Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Populism in the UK

Brexit has revealed the depth of social class cleavages in the UK.

In U.K., a Brexit Spat Reveals Deep Divisions
The letter is as British as it gets: polite, polished and understated.

Written by a senior Conservative Party lawmaker, Christopher Heaton-Harris, and sent to British universities, it asked officials to reveal the names of professors involved in teaching students about Europe, including Britain’s decision last year to leave the European Union, a process known as Brexit.

“Furthermore,” the missive read, “if I could be provided with a copy of the syllabus and links to the online lectures which relate to this area I would be much obliged.”

Despite its apparently mild tone, the letter has provoked a national debate on freedom of speech in universities and whether the country is being subjected to political censorship…

While the letter itself is the work of a single politician, the backlash underscores the toxic climate and the searing divisions that dominate Britain more than a year after its referendum on Brexit.

There is deep uncertainty and little consensus over what Britain’s future should look like. Negotiations with the European Union over divorce terms have all but stalled. Even the ruling Conservative Party, which called for the referendum in the first place, is divided over what kind of a break it wants. Resentment against elites remains as acerbic as ever…

Typically, in the Brexit debate, those in the “leave” camp are described as populist and anti-immigrant, while the “remain” camp is often disparaged as elitist — educated, professional, mainstream media, academics and others — and called things like traitors or “enemies of the people.”…

“There is an illiberal liberalism among universities in the sense that ‘we are right’ and ‘we are morally superior,’ ” said David Goodhart, author of “The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics.” There is a “massive liberal bias” against Brexit in universities, he said, and “they have the kind of economic, political and cultural clout of enormously rich organizations through which millions of young people go.”

In the end, wrote Stephen Glover, a Daily Mail columnist and an alumnus of Oxford, “The patronizing, elitist hysteria of universities over being asked about Brexit will harden the views of millions who voted for it.

“It was partly as a revolt against such patronizing attitudes that so many less privileged Britons voted Brexit.”

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