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My 350 on BREXIT: ‘Us’ versus ‘them’

“Many in the UK feel totally disenfranchised by the entire political establishment. By not noticing this, the ‘remain’ camp went horribly wrong.”

Amanda Machin
3 July 2016

The wave of emotional outrage and hatred triggered by the vote to leave the EU reveals that there is an issue of identity at play. The referendum was not just a matter of economic rationalism versus nationalist myopia. It was also a matter of ‘us’ versus ‘them’.

Many of those deeply upset by the outcome, including myself, did not necessarily, or even remotely, think the EU was entirely progressive. But, nevertheless, we felt European and we wanted to work together with other Europeans to improve it. The 'EU' is not 'Europe' but on a certain level there is an important connection. This is why it hurts that we are out, and our frustration with those who voted to put us out.

On the other hand, those who voted leave did not identify with the EU. Perhaps they failed to notice the benefits it brought them, perhaps it was solely a protest about other issues, but this, ultimately, did not matter. If nothing else, the result has revealed this profound lack of identification. There is a feeling (perhaps shared across Europe) that the EU wields power in people’s everyday lives, but with no accountability.

The leave voters were not all old, stupid, racist. To portray them as such is an easy way to avoid engaging with their concerns. But nor were they necessarily voting against the EU because of its policies. They were voting against the EU for many different reasons, but in part because they felt they did not belong. Many in the UK feel totally disenfranchised by the entire political establishment. By not noticing this, the ‘remain’ camp went horribly wrong. The door was left wide open for right-wing populists to construct the division between ‘the people’ versus ‘the elites’.

It is crucial to take this opportunity to formulate a new, progressive inclusive ‘us’. It is also crucial not to portray this referendum as old versus young or racist versus liberal or ignorant versus enlightened. To do so would be to reaffirm the reactionary divisions that certain politicians hope to gain from.

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.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals


To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.


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