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Brexit Sweat and Tears

19 4 2
28.01.2019

LONDON – I recently saw an American play in London called “Sweat,” written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Lynn Nottage. It was performed previously on and off Broadway and was described by the Wall Street Journal as a play that helped to explain Donald Trump’s election as president.

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Nottage had spent some time talking to the residents of a poor city in Pennsylvania which was losing jobs and its modest prosperity because of the contraction of the steel industry. Competition from cheaper manufacturers and lower-paid workers around the world had devastated an already-weak economy and provoked conflict between friends, relatives, and races.

Economically marginalized workers were also feeling culturally beleaguered. The world in which they had grown up – its values and fixed identity – was, it seemed to them, being systematically trashed. They turned – not necessarily in the expectation of answers – to a billionaire outsider who, unlike the political elites, had not yet let them down and appeared to share their contempt for the establishment.

Some politicians and commentators have sought to explain the vote for Brexit in the United Kingdom along similar lines. But while economic grievances and a generalized hostility to immigration and the political establishment help to explain the results of the 2016 referendum, they are far from a complete explanation.

The first thing to note is that while only a minority of Labour voters chose to leave the European Union, a large majority of Conservative voters in well-off areas outside London did so, as the newspapers they mostly read advised. Today, moreover, the anti-European virus in the........

© Project Syndicate