Brexit Blues – a Response to John Lanchester 

LRBcov3815John Lanchester’s ‘Brexit Blues’, with its idea of multiple ‘deep Englands’, seems to entail that longstanding ethnic minority communities are not a ‘deep England’, or, at least, not one in which he has any interest. Indeed, they are conspicuously absent from his account of his travels among England’s different geographies. Evidently, ‘the decline of reasonably well-paid manual labour, un- and semi- and skilled’ and the creation of a new ‘precariat class’ is only a matter of concern when experienced by a white working class. The experience of precarity over the last decades is as much part of the reality of Britain’s ethnic minorities (communities that Lanchester elides with ‘immigrants’), as well as of more recent low-skilled migrant workers from the EU. But Lanchester shows no interest in the problems of low wages for others except those to whom he attributes ‘Englishness’.

 

Reference to the ‘betrayal of the white working class’ – implicit throughout the piece and made explicitly at the very end – points clearly to Lanchester’s constituency and who he thinks is included within the ‘we’ of the national community to whom rights and benefits ought to accrue. There is no place in his analysis for those darker citizens of Britain whose historical connections to the island are constituted by the shifting geographies of empire and Commonwealth. While ‘coloured’ immigration was the key issue in the vote to Leave – as it was in the vote to enter the European Economic Community forty years earlier – this was not delivered solely or even predominantly by a white working class. The result seems to have been delivered much more straightforwardly by older, more prosperous, white Tory voters in the South.

 

If one of the key messages of Lanchester’s piece is that the racism of Leave has to be understood (perhaps even mitigated?) in terms of the context of precarity within which the white working class live; then how are we to understand the racism of those privileged, propertied, and pensioned voters who delivered the same result in greater numbers?

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