Finally – Britain has decided to leave the European Union. Britons have come to their senses and taken the first step towards dismantling a cabal of conmen and crooks. This has been a long time coming – but I am quite surprised it has happened now, and that it has happened in Britain. I have always taken the view that the British are natural conservatives, and that a radical proposal like leaving the European Union was doomed to failure. It seems that even a conservative people like the British can see the EU for exactly what it is: an undemocratic mess that serves only to harm the people it purports to represent.
Even more surprising than the fact that Britain voted to leave is the fact that Jean-Claude Juncker seems to have no intention of subverting the will of the people. Before the French referendum on the proposed European Union constitution, Juncker said, “If it's a Yes, we will say 'on we go', and if it's a No we will say 'we continue’”. And of course, continue they did - rebranding the constitution as the Lisbon Treaty, and implementing it even though it was soundly rejected by the French electorate. Perhaps old Jean-Claude knows that even he is not powerful enough to undo this democratic reckoning.
The problem now lies with the fact that the two main parties have been completely trounced by the people they have been failing for decades. If it weren’t for the First Past the Post system, I suspect we would have seen the death of the main two parties long ago, and the main place in which we have a non-FPTP vote is, ironically, the election for the European Parliament – an election in which UKIP swept to victory on a tide of both anti-EU rage and disdain for the main two parties.
The Labour Party is the guiltiest of all. Since 1997, and possibly before, they have been using their working-class support to implement policies and pursue ideals that the working-class almost unanimously oppose. Since Tony Blair came to power, Labour has said “Thanks for the votes!”, and then done everything to ignore what a huge number of their voters were actually asking for. The discrepancy between the make-up of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the people who vote for it is outrageous – only 10 of Labour’s 218 MPs backed a Brexit, whereas more than a third of their voters did. When Labour won power in 1997, only 13% of Labour MPs were from working-class backgrounds – it isn’t hard to see why Labour has become so resented by many of their traditional voters.
The main two parties are catastrophic failures; no true conservative could vote for the Conservatives, and fewer and fewer labourers have any interest in voting Labour. When Andy Burnham said that the Labour Party is too much Hampstead and not enough Hull, he was right; and I say that as someone who was raised five minutes from Hampstead tube station. For too long, middle-class Londoners like me have dominated the Labour Party’s membership and parliamentary presence. The Brexit revolt is uniquely working-class. The people who have been pummeled and stomped on have given both the main parties a bloody nose – but unusually, it is a bloody nose that could, and should, prove fatal.
The anti-working-class sentiment is beginning to spread already. On social media, nasty comments about how Remain voters were better educated and wealthier than their Leave-voting counterparts are a dog-whistle attack on the working-class as a whole. Not all criticisms of Brexit voters are rooted in classism – there are genuine concerns about the xenophobia that motivated some people to vote Leave, but there are also subtle jabs at the working-class that are just as disturbing as the more overt xenophobia of some of the Outters. It is not only on social media that there is a contempt for the working-class. Many will remember when Emily Thornberry was sacked from the shadow cabinet after tweeting a mocking photo of a house and white van draped in England flags – a sentiment that is quite common among middle class people in positions of power and elsewhere.
So what should happen now? It is quite clear to me that there is an unholy division within both the Labour Party and the Conservatives. They cannot go on any longer. The ‘broad church’ party-system that we currently have breeds contempt and in-fighting, as shown by the mass sacking/resignation of the shadow cabinet today. Both Owen Jones and Peter Hitchens have called for a complete re-organisation of the way that party politics currently works – and they are right to do so. The odd combinations of people like Frank Field and Chuka Umunna in the Labour Party, and David Cameron and Peter Bone in the Conservative Party shows that something has gone desperately wrong. The parties have long been dying, and we can only hope that the Brexit referendum will finally kill them off – although I won’t hold my breath.