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When Nigel Farage celebrated the success of Brexit, he claimed that it would be a victory for 'the real people, for the ordinary people, for the decent people' against the oppressive elite. 1 Where did this need to fight against the establishment come from? Over the years, many sources; read on to find out more.
The term anti-establishment broadly means against the 'established' authority of the royal family, the aristocracy and the privileged. In the United Kingdom, there have been several occurrences of this since World War II.
Anti-establishment movements have come from varying ends of the political spectrum, including:
The key strand that links all of these notions together is populism and the necessity of appealing to the masses to overthrow the elite.
The political left-wing, focusing on equality, social justice, welfare and state-controlled planning
A movement with views opposed to those of established social norms
A political movement to disrupt the existing political order and eventually produce a self-governing society based on collaboration and equality
Belief in traditional values of the Conservative Party, such as a free market economy, privately-owned companies and maintenance of existing social hierarchies
A political tactic that is used to gain votes and support from ordinary working people who feel disenchanted and forgotten about whilst the elite thrive
The anti-establishment movement rose to prominence in the decades after World War Two. How did this happen, and what were the ruling classes getting so wrong?
This decade, also referred to as the Swinging Sixties, was a time of liberation and the first real anti-establishment movement, save for the racist Teddy Boys of the 1950s. It came about as a crystallisation of numerous factors and originated on university campuses. A combination of the destruction of WWII, the threat of nuclear disaster from the Cold War, and the continuing conflict in Vietnam led the youth to put the older generation's way of life under a microscope.
During the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, race issues in Britain also came under scrutiny. The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, who had been an emblem for a better future, seemed to be the last straw, spurring the British counterculture movement.
The educational opportunities now afforded to the youth in Britain allowed privileged students to think critically, believing that peace and tolerance would make the world a better place. They also questioned the Christianity that had been used as reasoning for injustices in society.
Here are some important events that defined this period and demonstrated a backlash against the establishment:
Mods were members of a youth subculture born in London out of the desire of teenagers to be modern and unique through socialising and fashion. Without the necessity of working and the newfound affluence, they donned scooters, took drugs and wore expensive suits. The culture declined when it reached the mainstream as it defeated its own purpose.
Rockers were members of another subculture, characterised by leather clothes and boots, long greased hair, rock music and expensive motorbikes. The rockers valued their motorbikes over fashion and looked down on the Italian scooters of the Mods.
Older generations remember the 1970s as a turbulent decade for the United Kingdom. The following issues brought disillusion with the establishment once more; this time, however, dissatisfaction did not come from those privileged enough to study at universities but from the working class.
Strikes during the Winter of Discontent led to mountains of rubbish being left on the streets as public sector workers refused to clear it.
An organisation formed to protect the rights and ensure workers have acceptable labour conditions
With the backdrop of a faltering economy, the race issues that had begun rearing their ugly head in the United States during the 1960s came to the forefront in 1970s Britain. The Notting Hill Carnival in 1976 was an example of the Afro-Caribbean community, marginalised and victimised, pitted against the police (who represented the establishment). It ended with the arrest of 66 people and the injury of 125 policemen. Other race riots occurred across the country, such as those in Bristol in 1980.
The final, loudest, most enduring and angriest of all the anti-establishment
movements in the 1970s were the punks. It was a youth movement, just like those in the 1960s, that centred around music and anarchy. As young working-class bands such as the Sex Pistols began to understand their social context, this morphed into fury.
The yells of 'NO FUTURE!' from lead singer Johnny Rotten on one of their most controversial tracks 'God Save The Queen' (1977), captured the restlessness, boredom and disillusion of many young people.
We can trace anti-establishment conservatism back to the premiership of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, who was a Eurosceptic. The introduction of the single market left some conservatives wondering where the line would be drawn; would the European Union soon be governing participating nations?
Someone who is opposed to giving the European Union increased power
A trade agreement between participating countries, allowing them to trade without tariffs
A split within the Conservative party developed and a crack soon became a fissure, largely down to one man: Nigel Farage.
The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), led by Farage, began to become a force in the European Parliament in the early 2000s. Farage's criticism of the European project became an emblem of the frustration some people felt.
Tim Montgomerie sums up the appeal and myth that Farage successfully cultivated:
He deploys the victimhood tactics long used by the left... Farage builds his base by suggesting that the native patriotic Britons are victims of an establishment that has surrendered the nation to immigrants, rule by Brussels and self-serving political elites. 2
With the free movement that the European Union brought, the existing divide in the Conservative party became even deeper. In 2012, the number of EU migrants to the United Kingdom was less than 200,000, a couple of years later, it was almost 300,000. 3
Prime Minister David Cameron was caught between a rock and a hard place. He pledged to reduce immigration but the United Kingdom was still part of the EU.
This, coupled with austerity, meant trust in the establishment was really on the wane. Cameron miscalculated and called a referendum, asking the British public to decide to stay in or leave the European Union, expecting a decision to stay.
Farage was a prominent face of the Leave campaign, in cahoots with influential Conservative members Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. In 2016, the voters decided to leave with a 52% majority and more than 17 million votes, sending shockwaves across the world and characterised as a victory for the 'little man' by Farage. Brexit had become a reality and the anti-establishment had rocked the elite.
Despite this victory, there is now the sense that Brexit was a mistake. In many ways, it can be viewed as a protest vote, a desire to be heard. A majority of people surveyed on YouGov say that they think the Brexit transition has gone 'very badly'. 4
A difficult economic situation that is caused primarily by a lack of government spending
Though 'NO FUTURE' captures the mood of the punk movement, it was definitely not the only slogan that captured the anti-establishment sentiment. Let's examine some more quotations that went against the established order.
That's why I'm a Mod, see? I mean you gotta be somebody ain't ya or you might as well jump in the sea and drown.
|Franc Roddam, Quadrophenia (1979).|
Quadrophenia is a rock opera film with music written by The Who that details the lives of disillusioned Mods and Rockers.
All You Need is Love
|Title of a 1967 song by The Beatles, which epitomised the Swinging Sixties|
Black Panther Movement: Black Oppressed People All over the World Are One.
|A sign from a British Black Panther protest in 1971|
|The name given to Leicester Square in London during the Winter of Discontent when no bin collectors cleared the waste|
I don't want to be rude but, really, you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk [...] I can speak on behalf of the majority of the British people in saying that we don't know you, we don't want you, and the sooner you are put out to grass, the better.
|Nigel Farage to EU Council Minister Herman van Rompuy, European Parliament (24 February 2010).|
These quotations demonstrate a disconnect with the establishment. Despite the different values of each anti-establishment group, each shared a necessity to find an outlet. Be it the Mods' preoccupation with fashion, the race pride of the British Black Panther Movement, or the peace and love of the Beatles, each anti-establishment ideal found something to give it hope.
The Leicester Square quotation symbolises how the country was left to rot by the ruling elite, who did not take care of their population. Finally, Farage appealed to the desire of the masses to bring down a leader with whom they cannot identify.
Anti-establishment is a term used to describe ideas or groups that are against the established order or authority.
If you are anti-establishment, it means that you want to disrupt the current order because you believe the system of rule is not working.
People from all sides of the political spectrum are anti-establishment because they believe that their interests have been overlooked by those who govern them. They also question the values that the ruling class seek to uphold and believe in another way of governance.
The counterculture of the 1960s centred around music and fashion and was borne out of the desire for peace and social freedoms. This was predominantly a middle-class movement with origins on university campuses.
In the 1970s, a punk counterculture developed lamenting unemployment and the decline in industries that left the youth behind in a far angrier manner than previously. This was predominantly a working-class movement.
The original causes of the 1960s counterculture movement were a desire to breakaway from the spectre of World War II, anti-Vietnam war sentiment, the death of John F. Kennedy and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Increased affluence and education allowed for young people to think critically about their society.
What was the anti-establishment movement?
The Anti-establishment movement was the various groups that believed they were oppressed by the elite and wanted to do something about it.
What groups were historically considered as the British establishment?
In British history such groups consisted of the royal family, the aristocracy and the privileged.
The anti-establishment movement of the 1960s was angry with the death of which United States President?
John F. Kennedy
Which group drove scooters?
How did the Swinging Sixties stimulate anti-establishment feeling?
Choose three ways
More people could be educated at universities
What caused the economic crisis of the 1970s?
OAPEC oil association's refusal to give oil to the West
Which Conservative Prime Minister was a Eurosceptic in the 1980s?
What were some of the accusations levied at the Conservative Party in the Anti-Establishment era?
The Conservative party was described as "the Establishment" and seen as an "old boys" club.
In which decade did privileged youth help further the anti-establishment movement?
Who was the most important politician in gaining support for Brexit?
How does the British public feel about Brexit now?
The majority of people feel that the Brexit transition has gone very badly.
Complete the slogan, 'All you need is ......."
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