Brighton usually loves a revolution – so why did my anti-establishment city not vote for Brexit?

Posted On 03 Nov 2017 at 10:09 am

By Tom Bewick

At 6am on the morning of Friday 24 June 2016, Brighton awoke to find itself on the wrong side of history. 

The country had voted for Brexit, while seven in ten of the city’s electorate had voted to Remain. 

Brighton has for decades built an enviable reputation for its alternative way of life and anti-establishment feeling. 

Now, in one fell swoop, what many would regard as a naturally left-leaning cradle of dissent was discovered to be on the conservative side of the argument. 

Residents had been swept along by a tide of emotion that sticking with the EU status quo was somehow synonymous with the values that the city represents: openness, diversity, democracy, gay rights and social justice. 

Brighton usually loves a revolution. Some would say it is in the city’s DNA, characterised by one website calling for the establishment of the “Independent People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove”.

So it begs the question: why on this occasion was there such an overwhelming and convincing victory for Remain? 

Why did 68 per cent of voters lend support to the neo-liberal and anti-democratic forces of the EU?

The clue perhaps lies in what the left-wing author and Brexit activist, Sebastian Handley, explains in his book written about the local campaign, How the nobodies beat the somebodies: “Throughout my life, from watching The Young Ones, to student marches, to discussions in the salon, there have often been tongue-in-cheek references to ‘the Revolution’, mostly making the assumption that it was some type of historical end-of-the rainbow that would never actually happen. But when it happened it was nothing like any of our predictions – there were no burning of barricades, no petrol bombs, no big marches, no occupations and no guillotines – it was a very British revolution.”

I fought for the Leave campaign in what is my adopted home city.

I’m hugely proud to represent my community on the city council. And I can tell you, that if residents had perhaps stayed true to the city’s many democratic traditions and progressive working class values, then the result would have been very different.

Indeed, like the rest of Sussex, Brighton could have even narrowly voted Leave.

Instead, Remain supporters fought a campaign that appealed to all the sneering stereotypes and deepest prejudices of “alternative” middle-class metropolitan England.

The city’s high-profile and only Green MP, Caroline Lucas, conducted a type of campaign that can best be described as an inverted form of Farage.

It felt more like textbook demagoguery, aimed at whipping up personal feelings in support of a cause that might usually be associated with the tactics of political extremes.


Debates and sloganeering was reactionary. The “enemy” was cast as the people who wanted “to take Brighton out of Europe!” as if the Leave side was proposing a return to the Hundred Years War.

While the UKIP leader was standing by his controversial “breaking point” posters of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border, Lucas was wasting no time implying to residents that anyone even contemplating a vote to leave the EU was tantamount to siding with racists.

It had all the echoes of George Osborne’s punishment budget: just the mere act of voting to Leave would result in the sky falling in.

It was no wonder the atmosphere by the south coast had turned quite toxic by the time of Thursday 23 June. The city, after all, would never come out in support of people branded as bigots.

In the end, the apocalyptic message paid off: in the heart of Lucas’s well-heeled leafy green constituency, turnout in the referendum was as high as 85 per cent.

Meanwhile, in poorer east Brighton – now a Labour constituency won back from the Conservatives in 2017 – the turnout was just 46 per cent.

Indeed, the difference in turnout between these two constituencies in the EU referendum speaks volumes about the kind of voters these MPs, supposedly of the Left, are actually speaking up for.

It was certainly not for the city’s peripheral and predominantly white working-class council housing estates. If this group bothered to vote at all, it was out.


Mounting a progressive, social democratic case for leaving the EU was an uphill challenge, even though I tried.

The problem with Caroline Lucas’s brand of left-wing politics is that it has a canny way of simply closing down any real debate.

Bring up freedom of movement and immigration and people were told: “Oh, you’re a racist.”

Call into question whether the EU was really an engine of prosperity and the fear tactics were unleashed: “Leaving the single market will see tourist and student numbers to the city plummet and unemployment sky rocket.”

Even the boss of the recently opened British Airways i360 waded in, at one point suggesting that up to a third of tourists to the city would drop off following a Brexit vote.

Of course, in the 16 months that have passed since the referendum, not one of these dire “Project Fear” predictions has come to pass.

For sure, Brighton and Hove is suffering from years of Tory austerity. Rough sleeping on our streets is chronic. Too many families rely on food banks.

But on the whole residents live in a dynamic, diverse and resilient city.


Long-term youth unemployment is close to being eradicated. Self-employment and new business start-ups are considerably above the national average. Apprenticeships are up 19 per cent since the referendum.

And the fall in sterling has delivered record numbers of visitors to the city. The i360 is doing so well that it might even be able to pay back early a highly controversial multimillion-pound taxpayer loan, made by the former Green-led council.

Because when you subject rational arguments to a more objective set of tests, the real values of Brighton speak as much for Leave voters as they do for Remain.

Take the issue of “openness”. No one on my side of Labour Leave politics is seriously arguing for the pulling up of the drawbridge.

In fact, as internationalists, the opposite is the case. Britain sitting behind the protectionist wall of the customs union is doing absolutely nothing for the oppressed coffee bean growers of the developing world.

How ironic then that the cappuccino-swilling hordes of Hove voted in large numbers to keep some of the world’s poorest people and traders locked out of our markets.

Who in future makes our laws and how we make our laws was ultimately an issue settled by the referendum result.

Brexit is a great opportunity to not only repatriate powers from the EU, but to devolve some of these powers to local government.


The Brexiteers who won the referendum argument are truly on the side of local democracy.

In future, if my council wants to build a new leisure centre we shouldn’t have to go through a byzantine OJEU procurement process taking many years.

Councils should be able to back local businesses with their own tendering protocols and local employment-generating schemes.

It could include the kind of investment in our fishing ports or the creation of energy companies currently banned under EU state-aid rules.

I am proud to tell my children of the positive case that I made during the referendum campaign, fighting for a country more economically just and socially democratic: with greater control of our own laws, money, borders and trade policy.

Perhaps now more than ever is the time for the voters of Brighton and Hove to acknowledge and embrace the new reality.

Trying to ban “Brexit-blue” cheese in our local shops, marching up the promenade with EU flags singing Ode to Joy and continually moaning about the referendum result won’t actually help anyone.

Councillor Tom Bewick was the chairman of the Leave campaign in Brighton and Hove. He represents Westbourne Ward on Brighton and Hove City Council.

  1. Noel McNults Reply

    Yet more evidence that Leave voters exist in some kind of bubble and are far removed from reality.

    Look at all the well known people who led the Leave campaign, the top Tory’s and UKIP politicians. Name one of them who is progressive, revolutionary and forward thinking? Not one.

    Leave voters are painted as reactionary little Englanders because that’s exactly what most of them are. I have not met one who did not fit the caricature, could be just a coincidence, I doubt it though.

  2. Chris Reply

    I have just read it and am amazed that the author is not a paid up member of the Conservative party the way he keeps deriding the “left” in this article. The article is also full of the myths that were put up by the lying Leave campaign, including where he says “greater control of our own laws, money, borders and trade policy”. All of those have been debunked so many times since the referendum. In fact he has not said one advantage that leaving the EU will give us. All he needed to add was that there will be £350million a week for our NHS, Will of the People and we are going to get blue passports to make Brexit Bingo

  3. Alan Tomsk Reply

    Horrified by this article. Mr Bewick, people in Brighton voted Remain because they believe in peace, close cooperation with and active participation in all events and decisions that affect our great European continent. Caroline Lucas summed it up perfectly when she said she prefers “bureaucrats to bullets” and if you had paid any notice over the last 3 decades it is the super rich and successive UK governments making the UK a Non-Dom tax haven to serial asset strippers which have left much ofthe country in ruins – NOT THE EU !! I wish you luck with your divisive, backward, nationalistic Brexit which targets immigrants and the EU for all the ills brought by our own government.

  4. Tom Stear Reply

    There is a wealth of data to show countries, cities and companies that are diverse and inclusive are more economically successful. A large number of businesses base themselves in Brighton and Hove specifically because of the wide number of European nationalities here and the language skills they bring. We value them as colleagues and friends.
    Blaming the EU for largely global issues of inequality, migration and rapid technological change and turning our backs on our neighbours is not the answer.
    We voted to remain because xenophobic idiots like Tom Berwick have no place in our city.

    • Ian Crawford Reply

      Tom, please look up xenophobic and then look in the mirror… twins. Leavers want to trade with the rest of the world, we do not want to build walls like the EU has done. Having open trading with the world is something that xenophobic people do not want to do.

      Read what you have written and you will see that you are the problem, because you want only want Europeans. Leavers want all nationalities, we do not want to treat people from inside Europe any different from people outside of Europe…. but you Remainers do.

      This article is accurate, open and honest.

      • Symo Reply

        Unfortunately leavers don’t by in large understand how trade works. The UK WAS TRADING WITH THE WORLD WHILST IN THE EU despite what MR Putin’s friend was telling you. We suffered no ill effects from being in the EU when it came to trade.

        Challenge : Name a trade deal prior to the referendum that the UK failed to sign whilst part of the EU. Those you can name more than likely down to human rights violations rather than anything else.

  5. C Cheetham Reply

    I don’t know how Tom Bewick can be proud to tell his children he campaigned to leave the EU. Does he not care that the opportunities for young people to travel,study, work and live in Europe are likely to be squashed. Europe is close to us, physically. We are throwing away membership of a club on our doorstep; putting up walls, a bit like Trump. Our children will pay the price.

  6. Rachel Espinosa Reply

    Tom Bewick you really have no idea what you are talking about and clearly dont represent the residents of Brighton and Hove so you are ill-suited to represent them / us. The reason the majority voted for remain (myself included) was because the city has a high proportion of well educated residents ie with a degree or more and possess the mental capacity to understand the benefits of the EU to the country as a whole and were not taken in by the outrageous lies of the leave campaign. Your article shows how little you understand about democracy and the EU and is quite frankly stupid.

  7. Louis Loizou Reply

    Who is this man who completely misreads the people of Brighton and Hove, and the many reasons we voted by around 70% to remain in the EU? Patronising, stupid comments do not help. He has no idea.
    * First base in this Brexit nonsense is that it was merely a Tory ploy to try to stitch their divided party together and to capitalise on the UKIP vote. The `People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove’ should tell this silly man that we do not want Tories in our city, formed as it was the day we found out that we were not getting a progressive left coalition but yet another slash-and-burn, nasty nasty Tory government, is an expression of our unhappiness with Tories;
    * The idea that taking an ideological view on the EU without reference to a) the harm it would do to working people, the poor, unemployed, just about everyone in the 99% and b) the fact that neoliberalism is EVERYWHERE, is the enemy of democracy and politics itself with its market madness does not mean we should leave the union that has given the most protection to people and planet, ensured adherence to human rights, forced our government to accept and equal age of consent for all etc etc etc. It means we should stay in and reform it, because once out, we will have no power to make change;
    * Many of us believe the only reason Labour is supporting a soft Brexit is that they do not want to lose the votes they may lose if they tell the truth. As people, I blame them for this, I am unhappy that Corbyn appears to be less than honest about this, as a party, I understand the difficulty of going against the (small) majority for leaving;
    * Then there is the small fact of there being no major conflicts apart from those caused by the fall of the USSR. We want peace. We want jobs and financial stability. We want an end to this sham austerity deception. Leaving the EU will be handing all our power and accomplishments since the 1970s to a distrusted and corrupt Tory party who want to destroy the NHS to sell it off, are killing hundreds of people with their policies about benefits, their cuts to disability and so on and on.
    * We were disgusted at the lies told by that mop-haired Eton idiot and his leaver cronies.
    * While we understand the anger in vast areas of Britain outside of the South-East and London at decades of neglect which have caused so many problems in those regions like the northeast and northwest and destroyed the hopes of millions, the deliberate misdirection by the nasty Farage and the Nasty Party itself, the demagoguery of the Leavers stirring up this unrest, falsely blaming immigration for all their ills was a classic example of tapping into the fears of the lowest common denominator in British social life – or anywhere – fear of the other, be they immigrants or the more educated, leading to the absurd tarring and feathering of any expert who raised their head above the parapet of this prejudice.
    Brexit, if it happens, however it happens will for sure damage these islands in so many ways – we know of many already – and ways no-one has thought of. Almost everyday we hear more bad projections from all quarters if we leave.
    Before the referendum around 450 of 650 MPs were against leaving. Politics is a dishonest business that has had its day and many of us want an end to it. We want to be involved, and we are. We are building the future from the ground up with alternative housing, energy and other services, and we need our intelligent partners in Europe with us, not be thrown into a pit of our own making that may take generations to recover from.
    Please don’t publish this silly man again.

  8. Ian Crawford Reply

    A great article, some silly comments from people who do not know anything about the EU German Empire.

    Noel, by the way your “Little Englanders” I am Scottish and live in Brighton, so you are wrong…. in so many ways.

    C Cheetham, people have traveled in worked in Europe for many centuries, it did not start with the inception of the EU. ERASMUS is open to non EU Countries, Turkey is a member.

    • Symo Reply

      By saying EU German empire your hatred of anything not English from 1932 is exposed

  9. sebastian handley Reply

    I keep trying to post comments defending Tom, but it seems only vilification and character assassinations are allowed.

    • Frank le Duc Reply

      You may be doing something wrong as this is the first and only comment that we have received from you.

      • Tristram Hicks Reply

        Good point, well made, Franc

  10. Daniel Harris Reply

    Great Article – Indeed I back up what tom says about the poorer areas like Whitehawk, many did want to leave and many didn’t vote, if they had you would have seen a divide in opinion in the city.

    I am personally in favor of free movement, but only when we have the housing capacity for our own people and affordable. We shouldn’t allow the tax loopholes for foreign investors, indeed they should be limited to a maximum number of homes and if they want more they need to compensate the sate. Indeed they should all be paying tax.

    We do need a Labour government to achieve this.

  11. Will Dawson Reply

    Projections are just that. Do yourself a favor and look at the economists who predicted the last economic crash (there where 6) and see what they say about Brexit. The rest is just sheep repeating the same old tired lines.

  12. Will Dawson Reply

    For the people who repeat the same lines the media put out try reading off-guardian for a different perspective. The Guardian is no longer bastion of left leaning truth. Its run my city people who throw in the odd left story to keep people coming back, its a Tory rag.

  13. Justin Reply

    The people who voted to leave the EUSSR are those who saw the damage membership has done to this country, especially those old enough to remember what ENGLAND was before it was destroyed, before the suspected child abuser Edward Heath LIED us into joining, and dragged us in anyway without asking what we though.

    Straight bananas anyone? Loss of our traditional fishing grounds? Unimaginable amounts of money handed over as our membership fee when that money could and should be used at home. Ludicrous new laws, similar to the banana one. Complete loss of the rights we once thought we had. A culture of appeasement, grovelling to every “minority” with complete disregard for those whose country this once was. Anti-White racism everywhere. Truth denounced as “hate speech” and honestly held opinions punishable through the courts. Religious intolerance disguised as “not wanting to offend” those who don’t share our traditional beliefs, and who are far more tolerant in most cases than we are led to believe.

    To try to “protect” against even the slightest imagined “offence” is itself offensive to the people concerned in that it implies that they’re too stupid to look after themselves and so impossibly “sensitive” that they’d have a heart attack if someone said “boo” to them. This so-called “protection” is insulting to those it falsely claims to protect.

    Say one word against any aspect of this lunacy and all you get is insults from the BIGOTS of Brighton, or the thought-police breaking your door down in the middle of the night.

    Yes, that’s right. Intolerant BIGOTS continually preaching their own particularly hateful form of “tolerance” that doesn’t tolerate anything that differs from their own narrow-minded views.

    Don’t worry bigots. We’re NOT leaving Europe and regaining the right to run our own country for our own people. It was all a show to maintain the illusion that this country is some kind of a “democracy” when the truth is that it never has been.

    While the lying politicians of all parties waffle on about the mythical “Brexit”, behind the scenes they’re taking us further into the EU.

    Even if we did leave, the sky wouldn’t fall as the scaremongers would have us believe. The world wouldn’t end. We survived as an independent country for thousands of years, trading with Europe and the rest of the world, so why devote all that energy to trying to spread panic?

    • Jack Reply

      Unfortunately the empire is no more. Propaganda is king. Experts are dismissed out of hand. Not sure many can prosper. Also we have never been independent,just look at the royal bloodline. Oh and straight bananas was one of many lies. At least do some research before spouting nonsense.

    • Frankie D. Reply

      You do know you’re talking complete and utter bollocks, right justin?

    • Polonius Reply

      Hi Justin. I don’t think it is helpful to say that what you are talking about is bollocks, but you are wrong on a number of fronts. ‘Straight bananas’ is a complete myth. How can you seriously believe their is some EU command that all our bananas must be straight when everyone knows bananas are naturally curved. Next time you go to the supermarket, have a look. Them bananas ain’t straight. ‘Loss of traditional fishing grounds’ is another myth. The Common Fisheries Policy specifically preserves the rights of coastal communities to fish in waters something like 12 nautical miles offshore. Further out to see and, yes, the boats of other EU countries may fish. But guess what? British boats may fish in those waters, off the coast of France, Spain, Denmark, wherever. This is not anti UK discrimination like it is described by europhobes. The other things you mention like how white people are, and I paraphrase, oppressed in their own country have nothing to do with the EU. Europe is, don’t forget, a continent of white people. People of different colours came here because of our empire and the Commonwealth, not the EU. You complain people call you a bigot. I’m sorry to say this, Justin, and I really don’t want to hurl insults about but if the cap fits, wear it. You do seem to have bigoted views. But whatever your failings in life, they are not the fault of the EU, immigrants, political correctness gone mad or anything like that. You made choices in life and if you aren’t happy with them, I hope you still have time left to make better ones and to become a happier person. Take care.

  14. lilac Reply

    It is so hopeful that there are some people on the left with some power in this city who don’t sneer at us from down their Guardian educated noses. Before that vote, Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulsecoomb put leaflets through our doors saying that not all Greens wanted to Remain in the EU. George Galloway and Tony Benn were against the EU. I voted to Leave, and am proud to be in the 32%. When I read the result, I felt so proud of my fellow working class English people.

    • Frankie D. Reply

      Are you really that stupid?

  15. Polonius Reply

    I take it Bewick has written off any chance of being re-elected as a local councillor, given the insults he has hurled at his own constituents, e.g. ‘the cappuccino-swilling hordes of Hove’, and suggestions their concerns for the poor and dispossessed in the world is nothing more than virtue signalling. Well, as a deluded socialist Bewick knows all about virtue signalling while actually doing nothing of substance to help his constituents. I have never seen anything substantive he does in his ward. It is not just his complete uselessness but there comes a point when the hard right and the hard left of the political spectrum actually meet. Like the right wing Brexiteers, Bewick makes claims without any evidence whatsoever (record numbers of visitors to Brighton & Hove, really?) whilst simultaneously promising to make the world better if only voters will follow him on some ‘radical’ path. I suggest Bewick sticks to running his vehicle, the Aldrington Station Passenger Action group, and leaves international politics to the big boys and girls.

  16. John Reply

    I thought one good thing about Brexit would be that the Vote Leavers could stop whinging and cheer up. But they’re still nagging away except now it’s not Jeane-Claude Juncker but apparently it’s Hove coffee drinkers who they are to blame.

  17. Jack Reply

    Leavers made a dumb decision, unable to accept that. They end up repeating proven lies and jingo, to justify their choice. When things fall apart, they will try and blame everyone but themselves.

  18. Landless Peasant Reply

    Enough people in Brighton realised brexit was little about taking back control, or even better democratic representation, it is a coup to deregulate. None of the backers of brexit want a more democratic britain they want more money.
    In Switzerland , non eu country you can get eu grade chicken from France at twice the price of chicken in France. You can buy imported Chinese chickens at the same price as a French chicken in France.
    I remember when eu workers rights came into force. All the brext papers were up in arms about eu meddling in uk. The cost to uk business, the 10s of ‘000 of uk jobs that it would cost. the loss of exports due to higher costs etc. As a worker i like my workers rights, and the evidence shows that uk business was unaffected, in fact the rich still got richer at the expense of the poor.
    I love the fact the eu is the most regulated market ever in the world, no chlorinated chickens, corn fed beef, gmo crap, hormone infused meats etc etc.
    A for democratic representation, the EU has the highest level of democratic representation of anywhere else in the world, nowhere else comes close. The EU has the Highest standards of education, health care, food, infrastructure and recourse to law of anywhere in the world, ever.
    I love the ECJ and the human rights I hold under EU law, they certainly are stronger than anything the uk gov would ever give me.
    As for bringing up the straight banana bollox, please do some research and inform.
    The peoples of Brighton and Hove saw through the deception

  19. Frankie D. Reply

    Are you really that stupid, Tommyboy?

  20. No one Reply

    how can someone who won still be so bitter? what an idiot, and someone wholly un-representative of most people in Brighton’s views (who he manages to insult in this farceitcle)

  21. Mark Reply

    Dumbass article by someone who clearly understands nothing of what makes Brighton Brighton. Who even gave him the oxtgen of publicity?

  22. clive Pritchard Reply

    One of these comment claim leavers want more trade with coffee growers. Is that why kipper leaders call places Bongo bongo land?

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