The referendum on Britain's departure from the European Union polarised British politics, and motivated 72.2% of the registered voting population to voice their opinion on whether or not we should remain in the EU. In many ways, this was the perfect demonstration of democracy – a majority decision was achieved by giving the people of the country an opportunity to vote. However, despite this, it was the glaring flaws of the democratic process (rather than that which is explicitly ‘political' about a referendum), that revealed to me how we should all be considered ‘political subjects' and how this affects us on a daily basis.
In order to recognise how we are political subjects, it becomes important to define that which is political. For many, the political is restricted to that which is overtly so, in this case the referendum itself. However, there exists a spectrum between this and that which is merely social interaction, and this is the key to personalising the political and understanding how we are subjected to it. Political events are characterised by a notion of coercion, identified by an authority, and verified by legitimacy. Moreover, politics is an agent of generating social equilibrium, and yet during the referendum, this failed wholeheartedly. Instead, I found myself alienated from the decision and further let down by the process of exiting the EU that followed.
The first failure of the referendum campaign can be identified in its successful coercion of marginalised groups that were more susceptible to the blame seeking marketing tactics utilised by the leave campaign. Those with a university degree were far more likely to vote to remain (68%) compared to 70% of those with a GCSE level education who voted to leave. Further, over-65s were more than twice as likely to vote leave as those aged under 25. These demographic splits show how the rhetoric employed by the politicians of Brexit deliberately targeted these groups in an obvious display of power obtained by coercion. This power aligns with 2nd dimension of power, whereby we can acknowledge a ‘mobilization of bias' against the younger generation, despite the fear of having to deal with the long-term consequences of the referendum. As a younger person, the fears of what Brexit may bring concern me far more than the older individual, who may already have job security and a stable position on the housing market. The unknown consequences of Brexit are yet to be realised, but affect my life in every conceivable way. This has sparked a realisation that political decisions are inherently present in daily living.
Power can also exist in a more covert way, within the structure of institutions and through methodological manipulation. Before the referendum a dialogue existed on lowering the voting age for the 23rd June 2016, and further the structure of the question has heavily debated. Both of these factors held heavy weightings on the outcome, yet are rarely questioned. This illustrates Lukes' third dimension of power, whereby political subjects are unaware of the manipulative forces that shape their preferences. It can be seen that rather than a genuine interest in the reconciliation of diverse interests, the politics of Brexit was dominated by the currency of power, which allowed for an undemocratic and regressive outcome. It is this failure that allows me to be identified as a political subject – the outcome of the Brexit referendum depended on the ability of politicians to utilise their power in a way that would shape the result, despite an obvious failure to present on how our exit from the EU could have consequences that would shape our daily lives for years to come.
Anger over this situation is directed not to those who voted, but rather to the politicians who failed to accurately demonstrate the consequences of a leave or remain outcome. Politics is based on a standard of validity that politicians have obtained through the legitimacy of government. We therefore trust the voices of those in government, and by extension, the statistics they present. This was a fault of both the remain and leave campaign, but gained notoriety with the comment that we could save £350million per week. In the face of increasing austerity, marginalised groups were more than willing to consume such information, without checking its validity. Sorkoin identifies this trend of trust as political stratification, which can be identified where ‘the social ranks within a group are hierarchically superimposed with respect to their authority and prestige, their honors and titles; if there are rulers and the ruled, then whatever are their names, these things mean that the group is politically stratified.' Sorokin notes how authority is a political resource, and in the context of Brexit we can therefore see how authority has been used to create a veil of truth of the statistics and messages of the campaigns. Being a political subject depends on our ability to trust those who govern our politics, and this was fundamentally undermined in the EU referendum build-up. The consequences of how this information was misrepresented to the public are far reaching, and have sparked a previously unacknowledged interest in my interest into the legitimacy of the authority that is our political system, and how I am unescapably a political subject to it.
Whilst the consequences of Brexit have not yet fully revealed themselves, it is clear that they will be long term and will affect us on a daily basis. We have not yet negotiated a deal with the EU, and have no idea of where this decision may take us.
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