Brexit vote was a ‘scream of protest’ against the hijacking of democracy by the rich, says book

The Brexit vote was a “scream of protest” against the way that democracy has been hijacked by the richest 1 per cent, a new book published today [January 31] says.

In Making Sense of Brexit: Democracy, Europe and Uncertain Futures, Professor Victor Seidler says that Brexit was “not just about the impact and scale of mass migration.

“It was a desperate and determined call that Brexit should mean a fundamental reframing of the ways that the British economy had been organised in the interests of corporate wealth and the financial sector.

“It was a scream of protest against the ways that democracy had been hijacked by the 1 per cent who were able to govern for the few rather than the many. It was a call for a fundamentally more equal society where freedom, equality and justice were more equally distributed.”

Professor Seidler, of the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, says that government policies created the conditions for the vote to leave.

“Over the decades of de-industrialisation and losses of traditional, masculine jobs in industry, cross-party agreement – as under Blair’s New Labour – insisted that there were no alternatives to the neoliberal globalised economy. There was a consensus among political elites that if you resisted adapting to the demands of the competition to modernise, you could only end up as a loser.

“Large numbers of traditional Labour supporters to turn to UKIP, which they felt was listening to their concerns and talking the same language. These voters felt estranged from the cosmopolitan visions of what they saw as young urban elites in the South-East who had benefited from globalisation.”

This resentment was increased by the growing inequality in society during the Cameron government, said Professor Seidler.

“Voters had not forgotten Osborne’s claim that with austerity ‘we are all in it together’, and many in traditional working-class areas in the North were determined to have their say and let the governing elites know the hardships and sufferings they had endured while the bankers and the financial elites had largely been let off from their responsibility for creating the global financial crisis.

“This was a sweet moment of revenge – pay-back time – and if it meant that Cameron would be obliged to leave office, humiliated by losing the vote, his legacy shredded, so be it.”

Voters, says Professor Seidler, “felt that their feelings of patriotism were rebuked and regarded as of little concern in a post-national world. When they got the opportunity, they were determined to put the boot in, despite the warnings of gloom and doom from global economic and political elites.

“They were ready to celebrate when, against the odds, and the predictions of the media elite, they got the result they wanted. Even if the result could further damage their economic well-being, things couldn’t really be much worse, and at least they could feel that they had got their country back.

“They were angry at the ways that they had been treated by various governments, and if they had turned towards UKIP in traditional Labour areas in the North, this was because they felt that Nigel Farage, even if he had worked in the City and came from a privileged background, somehow spoke in a language that they could understand.”

Professor Seidler says that people “need to face how the law has so often been made to protect the interests of the rich and the powerful, such that the voices of the poor are so often overlooked and silenced. We need to constantly question post-truth claims in a democracy in which people can feel that it is not only their votes but their lives that are given equal value.

“We can refuse abstract political languages that fail to engage and that silence those who are accustomed to being ignored. As we discuss the terms for withdrawal of the UK’s membership of the EU, the UK has the ability to create a new relationship with Europe that works for both. We can work for the turn towards authoritarian populism to be resisted and transformed into a new democratic politics that values the stranger, refugee and asylum seeker equally.”

The book is published by Policy Press and the British Sociological Association, ISBN 978-1-4473-4520-6 paperback, price £14.99. It is part of their 21st Century Standpoints book series, the first of which, Miseducation by Diane Reay, was published in 2017. Forthcoming titles include Snobbery by David Morgan; What’s Wrong with Work? by Lynne Pettinger; and Money by Mary Mellor. The series editors are professors Les Back, Goldsmiths; Pam Cox University of Essex; and Nasar Meer, University of Edinburgh.

For more information, or to interview Professor Seidler, please contact: 

Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392

Review copies of Making Sense of Brexit are available from Kathryn King, Policy Press.


1. Victor Seidler is Emeritus Professor of Social Theory in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London.

2. The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235