When announcing the European Union referendum, David Cameron must have been feeling quite smug. The proposed vote would serve one purpose – to effortlessly eradicate UKIP and smother the future prospects of the British hard right. He won’t be feeling this way now, however, having seen the damage that June’s leave vote has done to both his party, and to the national and international political landscapes. The European referendum has completely backfired for the now former Prime Minister. The EU debate was not solely one of questioning the UK’s place in the EU. It questioned the entire British political programme.
Cameron’s successor, the formidable Theresa May, now has serious issues to sort out if she wishes to sparkle as British premier. Her priorities are now becoming obvious, as she is the one who must successfully wipe away Cameron’s mess. The new British Prime Minister is adamant that Brexit will be a triumph, re-energising the nation’s trade links, bolstering UK diplomacy, and ensuring that Britain’s place in the world remains one which is robust.
How easy these tasks end up being remains to be seen. With increased hostility not only from many European nations, but also coming from spectating nations like China and the USA, Britain’s foreign policy rejuvenation will require herculean efforts from Mrs May and from the rest of her frontbench. Rapprochement in the wake of such a dramatic withdrawal from the EU, and indeed the global political sphere, will take white hot intelligence and wise, tactical gameplay.
Many of those who cast their votes in favour of the Leave campaign truly believed in avoiding the bureaucracy of the EU, and in returning to ultimately British sovereignty. It is clear, however, that many wholly slammed the British Establishment, using the EU vote as a harsh retort towards the seemingly out-of-touch political class.
Areas such as Boston in Lincolnshire, and Great Yarmouth in East Anglia contained the highest proportions of Brexit voters, and both of common features. They are communities each with low levels of attainment, measly ratings for the quality of life lived by their people, and sky high levels of deprivation.
The most Eurosceptic areas of Britain are undoubtedly problem areas for May, and it is for these reasons. Eradicating such anti-establishment feeling is sure to prove an even harder task for her government, but must be dealt with. What primarily swayed the EU referendum to a narrow victory for Vote Leave was that they capitalised on those who have grown tired with the present Establishment. The fact that so many British people feel disenchanted by the current political agenda in Britain is gravely worrying, and stability for May and her colleagues can only come through restoring confidence in her premiership.
Leaving the EU may be a major blow to the UK economy, but the view of many unhappy voters – that the Establishment is crippled and distant at the hands of elites – means more worrying prospects for current and future UK leaders. Immediately after assuming office as the new Prime Minister, May pledged to create an economy which works for all, and to govern alongside of ordinary British people, instead of staring down from her throne.
This approach is vital, and May must stick to her word. Unity, inclusion, and a method of government which has the interests of the majority at the core are the most fundamental components for successful leadership. If May governs with these principles at the top of her agenda, she will not only be a successful politician, but also vitally restore confidence in the Establishment, stamping out ‘anti’ forces.
A fragile economy, a closed-off housing market, the gremlins of globalisation, and a lack of opportunity each fuelled the paralysing punch to those in political control on June 23rd. Housing has grown more unaffordable in recent months and years, and first-time buyers are finding it increasingly difficult to place deposits. In June, house prices rose by 8.7%. The costs of living grow even higher each week, whilst the dreams of social mobility float further away than ever before. A July report from The Prince’s Trust concluded that inequality is now determined from where and to whom a person is born. Brexit has seen the value of currency fall to unprecedented levels, too, inflation rates skyrocket, and growth forecasts to be considerably scaled back.
Theresa May’s nod to grammar schools this week, rolling out new plans for their revival, will do no better in remedying the pain felt by the most politically excluded areas. This will do nothing to cool down the tempers of those who took part in the Brexit protests. As many as three quarters of judges, and half of journalists were privately educated, and many more came from grammar school backgrounds. Refusing to boost educational equality within the state system is sure to only accentuate city-village, north-south, and rich-poor divides. Nursing the societal divides here will only aid the next rampage on the UK Establishment, as it gravitates further away from the centre ground.
Labourers and minimum wage workers are faring no better. Fast food delivery service Deliveroo has been, in recent days, the latest company embroiled in a scandal of low pay and disregard for its couriers. Strikes under the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union have increased in recent weeks, with inflation rising and rates of low pay for workers. With services suffering major cutbacks, it is clear that the status quo does not work for all. Investment is needed in the increasingly motionless communities of hard done-by Britain. Communities which had their industries shut down in the 80s, have been left behind. The areas which have taken the brunt of globalisation are now those which our government ought to be rejuvenating. Socioeconomic stagnation is rife across the ex-industrial parts of Britain, and May ought to show that she is on their side.
Until our economy works for all, until affordable housing is plenteous, until we see an outpouring of educational opportunities, until social mobility becomes possible again, until investment in forgotten communities restarts, and until services, their workers, and businesses receive support, anti-establishment sentiment will to prevail.
The Vote Leave campaign, once believed to be fundamentally centred on the ideas of Euroscepticism and sovereignty, appeared to lose these once defining characteristics as the EU debate drew on. The media, and many of those who voted for Brexit, capitalised on the problematic and out-of-touch Establishment which has left much of Britain behind. Those campaigning for Brexit had no real structure to their campaigning, were heavy advocates of scaremongering tactics, and forgot the pretty crucial aspect of an action plan in the event of a Brexit vote.
But the most worrying, and somewhat impressive, part of their campaigning was that this approach succeeded. The Brexiteers actually generated a victory on June 24th, even whilst lacking the sustenance of most political campaigns. With racism, limited facts, and no strict game-plan, Boris and Gove came out on top. Surely this should be a grave warning to Theresa May. The, in some cases, effortless success of Vote Leave speaks loud volumes about the seriousness of anti-establishment feeling. Brexit voters favoured Vote Leave not because they had a plan, but simply because they stood up for an alternative to the status quo of globalisation and closed-off politics.
Prime Minister Theresa May now has to become that alternative. Failing to do so will mean facing a premiership of instability, and stoking the red hot coals of anti-establishment sentiment. Mrs May has to have meant what she said on the steps of Number 10 upon succeeding David Cameron. Only time will reveal any commitment to that vision. Her words of a more equal society and a government on the side of the people alone should be the principles with which she officiates as Prime Minister, and those with which she cements the Conservative party.
Brexit has shown how much success the anti-establishment agenda has had in the past year, and how much support it continues to suck up. Just look at UKIP gaining 4m votes in the last general election. Look at the once totally dismissed Donald Trump now seriously contesting the US Presidency. Look at the other European states lining up for a Brexit of their own. Catering for all is impossible in politics, but Theresa May ought to show that she is on the side of the majority, at least. The Establishment must now fix itself, and reveal its pragmatic programme for ridding Britain of inequality and ignorance. If Mrs May fails to do this, she will just make her premiership more arduous than it has to be, and anti-establishment feeling will haunt her for much longer.