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We shouldn't be asking why people voted to leave the EU, but why would people vote to stay

Dr Ciaran McCullagh argues that those who voted Remain made the wrong choice

Ciaran McCullagh

AS THE STRUGGLE to understand the Brexit vote continues, everyone wants to know why “they” voted to leave.

The poor and the dispossessed of the English midlands, battered by decades of deindustrialisation and austerity, finally revolted. They expressed their discontent by focusing on immigration, which “we” all know isn’t a ”real” issue, and using that as an emotional wedge they voted against their own self-interest.

The less well-off turn out yet again to be their own worst enemy and “we”, the well-off and educated, must seek to understand why they did it.

The great virtue of this approach is that it lets the rest of the population off the hook and supresses a question of equal importance, namely why did 48% of the British population vote to Remain?

Problems with the EU

Currently the EU has little to recommend it. It has become a damaged and morally bankrupt institution. Whatever about the values that originally gave it purpose, it does not embody it them any more.

Two issues in particular show this. One is the manner in which it ensured that the poor paid the costs of the reckless banking institutions during the crash.

The other is the manner in which it has tried to suppress the movement of refugees that many of the EU countries created through their ill-considered foreign policies in North Africa and Syria.

Source: Petros Giannakouris/Press Association

It could be argued that the EU is salvagable and that is a reason to vote for it. But there is little indication that this is the case. I haven’t read anything in the pronouncements of Jean-Claude Juncker that show he even understands the problem.

So why did the educated middle class voted to stay in? Most likely they were misled by the media experts, think tanks, and politicians. They were the prisoners of dead institutions, dead sources of information and dilapidated habits of thought.

Traditional media is dead

The first dead institution is the traditional media. The main ones wanted the UK to stay, though there were splits in the Tory press reflecting the divisions in the Tory Party.

The Sun predictably enough was for Leave. The Mail group split, with the Daily Mail supporting Leave, and the Mail on Sunday supporting Remain. The Times split too, with the London Times, perhaps surprisingly, supporting Remain, and the Sunday Times supporting the Leave campaign.

What was common to both media camps however was the belief that their endorsements were important and could make a difference.

Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

But what the media haven’t figured out yet is that we now live in an age of post media politics. Most people no longer get their information from the media, if they ever did, and for the most part they do not trust or believe what they read.

The problem is that “they” and “we” haven’t realised this yet. The young have moved to so-called social media as sources of information and political opinions. The older and less educated have simply detached from the public sphere and rely for their information on the informal networks of family, friends and the local pub.

Misleading experts

There is a similar problem with “experts”. The Leave vote increased in direct proportion to the pronouncements of “experts” urging them to stay in, whether this was the Bank of England, the economists writing in newspapers, the stockbrokers and other financial soothsayers, or the various London based think tanks.

Increasingly over the decades the influence of experts has waned. It was dealt a final deathblow with the 2008 meltdown, something which none of them had predicted.

The pronouncements and predictions of stockbrokers, banks and academic economists now belong in the same dustbin of history to which theories about the earth being flat or the infallibility of the Cork County Board have been consigned. The problem is that they haven’t realised it yet.

Lack of faith in institutions

The final factor is the way “we” respond to politicians who are off the dominant message. People like Nigel Farage and Donald Trump have become the object of satire and it makes “us” feel good. “We” think laughing at them is politically sophisticated but if they are so stupid compared to us, why did they win the debate?

The Brexit victory is a crisis of legitimacy, but not in the way that it is being presented. A majority of the UK population have shown distrust of the dominant institutions of society that we previously could rely on. This is not their problem but a problem for the institutions themselves.

We in Ireland have the same problem. We, like the UK, just haven’t realised it yet.

Dr. Ciaran McCullagh was a lecturer in sociology in University College Cork and is the author of books on crime in Ireland and on the power of the media.

Read: Vincent Brown: The EU, its elites and its hyper-fans had this coming

Read: Thanks to Brexit, the fragile peace in Ireland is under threat

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Ciaran McCullagh

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