Britain’s surprise opting out of the European Union has many roots. Foremost was the overwhelming “leave” vote by distinctly white, older, less well educated provincial voters. They live outside London in post-industrial regions, similar to the Rust Belts in the United States.
By contrast, Londoners, the Scots and nationalist Northern Irish voted strongly in favor of “stay.”
This was mostly a populist protest against globalization and immigration — forces they feel unable to control or change. A similar anger persists in the United States, France, Belgium, Holland — countries with differing social support and labor union strengths.
The shared anger comes from a stew of lost culture, economic segmentation and rising ethnic nationalism.
Ironically, those hostile to immigration in England are where there are fewest immigrants. London’s high-immigrant metropolitan area was strongly in favor of remaining. Could it be that globalization more than immigration is the real issue?
From World War II through the late 1980s, Western workers had little competition. Aggressive lobbying for NAFTA in the ’90s and the opening of China, India and Eastern Europe dramatically increased competition. Global industrial workers doubled from 1.5 billion to over 3 billion. Unfortunately, Western governments, obsessed with investor class well-being and indifferent to dislocation and suffering, did nothing to offset this schism via supplemental education/skills for the displaced.
For Donald Trump, this result could be seen as a shot of adrenalin for his flagging campaign. He is tapping into protectionism, urging retreat by the United States as a leader in trade, global affairs and immigration.
But to draw a strong Brexit parallel with the USA could be wrong. In the UK, 87 percent are white versus only 63 percent here — perhaps a Hillary advantage in a more diverse electorate, versus Trump’s white, inward looking, nationalist xenophobic appeal.
DAVID J. WALDRON