Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2510

Brexit vote was a revolt against the rich

This article is over 7 years, 10 months old
Issue 2510
B&Q workers forced to listen to David Cameron make the case for the EU
B&Q workers forced to listen to David Cameron make the case for the EU (Pic: Flickr/Number 10)

The central feature of the referendum result was a revolt against the establishment. People who are generally forgotten, ignored or sneered at delivered a stunning blow against the people at the top of society.

The reasons for that rebellion are contradictory, but that does not change the essential character of what has taken place.

Labour MP Diane Abbott was right to say it was a “roar of defiance against the Westminster elite”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “One clear message from last Thursday’s vote is that millions of people feel shut out of a political and economic system that has let them down.”

Labour left group Momentum, which backed Remain, said, “Much of this vote reflected anger in communities which have experienced many years of industrial decline with the subsequent loss of secure employment.

“Many such working class communities have been utterly neglected for years by those in power”.

The establishment demanded a Remain vote - and didnt get it

The establishment demanded a Remain vote – and didn’t get it (Pic: Flickr/Duncan C)

Remain had the support of the Tories, Labour, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Lib Dems, the Greens and Sinn Fein.

Practically every bosses’ organisation and international finance body, thousands of “top executives” and the leaders of dozens of states, including the US, backed Remain.

Yet 52 percent of people voting backed Leave.


There was a strong class element. A detailed poll by Lord Ashcroft showed the AB social group (professionals, managers, lecturers and teachers) were the only social group where a majority, 57 percent, voted to Remain.

C1s (most white collar workers) divided fairly evenly. But nearly two thirds of C2s (skilled manual workers) Ds (other manual workers) and Es (pensioners, unemployed, people on benefits) voted Leave.

Around two thirds of council and housing association tenants voted to leave.

The Daily Mirror newspaper’s analysis showed that the areas voting Leave had an average weekly wage of £410.47 compared with £459.52 for Remain.

Some people voiced their anger against the system in a racist way, scapegoating immigrants and refugees. This was undoubtedly a factor.

Ukip took 3.8 million votes at the general election just over a year ago. And the mainstream Leave campaign was headed by racists and horrible right wing forces.

But it doesn’t explain the vote, and it is a terrible mistake to see all Leave voters as racists.

There is an insurgent feeling with a strong anti-elitist element at the base of society. Socialists and anti-racists need to direct and shape this, not sniffily condemn it.

The sense of a revolt against the establishment penetrated even the bosses’ heads. Nigel Wilson, chief executive of Legal & General, said the electorate was “fed up of the rich and the elite shouting at them, telling them how to vote”.

Sir Richard Lambert, former Financial Times editor, said, “This vote represents in part the frustration of those who have not benefited from economic growth in recent decades.”

Jean-Pierre Mustier of the asset management group Tikehau said, “This is a massive repudiation by the electorate of the near unanimous view of our economic/financial/business elites.”

At Downing Street last Friday

At Downing Street last Friday (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Other factors mattered.

A majority of young people voted Remain, over-45s voted Leave.

People with university degrees voted Remain, those whose formal education ended at secondary school or earlier voted Leave by a large majority.


London was the only region to vote for Remain, although even in the capital over 1.5 million people voted Leave.

Every other English region backed Leave—by 58 percent in Yorkshire and Humberside, 54 percent in the North West, 59 percent in the West Midlands and the East Midlands, and more than 50 percent in both the South East and South West.

Wales voted by 53 percent for Leave, Scotland voted by 62 percent for Remain.

Just as in many other parts of the world, there is a revolt going on against the people at the top of society.

It can be dragged left or right.

The deep pools of bitterness and frustration across Britain fuelled the Leave vote.

There is a particularly marked association between areas blighted by 30 years of desolation after Thatcherism and a Leave vote.

Almost 70 percent of people in Doncaster voted Leave, and 57 percent in the steel and former mining area of Neath Port Talbot also voted Leave.

In Hartlepool 70 percent voted Leave along with 61 percent in Sunderland.

This revolt against the rich and powerful must be built on.

Scotland could vote again

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon (Pic: Flickr/Scottish Government)

The referendum result has opened up the possibility of another vote on Scottish independence.

Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon has said such a move is “highly likely”.

Sturgeon said that it was “democratically unacceptable” that Scotland voted to Remain but could now be forced to leave the EU.

There is no timetable for another referendum, but Sturgeon is consolidating her position.

Her problem is she has no power to hold “indyref2” without Westminster consent.

Similarly her claim that the Scottish parliament could block Brexit by not giving its consent is no more than symbolic. Westminster can override Holyrood.

But although the British parliament can get its way, it could come at a huge political cost—momentum is with the independence supporters.

The Labour Party in Scotland is now actively considering supporting another referendum, the only sensible move if it is to revive its fortunes, as are the Lib Dems.

But Scotland’s sole Labour MP, Ian Murray, has done nothing to convince disillusioned members and voters the party has changed.

Instead he has supported attempts to depose Jeremy Corbyn.

Even the Daily Record newspaper has backed a second referendum.

Less than two years ago it carried the infamous “vow” on its front page urging Scots to stay with the union.

Socialist Worker supports the breakup of the British state but we don’t share Sturgeon’s “passionate belief” in the EU bosses’ club.

That’s why we say yes to independence, no to the EU.

Labour pains

It is a tragedy that Labour did not back Leave. If it had done so it would have transformed the debate.

There would be more discussion about democracy, breaking from austerity and resisting corporate control and less about racism.

Instead, by campaigning alongside the Tories for Remain, some Labour MPs have cut themselves off from substantial sections of workers.

A substantial section of those who voted Remain felt it was the best way to push back the racism of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

Others were persuaded that the EU stands for workers’ rights and that a Leave vote would strengthen vile right wing forces.

Socialist Worker disagreed, but we are united with those forces against austerity and racism.

Leave victory has boosted radical left across Europe

Stathis Kouvelakis speaking at last years Marxism Festival

Stathis Kouvelakis speaking at last year’s Marxism Festival (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The Leave vote has given confidence to socialists in Portugal fighting the EU’s neoliberal demands.

Left Bloc leader Catarina Martins said, “If the European Commission undertakes the grave measure to apply sanctions on Portugal the European Commission declares war against Portugal.

“If that happens Portugal can only answer by saying no to the sanctions and announcing it is willing to hold a referendum to take a stand against the blackmailing.”

She urged the left to oppose the EU to cut across Nigel Farage, French fascist Marine Le Pen and racist forces.

The Left Bloc had earlier held an opening rally for its national convention where several speakers celebrated the Leave vote.

Eric Toussaint from Belgium is a long-time campaigner against the imposition of debt on the global South. He said Leave had “made me wake up in the best of moods”.

“It is a rejection of the neoliberal EU and shows that it can be defeated and lays the basis for future exits around Europe on a radical left basis,” he said.

Zoe Konstantopoulou is former Syriza president of the Greek parliament. She compared the Leave vote to the Oxi (“No”) referendum a year ago that rejected an EU austerity deal.

“This is a day that proves that people write history,” she said. “A day that proves that people are more courageous than their leaders.”

In an interview with Mediapart Stathis Kouvelakis, previously a member of the central committee of Syriza, said he celebrated the Leave vote.

He said the vote could be “confiscated by the right wing and xenophobic forces”. But it could also be “an opportunity for the progressive forces in the struggle against the neoliberal and authoritarian Europe”.

Kouvelakis added, “In February 2015 during a meeting in London to celebrate the victory of our party in Greece, Jeremy Corbyn came to talk to me. He said, ‘Do you have a plan B? Because the EU will crush you, starting with attacking your banking system’.”

Chickens home to roost

Brid Smith TD

Brid Smith TD

The People Before Profit Alliance in Ireland welcomed the Leave vote as “chickens coming home to roost for corporate and increasingly undemocratic Europe”.

Brid Smith MP said, “This vote should be seen as an opportunity for an alternative Europe. I welcome this blow to the EU project.

“The EU has never been about a workers’ Europe. Its recent treatment of Greece and Ireland shows its primary concern is not the welfare of citizens or refugees but the welfare of the banks and the bond holders.”

Gerry Carroll is a member of the Northern Ireland assembly. He said, “There are ‘reasons to be cheerful’ about the outcome. David Cameron—one of Europe’s biggest austerity mongers—is gone.

“The British establishment, from top to bottom is in turmoil, and Britain may well be facing its biggest constitutional crisis for a century or more.

“The Tory party, which seemed to be in a position of unquestionable strength just months ago, is split. And the neoliberal project of the EU is in a deep crisis.”

Eamonn McCann, also a member of the Northern Ireland assembly, said, “There is no need for the pessimism and near panic which seems to have descended on many.

“There is no inevitable outcome here. It’s all to be fought for. We repeat the slogan we put forward during the referendum–In or Out, the fight goes on.”

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance