Brexit/voice: the role of hope in resistance

The last seminar in the RegNet Conversations on Resistance series was Brexit/voice: the role of hope in resistance.

Stafford, Cannock, Wolverhampton. Different towns, same message: “There’s no decent work”; “the politicians don’t care about us”; “we’ve been forgotten”; “betrayed”; “there’s too many immigrants, and we can’t compete with the wages they’ll work for”. Nobody used the word humiliation, but that’s the sense I got. (Mike Carter, The Guardian, 27 June 2016)

The Brexit vote in the United Kingdom came as a surprise, with Leave voters apparently voting against their interests, against the preferences of political elites, and against the widespread predictions of polls. In the aftermath, commentary attributed the result to ignorance and racism, citing inflows of EU subsidies to regions voting Leave as evidence the result was irrational.

But analyses of voting patterns suggest the Leave vote was concentrated in areas where the downsides of globalisation and neoliberal social and economic policy have been most keenly felt. Austerity strategies adopted during the global financial crisis on the pretext of ‘fixing the budget’ have led to Britain back-sliding on measures of social fairness – which in turn predict the Leave vote.

This panel explores the implications of the Brexit vote as an expression of political resistance. In the United States, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild describes the ‘deep story’ underpinning the popularity of Trump as an intensely-felt loss of trust in regulatory, democratic, and redistributive institutions.

Albert O. Hirschman famously describes two possible responses to loss of trust in institutions: exit, or voice, each expressing different degrees of loyalty. The Brexit vote may reflect a critical mass of voters, cutting across traditional party lines, seeking exit not just from the EU but also the bipartisan political consensus on neoliberalism and the inevitability of globalisation.

Does the sustainability of neoliberalism depend on the existence of vibrant discourses of resistance? Does the Leave vote express racism or a sense of economic injustice, or both? What role does hope and trust play in resistance – or in sustaining unfair institutions? What are the implications of Brexit for health and human rights?


Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet