It’s time for Remainers to stop caricaturing Leave voters as stupid dupes

In a speech at “Our Fractured Society” at the Oxford Literary Festival, Claire argues that we need to heal divisions and seize the moment

I want to lay a claim: Brexit was a fantastic moment for popular sovereignty. The vote came after years of technocratic rule in which managerialism had replaced political principles and ideology. Years in which people had been ‘done to’ as passive recipients of condescension, told how to live by their betters (yes, some of those ‘infamous’ experts who always know what’s best for us).

The Brexit vote was a turning point when people rediscovered their agency. This vote, we were told, was a once in a lifetime chance, where every vote would count. People seized the moment to assert themselves as active citizens.

But instead of celebrating this boost to democracy, we have seen acrimonious divisions. This fracturing has intensified since 23 June 2016 – due not to the vote itself, but the ‘fear and loathing’-style response to this fantastic democratic moment, a visceral and mean-spirited contempt aimed at the majority of voters. The demonising of the Brexit demos as ‘deplorables’ continues to do a huge amount of damage.  

Even before the vote, respectable broadsheet columnists thought nothing of using bestial analogies to describe those attracted to voting Leave. Nick Cohen talked of “a know-nothing movement of loud mouths and closed minds…It is as if the sewers have burst”. The day after the vote Laurie Penny despaired that “the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain voted out, out, out”. It’s been a prejudice presented by many ever since.

The full speech can be found here.