LEADER of the newly formed Brexit Party Nigel Farage won a decisive victory in the EU elections held in the UK on May 23. The party’s victory surprises only those who have paid little attention to the grievances held by people outside London. Farage exploited these grievances during the 2016 EU referendum, and has successfully done so ever since.
Reading the results of EU elections can be tricky. The Brexit Party won (they want a Hard Brexit); Liberal Democrats made huge gains (they want No Brexit); significant loss for the Conservatives (divided between Hard Brexit and Soft Brexit); considerable loss for Labour (divided between Soft Brexit and No Brexit); nothing for Change UK (No Brexit); and nothing for UKIP (Hard Brexit).
To explain the EU results from the Brexit standpoint creates a confusing story. For example, within the Conservative and Labour parties, we find different stances on Brexit. How do we know that the person who voted for Conservative/Labour voted for one stance and not the other? Experts may assume a single stance within the party to analyse the results. This, I think, is a mistake.
Thus, to understand these results, we have to see the economic conditions within which they take place. The political results mimic the seemingly paradoxical economic conditions in Britain.
Farage’s victory proves anti-immigrant sentiment is alive and well in 2019.
Increase in productivity, along with increase in inequality. Low unemployment rates, along with rise in insecure jobs. Rise in advance technologies, along with decline in life expectancy. However, these conditions are not difficult to explain. These are the direct result of austerity policies implemented by the Conservatives since 2010, as well as the ‘business-friendly’ (read: elite-friendly) policies adopted by the Blair-Brown governments.
Recently, The New York Times reported how old people in Carlisle, a beautiful area in the north of England, have suffered from austerity programmes implemented by the Conservative government. The council (municipality) responded to state cuts by reducing services, one of which were bus routes. The cancellation of bus routes affected lives of the elderly who rely on public transport to see friends and buy groceries. There have also been cuts in benefits and healthcare. In a country where aged people are suffering from loneliness and isolation, these cuts are akin to capital punishment.
What the article didn’t include in its report was the fact that Carlisle voted to leave the EU. Thus, the NYT report did not explore how austerity could have played a key role in the 2016 EU referendum.
In Strangers in Their Own Land, Arlie Hochschild describes how people in Louisiana believe in a ‘Deep Story’. It goes like this: You are waiting in a queue. You know that if you work hard, you will move forward in the line, and in life. But, now you see that there is another line. That line includes immigrants, Latinos, African Americans. The other line is moving faster than your line. So, you believe that the government has ignored you and only supports people in the other line.
To a degree, many in the UK feel the same. They have worked hard, but find their lives in a state of repugnant mediocrity. Yet, if one critically looks at how the UK, especially the Conservative Party, has treated immigrants, any presumptions and myths of ‘government supporting the immigrants’ are shattered.
Last week, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she would resign from office on June 7. Listening to this news, a friend of mine sighed, “Shukar hai”. The only sad part of this is that the incoming group of Conservative leaders are a bunch of dangerous nincompoops who make many Pakistani politicians look competent by comparison. I exaggerate, but only slightly.
In 2012, as home secretary, May described her policy: “The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants”. Sure, there are people who have arrived or stayed in this country illegally, but illegal immigrants were not the only ones affected by the hostile environment policy.
May created policies and protocols that separated husbands from wives, children from parents, and students from their education. The visa process became expensive, complicated, and a nightmare. The notorious ‘go home’ vans in London created anxiety for many legal and naturalised citizens. The hostile environment policy was at the heart of the Windrush scandal, which affected thousands of people including hundreds who were wrongly deported, and the English language test scandal, which destroyed the lives and careers of thousands of students.
This hostile environment created an image of the immigrant as an unproductive and unwanted person. These policies are a precursor to UKIP, to Nigel Farage and his minions. These immigration policies, along with a decade of austerity cuts, are the reasons why the Brexit Party won.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in London.
Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2019