As I type this, David Davis has snuck out, Boris Johnson, a man not known for his circumspection, is being silent, trying, it seems to be all things to all people (Update: he’s slithered off, too). Michael Gove is considered a snake in the grass by his own side. Many who voted to remain in the EU believe that a second vote is necessary as the Conservative party isn’t strong or stable and because no one knows what Theresa May means when she says things like ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘we are getting on with delivering the will of the British people’. These remain voters think a second vote will overturn the result.
When you break down all of the reasons that the leave vote won, the one that stands out to me is the divide between the haves and the have nots. I don’t mean the aristocracy and the proles. I mean those that have the copper pipes stolen from their houses; those whose highstreets have boarded up shops, bookies and takeaways and those whose primary schools label their pupils ‘thick’ and ‘inbred’ versus those who don’t understand any of that.
One of the key arguments for “remainers” was that being in the EU was good and things would get much worse if we left. Try telling that to the people that live in and around Holderness Road.
There are a lot of different Holderness Roads. They aren’t necessarily called Holderness Road, but every city has at least one. They are the roads of those that feel left behind. I’ll describe the one I know and why, despite the absolute mess that the Conservatives have made of it, a second referendum will have the same result.
I used to work off of Holderness Road. I would take the number 43 bus and the journey from the bus station to my place of work was like watching a city be deconstructed in real time. Holderness Road is long and the end that is closest to town was relatively modern and well cared for. As the bus turned onto the estate that I used to work in, you would see houses that had the same thing sprayed on them: copper out. In my ignorance, I believed this was a working class protest against corrupt police officers. My work colleague, once she finished laughing at my theory, informed me that it was actually a sign to thieves that the house had already had it’s copper piping stolen and a request from the family to be left in peace. I guess what these people really cared about was staying in the EU.
I was a CAMHS secretary and I would have to take weekly minutes on active cases. The stories of children that suffered all over the city, but in and around Holderness Road in particular, was shocking. Shocking if you weren’t from the area. As the same colleague told me, where you have extreme poverty and extreme lack of opportunity, there you will find the kind of abuse that we regularly discussed in our meetings.
The people of Holderness Road feel ignored. Actually, the people of Holderness Road are ignored. They don’t see people in the political sphere that sound like they do, that fight for their needs. Like it or not, Brexit happened because Farage, UKIP and the Tories that chose to fight for it appealed to those that had been left behind. You can argue with their tactics – and I do: they were beyond abhorrent, appealing to the worst instincts in people – but you cannot deny that they appealed to people that felt ignored.
I remember the day when I knew Brexit was going to happen. It was during an episode of Question Time in late 2015 and an audience member had asked about the effect of immigrants on the health service. She was frustrated that she couldn’t get her kids in to see the GP and every time she went she saw lots of “foreigners”. Rather than respond with sympathy about a mother who was trying look after her children, to a person the panel scoffed at her and said she wasn’t representative of Great Britain. It turns out they were wrong. She was representative of a large swathe of Great Britain. I wonder if one of the people on the panel that night had understood her question and responded with sympathy and understood that people that live on the Holderness Roads in our country feel left behind, if the result would have been different.
I’m laughing at that last sentence, because of the flaw in my thinking. If the politicians and public figures on that stage had any ability to sympathise with that woman, if those that wanted to remain in the EU had any argument that worked for the people of Holderness Road, of course the dog-whistle campaign of the leave campaign would have been an abject failure. But that would have meant acknowledging that the conditions for people in certain places in this country are shameful.
So to those that are revelling in the ongoing Tory drama today, be warned: it might be cathartic for you now, but if you want a second referendum and are hoping that the Conservative problems will lead to a different vote without any acknowledgement of the people of Holderness road, I’m afraid you will be similarly disappointed.