare 2016 with 1955 ( or thereabouts ). If you are talking about living standards as being a safe and secure environment – then the ‘best bits of the past’ way out-weighs todays’ horrid and constantly worsening mess of crime, corruption and wholesale fear.

    However, if you are talking about medical miracles, technological advances, technology in general, instant communication, prettily wrapped food products ( from who knows where ) and the fast pace of living today ( if that is desirable ??? ) plastic money and all that … then 2016 beats the 50’s, hands down. But – is that really desirable ? …. I think perhaps not – not to the degree as it is seen operating today. Safety and security, and peace of mind is far more important, and there has to be some marrying up of todays advancements, and yesterdays peace of mind.

    How is that going to happen ?

    Would have to ask, wouldn’t everyone prefer to feel safe and secure in their own homes; to have the ownership of a home that does not have massive mortgage attached to it – [ “because that is the way it is today – suck it up – we want, we must have” ]…. and repeat – feel safe and secure in their own homes, their own streets, their own shopping areas and public transport etc. ?? ,,,, I rather think so.

    So many lemmings these days. ….

    While I agree with a lot of your article, I cannot agree with it all. … but will not go any further.

    None-the-less, it is a damned good article.


  11. Annie B

    Someone in the moderator classification on AIM Network, listed a whole heap of countries who were ‘invaded’ by the British. Much of that information dates back to centuries ago, when Britain was ” a country to be reckoned with ” – riding high on the mighty seas, to find areas of land they could lay claim to. The Yanks ( a mish-mash of European and other ethnic seekers of fortune ) fought them viciously over it…… We all know that story….. Britain also ‘took over by fair or foul means’ because that is how it was in those days. A lot of ‘power-filled’ countries, Britain included, were little better then, than savages themselves.

    However, does that not resonate with something going on in this day and age ? …….

    Look east across the Pacific to the lauded ( becoming rapidly un-lauded ) U.S of A. Who, ( with the help of massive technological advances and super-duper war machines of which they are immensely proud, ‘invade’ countries on a whim – or on a blatant lie ( any lie will do ), or wherever they deem to be advantageous to them. Meantime, they employ ‘allied’ countries to do their dirty work for them. And they continue to use propaganda, stand-over tactics, promises of ‘better things to come’ and always – the eternal “we will always support you” mantra to their ‘allies’. ….. Betchya anything you like, if the shite ever hits the global fan big time – the first out of the rucus will be the U.S. of A.

    Possible they could claim their ever-diminishing control over their own country, and perhaps ( one can only hope ) a reduction in their much worshipped military and guns. “We can’t afford it” ….

    Sure, Britain did way back when, much the same as the U.S. is doing today. Conning, offering, taking over, promising. Australia was invaded, but was to all intents and purposes, a non-productive wild uninhabited arid land, and a place to plonk prisoners who overcrowded British prisons. They did not consider the indigenous peoples of our country to be anything much more than savages, even if that. Similar to the attitude the accumulated States of America did, about THEIR indigenous peoples – the American Native Indian. Slightly different scenarios, but the result was the same.

    Britain has stood up for Britain in this Brexit referendum. They have shown ‘people power’ … which is a subject much written about here ( and elsewhere ) over months / years. So – good for them. The analysis of this situation however, is complex. ….

    And rather than be ‘doomsday’ soothsayers, with claims of overall global financial ruin being a possibility, let the people of the world figure it out for themselves … they always have, they always will.

    Personally, I think ( and I must admit, hope ? ) the downdraft on monetary considerations across the world, is as transitory as many others have been recently. Gloom and doom is often predicted on financial considerations, only to find a ‘surprising’ lift to markets. It will be many moons before a true bull and bear market shows its’ face again. Todays’ markets are made up of profit takers, and bargain hunters, aided by the rapidity of buying and selling, because of instant internet trading.

    However, just a few more words – – – “watch the gold”

    ……….. Cheers ………

  12. philgorman2014

    Thank you for an excellent article. A world dominated by the likes of Donald trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Naredra Modi, Marine LePen and Boris Johnson will see a return to the good old days; the good old days of the 1930’s.

  13. Terry2

    Not unexpectedly Malcolm Turnbull had two speeches prepared for whatever happened with BREXIT, they both said that this was not a time for change in Australia and anything other than a vote for the coalition was a vote for chaos.

  14. Jaquix

    Bill Shorten is right. (Your last para). Stemming the rise of inequality is the way to go.

  15. Florence nee Fedup

    Most if all the countries invaded by Britain were left worse off. Many of their problems they endure today come from being colonised.

  16. FightClubber

    I fail to understand all the hand wringing about the UKs decision to leave the EU. It is far too early to claim it is or will be detrimental to the populace. It would take years if not decades to determine. Right now it is only conjecture based on a narrow selection of areas such as trade and finance etc.

    Not being a citizen of the UK and having never visited, my understanding of their situation is of course, very limited.

    One aspect I would consider as a positive is that the populace can more easily hold their political leaders to account. The future prime ministers and members of parliament will not be able to claim (hide behind) that something is out of their control because of the EU rules.

    The voters will now be better able to see who truly represents their interests and act accordingly. I think the average person in the UK has just seen a reduction in the size of the beast that needs slaying. I just hope in time that they come to realise that it is not the poor and indigent that are the cause of their problems.

  17. keerti

    Much ado about nothing! At this point nothing has changed regarding Britains relationship with the rest of the EU. As time goes on the bureuxcrats will tell the polititians what to do and say. A deal will be made that allows trade to continue in much the same way as now, workers to work in Britain or the “new” eu and the only difference will be that borders will be more controlled. In the meantime the players on the markets are rubbing their hands with glee as they anticipate profits in the days to come. Sensationalist reports of billions wiped of the markets are just that. The markets will be back to the same levels within days or at most weeks. It does point out the problem of democrasy: In Britain 1 million people (the difference between the yes and no vote) causes so much drama! there must be a better way than this ridiculous winner takes all. Consensus might be a better option.

  18. Jexpat

    So, on the one hand Ms. Rollison engages in weak kneed apologetics for “globalisation,” at the heart of which are corporate racketeering and extortion arrangements masquerading as “trade” agreements -and in the next instance, claims to decry an economic system that favors the rich over the poor (which of course is the essence and inevitable outcome of “globalisation” and other neoliberal dogma).

    This sort of thing is why many people no longer trust Labor and its stalwarts: they speak with forked tongues.

  19. jimhaz

    The problem I have with what could be a win for the people over the longer term, is the nature of those running the exit campaign. Libertarian types like Boris can make hard task masters.

    I don’t know if these would have occurred regardless, but these workers rights for Britain were stated as being the result of the EU.

    “The EU has introduced many directives which undoubtedly help British workers and protect our rights.
    These include:
    – Regulated working hours and break times, so people cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours a week
    – At least four weeks of guaranteed annual leave
    – Four months paid parental leave and extra protections for pregnant workers
    – Anti-discrimination laws, so people cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of race, ethnicity, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation.
    – Protection for workers when companies change ownership”

    In any case I wish them luck, any rising up against arrogant careless capitalism and the destabilisation of excessive immigration is a good thing in my book. Occupy had little effect, but at some point one of these events will result in real changes such as less casualisation, lower immigration or fairer distribution through taxation.

    Asia is a danger to the working class, on top of existing neo-con disadvantages. The rich cohort of Asia now have more wealth than the rich of Nth America. Their treatment of employees needs to be steered into more humane and fair employment principles, not we be forced to regress to theirs, no matter that the profit disadvantage may make the power base in the Asian region even more wealth dominant. There is so much domestic growth capacity there that they will be assured of becoming very dominant in any case. We need a better base level for workers to be in place.

  20. Jexpat


    Yanis Varoufakis (now of the Democracy in Europe Movement DiEM25) notes that the Greek government’s recent surrender to punitive EU austerity made it hard to convince the British working class that their rights were protected by Brussels.

  21. Keitha Granville

    Unscrambling eggs, no way can it be done – I am constantly irritated by politicians of all persuasions in many countries who harp on the failures of the predecessors/ the great things they did 10 years ago/ how fab it’s going to be in 5 years. How about not doing that ? How about working out what to do NOW ? How to live in the NOW ?
    Not going to happen, no-one seems to have enough good ideas any more, they’re too busy trying to work out how to get elected or stay elected. The rest of us can just go jump . . . .

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