(first published in The Morning Star February 2018)
If Remainers somehow manage to reverse the referendum result, they will have destroyed many Leave voters’ faith in democracy forever, argues CHELLEY RYAN
WHEN people cast a vote in an election or referendum, they don’t just vote with their heads. They vote just as much with their emotions.
But some Remainers are clearly choosing to ignore this fundamental truth in their desperate bid to overturn Brexit.
It’s as if 17.5 million people are just a minor inconvenience, to be swept under the political rug like dirt.
The fact that many Leave voters live in the most deprived areas of Britain and had prior to the referendum given up caring about politics, having felt ignored, let down, taken for granted by the political establishment over many decades is also a factor that’s too often ignored.
“But we are only thinking of them,” I hear Remainers reply. “Research shows they will be the worst affected by Brexit.“
Now if we were talking about children, desperate to play with matches, I’d understand this way of thinking. The child who has the matches confiscated by a caring parent, might feel a bit silly at being caught, a bit ashamed, maybe even angry their fun has been spoilt, but deep down they know their parents love them and are looking out for them and their safety.
Remainers should not expect this response from Leave voters. They will not grovel on the floor in gratitude because they’ve been saved from themselves. They will be angry — furious even. They will feel bitter, resentful, betrayed, disillusioned and vengeful.
As a Corbyn supporter who incessantly battled for two years to protect my democratic choice to vote for the leader I most believed in, I can relate to Leave voters who feel their decision is under threat.
I can relate to how it feels to have people talk down to you, tell you you’re stupid, deluded, naive, irrational, selfish, ignorant and will drag others down because of your choice.
My vote was going to destroy the Labour Party, or so I was told. In the same way Leave voters are being told they are going to destroy Britain.
Except in the same way I felt I had nothing to lose because in my mind the Labour Party was already on the brink of destruction and only real change could save it — Leave voters in the de-industrialised, under-invested parts of Britain grabbed their opportunity to try something radical and different.
The EU didn’t save their secure, decent paying jobs. It didn’t stop their areas falling into decline. To be told now that things will just get worse if they don’t wake up and smell the coffee is hardly inspiring.
When people have lost faith in the status quo, they are willing to take risks. They are willing to throw all the cards in the air to see where they land
When people have lost faith in the status quo, they are willing to take risks. They are willing to throw all the cards in the air to see where they land.
This risk-taking gave us Brexit, Trump, and yes, maybe Corbyn too.
Leave voters will not be grateful to people living in more affluent Remain-voting areas, telling them they need to pick up the cards and put them in the drawer because they’re making a mess.
If Remainers somehow manage to overturn Brexit, they will have destroyed many Leave voters’ faith in democracy forever.
It won’t cut it to patronisingly tell them you are thinking of their best interests, when you have no idea what it’s like to live their lives.
It won’t cut it to tell them they were fooled by some writing on a bus, as if they are children who are still liable to believe in fairy tales.
It won’t cut it to tell them it wasn’t a real vote, when the build-up went on for over a year and the government and main opposition party both pledged to honour the result.
None of these things will cut it. The anger felt will be deep and bitter. The trust in democracy will be shattered. The result will be unforeseen and it won’t be neat and tidy.
Parties and organisations on the far right must be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of such a scenario. An overturned Brexit vote is the stuff of their dreams.
Millions of angry, politically disenfranchised people will be drawn into the arms of parties and organisations who hate immigrants and hate multiculturalism.
They will empathise with the bitter and the angry, and promise vengeance against an arrogant, London-centric establishment.
To those who think I’m exaggerating, I ask you to look back at world history. You rob people of their life chances, then rob them of political agency — expect a backlash.
How great this backlash will be, I don’t know. No-one does. But I fear it will be greater than any of us might imagine.
The Labour leadership understands this. It recognises the psychological and emotional factors at play.
It doesn’t look at Brexit merely as something that might impact on our country economically.
It looks at the way it will impact on it politically and emotionally. And that includes the impact of overturning it. And that is why they are looking to find a compromise that holds our country together.
It might well be a compromise that doesn’t please most Remainers, or most Leavers for that matter. It just won’t leave either camp feeling utterly ignored.
And those on the political far right are watching Labour carefully right now. Because if they slip up, and fail to find this compromise, they are waiting in the wings to capitalise on that failure. And we will all be losers then.