This John Harris article, Brexit is a class betrayal. So why is Labour colluding in it?, is a persuasive argument about Labour strategy and why it should support a #PeoplesVote. But it doesn’t do much to support its headline claim – that Brexit is a class issue. (I know, the headlines are written by the editors, not the commentators.)
I think the claim is right: Brexit is a class issue. I’ll try to explain why.
The spectacle of millionaire toffs and spivs inciting popular hatred against “elites” – which Harris mentions but doesn’t analyse – is an obvious example of misdirection from the ruling class.
The biggest fear of the upper class is that the middle and working classes join forces to fight it. Its primary strategy is therefore to keep those classes divided from each other.
For decades, it’s done that primarily by persuading the middle class to “identify up” – to regard its interests as best aligned with the upper class, not the working class. Hence blaming the unions for industrial decline and inefficient public services; the mockery and demonisation of benefit scroungers and ‘chavs’; and so on, and so forth.
Thatcherism was basically a deal with the devil, offered by the upper to the middle class: “Hey, if you help us screw over the poor, we can both get rich.”
In recent years – especially since the Great Recession – that deal hasn’t looked so good to the middle class any more. Professional jobs are threatened, salaries are declining in real terms, savings and pensions are disappearing, and young professionals are unable to afford their own homes.
The result: the middle classes are starting to identify down, joining the working class in anger against the 1%. The evidence: an explosive growth of Labour membership among the younger middle class; increasing criticism of inequality, tax avoidance, and other ‘anti-1% issues’.
How can the upper class respond to this? Remember, it has to keep a wedge driven between the middle and working classes at any cost. Its solution: switch focus and target its propaganda at the working class instead.
The surprising result of the EU referendum gave the upper class a golden opportunity. Suddenly it had a common cause with “the people” (Brexit) and a way of undermining the enemy (the middle class) as “liberal, metropolitan elites”.
So when people argue that the pre-referendum status quo was one where a comfortable middle class had screwed over the poor, and contemptible Remainers want to return to that, there is some truth in that position.
It’s difficult for the middle class to say to the working class, “Brexit is going to shaft you, we should stop it,” when the working class have already been shafted for years – with the collusion of the middle class.
But the middle class do genuinely now have common cause with the working class. And not just because (as depicted) their precious visa-free skiing holidays and tariff-free halloumi are at risk.
The middle class was already turning against the 1% before the referendum. Corbyn was overwhelmingly elected to the Labour leadership by both working and middle class Labour members who wanted a proper socialist party to tackle inequality.
That’s why the Brexit elite – the millionaire media barons, hedge fund owners and offshore tax avoiders – are pushing the idea that they’re fighting another “elite” – the latte-sipping professionals (who, far from comfortable, are actually struggling with student debt, spiralling rents, insecure jobs).
Ultimately, the only solution is for the two classes – the long-suffering working class, and the increasingly-suffering middle class – to unite against the true elites – the ones in top hats and tails, moving their hedge funds to Dublin and cashing in every time the pound slumps.
It’s surprising that Corbyn, who’s steeped in the ideology of class war, and whose supporters are drawn from both groups, has so far failed to understand this.