August 31, 2016 by James Crossley
A new study of a ‘northern Brexit town’, covering attitudes towards politicians, Britishness/Englishness, class, religion, and the Bible is available and is free/open access here and is from Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception 6.1 (2016), pp. 19-60. It’s quite long but the language of some the interviewees makes it worth it. It also has pictures. Here is the abstract:
James Crossley, ‘Brexit Barrow: Real-Time Receptions of the Bible during a Summer of Political Chaos’
In the wake of the 2008 recession, the first mainstream challenges to the dominance of neoliberalism and its accompanying Bible in English political discourse have emerged in the 2010s. The referendum on EU membership brought to the fore grievances that had been building for decades, particularly in towns that have faced sharp industrial decline. One such town is Barrow-in-Furness. This article analyses interviews, discussions, and social media activity during the Referendum campaign and its aftermath in order to see what kinds of perceptions about the Bible and religion exist in Barrow and to compare them with assumptions about the Bible and religion in mainstream political discourse. There was minimal interest in the Bible and regular ridicule aimed at political claims of the Bible as the source of English or British values and identity. This partly coheres with some recent research on understandings of Christianity but it must also be understood in the context of the hatred towards political and economic authority in places like Barrow. Despite the minimal interest in the Bible and Christianity, their commonly constructed Other—Islam—was regularly seen as another source of threatening authority, a telling fear in a town with only 0.2% identifying as Muslim.
The abstract does not do full justice to some of the responses (e.g. ‘proves…what a massive bellend he [David Cameron] really is’; ‘I think that’s a load of bollocks’; ‘What the fuck is he talking about? Ha ha. Fucking bullshit! Absolute bullshit! He can’t even peddle it out himself or his party! Does it include shagging a pig’s head? Not very Christian of him! Not very Christian or nice the way they act in parliament when they are slagging each other off and generally being gobshites. Schoolkids at Alfs showed more decorum than them!’; and so on). One of the issues that stood out for me was that while the Bible is used by politicians such uses aren’t exactly filtering through to places like Barrow (and presumably Barrow isn’t alone). Among the participants there was clearly no dislike of religion and the Bible per se but there was an indifference and a common rejection of David Cameron’s use of the Bible or any political uses of religion (to the point of some thinking I was winding them up when I showed them a quotation from Cameron on the Bible). In some ways, Alastair Campbell’s fear that the voting public do not like the Bible or Christianity used by politicians has some supportive evidence here. Nevertheless, it is also clear that no one knew that politicians were using the Bible and that Cameron’s PR team were probably doing their job (or got lucky) as the right kind of people would see it if they searched out Cameron’s use of the Bible.
Another issue that I found striking was the reception of Jeremy Corbyn. Prior to Theresa May becoming Prime Minister, he was the only politician regularly praised. It’s not, however, clear whether this would transfer into votes and this may be part of the ‘anti-authority’ theme that dominated the responses. But the strong dislike for other Labour politicians from Blair onwards could be a serious problem for Labour in Barrow if they put forward an alternative. In this instance, we can see how disconnected from a traditional Labour voting base they’ve become over the past 20 (plus?) years. Notably, May became Prime Minister during the interviewing and there was a sudden leap in support for her, particularly as she led the Trident vote (to the point of Labour voters liking her and one even claiming she is not really a Tory). One power that clearly isn’t a problem for plenty of Barrovians is Trident…