June 25, 2016 20 Comments
Megan McArdle wrote the other day about her experience in a European airport and spending a day in Luton. if you would know the real reason that England specifically voted for Brexit, I think she found it, as well as anyone can sort out the many and varied reasons why the Brits decided to leave. None of it strikes me as racist, really, nor would I have expected it of the Brits. It merely strikes me as a feeling that the lifeboat is full, and that to swamp it will do no one any good.
The airport was short on seats and power outlets even before flight-delayed travelers were stacked eight-deep along the floors. Perhaps a dozen of us middle-aged folk had wrested a single power outlet from the teenagers who had tethered themselves to all the other sources of battery-life-giving energy in the vicinity. We huddled around this small electric flame in the manner of travelers everywhere, taking what sustenance we could, drinking wine and swapping stories of our homelands. I was asked to explain Donald Trump. And by way of getting my own back, I naturally asked about the referendum on Brexit, which is now just days away.
The folks I talked to were from all over Britain, but they had middle age in common as well as, mostly, membership in the petit bourgeoisie. What did they think about leaving the EU?
“I still don’t know how I’m going to vote,” said an adult-education teacher from the Midlands, who then proceeded to deliver a long and earnest speech about the cost of providing social services to immigrants, which suggested that she wasn’t really so unsure. Her sentiments were echoed by other people I talked to during that endless layover.
These weren’t racist diatribes; no one mentioned race or nationality, and, in fact, they were very sympathetic to the plight of immigrants. They just didn’t want to have to accept them into their country — operative words “have to.” The dominant tone was what is often called compassion fatigue, and their arguments were not unreasonable.
Riding a refugee-crowded ferry back from the Greek island of Lesvos last fall, my heart broke for every one of the families I saw. But I couldn’t help but ask myself just how many such people Europe could absorb in a short period of time. The people in the airport were asking themselves the same question, and the answer they were getting was “no more, please.”
Around 1:30 Monday morning, a budget jet brought me to Luton, where I stayed overnight. The next leg of my travel did not begin until late afternoon, and so I took the opportunity to walk around the area near the Mall Luton, which turned out to be a very good place to think about Brexit.
Luton is a city of about 200,000 people on the outskirts of London. It was once known for its manufacture of hats, and in 1905, Vauxhall Motors opened a manufacturing plant in Luton. The company stopped making passenger cars there in 2002, and the town is now — like so many places in Europe and America — looking for its post-industrial future. EasyJet, a budget airline, is based there, but as you so often find in similar cities in the U.S., the biggest employers are the local government and the local hospital. It has also had a dramatic shift in population. The Luton councilestimates that “between 50% and 75% of the population would not have lived in Luton or not have been born at the time of the 2001 Census.” It is now minority white British, and only barely majority white.
So very much of this, in my view, comes down to the ‘elites’ completely losing touch with the population, in Britain, yes. But also in America, where in my view it has propelled Donald Trump, and may well see him as President. Will it make America Great again? I doubt it, but there is a price to be paid for losing touch with one’s people, and the bill may be coming due, or perhaps overdue. It certainly did in Britain, where a majority of people, mostly working people like you and me, not the educated elites, have simply had enough, and whatever problems that causes, well, if the toffs had been listening, it need not have gotten to this point. In the final assessment, the people are sovereign, and while they care about others, they care more about those like them, and especially their children.
Don’t we all?