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Touring the town, researchers feel London’s Brexit pulse

An Italian anthropologist is touring London on a red double-decker bus on a mission to capture the capital’s views on Brexit in the middle of an unprecedented crisis. Domenico Sergi, 39, said his research for the Museum of London had taken him to the capital’s “shopping centres, pubs and high streets”. Brexit “has become part of the fabric of how people relate to each other,” Sergi told AFP on his latest stop in Hillingdon, a west London suburb that voted heavily in favour of Brexit in the 2016 referendum.

“Brexit Talks” is one part of a four-year “Curating London Programme” funded by the Arts Council and Sergi hopes it will educate future generations of Londoners about a historic moment in the city’s history. To that end Sergi and the museum have hired a “London icon” – a red double-decker bus from 1965 – and taken it to two outer London boroughs, Hillingdon and Bromley, and two inner city ones, Hackney and Newham.

Sergi is also collecting Brexit-related artefacts. He has asked Charlie Mullins, the pro-Remain chief executive of Pimlico Plumbers, for his advertising hoardings saying “Bollocks to Brexit”. Sergi has also requested some of the beer mats and pamphlets produced by pub chain Wetherspoons, whose chairman Tim Martin is a major supporter of Brexit.

“We were quite puzzled by the amount of trades and businesses that jumped on the wagon of Brexit to sell more of their products and channel certain discussions,” Sergi told AFP. With the political landscape in chaos over Brexit, it is unsurprising that the researchers have found very different views. One of the more striking trends researchers have found in their 100 plus interviews with Londoners has been “how Brexit is affecting family dynamics,” Sergi told AFP in an interview during a visit to Brunel University – located in high-profile Brexiteer Conservative lawmaker Boris Johnson’s constituency.

“Last week at the Olympic Park in Newham we came across a couple from Havering and one partner voted to remain, the other to leave,” he said, referring to a borough where 70 percent voted to quit the European Union. London as a whole voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU by 60 to 40 percent – compared with the overall national result of 52-48 in favour of leaving. Sergi says a lot of the people interviewed admit to suffering from “fatigue”.

“People feel overwhelmed by the public discussion and are a little bit puzzled about the confusion taking place all round them,” said Sergi. “It is interesting that people are wanting to express Brexit fatigue and not holding back on what they think.” Not everyone the researchers ask at the university wants to take part but two visiting professors acquiesced.

“We will eventually get to a place at some point 20 years from now where people will be looking back on this and learning from it,” Sally Broughton Micova, a lecturer in political communication at the University of East Anglia, told AFP. “So having a variety of views knowing how people felt about it is quite important,” said the 45-year-old. Micova, who sported a yellow “Bollocks to Brexit” sticker, said she adhered to German sociologist Ulrich Beck’s idea of “cosmopolitan nations”.

“We can nurture local and national while being part of something bigger and that is something I believe in. “I hope we have not lost the chance,” she said. Ivor Gaber, a professor of political journalism at Sussex University, believes the project will teach future generations about globalisation. “As the world becomes more globalised, people cling to particular identities which has a good side and a bad side,” he said.

“We have seen aspects of nationalism and xenophobia in this country playing a role as we saw in the Brexit debate.” Gaber said many Leave voters “felt their English sense of identity was threatened by joining the EU”.

Pirate Irwin, "Touring the town, researchers feel London’s Brexit pulse," Business Recorder. 2019-03-31.
Keywords: Political science , East Anglia , Brunel University , Arts council , German sociologist , EU

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