While there are huge differences of opinion about what caused the country to vote for Brexit, almost everyone concedes that regional inequality and inequality in general had something to do with it. When you look at the regional disparity in terms of Remain and Leave votes, this becomes indisputable. Yet leaving the EU isn’t going to solve this problem. At best, regional inequality will stay roughly the same as it is now; at worst, it will get much, much worse.
A common trope to emerge from journalistic post-mortems on the referendum and from associated focus groups is that groups of D and E voters from outside of London and Scotland believe that while Brexit will probably make things economically worse for the country overall, the rich – and particularly the rich in London – will suffer the vast brunt of this. This is very, very unlikely to be the case. London is economically strong enough to withstand any form Brexit takes; to adjust accordingly. Parts of the country such as the North East, however, are dependent upon industries that in certain Brexit scenarios could be almost totally decimated. Brexit, however it goes, will not make the rich poorer – it could make the poor much poorer though, depending again on the form in which it takes.
Even if Brexit takes a relatively harmless economic form, the thinking that has gone into it over the past two years and counting will have shoved the problem of inequality to the backburner. Amazingly, for all of the hype, Corbyn has put forward very little in terms of practical solutions to solving the inequality problem, and nothing at all on regional equality. The priorities he has identified, both in the manifesto and in his own more personal political space are nationalising utilities, nuclear disarmament, eliminating tuition fees, radical steps to eliminate rough sleeping, and building more houses. None of them other than the last one will even nominally address inequality in Britain. The rough sleeping priority may make life much better for the very poorest, but even taking Corbyn’s ideas to their nth degree, these ex-rough sleepers will still be society’s poorest. In terms of building more houses, Corbyn engages in the same empty rhetoric as every other political leader, simply saying we will build more houses without addressing any of the tough choices that would have to be made to make that practically possible. Where are these houses going to be built exactly? Are you willing to build on the green belt?
I worry about what happens after we leave the EU and things either stagnate or get worse for the poor and the poorer parts of England. There will no longer be the EU as a scapegoat; the political class, already in the firing line, will have nowhere to hide. The amount of practical thinking that needs to be done in order to tackle these problems is terrifyingly profound – and yet they are not enough of a priority to any political party at present.