What The Reactions Of Brexit Losers Tell Us About Liberals

by Smita Barooah - Jun 26, 2016 01:50 PM +05:30 IST
What The Reactions Of Brexit Losers Tell Us About LiberalsA image from the ‘Vote In’ campaign (ROB STOTHARD/AFP/Getty Images) 
Snapshot
  • The reactions of liberals to the Brexit verdict hasn’t done Liberalism any good 

On Thursday, June 23rd, Great Britan had a historic referendum to decide whether to stay in the European Union (EU) or leave. The majority voted for “Britsh Exit” or Brexit. The vote took place after months of a high-pitched and emotional campaign. As an immediate consequence, the pound crashed, the global markets went on a tizzy, and the British Prime Minster David Cameron announced his resignation.

It was a major event in Europe, which was followed keenly by countries across the world. As an Indian, I watched the drama play out as neutral observer. The vote did not impact my life fundamentally. However it was a revelation to see the reactions that followed. This article is not about the long term-implications of Brexit, on which I have little to say. This is about the responses to the vote, and what they imply.

As expected, there was jubilation in the “exit” camp. Those who wanted to remain in the EU were shocked. They seemed completely unprepared for the verdict. As the news sunk in, pundits made various predictions. Many doomsday prophecies were pronounced. There was much teeth gnashing and mourning.

All of this is understandable. Any big change takes time to absorb and process. People who had invested emotionally in the Remain campaign were bound to feel gutted. A fear of change is normal and some amount pain is inevitable.

What is disconcerting was the utter gracelessness of some people in defeat. Almost immediately after the results, opinions started floating that those who voted for Brexit were bigoted, xenophobic, illiterate and/or stupid.

Initial studies indicated that the working class and elderly people voted to exit, while the young and more educated voted to remain. This set off a series of derogatory comments on the less educated and the elderly. I will illustrate this trend through a few screenshots:

Here is a headline in The Economist:

The Economist on Brexit
The Economist on Brexit

The implication is unsettling. A democratic outcome is pronounced anarchy by a highly regarded magazine. Are we to surmise that a democratic decision is invalid if it reflects the opinions of the “unwashed masses” instead of the educated elite?

This was followed by many derogatory tweets insulting the elderly and/or less educated people for their choice:

What The Reactions Of Brexit Losers Tell Us About Liberals
What The Reactions Of Brexit Losers Tell Us About Liberals
What The Reactions Of Brexit Losers Tell Us About Liberals
What The Reactions Of Brexit Losers Tell Us About Liberals
What The Reactions Of Brexit Losers Tell Us About Liberals
A few reactions on Brexit
A few reactions on Brexit

This line of thought was echoed by our Indian elites. Here is a tweet by a leading politician’s son.

Disenfranchisement?
Disenfranchisement?

He suggests excluding the elderly voters as they voted to leave. What is the message here? Those who disagree with one’s views should be shut out of the system and disenfranchised? As many commentators pointed out, where does this line of thought end? Next, should we ban the poor, illiterate, disabled and others sections based on our whims?

Here is another Indian commentator- a well known film-maker who returned his national film award to allegedly protest against the failure of the government to “uphold the spirit of our secular, socialist and democratic Constitution”. He thinks voters with dissenting views are “morons”. The people who voted for Modi in India in 2014 are morons. Similarly the people who voted for Brexit now are morons. Does this imply that he and ilk are the only intelligent beings with a right to opinion? Surely that’s a very curious view of democracy!

And in India. . .
And in India. . .

The Brexit debate has now taken a strange turn as over two million citizens have petitioned to have second referendum. This essentially means that the losing team wants a re-match. How Britain choses to deal with this will reflect on many core principles and have far reaching implications.

Meanwhile, the arguments and turn of events raise many questions. How can people claim to stand for democracy, and try to deny an equal right to opinion to all sections of society? How can one say that they stand for liberty, and seek to appropriate the right to choose as their exclusive privilege? How can they rail about fascism, yet attempt to crush dissenting opinions? There’s much to reflect on, isn’t it?

Addictions counsellor. Holds degrees in Political science. Interested in photography and writing.
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