My friends and family in Bradford voted for Brexit because they were misled
But don’t ignore their experiences
I was 14 when I realised things in my hometown weren’t quite right.
Once I was walking down Idle Road in Bradford on the way to school in year nine and passed two men. One called after me, shouting: “Dirty white slut.” I turned to my friend and her face mirrored my reaction. I felt humiliated.
Actually it wasn’t once. Four years later I’d gone out into town for my friend’s 18th birthday, only to be harassed by a man older than my Dad. He couldn’t understand why I was ignoring his advances and went on to shout at me that all white British girls were easy. I cut the night short.
Lots of women from Bradford have similar stories. Some of their stories are worse.
Growing up, I remember hearing countless tales about gang attacks and racial tension. Having friends from many different backgrounds meant that this always bothered me: I could never understand why the city just couldn’t seem to be unified.
Racial difference was ever-present. We were reminded of it when we were shouted at in the street, and when we walked past an EDL march in the city centre. The community issues divisions caused by mass migration to Bradford are very well documented and very complex. There is friendship and cause for optimism, but to a backdrop of bigotry and suspicion on both sides.
That discussion is for another time. I mention it because when thousands of people in Bradford voted to leave the EU last week, including many people I went to school with and my family, this is why they did it.
Scrolling down Facebook on the day of the vote, the number of posts relating to the referendum ending immigration was overwhelming. So many of them were racially motivated, with one even claiming to be excited about “Making Britain British again.”
People who understand that the EU has got literally nothing to do with Pakistani immigration to Bradford will find this infuriating. I’m one of them. So, I’m sure, are some of the people I know who voted based on other motivations.
Explaining why 54 per cent of Bradford and 68 per cent of neighbouring Barnsley voted to leave, however, means explaining it how it is. Seemingly an overwhelming number of voters cast their decision based upon concerns about immigration, something it would be unwise to ignore.
How are we supposed to respond to this?
Well, for one, it’s fair to say that the vast majority of those who voted to leave based on racial motivations were misled. In the weeks leading up to the election Facebook was covered in posts like the one above, each claiming that exiting the EU would lower, if not end, immigration to the country.
It’s worth nothing that in areas like Bradford and Barnsley, people are far more likely to log into Facebook than they are to look for information in trusted news outlets.
They don’t seek out explainers in The Economist to find out what level of freedom of movement might be grated by associate membership of the EU. If they are misled by friends’ Facebook posts, or their tabloid newspaper, or a UKIP poster showing a long line of migrants who will never reach the UK, they will stay misled.
I asked an old school friend who voted leave why they thought Brexit would lower immigration, and their reply confirmed my fears: “By exiting the EU we won’t be told what to do by Germany and France. This means that we can stop the movement of people through Europe from Africa, Syria and further.”
For years, politicians, local ones and national ones, have blamed everything on the EU. And eventually, people starting believing it. Those on my newsfeed and my friend think that everything bad about Bradford is either the fault of London or the EU.
Talking to the friend also shed light on the fact that many working class people feel let down and abandoned by their government: “I found out all my information from actual people on Facebook. I’m not listening to rich politicians like David Cameron who like the EU and have never actually lived in an area where immigration causes problems.”
It doesn’t matter how many times exasperated economists on Newsnight explain that, on paper, immigration is adding to the prosperity of towns like Bradford; that immigrants aren’t taking jobs from locals; that on average, school paces aren’t under pressure. They don’t live in Bradford and their daughters haven’t been called white sluts on their way to school.
It goes without saying that people I know in Bradford are going to be angry when leaving the EU hurts their living standards even further and prevents not one single migrant from coming to live in the city.
Perhaps my friend was onto something: The working class in Britain have been let down by their government. They’ve been let down, not by the number of immigrants let into the country, but by the lack of information provided on one of the most important votes of their life. Now they are going to learn what the EU did and didn’t do the hard way.