THE UN-UNITED KINGDOM
THE VOTE THAT DIVIDED A NATION AND GENERATIONS
THE BREXIT TENSION IS THICK
I am not a political person. In fact I cannot stand politics as a general rule. I place politicians right up there with car mechanics and dentists with people I trust. Since the historic EU referendum results with Britain voting 52% in favour of leaving (Brexit) the European Union (EU) I have been inundated with phone calls and emails from back home asking what does that mean, whats going on, what is the feeling in London?
Since the result of the referendum I personally have seen a shift in the people of London that inspired me to write this non-political /political post on my personal observations. I am not qualified nor as a Expat am I interested in talking the politics that brought the UK to this point, nor does anyone know what is going to happen moving forward but what I can tell you is since the vote England has become clearly divided in various ways. It is in that divide that has some people believe they have the permission and authority to behave very, very badly.
London Verses The Rest of Britain
London is mostly a city of educated people. So based on the demographic of voters it is not a surprise that the majority of the city voted to Remain In. They hold degrees, have professional careers, carry passports and are productive individuals. This is the documented demographic of those who voted REMAIN. I recognize I am living in a bit of an expat bubble as these REMAINERS are the people around my dinner table. In fact I don’t know of any friends who supported LEAVE. I guess it is similar to Trump supporters, I know they are out there in numbers I just personally don’t know any. But I have personally run into some of the of Londoners that voted LEAVE and I guess my question is why after winning the vote are they so angry?
I was having lunch at Selfridge’s Food Hall when this elderly British man walking toward me dropped his tray with a couple of drinks on it. He blamed me for this although I was about six feet away. I was talking to him at the time telling him I had saved the table I thought he was moving towards. He was angry and started making a scene. The waitress who was helping with the situation was a Portuguese girl who has lived in London for eight years. As it became clear to the man that I would not be replacing his dropped drinks he took his anger out on the Portuguese waitress. Slamming her for taking away jobs from the Brits. Holding her and “her-kind” responsible for all that was wrong in HIS country. He slammed me too for being an “aggressive American” (nope Canadian and never once lost it on him). The fact that he was surrounded by non-Brits in a food hall gave him license to blame everyone but himself for dropping his tray. This had become a “foreigner fault” situation. The waitress replaced his drinks although under no obligation to do so and after he had left the waitress apologize for the man, saying that this has now become common, angry Brit’s telling anyone with a accent (including me the aggressive American) to “go back where you came from”. She told me that in the Selfridges' Food Hall that on her shift of 80 people only two are British. Do we think that Selfridges’ a Canadian owned company, founded by an American, based in England is discriminating against hiring Brits? Hmm, I don’t think so. But the man with the food tray and many other believe that to be true...and they are angry.
The Fear Is Real
There are some Europeans I have spoken to that have now taken to not speaking on The Tube for fear that their accents could give rise for potential alertcation. An Arab man was being harassed when I was at the Apple Store. He came up to the Apple Genius who was serving me looking to get some help, saying “brother, this guy is abusive, I need your help… you know what I’m talking about”. My Apple Genius had brown skin (and a British accent). You only have to turn on the news to hear the stories of different nationalities who have come to the UK to make a better life for themselves and their families and they are being harassed, bullied and assaulted. AND THIS IS LONDON! I wonder if somewhere in Paris some Frenchman is yelling at some Brit telling him to get the hell out of his country. Not that the Parisian's don't feel like that most of the time. I would hate to imagine what it is like in the districts that voted overwhelming for exiting the EU. It is almost like this vote has given people permission to be rude, aggressive xenophobes and invoke fear as they are personally trying to rid England of all foreigners and “take back our country”. Strange a country full of immigrants, afraid of immigrants.
Young Verses The Old
The Brexit’s vote biggest demographic was the elderly. Vote to Remain was the young. The youth (of those who came out to vote ) voted overwhelming to stay in the EU. This has created another divide, this time it is of those family members, different generations sitting around their dinner table. A common uprising is that the young people in Britain are angry now believing the old have voted away their future and will not even be around in years to come to feel the consequences. Sadly the youth of Britain did not have a high voter turn-out. Had they, many believe the outcome would have been very different.
That is not to say all of the elderly supported Brexit. I meet two elegant and outspoken women in their 80’s (think Maggie Smith and The Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey) who were sitting next to me at a lovely restaurant for lunch in Sloane Square. They shared with me that after the vote they had lost approximately 20% on their savings in the stock market and investments. Savings they required to live on. They had both voted to REMAIN. As a sweet aside one of the woman hand wrote her name and address on the back of my bill saying that if I ever needed something in London I should contact her as she knew what it felt like to be in a new city. Funny but she had intimidated me up to that point, sort of like a strict proper English school teacher. I have kept her address.
The Educated Verses The Uneducated
The stats are as follows, the higher educated you are, the higher income you make, the more likely you would have voted to Remain In. There is a widening rift in British society that this vote has sharpened its focus smack dab in the middle of it. Ironic but I guess not surprising is that the regions with the highest percentage of votes for Leave also tend to be the most “economically intertwined” with the EU. Dropping their tray and looking for someone else to pay for their drinks.
Could There Be A Civil War?
I was sitting next to an Irish man on the bus, a working man, dirt under his fingernails, in dire need of a bath with a working class slang that made him very difficult to understand. It took no encouragement from me for him to tell me what was wrong with Britain, how the foreigners have taken all the jobs and are impossible to understand (funny as he was near impossible to understand). He went through each foreign nationality sparing no one. He was telling me how lazy they all were (yet clearly they were all busy working on all those jobs they had taken). How they add nothing to the country with maybe a small exception of the Italians for opening up some good restaurants. He spoke in stereotypes and concluded they should all go back home so “England can become England again”. Then was not the time to bring to his attention that he himself was not English but rather Irish.
I did find it all sickly fascinating as I sat there taking the 20 minute bus ride to Kensington. He asked if I live in that neighbourhood and I lied and said no. He said that was good because it was a very stuck up neighbourhood filled with rich snobs taking advantage of the working class. I felt that if given the chance (and a pitchfork and a torch) he would have been storming Kensington Palace.
I am not saying there are not problems with the whole system but like I said at the beginning I am not either interested or qualified to discuss the issues, there was misinformation on both sides. I am just here to share with you what I am observing first hand. He did say something that even a few days later I could not shake, he said that with the country being so divided he thinks that England could have a civil war, the Un-United Kingdom.
With England currently without a captain, this country and the generations living here are greatly divided and this giant ship is adrift in very troubled waters. Aboard the ship the passengers are close to mutiny arguing which way is land. But try as I could, I could not totally dismiss the Irishman’s theory. People are scared. Scared of the future or scared of their neighbour. Some experts have even theorized about this being the start of the break down of Western Civilization and even World War lll. There is fear.
One Last Observation
Last Saturday London had its country's largest anti-Brexit protest called March For Europe. Born from a simple Facebook event posted only a week before over 35,000 people came out to support the UK staying in the EU. It was a peaceful, supportive gathering as the masses marched down the streets of London ending at Parliament Square in the giant shadow of Big Ben. The repeated message was to stop stereotyping or degrading the LEAVE supporter but rather take action by lobbying your MP as they are the governing body that can potentially do something. In the crowd of 35,000 people not once did I feel any fear, anger or uneasiness. The same could not be said that day in Selfridge’s Food Hall or sitting beside the man in the bus. There was even a woman, a LEAVE supporter who clearly felt no fear either as she stood in the middle of those thousands of REMAINERS holding a LEAVE sign over her head. She was booed…that was about it.
There are a ton of articles, videos and posts (now one more with this one) on Brexit, the future of the UK and the rising divide between Remain In: vs Leave. But none in my opinion so brilliantly explained Brexit as well as comedian John Oliver did. If you really want to understand what this is about and you have a few minutes I highly recommend watching this funny…yet very true rant.
Oh…so you know, it was banned on UK television until after the vote…so you know it has to be good.