The UK has undergone an extremely alarming series of events in the past few weeks and months, suggesting that our society is beginning to fragment. First, the London mayoral campaign illustrated the extent to which a political candidate could initiate a smear campaign and try to swoon those with anti-Muslim prejudice in order to secure a shameless victory. Realistically, in a city that is so multicultural, a tactic like that was simply going to fail from the start. Nevertheless, the fact that much of the rhetoric that was employed during the campaign was deemed legitimate should be of some cause for concern.
Then there is the tragic murder of Jo Cox MP at the hands of Thomas Mair, a 51-year-old white British man, who is being charged under terrorism protocols. As the news about Cox’s murder was breaking and the identity was not known, Muslims all across Britain were already praying and hoping that the perpetrator would not turn out to be a Muslim. When it transpired that the killer had shouted something along the lines of “Britain First” many found themselves in the strange position of mourning the death of a principled MP, whilst simultaneously breathing a sigh of relief.
Nevertheless, although this vile and horrendous act appeared in the first instance to be the case of a ‘lone and mentally ill person’, these events cannot be separated from a growing problem within British society; the increasing grievances of the white working classes. For too long the government has ignored the plight of the white working classes living outside of London and the EU referendum has finally offered them the opportunity for them to air their grievances.
Indeed, this was clearly reflected by the result of the referendum. A 48% for ‘Remain’ and 52% for ‘Brexit’ is evidence of a society that stands clearly divided as to how the country should progress, or in the case of ‘Brexit’, regress. Aside from the economic uncertainty and indecisiveness as to when the government will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the ‘Brexit’ has become the apotheosis of what could potentially be the start of a deeply divided society.
A deeply divided society has traditionally been defined as one where violence or the threat of violence keeps it divided and minority groups suffer from political and social marginality through unfair and unbalanced policing. In short, it is one where the country cannot create a cohesive and workable society due to salient differences and accumulated grievances.
If anyone in Britain sincerely believes that the country’s social fabric does not have any fault lines emerging, the referendum should remove all doubt. Since announcing the result, there appears to have been an exponential increase in the number of cases where people have shouted racial slurs against anyone who ostensibly looks foreign. For example, an individual shouted to an Asian woman that: “We’ve got our country back” and “Today is the day we start to get rid of the likes of you”; graffiti and cards reading “no more Polish vermin”; and the daughter of a professor, who happens to be Muslim, being cornered by a group of men shouting, “Get out, we voted leave”.
This form of conduct is deeply troubling. Not least because it has in practice, legitimised and allowed racism and xenophobia to go unchecked. In other words, inciting racial and religious hatred has become the modus operandi for not all, but many ‘Brexit’ supporters.
However, we need to understand that this response is a result mixing miscalculated political, economic, and cultural components throughout the past decade, leading to the outcome that we are witnessing today. Economically, austerity through the application of trickle-down economic policies, cuts in central government support to local government and a deregulated labour market have gradually eroded the confidence of working and middle class folk beyond the metropolis. There is a lack of economic convergence across the United Kingdom and the fact that Scotland and Northern Ireland chose to remain goes to show how difficult it will be to unite the nations together for a post-Brexit plan.
Politically, six years of Conservative dominated rule eroded the creativity of the Labour party. The latter must now decide whether it will fulfil Corbyn’s mandate and return to Labour’s old values, or stick to being a party that is out of touch with its core voters outside of London. Either way, it has missed the opportunity to land a heavy hit on the incumbent government and it looks like it will take years for Labour to regain its charm. A deeply divided society requires an unstable government and so far ‘Brexit’ has left both parties highly distraught.
Culturally, the inability of a predominantly white working class acclimatising to an influx of people of different nationalities was greatly overlooked. This segment of the population, accustomed to a particular way of life, yearns for the comeback of a British culture and identity. As things stand, there is no concrete grasp as to what constitutes British identity or culture; nevertheless, this void is currently being filled by attacking the ‘other’ – a natural phenomenon of accumulated grievances over the years that have finally reached a tipping point.
We should realise, within the comforts of the city-state that is London, how ignorant and out of touch many have become with the rest of the nation and its concerns. It has opened the door to a nasty divisive form of politics where people have normalised the scapegoating of immigrants and not Government. We have experienced the killing of a female politician, communities being targeted because of the colour of their skin and their religion, a hopeless Government with no post-Brexit plan and no competent challenger to put it in its place, and a far-right that is now more confident than ever before. The environment is unfortunately ripe for a deeply divided society; as things stand, it is just a matter of time. More than ever, our country is in need of strong leadership to help us navigate through these challenging times.