Undoubtedly the ‘stickiest’, most tangible message of the EU Referendum campaign was the invocation that a vote to leave the EU was a vote to take back control, a message that resonated across social cleavages, from Canterbury to Carlisle, from Sunderland to Surrey Heath.
The truth of Brexit however could be underwhelming for anyone who is genuinely expecting a greater degree of control as a result of their vote. Leaving the EU will not unfortunately produce the new institutions, industries, homes, hospitals or schools that we all need to feel like we have some semblance of control over our collective future. That is down to what we do next.
If feeling out of control is what this was all about, then the first place to look to re-balance this situation is the state of global capitalism, which is more out of control than ever before. The financial crash of 2008 demonstrates the inter-connected nature of the world’s markets, and our ability to regulate this will only be lessened outside of the EU. That said, multi-national corporations have long-proven themselves adept at influencing and avoiding rules, whatever level of government has created them. As much as it is true that countries within the EU have contributed to corporate tax avoidance through loopholes and sweetheart deals, no country is more culpable than the United Kingdom, with its network of tax havens centred on the City of London.
If we want to take back control of our economy, to provide better services and a greater sense of control over precious institutions such as the NHS, we have to ensure that businesses that make money in the UK pay their fair share of tax in the UK.
More than that though, if we want to take back control from the governing forces of capitalism, we have to make sure we’re responding to the capitalism of the 21st century, not some nostalgic vision of it from the industrial era. Our new capitalist overlords in this information society - Facebook, Google, Amazon and the like – no longer rely on explicit forms of power – they are not our employers and often don’t even require us to part with any money in order to build their own influence and capital. Instead, they rely on our compliance with services that we value and enjoy, to gather information that can be used in any number of ways. The most obvious use of this information, for example in the case of Amazon’s suggested purchases, is to sell us more stuff.
More complex uses of the information that swirls around us all includes the creation of new identities, the manipulation of emotions and, potentially, the subversion of democratic will through the oblique, complex algorithmic decision-making concerning what information we are exposed to.
As ever, the first step to overcoming a problem is understanding it and challenging any notions that it is an inevitable condition of living in our society. Despite the toxicity of the EU referendum, the post-Brexit landscape can still be won by thoughtful, hopeful and progressive voices, but to do so we need, more than ever before, to understand the powers that are leaving so many of us feeling out of control.
In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.
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