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Why I, an architect, stood as a Brexit Party candidate in the election

  • 10 Comments

Architect and critic Ike Ijeh explains why his running for parliament last month had nothing to do with hating foreigners and everything to do with democracy

In the weeks running up to Christmas (typically my favourite time of year) I was called a racist, a bigot, a Nazi, a xenophobe, a nationalist, a Little Englander (whatever that means) and an idiot. No, this was not a planning meeting gone awry but it was some of the everyday invective that I was forced to politely endure while on the campaign trail standing as a Brexit Party candidate during the general election.

It would appear that my candidacy provoked some surprise in sections of the architecture community. Presumably it’s fashionable for architects to support the regressive ‘progressiveness’ of the Labour or Green parties or the electoral extremism of the Liberal Anti-Democrats but indicative of some sort of moral collapse to support a party that actually, shockingly, advocates implementing a democratic vote? It is no secret that as a profession architecture has treated Brexit as complete anathema. That is fine. We are, nominally at least, a democracy and consensus is not compulsory.

I too have spent many an afternoon pondering on how exactly a British architect won the Pompidou commission two years before we joined the European Community

But consent from the losing minority is. And not only has this losing remain minority, enthusiastically populated by architects, spent the last three years refusing to confer consent on a result they disagreed with, but most damagingly, they have constructed the most noxious and grotesque caricature of leave voters as bigoted gargoyles intent on turning Britain into an angry Aryan fortress.

And yet, what exactly is racist about giving an architect from Angola exactly the same rights to work in a UK practice as an architect from Austria? Or is discrimination fine as long Europeans are the ones being favoured? Is Canada a racist country for refusing to establish freedom of movement with the U.S. and Greenland? Is controlling (never cancelling) immigration in a manner similar to that employed by the vast majority of countries outside the EU a racist act?

And what too is racist about pursuing an immigration policy that treats all foreign visitors as equal regardless of where they are from? Despite the smug derision of the liberal elite, the simple truth is that Brexit – best summarised as a periodic realignment of trading arrangements – is no more a symptom of nationalism than was Denmark choosing not to join the euro in 2000.

Arrant nonsense has also been written about how Brexit will threaten UK arts and creativity, an area of obvious concern to architects. I too have spent many an afternoon pondering on how exactly – without EU Directive 2004/38/EC – German-born Handel came to compose his Messiah in Mayfair, how the Liverpudlian Beatles found fame in 1960s Hamburg or how a British architect won the commission for the Paris Pompidou Centre two years before we joined the European Community. I have come to the conclusion that British artistic internationalism is safe.

More credible is the threat leaving the single market potentially poses to construction and procurement. The 168 countries outside the EU might offer clues to how these issues could be resolved and it is difficult for architects to swoon over just-in-time supply chains while preaching about sustainability and ignoring the severe carbon and transportation ramifications just-in-time imposes.

To conclude, there are three principal reasons why I stood for the Brexit Party and none of them, surprisingly, include hatred of foreigners. First, I feel the government’s current negotiated deal is not good enough. Secondly, if architects are serious about improving people’s lives, then I believe more of us should be in Parliament and involved in politics and directly shaping the policies that will impact those lives.

Architects constantly claim we are for the people, yet most architects dismissed the referendum result and pilloried the voters

And thirdly, the main reason is simply because I believe – passionately – in democracy. And because I believe in democracy even more than I believe in Brexit, I have accepted my loss last month and have not called for a second election or lambasted those who voted against me as thick, poor, racist, old, ignorant, uneducated or Northern.

Ultimately Brexit is and always has been about democracy and the people. Architects constantly claim we are for the people. We love talking about ‘public’ realm; we pride ourselves on our efforts engaging with ‘public’ consultation, we constantly fight for ‘public’ housing; we sprinkle our masterplans with ‘public’ space.

And yet, when the majority of the public voted in 2016, most architects dismissed the result and pilloried the voters. The almost universal animosity with which Brexit has been treated by the architecture profession has neatly exposed how many architects treat the people with the same avuncular condescension we might apply to wayward pets or children.

We ‘do’ things to them because we know best, but don’t wish to ask them too many difficult questions for fear they give the wrong answer or force us to engage more closely in societal complications from which we’d prefer to keep a more safe elitist distance. Architects either believe in democracy or we don’t; we cannot champion and silence the public at the same time.

Of course, I acknowledge and regret the disruption Brexit will bring. But all change is disruptive; joining the EC was disruptive but we still persevered. Brexit is not about ostracising Europe; it is about treating the EU with exactly the same level of openness and inclusivity that we treat the rest of the world and not discriminating between the two. With our innate internationalist instincts and Britain’s historic global links, this should be an agenda that architects should be at the forefront of embracing.

Ike Ijeh is a director at London Architecture Works and a freelance architectural critic. He was Brexit Party candidate for the Enfield North constituency in last month’s general election

  • 10 Comments

Readers' comments (10)

  • Whatever you think of the LibDems, referring to them as the 'liberal anti-democrats' demonstrates a mindset that's taking democracy for granted without looking twice.
    A major cause of Britain being currently stuck with two main political parties both in the hands of people who deserve scant respect is surely the 'first past the post' version of democracy - so dear to the hearts of tories and socialists alike - that has resulted in the LibDems suffering from massive under-representation of the proportion of the electorate voting for them.
    And the version of democracy applied to the entire UK electorate in the Brexit referendum resulted in England controlling the outcome, rather than enabling the four parts of the U(?)K to have an equal say based on the preferences of their individual electorates.
    The colonial mindset is still there, under the surface.

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  • Time for healing to start.

    Decision made and now reaffirmed lets see the profession look to capitalise of the possibilities which are available in a shifting world. British Architecture and Engineering are highly regarded and we should now focus on the new opportunities ahead wherever they are.

    Great to see that Architects are standing to represent the views they hold dear however unpopular and whichever party they represent.

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  • Well said Ike

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  • An eloquently written article, however how can Ike reconcile his personal views of Brexit, with those standing for and supporting the brexit party,(arguably the majority) who are racist, bigoted little Englanders?

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  • Well said. I applaud "ordinary citizens" like Ike who stood for the Brexit Party (as opposed to the party apparatchiks of mainstream political machines) and who advocated a defence the democratic mandate of 2016. This was a defence of democracy: pure and simple. Meanwhile fighting off slurs that we were all thick & racist (which always struck me as ironic given the established parties record on anti-Semitism and immigration controls. The egalitarians had no qualms in telling us that a huge section of the population was stupid.
    But for the Brexit Party, key to all this was that democracy itself was in jeopardy by the actions of the self-styled Great and the Good. For over three years, there has been a cavalier dismissal of the result of the biggest democratic exercise in British history.
    We were told that 97% (or some other made-up figure) of the "architectural community" supported Remain pressurised many secret Brexiteers to keep their heads down. But as Ike says, the disjuncture between architects who profess to represent the people - and yet who got it so completely wrong - ought to give us pause for thought.
    The earthquake of Brexit (which is now happening, hurrah!) should provide us all in the construction industry with an opportunity for a rethink. Architects may know best when it comes to architecture (discuss?) but that doesn’t give them the right to speak on behalf of people or communities when it comes to political life.
    Architects should wind their necks in a little, welcome the positive opportunities that now exist for democratic renewal, and importantly realise that their political opinions need to be argued for – rather than merely asserted. Ike may have lost the battle, but he – and democrats like him – have lit a spark for potentially radical, meaningful, open political engagement. I take my hat off to him.

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  • This is an interesting article but contains many flawed and simple arguments ignoring the complexity and nuisance of the situation.

    The Lib Dems cannot possibly be described as undemocratic - they set out a clear position and then didn't get many votes - isn't that exactly how it should operate? They weren't, before the election, advocating for anything but a second referendum - so let's put that aside as incorrect.

    Also, it's strange that the Brexit party could talk about democracy having arranged (with some clear offers of quid pro quo involved) an electoral pact with the Conservatives in order to best serve the right-wing vote - was that democratic? (You must have been one of the lucky few candidates who wasn't tricked out of their fee by your party’s leadership.)

    Architecture is undemocratic, not sure any professions are, but that's one of the main reasons why the profession is failing so dismally. The reason why architects are detached from the 'public' we aim to serve, is because of Brexit-style thinking - that's petty, short-sighted and simplistic rather than understanding and responding to the complexity of the situation. This is reflected in the NIMBY attitude - Brexiteers are happy to benefit from a decent economy, health service and construction industry, propped up by EU migrants, but just don't want them living nearby. We've got a housing crisis and the public wants more housing for their kids etc to live in but none of it can be in the green belt (which I almost completely agree with) or near to them.

    Architects are predominantly, and perhaps ironically, keen to break down walls and barriers. It's generally left-wing people, trying to help society and serve people. Brexit is the antithesis to that - a regressive and nationalistic step. It's inward looking and will reduce our influence in the world. We'll each, individually, have less power and influence as a result, but if we 'take back control' (a meaningless slogan - proven to be inaccurate) then it's good.

    The reason Brexit is so important is that distance matters - it's easier, more practical and sustainable for people and materials to travel shorter distances - which is why diminishing our relationship to Europe is not the same as moving closer to Angola. We're not taking down any barriers to Africa, only adding a new one - so it's not at all how you've presented it. Not sure also, how you've managed to somehow suggest that just-in time deliveries from the EU are worse, from a carbon perspective, than something that has to travel ten or more times the distance to get here - this seems to be more inaccurate Brexit propaganda.

    Progressives and perhaps many architects would probably support more open borders - it's people who voted Brexit that are ironically against that idea. Although not all Brexiteers are racist or that profile, which has been generated falsely by those on the remain side, you cannot reasonably argue that this vote has empowered that group and increased hate crimes. Not all Brexiteers are racist for sure, but can we all agree that all racists are Brexiteers at least?

    Brexit isn't about preferential treatment for some, and it won't have any impact on our relationship with other nations. The principle of breaking down boundaries as well as supporting not imploding our economy, is that remains key. Unfortunately, Boris didn't expect to win but underestimated the power and success of simplistic propaganda-led campaigning. He's got exactly where he wanted to - just didn't want to have to do Brexit. Nobody knows what will happen next, but most of the projections (independent or otherwise) aren't good - even for those advocating Brexit. It's likely that it won't be apocalyptic, but the poor will get poorer and the rich will get richer more than would have happened had we stayed - the reasons for Brexit though are primarily ideological rather than evidence-based.

    Immigration was a large part of the argument, which doesn't make you racist or bigoted, but there was also a general dissatisfaction which this has and will do nothing to change. Politicians won't be honest and admit that in any event, for our public services and economy to survive, immigration will likely remain at the same levels. This is part of the main argument here and why us 'remoaners' have fought so hard for another vote or a softening of the hard Brexit that nobody voted for (as it wasn't on the ballot). Brexit wasn't clearly defined, but also the vote was not democratic because it was no fair.

    Although Remainers had more money, the government's official leaflet etc, the Leave parties (official and otherwise) spread disinformation. If the vote had been anything more than advisory the courts would have declared it null and void due to the electoral over-spending. If the vote was a great demonstration of democracy, then surely the top search result the following day probably wouldn't have been "what is the EU" and other similar lines. There's also lots of anecdotal evidence of people changing their minds, understanding more and realising that their 'protest vote' hadn't had the effect they wanted it to. It's also fair to say, as was said in Parliament by Jacob Rees-Mogg, that a second referendum on the terms of the deal would have been a fair way forward - however it seems that the Brexiteers didn't want this much democracy presumably because they feared people wouldn't give them permission once there was something concrete that they would be getting themselves into.

    The election was clearly influenced again by propaganda and misinformation (88% from the Tories for example), however we all accept the result as there was a clear position put forward unlike with Brexit (remember ‘Brexit means Brexit’). Whether I might choose to leave the country is something that is seriously being considered and I, a white British middle-class male with only English heritage back as far as we can do, don't feel comfortable in this country anymore - does that give you any cause for pause about what you think and advocate?

    All I hope is that what remains of the 17.4m don't regret the reality of what is to come. I'd be more worried from your perspective now it's going to happen - although this deal is worse than May's it's better than a no-deal clearly. What happens next is in your hands and perhaps after you'll understand 'remoaners' and wish we'd been more successful in getting a softer Brexit or avoiding this entirely.

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  • Alan Crawford

    So far in the first week of 2020, we have been invited to attend design and construction events in Amsterdam next month, and in Milan in March where we will be networking with colleagues from all across Europe and further afield. On all our projects we are continuing to specify and negotiate competitive prices for the supply and sometimes installation of materials, fixtures and fittings, from a broad range of suppliers we work with throughout Europe and with whom we have built up strong relationships (and friendships) over the years. This will not change, and will very likely strengthen over the coming decade.

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  • People can support democracy while being critical of how the brexit referundum was designed. Not everything done in the name of democracy is actually democratic, and the brexit referendum had serious flaws. It should not be treated as a sacred calf, which is where this kind of black-and-white 'with us or against us' thinking leads. Saying "Architects either believe in democracy or we don’t" attempts to strip out this nuance.

    As designers, we're all aware of how influencable people are, and how invisible design choices can fundamentally change outcomes. We should have an appreciation for the same effects in political science. When the referendum was designed as two non-specific options 'Leave/Remain' which do not map onto how parliament votes, this changes the outcome and meaning of the result.

    Mr Ijeh also misses the point in what has become a predictable complaint about how changing immigration policy isn't racist, how dare you, won't somebody think of the Angolans? etc. etc. The argument is not that voting Leave is racist because of the effect on immigration, this is a straw man. "what exactly is racist about giving an architect from Angola exactly the same rights to work in a UK practice as an architect from Austria?" it remains to be seen whether the Angolan architect will be given any new immigration routes, so they're a red herring compared to the definite loss of free movement for the Austrian architect.

    Architects should indeed be involved in politics, but if this article exemplifies Mr Ijeh's political understandings then perhaps it's better that his involvement has not extended to being an MP.

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  • I applaud Ike Ijeh for standing for Parliament, as he says more architects should do so.

    As for his reasons for standing for the Brexit Party;
    The current Withdrawal Agreement is worse than the one negotiated by Mrs May. It is very unlikely anyone could have improved on it to Mr Ijeh's satisfaction.
    His second reason - I agree.
    Thirdly, democracy… On a fundamental constitutional issue, the Referendum vote should have needed more than a simple majority.
    When the "Second Referendum' was run as an election, hugely more people voted against the current Withdrawal Agreement than for it. Where's the democracy in that.

    We have yet to agree a trade deal with the EU. I guess we will drop out because of BJ's desire to lower standards.
    Do we really want to lower standards?
    More Grenfells ?

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  • Daniel Lacey

    Maybe the RIBA should take a leaf out of the Leave book and encourage architects to "take back control". Mind you, apathy is a comfortable place for a soap box.

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