Brexit, the left behind and the let down: the political abstraction of ‘the economy’ and the UK’s EU referendum
- 542 Downloads
UK voters’ decision to overturn the country’s European Union membership has left most parliamentarians looking rather distant from the constituents they represent. The politicians staked much on assuming that people could be persuaded not to sabotage their economic self-interest, but that message conspicuously failed to resonate. When politicians spoke in abstract terms about the needs of ‘the economy’, significant numbers understood this to mean labour market conditions that had personally served them badly. It was commonplace in the immediate aftermath of the referendum to refer to these people as the ‘left behind’. However, they might more usefully be described as the ‘let down’ and, as the 2017 general election results show, they are still a significant if somewhat unpredictable voting constituency. Since the restructuring of the UK economy in line with global competitiveness norms these people have been required to earn their rights as citizens through demonstrating their work readiness. Yet hard work on its own is now no longer sufficient for so many people to receive the rewards promised under the terms of the new social contract. They have been largely abandoned to their fate by the politicians as labour market segmentation has led to a significant expansion of the in-work poor. This constituency voted in large numbers against continued EU membership. This suggests that the referendum result can be seen at least in part as a revolt against the way in which the abstraction of ‘the economy’ has informed UK politics in recent decades. The much lower profile given to this abstraction at the 2017 general election compared to its immediate predecessors indicates that, eighteen months later, on this issue at least we remain in the political rupture caused by the EU referendum result.
KeywordsEU referendum Left behind Let down Globalisation New social contract Credibility
This article was written with financial assistance from an Economic and Social Research Council Professorial Fellowship. The Fellowship—Grant Number ES/K0 10697/1—supports the project, ‘Rethinking the Market’ (www.warwick.ac.uk/rethinkingthemarket). I gratefully acknowledge the ESRC’s ongoing support of my research.
- Bauman, Z. 2005. Work, consumerism and the new poor, 2nd ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press.Google Scholar
- Bauman, Z. 2011. Interview: Zygmunt Bauman on the UK riots. http://www.social-europe.eu/2011/08/interview-zygmunt-bauman-on-the-riots/.
- Bell, T. 2016. The referendum, living standards and inequality. http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/blog/the-referendum-living-standards-and-inequality/.
- Blair, T. 1996. Speech in Southwark Cathedral. London.Google Scholar
- Briggs, D. 2012. Introduction. In The English riots of 2011: A summer of discontent, ed. D. Briggs. Hook: Waterside Press.Google Scholar
- Clarke, S. 2016. Why did we vote to leave? What an analysis of place can tell us about Brexit. http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/blog/why-did-we-vote-to-leave-what-an-analysis-of-place-can-tell-us-about-brexit/.
- Corlett, A. 2016. Examining an elephant: Globalisation and the lower middle class of the rich world. Resolution Foundation Report, September 2016.Google Scholar
- Cooper, Lord. 2016. Interview with BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36865791.
- Curtice, J. 2017. Interview with BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2017-40211261.
- Driver, S. 2008. New Labour and social policy. In Ten years of New Labour, ed. M. Beech, and S. Lee. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
- Finch, D. 2016. Hanging on: The stresses and strains of Britain’s ‘just managing’ families. Resolution Foundation Briefing.Google Scholar
- Finlayson, A. 2003. Making sense of New Labour. London: Lawrence and Wishart.Google Scholar
- Forder, J. 2000. The theory of credibility: Confusions, limitations and dangers. International Papers in Political Economy 7 (2): 1–40.Google Scholar
- Ganesh, J. 2012. George Osborne: the austerity chancellor. London: Biteback.Google Scholar
- Levitas, R. 2005. The inclusive society? Social exclusion and New Labour, 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
- May, T. 2016a. Statement by the Prime Minister. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/statement-from-the-new-prime-minister-theresa-may.
- May, T. 2016b. Speech to Conservative Party Conference, Birmingham. https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/conservative-party/news/79517/read-full-theresa-mays-conservative.
- May, T. 2017. Speech at Lancaster House, London. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-governments-negotiating-objectives-for-exiting-the-eu-pm-speech.
- Neville, S. 2016. UK areas with stagnant wages are most anti-EU. Financial Times, 23 June.Google Scholar
- Nye, R. 2016. What Brexit means for British politics. In 48:52—Healing a divided nation, ed. Legatum Institute/Centre for Social Justice. London: Legatum Institute.Google Scholar
- O’Hara, M. 2015. Austerity Bites: A journey to the sharp end of cuts in the UK. Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
- Osborne, G. 2015a. Policy lecture delivered to the Royal Economic Society. http://press.conservatives.com/post/108155619680/george-osborne-res-lecture.
- Osborne, G. 2015b. Spending review and Autumn statement speech to the House of Commons. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/chancellor-george-osbornes-spending-review-and-autumn-statement-2015-speech.
- Osborne, G. 2016. Budget speech to the House of Commons. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/budget-2016-george-osbornes-speech.
- Skinner, G. 2016. Understanding Brexit. In 48:52—Healing a divided nation, ed. Legatum Institute/Centre for Social Justice. London: Legatum Institute.Google Scholar
- Toynbee, P., and D. Walker. 2015. Cameron’s Coup: How the Tories took Britain to the brink. London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
- Wright, D., and R. Case. 2016. Leave voters felt ignored and left behind as post-Brexit poll reveals extent of economic division across UK. www.jrf.org.uk/press/leave-voters-felt-ignored-and-left-behind-brexit-poll.