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Britain’s Populist Revolt

More than two years have passed since Britain voted for Brexit. Ever since that moment, the vote to leave the European Union has routinely been framed as an aberration; a radical departure from ‘normal’ life. Countless journalists, scholars, and celebrities have lined up to offer their diagnosis of what caused this apparent moment of madness among the electorate. Russia-backed social media accounts. Shady big tech firms like Cambridge Analytica. Austerity. The malign influence of populist ‘Brexiteers’ like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. The Brexit campaign exceeding its legal spending limit. Or a much-debated claim, written on the side of a bus, that Brexit would allow Britain to redirect its millions of pounds worth of contributions to the EU into its own creaking health service. Typical is a recent piece by a (British) columnist in the New York Times who argues: “Britain is in this mess principally because the Brexiteers—led largely by Mr. Johnson—sold the country a series of lies in the lead up to the June 2016 referendum.”

Britain has produced a Brexit debate that is utterly dry, sterile, and completely lacking in imagination. Much of the commentary has shared three features: an exclusive focus on incredibly short-term factors that apparently proved decisive; a clear and concerted attempt to try and delegitimize the result by implying that either voters were duped or that the Leave campaign was crooked; and absolutely no engagement whatsoever with the growing pile of evidence that we now have on why people actually voted for Brexit. Far from staging an irrational outburst, most Leavers shared a clear and coherent outlook and had formed their views long before the campaign even began.

What seems remarkable to me is the sheer amount of energy that has been devoted to undermining or overturning the result versus that which has been devoted to exploring what led to this moment in the first place. There is no doubt that some of the short-term factors mentioned above were important. Brexit campaigners did make misleading claims and did spend more money than they should have. But this was also a campaign that saw the pro-Remain Prime Minister David Cameron suggest that Brexit might trigger World War Three, London’s elite prophesize about financial Armageddon, and political and economic leaders from across the globe descend on Britain to issue similarly dire warnings, including President Obama. In short, in the history of political campaigns this one was definitely not an example of best practice.

Perhaps I was woefully naïve, but in the days after the referendum I felt excited; anxious about the short-term fallout but excited about the long-overdue debate that I assumed was en route; a national focus on addressing the divides, inequalities, and grievances that had led to this moment. Perhaps this was what Britain needed, I thought, a radical shock that would throw light on what had been simmering beneath the surface for decades. I also assumed that my academic colleagues would be with me. But the debate never arrived.

Today, looking back, I see that most people never really had an interest in exploring what underpinned Brexit. To many on the liberal Left, Brexit is to be opposed, not understood. There has been no conversation about why people voted for Brexit because conversations require a reply. One side has spoken but, with a few rare exceptions, almost nobody on the other side has thought about what such a reply might be.

Instead, they have sought to overturn it, force a re-run of the vote or water down Brexit to such an extent that it is basically the status quo. Few have seriously considered what the political effects of these outcomes would be. One prominent journalist recently tweeted that reversing Brexit would be a “hammer blow to Western populist-nationalism.” But I suspect that it would be quite the opposite; an erosion of public trust, hardened social divides, and the political equivalent of pouring gasoline on a populist fire.

This has also been true in the academy where quite a few scholars, especially on social media, have morphed into anti-Brexit campaigners. This is not surprising given the extent of political orthodoxy in UK academe, as shown below. As in the US, with academics overwhelmingly more likely to vote for left-wing and ultra-liberal parties, it is unsurprising to find that the search for truth and the exploration of diversity in all its forms has at times found itself relegated behind Jean Monnet professors gleefully hailing any piece of news that looks bad for Britain. I’m pragmatic on Brexit; it’s happened and so we should work with it. But when I share this view I am often greeted by what I call ‘The Silence.’ Those who have gone even further by admitting to having actually voted for Brexit have described the reaction from colleagues as if they had “just admitted to poisoning the neighbour’s dog.” If you’re not opposing Brexit—or at least endorsing those who are—you are a marked card. Viewpoint diversity? Not so much.

Perhaps this is part of the reason why, in the wider debate, myths about the Brexit vote have flourished. You don’t have to spend too long on the Westminster circuit or scanning prominent Twitter accounts to come across one of several lazy narratives: voters were too stupid to know what they were voting for; Brexit was an irrational backlash; it was a protest rather than an instrumental act; a by-product of fake news and misinformation rather than a conscious repudiation of the status quo. The total lack of serious reflection was brought home to me when David Cameron, who had resigned only hours after the vote, reappeared six months later to share his conclusion: Brexit reflected “a movement of unhappiness.” How strange, I thought, because most of the Brexiteers I knew were bloody delighted.

Such reactions are unsurprising. After all, the referendum marked the first occasion in Britain’s history when the culturally liberal middle-class, which orbits London and the university towns, had lost. Until this point, the advocates of double liberalism—a globalized economy accompanied by a highly liberal immigration policy—had gotten all they had wanted. Business got a continuing influx of mass cheap labour that fed a consumption-driven growth model that not only removed incentives for investing in training but exacerbated divides between the high and low-skilled. The liberal middle-class got economic benefits alongside Polish cleaners and membership of the dominant value set but became increasingly detached from the ‘left behind.’ Even though political scientists had torn apart the ‘protest thesis’ two decades earlier, showing how people who rebel against the liberal consensus also hold clear and consistent preferences, to many of the winners who now suddenly felt like losers the idea that this was just an irrational backlash seemed like the easiest and most comforting explanation.

Many found further solace in a revival of elite theory, joining a long tradition of voicing suspicion of, if not open hostility toward, the mass public that can be traced back to Ancient Greece. The EU is simply too complex for ordinary people to understand. Elites know better. Apathy might be a good thing after all. But it has now gotten to the point where some jump on anything that goes wrong in Britain as a vindication of their anti-Brexit stance. A bank relocates workers to Frankfurt? Good! Economic growth down? Told you so! Food is a bit more expensive? Tough luck! I’ve grown tired of watching my fellow citizens cheer anything that looks even vaguely like national decline.

Recently, I found myself at a dinner in the City listening to financial types laugh away about how Brexit will eventually screw over the very people who voted for it. Only a few hours earlier they had asked why people across the West are rebelling against the mainstream and levels of distrust are at an all-time high. On the way home I felt thoroughly depressed, wondering what had happened to the common good, to the people who are interested in forging consensus and fixing the social contract.

Evidence on who Leavers are has been traded for comfort blankets. Recently, a prominent liberal politician suggested that Brexit was driven by pensioners who longed for a world where “faces were white.” References to angry old white men are never far away. Arguments that are implicitly about generational change are popular on the liberal Left because they do not require people to engage with the actual grievances. The world becomes a progressive conveyer belt; intolerant old men will soon die; tolerant liberals will soon rise.

What gets lost in these debates is the actual evidence. Contrary to rumour, Brexit was supported by a broad and fairly diverse coalition of voters; large numbers of affluent conservatives; one in three of Britain’s black and ethnic minority voters; almost half of 25-49 year-olds; one in two women; one in four graduates; and 40 percent of voters in the Greater London area.1 Brexit appealed to white pensioners in England’s declining seaside towns but it also won majority support in highly ethnically diverse areas like Birmingham, Luton, and Slough. You don’t hear much about these groups in the media vox pops in retirement homes and working men’s clubs in poverty-stricken communities. Had these other groups that are routinely written out of the debate not voted Leave then Britain would probably still be in the EU.

Nor did these voters suddenly convert to Brexit during the campaign, which is another common misconception. One point that is routinely ignored is that British support for radically reforming or exiting the EU was widespread long before the referendum even began. Britain’s National Centre for Social Research recently pointed out that levels of British support for leaving the EU or radically reducing the EU’s power “have been consistently above 50 percent for a little over 20 years.” This is what the ‘short-termists’ cannot explain. If Brexit was an aberration, a by-product of wrongdoing, then why were so many people unhappy with this relationship long before the Great Recession, or the arrival of Twitter or Facebook? The currents that led to this seismic moment were decades in the making.

Few political campaigners and journalists read history. Perhaps one reason why so many were caught off guard by the political revolts of 2016 is that they increasingly lack a strong background in history or the hard sciences, which might otherwise have led them to question the relative importance of short-term factors, electoral forecasts, and dodgy data modelling. Had they taken a longer-term view, it would have been clear that the ‘fundamentals’ favoured Leave and had been baked in long ago.

To begin with, you simply cannot make sense of Brexit without being aware of a British—or more specifically English—national identity that, ever since the sixteenth century, had been forged by Protestantism, fear of the ‘Catholic Other’ across the Channel, and popular belief in a providential destiny, shaped by successive wars with European powers, a jingoistic press, and experience of Empire. “This was how it was with the British after 1707,” noted the historian Linda Colley in her seminal book Britons. “They came to define themselves as a single people not because of any political or cultural consensus at home, but rather in reaction to the Other beyond their shores.”2

The nature of this national identity was the first in-built advantage for Leave. ‘Englishness,’ or feeling very strongly attached to the nation, became a key tributary of the Leave vote. Whereas 64 percent of people who felt ‘English not British’ saw Britain’s membership of the EU as a ‘bad thing,’ among those who felt ‘British not English’ this crashed to 28 percent. The more English people felt the more likely that they would support Brexit.

It was, therefore, no surprise when in later years most people simply never developed an affective attachment to the idea of European integration. The British had perhaps always been suspicious of power hierarchies that felt remote and lacking in democratic accountability. But they had also been wary of identities that claimed to supersede the nation. Dreams of a pan-European ‘demos’ had only ever appealed to a small number of cosmopolitan liberals. “We are one people in Europe,” proclaimed Natalie Nougayrède in the left-wing Guardian newspaper during the 2016 referendum. Yet the reality for most voters was altogether different. When asked how they thought of their identity, between 1992 and 2016 an average of 62 percent of Brits said they were ‘British only.’ Only 6 percent prioritized a ‘European’ identity.

Of course, in 1975, a majority of British voters had voted to endorse their nation’s membership of what was then called the European Community. But this had been rooted in economic pragmatism not affective attachment. Integration offered an opportunity to remedy Britain’s status as the ‘sick man of Europe,’ a nation that was beset by economic problems. There had never been much desire for taking the relationship further. As two scholars noted at the time, British support for joining Europe had been wide but never deep.

Over the next four decades, Britain’s long and entrenched tradition of scepticism toward Europe remained clearly visible. Between 1992 and 2015, an average of 52 percent of people either wanted to leave the EU or stay in but significantly reduce its powers, though this jumped to 65 percent in the immediate years running up to the 2016 vote. Throughout the early years of the twenty-first century, never more than 19 percent of people wanted to strengthen their country’s relationship with the EU.

These topline figures obviously hide variations. Consistently, it was the working-class, older voters, and those with few qualifications who were the most likely to oppose Britain’s EU membership, not least because of their socially conservative and, in some cases, authoritarian values. But as the 2016 referendum neared, support for leaving also increased among graduates and the middle-class, albeit not to the same levels.

Crucially, as Britain headed into the twenty-first century, the nature of this scepticism also changed in important ways. In the 1990s, debates about the EU had focused on law and sovereignty, issues that were of particular concern to middle-class Conservatives. But by the 2000s, the audience for anti-EU campaigns expanded massively. At the heart of this was immigration.

Unlike most other governing parties in the EU, in 2004 New Labour, led by Tony Blair, decided that it would open Britain’s labour market to migrant workers from the so-called ‘A8’ states like Estonia and Poland that had just joined the EU. Immigration into Britain had already been on the rise, but now it reached new heights. Between 1991 and 1995, the annual average level of net migration (i.e. the number of people coming in minus the number leaving) had been just 37,000. Between 2012 and 2016 it averaged 256,000.

On one level, this large-scale migration exacerbated growing divides between high-skilled and low-skilled workers. Why would businesses invest in training, new technology, and workplace innovation when they could raise output by hiring low-wage workers and enjoy an abundance of cheap labour? On another, it fuelled widespread public concern about how rapid and often unprecedented demographic change was radically transforming communities.

Even before the Great Recession and austerity, between 1997 and 2007, the percentage of people that ranked immigration as one of the top issues facing Britain rocketed from 4 to 46 percent. By the time of the 2016 referendum, the issue had dominated the list of people’s priorities for more than a decade. Nearly eight in ten people wanted to see immigration reduced.

The issue became entwined with the EU, not least because voters had realised that much of the influx was due to the ‘free movement’ into Britain of EU nationals from Central and Eastern Europe, and later southern EU states like Italy and Spain. Even before senior Leave campaigners started to target immigration, nearly half of the population had concluded that being in the EU was ‘undermining Britain’s distinctive identity.’ Only 31 percent disagreed. Many now looked at the EU as an engine of ever-accelerating demographic and cultural change and with no apparent end in sight.

One person who would not have been surprised was the academic Lauren McLaren. More than a decade before the 2016 referendum, McLaren had demonstrated that public hostility toward the European project was not only powered by people’s worries about the economy. They also felt anxious about how the sudden influx challenged established norms and ways of life. “People do not necessarily calculate the costs and benefits of the EU to their own lives when thinking about issues of European integration,” concluded McLaren, “but instead are ultimately concerned about problems related to the degradation of the nation-state.”3

By the time of the referendum, however, the people were not sure who to trust on immigration. Both of Britain’s main parties had misled the electorate, either by claiming that immigration would be much lower than it turned out to be, or promising to reduce net migration “from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands” (which most voters knew was impossible so long as Britain remained in the EU and subject to the freedom of movement principle). Immigration had historically been owned by the Conservative Party. But by 2016, when voters were asked who they trusted on the issue, the most popular answers were the right-wing UK Independence Party, ‘none of them,’ or ‘don’t know.’ Worryingly, these unresolved grievances were also having deeper effects; researchers found that the consistent failure to address people’s concerns was eroding overall trust in the political system.

As the referendum neared, this sense of threat was further amplified. A major refugee crisis erupted on the European continent while EU member states were openly and bitterly divided over the issue. Such events coincided with major Islamist terrorist attacks, notably in France, that in 2015 alone left nearly 150 dead and more than 350 injured. Suicide bombings would follow in Brussels. More than half of Britain’s population drew a straight line from the refugee crisis to terrorism, believing that the former would increase the latter. To many voters, such events not only entrenched a view that the EU could not be trusted to protect their borders, security, and way of life, but also a belief that ‘the risk’ lay less with Brexit than staying in the club.

Long before they had even looked at a campaign leaflet, therefore, many voters had come to share what social psychologist Karen Stenner has referred to as a feeling of “normative threat”; that sudden or fundamental changes in the surrounding world threaten an established order, a system of oneness or sameness that makes ‘us’ an ‘us.’4 As Stenner showed, when such threats are seen to challenge a wider community they trigger a sharp backlash from citizens who wish to defend not only themselves but the wider group.

In Britain, however, things took a different turn, at least initially. Instead of staging a backlash, the people who felt most threatened hunkered down. During the 2000s, many working-class voters had started to drift into apathy, losing faith in politics. This was the canary in the Brexit coalmine. In more northern and industrial communities, working-class voters provided isolated pockets of support to a small far-Right party, but most simply stopped voting altogether. Debates about turnout routinely focus on differences between the young and old but many observers missed a more important gap in turnout among the different social classes.

One person who had noticed was the political scientist Oliver Heath, who noted that until the 1980s there had been little difference in the rates of turnout among the working-class and middle-class (less than 5 points). Yet, by 2010, this gap had widened considerably to 19 points, which made it just as significant as the difference in turnout between young and old. Whereas in earlier years the working-class and middle-class had been divided on who to vote for, now they were divided on whether to bother voting at all.5

Many of these voters opposed the liberal consensus and felt excluded from the political conversation. They had a point. Between 1964 and 2015, the percentage of politicians in Westminster who had worked in manual jobs crashed from 37 to just 3 percent, while more recent research has shown how the rise of ‘careerist’ politicians, particularly in the Labour Party, lowered the amount of attention going to working-class interests. Meanwhile, the numbers that had been elected after working in politics or in London reached record heights. Such findings leant credibility to the perception of a political class that had become increasingly insular and detached from ordinary voters.6 Before the referendum even got underway, nearly 40 percent of working-class voters agreed that “people like me have no say in government.”

Between 2012 and 2016, many of these voters were then mobilized by the populist UK Independence Party, which many in the media wrote off as an ephemeral protest party. Despite having few resources, the party quickly won over a coalition of blue-collar workers and social conservatives who felt left out or left behind, not only in an economic sense but also by the values that had come to dominate Britain. They came from different backgrounds but shared strong opposition to EU membership, distrust of the main parties, and a desire to reform immigration. They also had a lot in common with those on the Left; they agreed that business takes advantage of ordinary people, that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor, and that workers are not getting their fair share of the nation’s wealth.

These concerns then came more fully into view as Britain headed into 2016. Shortly before the vote, the EU surveyed people across Europe and the findings underline how truly remarkable it is that so few people saw Brexit coming. The British were among the most positive about their own economy but among the most pessimistic about Europe’s economy (only 25 percent thought it was “good”). They were less likely than average to think that Europe’s would improve (only 18 percent thought so) and were almost the least likely of all to think that the “EU has sufficient power and tools to defend the economic interests of Europe in the global economy.”

The British were also the most likely of all to feel worried about terrorism and, when asked what the EU meant to them personally, were more likely than average to say “not enough control at [the EU’s] external borders” and among the most likely of all to say “loss of our cultural identity.” They worried about the democratic deficit in the EU—the distant institutions and perceived lack of democratic accountability—another issue that was totally ignored by the Remain campaign. They were more satisfied than most with their own democracy, but among the least satisfied with how democracy works in the EU. Long before Leavers asked them to “Take Back Control,” the British were already alongside the Greeks as being the least likely of all to trust the European Parliament. (Only 26 percent did.) More than half felt that their voice counted in their own democracy, but only one in three felt that it counted in the EU. And they were generally pessimistic about where things seemed to be heading in the EU. They were more likely than average to think that the quality of life in their own country was good, but they were among the most likely to think that the quality of life in the EU was bad. Only 17 percent felt that the EU was moving in the right direction, which fell to 14 percent among the working-class and 12 percent among pensioners.

I could go on. The Brits were the least likely to hold a positive image of the EU; the least optimistic about the future of the EU; and, though few observers noticed at the time, were only behind the Cypriots as the most likely to believe that their country “could better face the future outside of the EU.” Given such findings, one might ask not why Leave won the referendum but why it only attracted 52 percent of the vote.

The idea that those who went on to vote for Brexit were dispossessed white workers who live in fading seaside towns made for good copy but it was deeply misleading. Some Leavers certainly felt economically left behind, but many did not. Research has since shown that three groups were key to the Brexit vote:

  • Left Behind Leavers, who were working-class, struggling financially, almost never had a degree, were in their forties or fifties and most of whom did not identify with the main parties or supported the UK Independence Party.
  • Blue-Collar Pensioners, who were also working-class but retired, and so less likely to be struggling financially and tended to vote for Conservative.
  • Affluent Eurosceptics, who were much less likely to identify as working-class, more affluent, more likely to have a degree and tended to vote Conservative. While we hear much about the first two groups we have heard very little about the third.7

And contrary to the claim that Leavers did not know what they were voting for, were misled, or engaged in an irrational backlash, an array of work has now shown how they shared clear and coherent preferences. Foremost, they wanted their nation state to have greater control over the laws that affect their daily lives and immigration to be reduced, which they felt could simply not happen so long as Britain remained in the EU.

Here are just a few findings from a literature that tells a remarkably consistent story: people who felt unhappy with how democracy works in the EU and who felt that immigration was having negative effects on Britain’s economy, culture, and welfare state were significantly more likely to back Brexit; people who felt that being in the EU had undermined national independence and identity and who felt that on balance immigration had been bad for Britain were more likely to back Leave; when Leavers were asked to describe their concerns in their own words the two most popular were “sovereignty” and “immigration”; when another large-survey asked Leavers to identify their reasons for wanting out of the EU, the most popular by far were “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK,” and leaving “offered the best chance to regain control over immigration and borders.” Another concluded that people who felt that the EU undermined Britain’s distinctive identity and wanted to lower immigration were the most likely to back Brexit; and another found that those who felt anxious over immigration and believed they had been left behind relative to others in society were less likely to see Brexit as a risk and more likely to back Leave. A research institute at Oxford also asked Leavers to reflect on their rationale; the most popular response was “to regain control over EU immigration” followed by “I didn’t want the EU to have any role in UK law-making.” And contrary to the claim that Leavers were simply engaging in an irrational backlash against the Establishment, the motive “to teach British politicians a lesson” had (by far) the lowest ranking.

The rationale, therefore, was completely clear and coherent; to have more influence over the decisions that affect daily life and to lower, or at least have more control, over the levels of immigration into Britain.

Clearly, such attitudes reflect how a deeper values divide had been rumbling beneath British politics for many years, if not decades, as shown by the finding that many (though not all) of those who voted for Brexit tended to support capital punishment, stiffer sentences for criminals, and felt that social liberalism had gone too far. Though some journalists would later contend that voters were swayed by misleading economic data or social media campaigns, the reality is that Brexit was a natural extension of their pre-existing values; a vote to tip the scales back toward order, stability, and group conformity, and an attempt to defend the wider community that was seen to be under threat. Not every Leaver felt this way, but many did. This is why, though controversial, the anti-EU slogans of “Take Back Control” and “Breaking Point” (a reference to immigration and the refugee crisis) were not only emotionally resonant but more in tune with what was occupying the minds of voters—and had been for some time.

Remainers did not even try to win these sceptics over. Instead, they focused almost exclusively on a narrative that was rooted in rational choice—transactional and incredibly dry arguments about economic self-interest. It’s hard to make such a case to workers who had often not had a pay rise in over a decade or affluent social conservatives who cared little about the markets but worried intensely about flag, faith, and family. Remainers focused exclusively on the internal risk of Brexit while failing to recognize the fact that many voters were thinking about the external risks and threats that came with being in the EU. When it came to Brexit, 70 percent of Leavers felt that exiting the EU would be ‘safe’ while only 23 percent saw it as a risk. But when it came to remaining in the EU, 76 percent felt that was a risk while 17 percent felt it was safe. This was the big miscalculation.

All revolts are symptoms of deeper currents. The 2016 referendum offered an opportunity for people to express their view about EU membership, but this always looked set to become an outlet for more fundamental divides in British society that had long been present and will be with us for some time yet. Against this backdrop, and putting the more immediate negotiations over Brexit to one side, Britain faces many challenges but two are especially key.

The first is how to resolve the deep value divides that found their full expression during the 2016 referendum. These were exacerbated by a general election that followed less than one year later, and which provided further evidence of a possible long-term realignment. While the (now clearly pro-Brexit) Conservative Party hoovered up more working-class voters, non-graduates and former UK Independence Party voters, the more radically left-wing Labour Party made its strongest advances among the liberal middle-class, millennial graduates, and in pro-Remain districts. This value divide has become far more central to explaining electoral behaviour than social class and could yet force a more radical realignment of British politics.

A rapprochement seems unlikely, at least in the short-term. Consider what Leavers and Remainers want Britain to prioritise in the coming years. Leavers say Brexit, sharply reducing immigration, curbing the amount spent on overseas aid, and strengthening the armed forces. Remainers say build more affordable homes, raise taxes on high earners, increase the minimum wage, and abolish tuition fees. The only point of consensus is that both want to increase funding for the National Health Service.

A second challenge is to deliver a meaningful reply to the grievances that caused Brexit in the first place, not only through the current negotiations with the EU but also in domestic policy. Radical reform of our political and economic settlement has to be on the cards, as should an entirely new policy on immigration. Today, we are talking a great deal about how to ensure a continuation of the status quo rather than how to remedy the problems that led so many to demand that it be radically changed. We talk much about trade deals but little about the wider imbalance within our economy. We talk a lot about London but little about coastal, northern, or rural Britain, where in the end the Brexit vote was strongest. And we talk much about how to start a new centrist ‘anti-Brexit’ party but little about how existing political vehicles can adapt to better represent all segments of our society. It seems to me at least that unless we start to genuinely talk about these things then a few years from now we may well find ourselves back where we started.

 

Matthew Goodwin is a professor of politics at the University of Kent and the author of the forthcoming National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy (Penguin). You can follow him on Twitter @GoodwinMJ

References and Notes:

1 Unless otherwise stated, data is drawn from Harold Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley (2017) Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union, Cambridge University Press
2 Linda Colley (1992) Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837, New Haven: Yale University Press, pp.5-6
3 Lauren M. McLaren (2002) ‘Public Support for the European Union: cost/benefit analysis or perceived cultural threat?’, Journal of Politics 64.2, pp. 551-566
4 Karen Stenner (2005) The Authoritarian Dynamic. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
5 Oliver Heath (2016) Policy Alienation, Social Alienation and Working-Class Abstention in Britain, 1964-2010’, British Journal of Political Science (Early view online)
6 House of Commons Library Briefing Paper (2016) Social Background of MPs 1979-2017, London: House of Commons Library
7 National Centre for Social Research (2016) Understanding the Leave Vote. Available online: http://natcen.ac.uk/our-research/research/understanding-the-leave-vote/ (accessed June 15 2018).

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121 Comments

  1. LAW says

    The thing I don’t get about all the hand wringing about Brexit – what about Switzerland?

    Switzerland essentially is set up like a post-Brexit UK. Close with the EU, but its own currency, trade agreements, etc. And their plight is that they’re one of the per-capita richest and most educated nations in the world, and the hub of a number of industries.

    Is it really that bad to decide that you want your economic situation to be set up like the Swiss? And are the Swiss really uneducated, racist rubes for never joining the EU? Or is it somehow different in a way that isn’t clear to me at all?

    • Tubbles says

      Switzerland may be wealthy but it still panders to EU centralised laws and policies. My view is discussion of Brexit is pointless. By the time anything is sorted out, there won’t be an EU.

      • Justin says

        I suspect that the EU is ripe for a major shakeup. Whether it ceases to exist altogether is debatable but it is in trouble.

      • Kev A says

        They are also signatories to the Schengen Agreement however due to their administrave local government structure and tightly controlled visa system a non-swiss national can’t just rock up and decide to live there. They are organised to stop that.

    • shemmie13 says

      It’s a very fair point, imho. I seem to remember the Swiss announcing the termination of their application to apply to join the EU – either just before Brexit, or sometime in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

      The concern might be “is there room for two finance-focused economies not inside the EU”, as that’s clearly ‘very much the Swiss thing – but the fact they prosper shows it can be done.

      We could really do with a better class of politician, to implement ‘the future’, though.

    • Max Hillaert says

      No this isn’t accurate portrayal of the current state of Brexit. Before the referendum
      Norway and Switzerland were sold as roughly the model to follow post Brexit. After the referendum they are considered a Great Betrayal of the Brexit vote by Brexiters who were selling those models like Daniel hannan and Farage. I would just about accept a Norway/Swiss deal with the mandate given by referendum. There is no mandate for WTO Brexit.

      As a pedantic aside , Switzerland has relatively low participation in higher education compared with Western Europe. Probably why it’s so productive!

      • Paul Ellis says

        “There is no mandate for WTO Brexit.”

        There is absolutely a mandate for a WTO Brexit, because the referendum question simply asked whether the voter wished to Remain in the EU, or Leave the EU. The terms ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ weren’t defined on the ballot paper, but ‘leaving’ implies no longer being a member of EU institutions or being bound by their rules. It must, because if it didn’t, the UK wouldn’t have ‘left’. The UK demos is not so stupid as not to have understood that.

        Both Norway and Switzerland are to a certain extent bound by EU rules, therefore, ‘leave’, as written on the ballot paper, implies WTO. Sensible people, though, would have expected sensible negotiated solutions to resultant problems such as Europe-wide aviation, etc. We’re still waiting.

          • Paul Ellis says

            “If you think an imlication can be used to justify your perception of a mandate from a referendum, you don’t understand what a mandate is.”

            Then replace the word ‘implies’ with ‘means’ in my post. The ballot paper question was simple, clear and binary. The majority voted ‘leave’, and in so doing provided a mandate. Leave means leave, not sort-of stay. It certainly doesn’t mean the current vassal-state proposal, which seems designed to please few in the UK.

        • There is indeed No mandate for WTO Brexit – if we are to follow the logic of pulling out of the EU we should be pulling out of the WTO too. Both are intergovernmental organisations. Both require us to pool our sovereignty.

          The difference here is in fact starkly in favour of the EU where we only pool sovereignty with 27 nations and have huge influence. Whereas, in the WTO we are just one of 160+ countries – with far less influence than say the USA, China or the EU (which is a member in its own right). Leavers say the ECJ is a ‘red-line’ but seem to have no problem with the WTO dispute settlement process (which one leading proponent holds up as being as powerful as the ECJ).

          Matthew’s article clearly points to sovereignty as being a main driver of the Brexit vote: when Leavers were asked to describe their concerns in their own words the two most popular were “sovereignty” and “immigration”.

          Other surveys asked Leavers to identify their reasons for wanting to leave the EU: they included: “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK” and “I didn’t want the EU to have any role in UK law-making.”

          The EU will continue to have a role in UK law making because it has a role in WTO rule making. We would have had a role in influencing the EU’s position before it got to the WTO – but now we won’t – in effect we are giving up more sovereignty on key trade issues.

          How many people can name the president of the EU commission – I suspect many will have heard of Juncker even if they don’t know his official title (or that he was chosen by elected MEPs). However, I’d be fairly confident that few people would be able to name the head of the WTO without googling them – and would have no idea how they got appointed. So much for closing the democratic deficity.

          Please don’t tell me the WTO is a magic wand – it is not – it is messier and more opaque than the EU and less effective at settling disputes. The idea that sovereignty minded leavers voted for this is a nonsense.

          • AC Harper says

            Your logic is flawed – by your logic we should also pull out of the UN, NATO, the IMF, the OECD, the Commonwealth…. all require us to buy into their principles and so ‘surrender’ our sovereignty.

            Unlike the others, the EU is hell bent on ‘ever closer union’, with a common set of laws and financial rules, a common army and shared budgets. A European Empire perhaps and a step too far for many.

          • Paul Ellis says

            “There is indeed No mandate for WTO Brexit – if we are to follow the logic of pulling out of the EU we should be pulling out of the WTO too. Both are intergovernmental organisations. Both require us to pool our sovereignty.”

            The UK’s demos wasn’t asked whether it wanted to ‘leave’ the WTO treaties. It was asked whether it wanted to ‘leave’ the EU, without ‘leave’ being specially defined or qualified. Under these circumstances the word ‘leave’ should be understood as it normally is, as defined in a dictionary:

            leave 1 |liːv|
            verb (past and past participle left |lɛft| )
            1 [with object] go away from: she left London on June 6 | [no object] : we were almost the last to leave | the England team left for Pakistan on Monday.
            • depart from permanently: at the age of sixteen he left home.
            • cease attending (a school or college) or working for (an organization): she is leaving the BBC after 20 years.

            I think that’s fairly clear. That is what those who voted Leave understood the word ‘leave’ to mean. The rest is pedantry, sophism, and special pleading.

            After having left, as I said before, reasonable people would expect the UK and EU to create Treaties and Agreements to ensure the continuation of European air travel, etc. etc., such as any other pair of sovereign entities would.

            ‘Remainers’, especially ‘business writers’, do like to create false dichotomies and indulge in hyperbole and catastrophism. In 2016 this was known as ‘Project Fear’ and resulted in ludicrous, overblown statements from people who should have known better. The demos saw this and judged those statements, and their utterers, accordingly.

            FYI: It’s the purpose of an economy to support society, not vice versa. That’s why Leave won, and why we’ve just read this article.

        • Larry Metcalfe says

          You have to be careful about what you mean by a “WTO Brexit”.

          On one hand this could mean that there is a Withdrawal Agreement and that subsequently (after the transition period) there are a series of bilateral agreements (for example on air travel, security etc.) but no trade agreement with the EU, hence the WTO kicking in. You could argue that this fulfills the mandate but it doesn’t accord with a lot of things that were said by Leave (easiest trade deal in history etc).

          But what is being discussed quite often now is No Deal, which is quite different as it involves no Withdrawal Agreement and therefore the UK falling out of all the arrangements we have with the EU, which would be catastrophic. Again you could argue that this fulfills the mandate but it was never suggested at any point by Leave that this is what would happen. We’re quite often told by the Brexiters that 17.4m people knew what they voted for, but they didn’t vote for this.

          • Niobe says

            I think that what most people assumed was that their government and civil service would then negotiate the best possible settlement on their behalf. Many of the Leave voters to whom I speak – and not a few of those who voted to remain – feel that through either incompetence or a deep rooted abhorrence of the referendum result, this is not happening.

      • Lee Hallam says

        Daniel Hannan did write articles and books in which he said Norway’s position was much better than being in the EU, other’s said the same, in the years prior to it.. However the campaign from all the Leave organisations and the Remain campaign was clear during the referendum, that leaving the EU meant leaving the single market and customs union. Norway was not put forward by anyone at the time that counted.

    • Switzerland has 10 (or more) complex bilateral agreements and is a member of EFTA (although not the EEA) and is in the Schengen – it’s not a realistic comparison (also surrounded by EU countries – so all trade is either via EU land-borders or by air.

      Worth reading this piece, which quotes Professor #Ambühl, who was “Switzerland’s chief negotiator in bilateral talks with the EU”.
      https://moneyweek.com/470043/could-the-swiss-model-serve-as-a-template-for-brexit/

      • Charlie says

        “Switzerland has 10 (or more) complex bilateral agreements”
        More like 120 or more, and still no direct access to the Single Market in Financial Services (which is why all large Swiss banks have a major presence in London). The EU hates the arrangement and will not allow it to develop further without comprehensive reform — everybody promoting this model during campaigning is either a liar or ignorant.

    • Switzerland is part of the Schengen Agreement and – at least for the most part – has freedom of movement, and obeys a helluva lot of EU laws it has no input in so not exactly what a lot of those who voted Leave wanted.

    • NickG says

      Switzerland has free movement with the EU, it has to comply with the European Court and EU standards, even in internal markets and in exports to other countries. Being land locked they also have no fisheries. It is not a sovereign nation, it is a vassal state of the EU.

      For the UK a Canada model or better yet pure WTO terms would return sovereignty.

  2. Justin says

    The problem is really the Euro. Countries with radically different economies sharing an extremely valuable currency does not make sense. For southern European countries to have no resort to controlling the value of their currency makes keeping up with the north a challenge. The spanking that was meted out on Greece (especially) but Italy and Spain to a lesser extent rattled many people in the UK and elsewhere – including many who voted to Remain.

  3. augustine says

    “As Stenner showed, when such threats are seen to challenge a wider community they trigger a sharp backlash from citizens who wish to defend not only themselves but the wider group.”

    A type of communal altruism? What other countries might see such a response to progressivism?

  4. This was a really insightful article and very instructive for a non-Brit.

    Recently, a prominent liberal politician suggested that Brexit was driven by pensioners who longed for a world where “faces were white.”

    To this I would say, so what? It seems silly to have to point this out, but Britain is a white country. We need to get back to a place where it’s okay to say that we want to preserve our ways of life and cultural identity, and we need to get there quick.

    • LukeReeshus says

      Don’t you know, Comrade, that Diversity is our strength? That white “culture,” if such a thing even really exists, is as lacking in worth as our skin is lacking in melanin? Don’t you realize that the only things Britain, along with the rest of the West, have contributed to humanity have been racism and colonialism?

      If not, you’re obviously just a shill for the white-cis-hetero-normative-Anglo-patriarchy.

      • martti_s says

        LukeReeshus, did you ever hear about the industrial and scientific revolution?
        Look down at your fingers and below.
        Who do you think figured out the laws of electronics and informatics that allow you to send your silly thoughts into the cyberspace? Where do you think they came from?
        Read up.

        • LukeReeshus says

          Sorry, my irony detector was off. My bad.

          Lol, no worries. In this day and age, it really can be hard to tell. This isn’t the first time I’ve parodied [whatever you call people who say stuff like that] and been taken seriously.

    • CogitoBcn says

      If keeping the ‘whiteness’ is your goal (it’s ok, I don’t mind about) the Brexit doesn’t help but the opposite. EU immigration is almost 100% white and non-EU immigration will be still an issue after Brexit.

      • NeilF says

        “…non-EU immigration will be still an issue after Brexit.”

        Indeed it will. Net EU migration was estimated at 189,000 In the year before the referendum, but fell to 100,000 in 2017. “Estimated non-EU net migration, meanwhile, is 227,000 a year—the highest level recorded since 2011. It has been almost consistently higher than EU migration for decades.” (https://fullfact.org/immigration/eu-migration-and-uk/ ).

        To state the obvious, non-EU immigration has nothing to do with the EU, and everything to do with successive UK governments’ immigration policies. Given the article’s emphasis on immigration as a driver of the Brexit vote, this is a major omission.

    • Charlie Aerö says

      “To this I would say, so what? It seems silly to have to point this out, but Britain is a white country. We need to get back to a place where it’s okay to say that we want to preserve our ways of life and cultural identity, and we need to get there quick.”
      Two points in response to this idiotic tosh:

      1) EU immigrants to the UK are overwhelmingly white: how many black or coloured Poles have you met?

      2) If your “ways of life and cultural identity” are put under existential threat by a wildly disparate and heterogeneous scattering of people who you outnumber by nearly ten-to-one, then it may be high time to consider with some care whether you actually have anything worth preserving in the first place!
      Does Spain have a cultural identity? Does Germany? What about Ireland or Sweden? Or even Australia or Canada? These countries, and many others, have far more immigrants than the UK.

      Just what is it that is so inferior about British culture that it is too fragile to survive what so many other countries take in their stride? Brits used famously to be the ones taking polite afternoon tea or dressing formally for a G&T before dinner while surrounded by alien worlds in the wilds of nowhere: now they’re afraid of hearing Italian spoken in the street or seeing a shop selling Polish sauerkraut or pierogi!

  5. Hamr says

    I have seen this type of Brexit outcome ‘debate’ before.
    Our 1995 referendum.
    Granted, Brexit was a vote to remove a country from the EU oligarchy (no war) ,and our referendum was for a province to secede (easily a civil war).
    There are no winners or losers, in such things. History will present the facts.

    • celt darnell says

      Seriously off there, old man. The Quebec-Canada issue is nothing like the UK-EU one. If we must bring in Canada (whose entire history is based on rejection of a continental unuon — the USA), the comparison would be NAFTA moving in the direction of a pan- North American political union and the Canadians voting to leave as a result.

      Irrespective of the aims and ambitions of the Treaty of Rome, there has never been any desire on the part of the British people to be in a European political union. Membership of the European Economic Community or “Common Market” was always sold as primarily a trading arrangement. This was why Maastricht changed everything for many in the UK (UKIP, for example, was founded in response).

      The Quebec-Canada issue is closer to the English-Scottish one.

      • CogitoBcn says

        I totally agree with this comment, UK has never supported the deep political integration that EU is currently pursuing. For this reason, being a UK resident European immigrant I also support Brexit: UK and EU have different goals, so they should part away and forge its respective goals. Said that, I think that a better negotiation could been done in order to save economic pain in both sides.

  6. A broader question, beyond Brexit, is why leftists almost always seem to relish the prospect of any diminution in or loss of their own nation’s sovereignty (e.g., seen in things like support for open borders, international governing bodies, unilateral disarmament). What’s the psychological basis for this sort of almost masochistic longing for a loss of control over their own destiny?

    • pebbleskimmer says

      A good question. Maybe it is a new incarnation of religious apocalyptic thinking. A desire for judgement to be called down upon the unrighteous, with the understanding that I am one of the saved who will somehow be raptured into the Kingdom of European Heaven even as the sinners perish?

    • Caroline Wass says

      Guilt. If you are white, British and relatively affluent you must benefiting from someone else’s oppression. Don’t you know we are responsible for all and any other ethnic groups’ lack of success, both here and in the former colonies? It’s all Our Fault.

    • IanC says

      I am a leftist. At least partially it comes down to my enemy’s enemy is my friend. I detest Tories. I think they are stupid, evil liars and worse, liars to themselves. The EU is going to kill off the Tory Party in its current form in the next six to nine months. The Tories will either resurrect themselves as centrists capable of accepting the Norway model or they are dead. The idea of an isolated no-deal UK, trying life as a kind of deregulated European Singapore, is for the birds. Food shortages will see to that. So I see a wonderful destiny where the UK accepts that it is basically a slightly richer version of Belgium and settles down again. I don’t want you to control my destiny thank you.

      • AC Harper says

        “The idea of an isolated no-deal UK, trying life as a kind of deregulated European Singapore, is for the birds. Food shortages will see to that.”

        You do realise that ‘no deal’ doesn’t mean that the UK won’t continue to trade with the rest of the EU and all of the counties outside the EU (as it does at the moment)?

      • CrisS says

        Not sure what you do for a living IanC but might be worth doing just a little homework before trying to compare UK’s situation (current or future) with that of Belgium ….unless you are a professional magician and your master plan to boost the UK economy is to force all EU institutions, associated lobbyists, journos and hangers-on to move to UK so we benefit from the extra 5 billion+ Euros they inject into their ‘host’ economy each year, plus the 40-80K extra jobs (depending on whether you include just EU core staff), etc.?

      • Philip Humphries says

        Where you are mistaken is your expectation of the aftermath. If the U.K. doesn’t leave the EU what will result is a popularity right wing party that will have a mandate to leave. It will be far worse than any Tory party you currently hate. Be careful what you wish for.

    • Good question – here’s a couple of observations: When an educational system propagandizes year in and year out that order, form, hierarchy, discrimination etc are inherently evil then why would we expect such people to even value “control over their own destiny?

      What we call education today is nothing less than a sophisticated form of psychological fragmentation – the most educated tend to be the most fragmented. Words like “openness”, “diversity” etc. are euphemisms for the incapacity to see the necessity for order, form, discrimination etc. in order to exist at all. And, by the way, it is precisely psychological fragmentation, according to Hannah Arendt, which is the ground for totalitarian movements.

    • Charlie Aerö says

      “A broader question, beyond Brexit, is why leftists almost always seem to relish the prospect of any diminution in or loss of their own nation’s sovereignty”

      They don’t.

      But some of them a smart enough to realise that, in a world increasingly dominated by major super-powers, pooling sovereignty with like-minded neighbours to create a weighty union is the only way for a medium-sized country to retain control and influence on a global scale; and being a leading member of such a union amplifies the UK’s power and control.
      The Brexitists delusions of ‘Global Britain’ are simply laughable: disgraced former defence secretary Liam Fox will love feeling self-important while he plays incompetently betting the country’s livelihood on his delusions, but nobody representing the UK’s interests will even be at the table when the big decisions are being made.

  7. Michael says

    Populism has become a pejorative catch-all term used by the elite when speaking of those who dare to disagree, refuse to ‘know their place.’

  8. ga gamba says

    Not much to quibble about though I think the omission of industry and trade is this article’s shortcoming. Much of Brexit’s support came from the Midlands and the North, regions that have been hollowed out by globalisation.

    The EU and Japan recently signed a managed ‘free’ deal. Japan certainly is as economically developed as Germany, and more so than Spain, Portugal, and Hungary.

    One of the many sectors being liberalised is footwear, Most consumers think of that being dominated by the low-wage developing economies such as Vietnam, China, and India, and they do dominate it for footwear priced less than £150 (approx. $200) at retail, yet both Japan and several of the EU states have been able to hang on in the valued-added tier of £230 ($300) to £5400 ($7000). In post-industrial cities such as Northampton, England; Sao Joao da Madeira, Portugal; Mallorca, Spain; and Budapest, Hungary you’ll find family-owned makers such Crockett and Jones, Zarko, Carmina, and Vass, respectively.

    Let’s take a look at an Oxford calfskin leather shoe made in Northampton. At a UK-based shop it retails for £410 including 20% VAT (a sales tax), https://www.robertold.co.uk/crockett-and-jones-hallam-oxford-shoes. Exclude the VAT and it’s £343. Of course that shop purchased it at wholesale, and though I don’t know C&J’s wholesale prices, let’s assume shops use keystone markup so the wholesale price is £171.50. C&J imposes a minimum retail price on its authorised retailers, but to my knowledge it does not employ price discrimination, a pricing strategy where identical or largely similar goods or services are transacted at different prices by the same provider in different markets. A Japanese consumer is free to purchase online a pair of C&J shoes from a UK-based retailer at the VAT-reduced price and then pay postage and import tariff, if levied, by the Japanese Customs Office.

    In Japan the same shoe by the same maker retails at the equivalent of £568 including an 8% consumption tax (a sales tax), http://store.united-arrows.co.jp/shop/ua/goods.html?did=29309620. Tax excluded it’s £525.

    The retail price is 53% higher in Japan than the UK (after the sales has been reduced for both). What might account for such a great difference? Sure there’s shipping, but shoes aren’t perishable goods so they can be shipped in 40ft containers aboard massive container ships. There are distribution costs, but C&J tends not to use middlemen who impose their own markups. The retailers have foreign exchange risk and a few other fees.

    Japan’s tariff is 60% or 4,800 yen/pair, whichever is the greater, for shoes with either a leather or rubber sole and a leather upper that covers the foot or ankle (boot). And if that wasn’t a high enough barrier quotas are imposed too. Remember, tariff is applied to the wholesale price plus freight and insurance. The EU’s tariff is 8%.

    So, it appears Japan’s consumers stand to see their shoe prices decrease greatly with the new free agreement. “What’s that?” “They won’t? At least not for a long while?!” The EU agreed to eliminate tariffs for Japanese-made shoes beginning the end of 2018. Japan is allowed a 10-year period to reciprocate. Typical.

    And it’s not just shoes. The deal liberalised cheese. Yes, cheddar and other hard cheeses will enter Japan. In 15 years. But the Japanese rarely eat strong tasting cheese. The cheese they favour, such as camembert and mozzarella, will remain restricted because under the existing high tariff and non-tariff barriers Japanese companies started making these types years ago; they demanded protection remain. What a cockmamie trade deal. It denies Europe its competitive advantage to protect the world-renown cheese makers. Of Japan. One only hopes the Dutch daruma doll makers were given the same due.

    Who benefits from this deal? In the short- to mid-term certainly not the family-owned shoemakers in the EU. Definitely not their employees. There will be no boom in exports to Japan. They will be coming the other way.

    What happened to the left’s advocacy of working people? Speaking to those on the left I’m told two things usually. Not only do they not care about the capitalist families who own these businesses, which is to be expected because “they’re exploiting the workers”, they don’t even care about these workers because they’re making luxury products. Mention a pair of shoes costs £700 and the left just see red and fume. Why? Because it’s the rich who buy them. Does the left fail to understand that to retain industrial and heritage-crafts work in the developed world the products have to be be highly value-added, i.e. expensive? Twenty euro jeans sold at H&M and Forever 21 aren’t made in Europe – well, maybe if there’s human trafficking involved, so the punters are fortunate there’s freedom of movement to better facilitate that. It’s not only the wages, but it’s the tax, the benefits, and the cost of regulations, such as those protecting the environment, that drive up the unit cost of production.

    The well-to-do cosmopolitans, i.e. the ones who negotiate these trade deals on behalf of the EU, don’t care because they’ll gain a greater selection of shoes to choose from at lower prices; it’s likely European makers may even reduce prices due to the increased competition. They’ll either outsource some of the manufacturing, such as components, to the developing world or they’ll stop using expensive European-tanned leather, replacing it with hides from India or Bangladesh. The knock-on effect cascades into other industries and other communities. The Japanese makers retain their home market protected by that 60% tariff as their cash cow so they may follow the cut-throat-pricing precedent established by other Japanese companies such as automakers and consumer electronics to attain market share at the expense of the European shoemakers. No worries, I’m sure these small firms have the wherewithal to handle this for a decade.

    Where is the quid pro quo? If free trade is good for the EU, which we’re constantly told by economists and politicians, isn’t is also good for Japan? “It is! But in 10 years.” Why are we denying them such wonderful goodness? Why don’t we share it with them? Where is our compassion for the over taxed Japanese consumer?

    Remember, Japan isn’t Bangladesh. Those on the left typically accept delayed market openings, quotas, high tariffs, and other barriers by the developing world because it’s “unfair for rich Europe to exploit the developing world.” Yet, most of Europe’s shoemakers are in Italy and on the Iberian peninsula, neither of which is thriving. Italy’s unemployment rate is 11%; Spain’s is over 16%. Further, high value-added goods don’t damage developing countries because their competitiveness isn’t in this niche.

    Time and time again we see these trade deals that bugger those in industry whilst those in the professions and employed by the state, who are are not only protected by their advanced educations they also are defended from competition by their professional associations that regulate their credentials, reap the benefits of greater variety at lower prices.

    Is there a plan afoot to so totally destroy working people’s communities and prospects that they simply give up, withdraw from the political process, and despondently fall upon the ever growing state to give them a pittance to sustain themselves? We don’t see these financial and emotional costs added to the price tag of our soon-to-be cheaper Japanese-made shoes, but they are certainly there.

    No surprise to me to see that all seven districts in Northamptonshire voted to leave the European Union. The only thing that astonishes me is that they haven’t risen up yet. Maybe they’ve already been beaten down sufficiently. Perhaps they’re too busy running around trying to rescue their daughters from the misnamed grooming gangs (they’re really serial rape gangs) because their elected council, government workers, and police refuse to do their jobs.

  9. Malcolm Hill says

    Well written account of the history to the lead up to the referendum and the reasons that led to the final result . It also gave a good explanation to the diversity of the the electorate and why they supported which side of the argument
    The post referendum analysis was excellent and the whole article brilliantly argued and presented

  10. Pingback: Brexit, just once more, I promise – Ewan Lawry blog

  11. ABCDEFG says

    This piece articulates what was my own experience of talking to people – or rather of them talking to me – ahead of the Referendum. By far the biggest constituency of people going to vote Leave that I talked with were black British men and women of both Caribbean and African heritage. Slightly more were working class than middle class but not by much. All had made their minds up well in advance of the vote.

    I think there were several reasons for this.

    The first was that – especially among the Black British working class Leavers – their wages had been severely undercut by Eastern and Central European migration in the decade-plus before the vote. So, in short there was an economic component to their vote.

    But the second (and perhaps more difficult reason to pin down) was that many of these voters felt that Blair’s decision to allow migration from the A8 had changed the fairness of the system – perhaps bias would be a better word – when it came to migration. For many of the Windrush Generation and after – Britain was the colonial (then Commonwealth) motherland. It – Britain – had always explicitly made promises about all being citizens of the empire and – correctly in my opinion – citizens from the Caribbean, Africa and South Asia now believed that their own destinies were still inextricably linked with Britain.

    They had faced migration restrictions before – and the 1986 changes that Margaret Thatcher had always been particularly harshly viewed as they seemed to prioritise migration from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada over their own lands. But they still could see a system in place and while they might not agree with it, there was an element of understanding where they stood.

    Blair’s decision changed that overnight. Many of the Caribbean and African Leave voters that I spoke to felt that migration from their countries into Britain was part of an ongoing relationship in which they were now valued in a period of time going back to slavery. This connected them to Britain. Now, people from the Baltic states or Poland or other European countries could move to, work in, claim benefits from Britain without going through any comparable migration system.

    Any sense of historical debt or dialogue was gone. There was a feeling that Britain had chose what was expedient rather than what was “right” by the Commonwealth countries.

    When I’ve pointed this out to Remain voters, their answers tend towards – well these people are stupid to vote Leave, they don’t know what’s in their best interests etc. I wish that these Remain voters would ponder on this more deeply. In a toxic environment where May vowed to get down migration to tens of thousands rather than hundreds but couldn’t do anything about European migration, Caribbean men and women became “fair game” for the Home Office.

    I should also say that I know many Remain voters of Caribbean and African heritage. Their principal reasons for voting that way were in-built hatred of the Conservatives who they believed own the Brexit debate and also a fear of the Far Right. So UKIP might be seen as the lightning rod of mass feeling which could be directed onto minorities.

    For my own part I must say this. I have always believed that when national polities sign over their lawmaking capacities and legal jurisdictions to other entities and therefore citizenries cannot make their own laws, the disillusionment eventually leads to anti-system parties and if they can’t change things and things are seen/felt to get worse, then to real extremists. I always predicted that qualified majority voting within the EC and EU would lead to populations shifting to parties that would be seen – for want of a better word – as Populists.

    Therefore the very nature of EU “democracy” would lead to the forces which would either destroy it or subvert it from within. I believe those forces are gathering but not yet anywhere near where they will be within Europe now.

  12. HYUFD says

    Indeed. The 2016 Leave vote in the EU referendum was also the first time a majority of the working class beat a majority of the middle class since Wilson beat Heath in 1974

  13. Megan Bailey says

    Substitute “Trump voter” for “Brexit voter” in this piece and you have a highly accurate synopsis of the political situation in the US right now.:Liberal elites wailing and screaming, but refusing to see, much less address the real-world concerns of those who dwell outside their bubble.

    • josh says

      In the US, Trump voters were middle-class and elite while Hillary voters included the poor and working-class. It was the Democrats who tried to solve working-class problems by fighting for better health-care, education opportunities, fair wages, etc. It was Republicans who sold them out to banks and big-business. Trump came along promising nonsense solutions, scape-goating immigrants and promoting an alternate reality bubble where the most corrupt and incompetent man in America was going to “clean up the swamp”.

      So I don’t think “Trump voter” as “Brexit voter” is an entirely bad analogy, but you seem to be drawing the wrong conclusions.

  14. meerkat says

    “Recently, a prominent liberal politician suggested that Brexit was driven by pensioners who longed for a world where “faces were white.”

    This explanation has never made any sense, but over the last few years I’ve heard it repeatedly. Why would a person who wants to see Britain remain white vote against a policy that guarantees massive white immigration into the UK? Since the UK’s non-EU immigration is virtually all non-white, if Brexit is ever truly implemented, it will result a far greater proportion of immigrants to the UK being non-white. Prominent Brexiteers have stated that they feel the EU immigration policy discriminates in favour of (white)Europeans and that the UK should get more of its immigrants from the Commonwealth countries.

    • Bill says

      It will never make sense. Like in the US, it is simply a way for the “elites” to paint as “racist” those who voted against them and won. It is a method of slandering the winner in the hopes that they can peel off some into thinking “wait..i’m not racist, I shouldn’t support that anymore!” even if the accusation is pure hokum like Sen. Reid’s claims against Romney in the 2012 election cycle. All they care about is captured in his response about it some time after, “We won, didn’t we?”

    • Peter from Oz says

      Actually the pensioners probably long for a world where the faces are white English.

  15. Enough is enough says

    “Immigration had historically been owned by the Conservative Party. But by 2016, when voters were asked who they trusted on the issue, the most popular answers were the right-wing UK Independence Party, ‘none of them,’ or ‘don’t know.’ Worryingly, these unresolved grievances were also having deeper effects; researchers found that the consistent failure to address people’s concerns was eroding overall trust in the political system.”

    This is the problem with a democratic system that reaches consensus between the Left and the Right. There’s no conflict there anymore, which misses the point of a political system. Politics exists, at least in part, so that the population can have their interests not just represented, but fought for. That way, the populace doesn’t have to. This is why there are so many disaffected voters, because neither party is representing their interests. The only way to resolve this is to have a Conservative party that represents conservative values, and a Liberal party that represents liberal values. Right now, Britain has neither.

    • This should be obvious to anyone with half a functioning brain, but the way you put it just makes it so clear. Well said.

  16. Andrew Roddy says

    The bar chart is particularly revealing. I had always been curious about the relationship between the closest party, as expressed as a percentage of the general population, and the HE staff.

  17. Andrew Roddy says

    ‘Between 1991 and 1995, the annual average level of net migration (i.e. the number of people coming in minus the number leaving) had been just 37,000. Between 2012 and 2016 it averaged 256,000.’
    In terms of percentage of population this means that the net migration rose to a blood-curdling 0.38%. For what difference it may make, only one third of these migrants are from other EU countries.
    ‘many (though not all) of those who voted for Brexit tended to support capital punishment, stiffer sentences for criminals, and felt that social liberalism had gone too far.’
    Equally interesting to note that many (though not all) of the people in the world are chess grand-masters.

    • Niobe hunter says

      256000 a year. That’s the size of a decent sized city, I believe Coventry ( can’t look it up as I am not on a Windows system ). More than quarter of a million people a year with no house, no school. No hospital, doctor or dentist …it doesn’t matter whether they are black, brown pink or pale green, they still are unsupported by the current infrastructure. It doesn’t matter whether they intend to claim benefits for seven children, or whether in three years time they will be running business providing employment and contributing to the tax revenue.

      It is completely accepted in many semi rural areas now that it is impossible to travel around England with any ease. The roads, even in small towns, are completely clogged with traffic. If you can get to where you are going , you can’t park your car, so you may as well not bother. And before you riposte about public transport, it is standing room only on pretty much any train.

      Of course it is true that if the people who are delaying you getting a hospital appointment with the waiting time which pertained four years ago, or occupying the housing estate which has been built on the old playing field, do not speak your language or share your pastimes , and seem to have rather different ways of behaving in public, the inconvenience is more easily transmuted into resentment.

      I live in France during the summer, in demographically and geologically similar area to my winter home. The contrast in ease of movement is extraordinary, but it started to become really noticeable about six years ago.

      So yes, it is a literally bloodcurdling increase. It means the average time from my village to the local emergency centre has doubled in four years. The increase in response time is not published.

      • Andrew Roddy says

        More than quarter of a million people a year with no house, no school. No hospital, doctor or dentist …it doesn’t matter whether they are black, brown pink or pale green,

        Or doctors or dentists or nurses or teachers………?

        • Paul Ellis says

          As the OP said: “they still are unsupported by the current infrastructure.” They are also denuding their home countries of their expensive and vital skills, and not necessarily getting the improved lives they seek. This view of immigration is worth reading:

          http://www.zwilo.com/immigrants-fallacy-liberal-case-immigration-poor-countries/

          The writer neglects to mention the rejection of the host country’s culture evident in many 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, especially Muslims, who are often much more religious and insular than their parents.

      • Charlie says

        “It is completely accepted in many semi rural areas now that it is impossible to travel around England with any ease. The roads, even in small towns, are completely clogged with traffic.”

        It’s been well researched, and again and again EU immigrants have been found to contribute more in taxes than they cost: failure to provide adequate infrastructure is down to the UK Government’s own (ideologically driven) austerity policies and incompetent planning, neither of which can be solved by eliminating immigrants. People who voted to curb immigration because of inadequate infrastructure were dreadfully poorly informed.

        “Of course it is true that if the people who are delaying you getting a hospital appointment with the waiting time which pertained four years ago, or occupying the housing estate which has been built on the old playing field, do not speak your language or share your pastimes , and seem to have rather different ways of behaving in public, the inconvenience is more easily transmuted into resentment.”

        There is a higher proportion of immigrants working as healthcare staff than in the population as a whole, on top of which the age profile of the immigrant population makes them less likely to need hospital appointments.

        That means that the person “delaying you” in front of you in the queue is *less* likely to be an immigrant than the doctor who treats you! I’m sorry, but anybody who voted for lower immigration in the hope of improving waiting times can only be described as more than a bit thick!

        Incidentally, NHS waiting times actually improved during the period of maximum EU immigration over the late 2000s — satisfaction with the NHS stood at an all-time high in 2010‒11. It is since the Tories’ took over with their catastrophically stupid reorganisation —the one they solemnly promised *not* to do— that all the measures of NHS performance have fallen off a cliff. But let’s just blame the immigrants, eh? It’s easy to see how fascism takes hold…

  18. Johan Swede says

    In Sweden people are seeing their country as they know it slowly disappearing. The reason is the mass-immigration. In the 3 biggest cities the segregation is massive. Ethnic Swedes live in the more affluent areas were their children go to school. Not much has changed in these areas.
    In the last decades most immigrants had to settle in more rural towns and villages. No real segregation going on there. That’s were immigrants and Swedes really mix. Not always without friction.
    Sweden is culturally the most modern country in the world. Sweden is in the top right corner in The World Values Survey (http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSContents.jsp?CMSID=Findings).
    This means very few Swedes are religious etc.
    The immigrants that are coming are the least modern in the world. Most are muslim and very religious and patriarcal. Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq…
    The culture clash is massive. Swedes get scared and extremely worried about the future.
    So far, the left has been able to completley dominate the narrative. Any criticizm equals racism etc…
    This is changing fast. Election in September. The left will loose big time.
    Paradoxically the left want immigrants coming who all are deeply religious, anti-semitic and anti-feminist.
    The nationalists/conservatives want modernity to prevail.
    People don’t trust the left anymore.
    If a “Brexit” would occur in Sweden…What I’ve described would be the reason. Economics doesn’t really matter.
    People dont’t want their country and culture to disappear.

    • dirk says

      What I know from Norway (from Grorruddalen), Johan, the left sees in the immigrants (whether religious and antisemitic and antifeminist or not) victims and down trodden, and the root cause of this evil has to be eradicated, before anything else, low expectations are allowed and even best, compassion and pity reign. Yes, but for how long? And how is that in England, with their long tradition with colonialism of muslim and hindu regions? Quite different of course. And!!, we are all Europeans. But!!, oh so different!

    • Edpf says

      Significantly more swedes don’t want to lose their socially democratic values to morons like Åkesson.

  19. Pingback: Britain’s Populist Revolt (longread) - Clickbait

  20. Jon says

    “Such findings leant credibility” — I think you mean ‘lent’.

    But to me the obvious fact being overlooked is that where arrangements between nations are mutually beneficial, they can and will be made voluntarily. If they’re not mutually beneficial, then they shouldn’t be made at all. Making it compulsory to lock-in to a system is a pretty good indication that at least some of the consequences of locking in are not going to be good for you.

  21. I don’t disagree with much of your analysis, Matthew, but I still think it was wrong to leave.
    I realise much more clearly how much of a minority I am. A top 5% earning London liberal leftist with 50% non-British genes, a job in an international organisation and a globalist lifestyle. I was aware that Britons were nationalist, but my experience of the continent is that German, French, Italians etc are at least as patriotic but reconciled that with sharing power across borders.
    Your questions about the future of British politics are spot on.
    My liberal elite remains even more in its bubble(s). Politics is re-aligning but the parties are not. Labour is even more conflicted over Europe and immigration than the Conservatives. Without resorting to Project Fear I think it is fair to say that Leavers will be disappointed with the result. Myths of sovereignty won’t fill our wallets or build new hospitals. Investing in national politics when our governmental system is so centralised and inefficient is a poor bet for ‘taking back control’. Whatever reasons you cite for leaving, I don’t see any positive, imaginative or progressive ones. Post-Brexit the world will not end, rubbish will not go un-collected in the streets, and, I suspect, we will spend the next decade re-building links to the world that we already have or could have had while Remaining. I hope that is the case rather than the retribution, retrenchment and reactionary response that I fear will take place. I hope my fellow Remainers have the wit to take on board the points you have made in this piece and come up with a realistic and imaginative alternative.

    • Paul Ellis says

      “I hope my fellow Remainers have the wit to take on board the points you have made in this piece and come up with a realistic and imaginative alternative.”

      It makes a pleasant change to read a reasonable and self-aware Remainer. Thank you.

      The problem with EU membership is not economic. It’s social, and primarily for the UK it is unsustainable population increase, largely of people who cleave to cultures which at their root are incompatible with the majority culture. I’m sure I need not elaborate.

      Economies recover; trashed societies don’t so easily, as the majority of Quillette articles make clear. If the UK remains in the EU we will eventually be coerced into accepting quotas of the ‘guests’ so rashly invited by Angela Merkel into the EU on disembarking their boats. Of course the UK has its own uncontrolled problem with immigration from the Subcontinent but it doesn’t need yet more from the EU that it cannot refuse.

      The Leave vote has set in train a political process which might, eventually, lead to the UK having a government capable of tackling the UK’s population problem. There is no chance of that whatsoever whilst the UK remains an EU member.

    • Lamia says

      I am on the other side from you bur you make some fair points, Charlie.

      “Investing in national politics when our governmental system is so centralised and inefficient is a poor bet for ‘taking back control’. ”

      This is one of the fair points. This part is going to be a mountain to climb that I feel will be more difficult than Brexit. At the same time, as the article indicates in the following quote, this centralisation has been caused, intentionally or not, by the very liberal metropolitans who wanted to Remain in the EU.

      “more recent research has shown how the rise of ‘careerist’ politicians, particularly in the Labour Party, lowered the amount of attention going to working-class interests. Meanwhile, the numbers that had been elected after working in politics or in London reached record heights.”

      In addition to the low confidence in the EU (even among a large proportion) of those who voted Remain, there is little reason to hope that, even had we Remained (/if we still Remain) the metropolitan liberals would really address this imbalance. Sporadically since the referendum there has been talk of this – Tony Blair, as an example, gave a speech in which he said of course people had felt left behind or ignored, and of course something now must be done to make amends, but Brexit was not the way to do this. But it has sounded about as sincere as X pleading with someone else not to drop ‘our’ (in fact X’s) priceless Ming vase, and has always been followed shortly by a reversion to telling Leave voters they are stupid, racist, brainwashed etcetera, and that it was stupid to have allowed them a say in the first place.

      “Whatever reasons you cite for leaving, I don’t see any positive, imaginative or progressive ones.”

      Another fair – or at least arguable – point. But I think liberal Remainers tend to overestimate the level of (misplaced) optimism or even the importance of optimism on the part of Leave voters. They voted Leave because not because they expect paradise outside it but because they don’t have confidence in the EU and they think things will get worse while we are inside. They don’t expect it to fill their wallets – though nor do they expect it to empty them. They are starting from a lower base of risk ad expectation than the metropolitan elite are. You’ve had the party almost all to yourself for several decades, and it has squeezed the rest of the country somewhat. They’ll settle for getting a bit of respite from people like you. They know what your class really thinks of them now, and that if we stay in the EU you’ll just carry on as before anyway with the music up loud and the doors and windows locked.

      I apologise if that sounds a bit personal. By ‘you’, of course I mean your class. I am agreed with you that whatever happens re Brexit there is a lot to address quite separately about British society in coming years. From the perspective of people like Matthew Parris, it involves turning ‘our’ backs on unfashionable places like Clacton and focussing on Canary Wharf. From the perspective of Leavers like myself, it involves working out what we do about our metropolitan liberal elite, the House of Lords, our national institutions etcetera, because they really aren’t working for the nation as a whole, especially those outside of London. And I don’t think they even want to anymore.

      It’s a puzzle.

      • NeilF says

        The article refers to “the advocates of double liberalism—a globalized economy accompanied by a highly liberal immigration policy” having got all they wanted up to the referendum, implying that the Brexit vote was a defeat for them.

        The problem is that the leading Tory Brexiteers – Liam Fox, Gove, Johnson, Rees-Mogg et al – are advocates of *neo*liberalism, i.e. “free”-market fundamentalism in a globalized economy – hence all the talk of “Global Britain”.

        As Craig Berry has argued, Brexit can be seen as a struggle between two competing visions of capitalism (https://theconversation.com/why-brexit-is-really-about-competing-visions-of-capitalism-100274 ). If the radical free-trade Brexiteers’ vision wins out – either through a no-deal Brexit or one of them replacing May – it will be a very different kind of Brexit from the one most Leave voters might have had in mind.

    • Charlie Aerö says

      “I think it is fair to say that Leavers will be disappointed with the result.”

      I would go further: it’s highly unlikely that they will get *any* of the things they were promised or expect as a result of the vote, and will be subject to a large number of setbacks that they were not expecting (or even aware of).

      In these circumstances, there will be an enormous amount of blame to be assigned, and none of those advocating Brexit will be admitting that their ideas were stupid or unrealistic, or even that having a complete void of practical plans —even after decades of campaigning— was a serious problem. Indeed, every week now brings a fresh crop of dully predictable “That’s not My Brexit” articles, attempting to dissociate the writer from any responsibility for the debacle now in progress.

      The sequel will be a violent orgy of finger-pointing at the EU, immigrants, foreigners, minorities, non-BELIEVERS in the Project which will poison the UK’s polity for generations, and a bottomless deepening of the tribal schisms which may even make the country schizophrenically ungovernable (if the gross incompetence of the political classes were not already an existential problem).

      This is going to be uglier than anybody can yet imagine.

  22. C Young says

    Great piece, and a good performance on Any Questions this week.

    One lesson is that we all need to take meta-positions in politics. Aside from our own views on any question, there is the question what supports the long term health of the political system. For instance, you don’t need to support the traditional Kinnockite left, to believe its essential that a traditional class-focussed left party exists.

    Similarly, centrists should not encourage the kind of all pervasive centrism that dominated the Blair-Cameron years. It undermined the political system in the UK. (The political scientist Peter Mair identified this phenomenon a decade ago, predicting populism as its byproduct.
    http://www.zwilo.com/peter-mair-predicted-rise-populists-brexit/)

    Ditto the success of left-identitarians in turning left parties away from economic and class issues is progressively wrecking our politics. (Again this was predicted. This time by Richard Rorty in 1995. http://www.zwilo.com/who-predicted-the-rise-of-the-populists-populism-richard-rorty/ )

  23. NeilF says

    The article says that “myths about the Brexit vote have flourished” since the referendum, among them the “lazy narrative” that Brexit was “a by-product of fake news and misinformation”.

    What the article fails to mention is the myths and misinformation about the EU that flourished *before* the referendum.

    In June 2016, the Independent reported on the findings of an Ipsos MORI survey:

    “respondents claimed that, on average, 15 per cent of the UK population are EU immigrants. That would be 10.5m people. The correct figure is 3.5m. Those who intend to vote Leave in the referendum put the figure at 20 per cent. ‘Remainers’ put the figure at 10 per cent.

    “One in seven people (15 per cent) believe ‘at least one Euro-myth’, including bans on barmaids showing too much cleavage, and the forcible renaming of Bombay Mix to Mumbai mix. Neither are real. 24 per cent of people believe overly bendy bananas are banned from import to the UK under EU law. (‘Malformed bananas’ are banned from export under an EU regulation.)
    […]
    “63 per cent think that Brexit will reduce immigration, an assurance that the Leave camp have consistently failed to give.

    “Professor Anand Menon, Director of the UK in a Changing Europe, who co-authored the study said:

    “There are obviously still high levels of ignorance about the EU, which is troubling so close to the referendum. However, it is not so surprising, given the lack of accurate information provided to the public, as well as the mistruths, exaggerations, and scaremongering that have taken place during this campaign. It’s now more imperative than ever that the public can be provided with as much factual information about the EU as possible before they cast their vote.”

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-referendum-british-public-wrong-about-nearly-everything-survey-shows-a7074311.html

    • Paul Ellis says

      I’ll only answer one of your points, about the overestimation of the immigrant percentage of the UK population: it’s not surprising, given the over-representation of non-whites on television and the disproportionate attention given to non-whites (especially Muslims) in the press, compared with their actual population percentage.

      The rest of your comment is admirably despatched by Peter Mair at this link, for which I’m grateful to C Young:

      http://www.zwilo.com/peter-mair-predicted-rise-populists-brexit/

      Mair was extraordinarily prescient. It’s not necessary to know minutiae about the EU to understand that you’re being done over by the globalist elite, of which the EU is most evidently a part. Lamia nails it, above:

      “You’ve had the party almost all to yourself for several decades, and it has squeezed the rest of the country somewhat. They’ll settle for getting a bit of respite from people like you. They know what your class really thinks of them now, and that if we stay in the EU you’ll just carry on as before anyway with the music up loud and the doors and windows locked.”

      • NeilF says

        On the first point, the survey finding in question was about over-estimation of *EU* (i.e. white European) immigration, not about over-estimating the proportion of non-whites in the UK population. Why do you confuse the two?

        I’ve read the piece on (rather than by) Peter Mair, along with others in “Mysterion’s” excellent series, and I broadly agree with his analysis. But it doesn’t invalidate the findings of the Ipsos-MORI survey.

        • Niobe says

          Because many ‘EU’ immigrants are not ‘ white’ to use your descriptor. The substantial Somalian ‘community’ in West London originally came to England on Dutch EU passports or permits. The Slovakians in Crewe are mainly Roma whose EU country of origin has been made fairly unwelcoming for them by its government. The well publicised case of the gentleman in Milton Keynes complaining bitterly about the refusal of the council to find him a house suitable for his 14 children came from Cameroon via France…

          You can forgive the confusion of us knuckle draggers.

          • NeilF says

            Thanks for qualifying my over-hasty generalisation. I don’t know what the current figures are, but in 2013, Oxford University’s Migration Observatory found that 141,000 people – 7% of EU migrants at the time – were born outside Europe (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jan/28/british-dream-europe-african-citizens – the article specifically mentions some 20,000 Somalis coming from Holland).

            In the grand scheme of things, this seems like a drop in the ocean (the UK population in 2013 was 64.13 million). But I appreciate that the local white population might well feel alienated by concentrated pockets of such immigrants, especially if they developed rapidly and/or there were incidents or behaviour which created tension. As for the family from Cameroon, there were 10 rather than 14 of them, but that’s a minor detail.

            And as for “us knuckle draggers”, they’re your words, not mine – I had to google to find out what it meant.

  24. Art Adams says

    I grew up in a city up North in England that faced or more rightly put was subjected to mass immigration for most of the 2000’s. I lived in the specific area that was one of the first to experience what can only be described as the wreckless resettlement of refugees from a host of non European countries. So badly done that within just a few years the local authority managed to turn an almost entriely white working class area into what was essentially a non English ghetto for refugees, made up almost entirely of young males in their 20s- late 30s who were for the most part unemployable. Needless to say the effect this had on the local community was strangling and as the white people moved out en-mass following which even more immigrants were moved in.

    As it turned out this was just the beginning of the cities issues with rapid change as a result of immigration and a few short years later the second wave of immigration hit the city in the form of European migrants who again anow swamped the neighbouring areas (and this time much more of the city also). Again the city was rapidly altered. To give but one example I had never seen a Polish shop in the city from the ages of 1-23 in the ten years that have passed between then and today there would be over 50. Considering locals were never consulted on either wave of migration its surely of no surprise that throughout the changes people felt upset and alienated.

    And its not that immigration per se was an issue, Hull, the city in question is a University city and as such their were communities filled with non English before all this and this was not only tolerated but embraced…I should know, I lived there myself. But as a left wing student who lived in that area throughout all these rapid changes that saw the local community consumed by a new culture and wave of segregation between non English immigrations and the traditional English working class – student mix I couldnt help but feel myself out of place and displaced in the area I had long since lived in. In fact, the community was so fractured that I myself soon left for new pastures and surprisingly for me or perhaps unsurprisingly because of the circumstances returned to a more traditional white working class community elsewhere in the city. As far as racism went I had little, or little I could recognise, my friends were mostly students and a mix of Chinese and Europeans from University. The difference was however their presence had little effect besides an enrichng one on identity in terms of my own and the community, the problem with the onslaught of immigration was this wholeheartedly did have an impact on the local identity. And for this to be done so wrecklessly and in an already significantly deprived struggling area what chances really was there of having a sucessfull intergration what was hundreds of thousands of new residents. Needless to say the city and its many working class residents were not too far in the future already primed for a Brexit leave vote and how can anyone balme them, the very fabric of the city was ripped up and made aknew. It certainly had its impact on me and made me very sceptical myself on mass scale immigration or at least local (and Westminsters) ability to manage and regulate it. Of courss, there were the usual voices on the far left, a place I myself may once have been much closer too, who were quite please with the social experimenr the city was undergoing, seeking to silence any ‘racists’ who sought to question or vpice their concerns or disgreement with the heroic refugee/ multicultural narratives.

    I never voted myself because despite my negative experiences with immigration in my own city I found the whole vote shrouded in fog and didnt feel comfortable making an opinion either way with so little understanding of what would happen next, although, it was very tempting to let experience rule the day and vote leave as I know many others from Hull and working class cities like it did. My partner is a Polish immigrant too by the way so I cannot stress just how personally impacting Brexit is in many other ways too. One thing I hope people take away from my comments is that most leavers were not racist, they were exhasberated and alienated. Sick and tired of having things done to them instead of for them or with them. Sadly this laci of though or effort by governent to discuss immigration in a more nuanced wah has meant and successful chance of a multicultural Britain was lost long before immigration really even began. It also has meant that people who in my experience are quite happy to chat about their Polish friend at work and potentially would in another life have been quite happy to embrace as part of a modern British society still strongly advocated dor a leave. vote once it was offered. Clearly, some scars run deep, and people are not quick to forget. If people really want to understand Brexit they need to look beyond the popular media narratives and actually speak to the communities from which the leave votes mostly came.

    • Art Adams says

      Sorry for the mistakes in my writing next time I’ll wait till im on a laptop rather than use my phone to comment 😊

    • EU was a con from the start. If you got tricked into paying someones monthly credit card bill instead of your own then after a few decades you were given the choices, keep paying this guys bill or switch to paying your own instead, what would you chose? A trade deal was offered promoting togetherness and friendship not a full blown dictatorship! People are waking up to the fact that the media lies and manipulates and people don’t like being lied to and deceived, simple as that. the rich get richer and the poor funnel what little they have straight into the elites pockets. If I cant afford meat for my family it hurts that what little I have ends up in the pockets of those who have everything yet lie and cheat to take even more. I don’t want the elites to rule us and they do through the EU

    • NeilF says

      Art, thanks for taking the time to share your personal experience at length. On the resettlement of refugees, this chart from 2015 shows that the vast majority were sent to the North, presumably mainly because of the availablility of relatively cheap and plentiful accommodation (perhaps in turn because of deprivation): https://www.ft.com/__origami/service/image/v2/images/raw/http%3A%2F%2Fcom.ft.imagepublish.prod.s3.amazonaws.com%2Ff9fa2980-d3f6-11e5-829b-8564e7528e54?source=next&fit=scale-down&width=599 .

      More generally, your experience seems to chime with at least the first two points of Ian Jack’s analysis of the causes of Brexit:

      “1. Deindustrialisation The 1980s changed Britain, most of all above the line between the Wash and the Bristol Channel. Between 1979 and 1986, jobs in the manufacturing industry shrank from 7m to 5.1m. Of all the jobs lost, in services as well as manufacturing, 94% were to the north of that line. Deindustrialisation neither began nor ended in the Thatcher years, but it was under Thatcher’s premiership that shutting down factories, shipyards and mines began to seem like a perverse government ambition rather than the consequence of economic misfortune. Wealth and opportunity moved south. The social ruin was terrible. Skills were lost, traditions ended. Part of what it meant to be British disappeared. What was supposed to happen to places such as Oldham and Paisley? Nobody knew. Worse, it seemed nobody cared.

      2. Immigration “Nobody asked us,” said the beleaguered inhabitants of the old industrial settlements, and it was true: nobody had. Nor had anyone explained that we, the natives, would need to think differently about where we lived and the kind of people we were – that integration, if that was the hope, needed adjustments on both sides. Nevertheless, immigration had begun to die as a political issue until, in 2004, Tony Blair’s government decided to open the UK labour market to the eight eastern and central European countries that had joined the EU. Only two other member states, Sweden and Ireland, did so as freely. Between 5,000 and 13,000 migrants were expected; within the first year, 129,000 turned up. Blair and other senior Labour figures later conceded they had made a mistake. “Nobody asked us!” said the people who felt strongly about it. (And then, in June 2016, somebody did ask.)”

      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/03/brexit-immigration-jobs-eton-europe

      In the case of deindustrialisation, the blame lay with the Thatcher government; in the case of Eastern European immigration, with the Blair government. In neither case, however, was the EU to blame – the problems were of our own governments’ making. The EU can be blamed for a lot of things, but not this.

      • Andrew Roddy says

        I dreamed of seeing only white faces
        My dream came true.
        Only white-faced people now
        Clean the toilets at Heathrow airport.

        It’s true
        There are less toilets to clean
        Since the two terminals closed
        But I see only white faces

  25. Steven says

    What a good article snd excellent comments section. Thank you all!

  26. NeilF says

    It’s worth quoting the conclusion to an article that Professor Goodwin (who’s previously written studies of UKIP and the far right) published at the end of last year:

    “…there is no clear plan for how Britain will rebalance its economy to address the concerns of the nearly 54 [sic] percent of voters in England who opted for Brexit.

    “Our leading parties appear incapable of having this debate. The Conservative Party is beholden to City donors, and Labour is terrified of saying anything about immigration and identity. A collective failure to ask these questions and trigger a more holistic debate over Brexit could easily come back to haunt us.

    “Imagine, for a moment, a long transition deal that retains the nuts and bolts of Britain’s current EU membership, followed by a slightly watered down settlement that sees the U.K. adopting a liberal immigration regime in return for access to specific areas of the single market. A majority of the British electorate would see it as one that prioritized economics over identity, or London over the nation.

    “We shouldn’t expect voters to shrug their shoulders if they feel let down by the government yet again. It’s far more likely they will mobilize and move into an even more radical political home that makes Nigel Farage and UKIP look like a fairly quirky brand of old school British conservatism.” (https://www.politico.eu/article/brexit-britain-is-in-denial-over-immigration/ )

    Recent opinion polls have shown voters favouring a no-deal Brexit over the Chequers agreement (which is a non-starter for the EU anyway) by 2 to 1. Meanwhile, UKIP has moved to the hard right under its new leader, and Boris Johnson has been stirring things up in the same direction to try and boost his own leadership prospects.

    We live in interesting times (in the Chinese sense).

    • Paul Ellis says

      This is what happens when the ruling elite becomes too detached from the populus and treats it with contempt. Ruling elites are never completely impregnable, and top-down political systems always fail eventually. That’s the primary story of the 20th Century. Never forget that it took barely a week for Erich Honecker’s East German state apparatus to evaporate completely.

      As the synopsis of Peter Mair’s book explains so eloquently, the EU was set up essentially to protect its ruling elite from democratic interference. One can see why: Germany was badly served by democracy in 1933 and Europe is trying to protect itself from a repeat of that event, but as Mair points out, the current structure is inherently unstable and cannot last. The UK is probably better off out before the EU’s upheaval takes place. If only the UK’s ruling elite would recognise this, but no: their eyes are blinkered by the sides of the troughs their snouts are embedded in.

      • Gonout Backson says

        Honecker ? Really ? Is Juncker shooting at the Brits on their way out ?

  27. Gonout Backson says

    “What gets lost in these debates is the actual evidence.”
    Indeed.
    Registered voters : 46,500,000
    Turnout : 72.21 % (33,577,342)
    Leave : 51.89 % (17,410,742, 37.44% of the registered voters)
    Remain : 48.11% (16,141,241, 34.71% of the registered voters)
    Don’t care + invalid : 27.79 % of the registered voters (12,948,017).
    Not what one would call a clear and indisputable triumph of one option.

    • Paul Ellis says

      Numerically the largest turnout of voters and the largest absolute majority ever in a UK election. If the numbers had gone the other way, would you dispute the result as “Not what one would call a clear and indisputable triumph of one option”?

      Thought not.

      • Gonout Backson says

        Could you, please, not put words in my mouth ? Yes, I would. You compare the turnout and the majority in a referendum – with those in a general election. It’s just as sensible as your Honecker bit. And the outcome proves the obvious : that it was absurd and irresponsible to organize such a vote – based on a simple majority.

        • Paul Ellis says

          I apologise for putting words into your mouth. I used the word ‘election’ where I should have said ‘UK-wide poll’. The Honecker analogy was to point out how astonishingly quickly what appears to be a solidly founded and inert structure can collapse: the EU is not immune. For speed of collapse I could also have referenced Enron, or more recently, Lehman Brothers, or Carillon. Clearly it was irresponsible of the ruling elite not only to have asked the UK demos to express an opinion, but also to have done it in a way that is in practice politically binding. It exposed the elite’s detachment and hubris. They shot themselves in the foot.

          As for the simple majority: how else is a question of such enormous complexity as that of EU membership to be resolved? The only way is to reduce it to brutal, binary simplicity, and then cast it to a simple, democratic plebiscite in which the vote of an imbecile can neutralise that of a CEO. This is the only way to render irrelevant the disproportionate political power of special interest groups. Both ends of the bell curve have rights.

          As the article makes clear, the demos had made up its mind long before the Referendum and appears to have been relatively uninfluenced by the hideous campaign, save to have been disgusted by the whole charade. We are left with its inconvenient result: a simple majority of the UK demos wants out. In a plebiscite, a miss is as good as a mile. That’s what it’s for.

          If it were asked, we’d find that the demos has made up its mind in an inconvenient way on a number of other subjects close to the elite’s heart, too, but I would be astonished if it were to be asked ever again.

          • Gonout Backson says

            You’re welcome, but the analogy still wouldn’t fly. The so-called GDR (which, before the “détente”, the Germans rightly called “Soviet Zone”), was a fiction, without a shred of legitimacy. Yes, I know, it got internationally recognized, but didn’t Mr Mitterrand instantly recognize Mr Yanayev’s five-minutes-regime ? “GDR” never “appeared to be solidly founded”, every child knew it held on Soviet bayonets only, no wonder it fell apart the second Gorbachov took them away. It never worked, nobody wanted it, people died to leave it.
            EU, with all its faults (there are many, and they are huge), is from the very beginning a free structure of democratic countries, with an elected Parliament. For a very long time, everybody wanted in (some still do), and – as the results of the ill-conceived referendum clearly shows – the British opinion is deeply divided about the matter.
            “Both ends of the bell curve have rights” ? Indeed : more than 16 mil Brits have them too, and they wanted to stay. What do you tell them ?
            To return your original question : what would you say if the “vote of an imbecile” had turned the other way ?
            I’m sorry, but I don’t get your “Gordian Knot” logic. Questions of “enormous complexity” necessitate extremely careful and subtle answers. Quidquid agis.
            And I certainly don’t like your “demos versus elite” pattern. We have seen quite recently how this works, in two different, equally ugly colours.

  28. NeilF says

    “Numerically the largest turnout of voters…”.

    Given increases in population, the only relevant figure is the percentage of voter turnout. Between 1945 and 1992, the percentage in general elections only dropped below 72.21% (the referendum turnout) once – 72% in 1970, (http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm ).The highest ever election turnout by percentage in the UK was in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – 84.5%.

    “,,,the largest absolute majority ever in a UK election.”

    An “absolute majority” refers to a number of votes totalling over 50% of the votes cast. Since (unlike in a general election) voters only had two choices, the winning side was bound to have over 50% – in this case, 1.89% more.

    Just for the record, here’s the breakdown of the 1975 EEC referendum:

    Yes 17,378,581 67.23%
    No 8,470,073 32.77%
    Registered voters and turnout 40,086,677 64.67% (compared with 72.21% in 2016).

    But that was then, and this is now. Somehow we have to find a way of getting along in a country that was split down the middle by the referendum. Majoritarianism is not the answer.

  29. Paul Ellis says

    “But that was then, and this is now. Somehow we have to find a way of getting along in a country that was split down the middle by the referendum. Majoritarianism is not the answer.”

    That is true, and is why the simple majority should be respected, and proper, positive work done to repatriate sovereignty and agency, and from that basis agree or where necessary renegotiate arrangements with the EU that incorporate the practical reality of the UK’s departure from its institutions.

    In practice both sides need positive negotiation based on win-win, not denial, punishment, and subservience, but ruling elites rarely willingly relinquish their power, and we are now witnessing the inevitable result. Peter Mair eloquently points out the consequences and it would be foolish to ignore him.

  30. Charlie says

    There’s barely a single sentence in this article which doesn’t make me think I’m reading something by a complete idiot, self-satisfied at the cleverness of his own idiocy. A dishonest idiot, at that!

  31. Charlie Aerö says

    It’s easy to stir up and exploit fear and resentment of immigrants and foreigners, especially when it’s been standard Tory strategy for nearly 40 years.

    There, I’ve just saved you reading over 5000 words of Goodwin’s gormless pseudo-intellectual clap-trap and, what’s more, it’s exactly the same obvious explanation as I wrote over 5 years ago when the clueless idiot Cameron thought he would sort out his own party’s incontinent self-obsessions by first telling everybody how terrible was the EU, and then convincing them it was great because he, the great leader incapable of leading even his own hand-picked cabinet, has transformed everything. All without the slightest shade of an inkling as to the forces in play.
    But don’t thank me: Hermann Göring had already given pretty much the same explanation in 1946!

  32. fathomie says

    Well, that was interesting! Even if it was a little disturbing that an academic, and one who is a Political expert too, can make so many assumptions with no basis in fact, and glaring errors. It doesn’t start well when someone asserts ‘leave voters have in fact thought through their reasoning’. Really? I suggest actually talking to them, not relying in surveys before making a statement like that. Although I didn’t notice (but them I’m not an academic) anyone saying there was not a ‘broad church’ of Brexit voters either.

    Certainly, a few months before the vote, I engaged in a major debate with several people on the issue that cut across several age groups and classes. What was interesting was the uniformity of their views, how little any of them actually knew about the EU and how it works, how poor their reasons actually were, how easy it was to skittle them all, and how quickly they resorted the underlying reason that. much as the chattering classes hate to admit it, they actually were going to vote leave – immigration.

    What was frightening in this debate, was not only the absolute rubbish that was talked about the EU (a common theme post vote) but how violent the views, and yet how little immigration actually effected any of the people there. Moreover, as I argued that immigration had very little to do with the UK’s problems, and in fact it was the UK govt to blame, the debate turned to, ‘yeah but what about the Muslims’? Good point. What about them? ‘Well if we leave the EU we will get control of our borders and stop them coming in’, I was told. It was that this point I realised that common sense and reason had gone out of the window..

    But then, if The author can claim, despite research showing Cameron was in fact a member of the ‘euro-sceptic’ group for years. as a study of his comments on the issue show, that the then PM was ‘pro Europe’, Who can blame them? Further, Cameron never claimed there would be ‘WW3″ if we pulled out of the EU. He in fact said that the EU had helped prevent WW3 – and that was it. So much for ‘Project Fear’. What was not mentioned in this piece, was that ‘pro EU’ Cameron, as was his right as party leader, hand picked right wing Euro sceptic MPs for all vacant seats, and seats the party hoped to take, meaning, as is now evident. the ruling party has a large number of hardline Brexit supporters in it;s ranks and very few remain supporters, A bit odd for a leader ‘expecting’ to win a referendum and then have to face a potentially hostile party?

    On one point though I do agree, there has been very little sensible debate pre or post the referendum, from the top down. But then that was the idea. If we had, had a far reaching, open debate over the EU, it just ‘might’ have exposed that our real problems lie in 30 years plus of Neo-Liberal folly, money wasted on pointlessly privatised, now poor quality services, and our biggest industrial sectors, and therefore biggest skilled employers, allowed to be sold off or run down, leaving a predominately low skill, low wage economy that benefits no-one but tax avoiding big capital. And we can’t have that now can we?

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  34. NeilF says

    Matthew Goodwin: “this was also a campaign that saw the pro-Remain Prime Minister David Cameron suggest that Brexit might trigger World War Three”,

    Fathomie: “Cameron never claimed there would be ‘WW3″ if we pulled out of the EU.”

    Fathomie’s right – it was Boris Johnson misrepresenting what Cameron had said, leading various publications to do the same (including the Mirror at https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/brexit-could-trigger-world-war-7928607, as linked to by Professor Goodwin in support of his claim).

    See https://twitter.com/mrjamesob/status/894535143343493120?lang=en .

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  36. NeilF says

    Peter Kellner on the latest YouGov poll on voters’ attitudes to EU immigration:

    “A YouGov survey of an exceptionally large sample of 10,000 electors finds that 70% are happy for EU citizens with a job or university place in the UK to be free to come to Britain. Only one voter in six wants a sharp reduction in the numbers of workers and students coming from the EU.

    … freedom of movement has never been absolute. A number of [EU] countries recognise the right to free movement for labour, but not the complete right to free movement of people. They welcome those from the rest of the EU who come to work or study, but not to stay if they don’t have a job or college place.

    “YouGov has found only limited support for completely unfettered free movement – but clear majority support for the kind of qualified freedom advocated by the CBI.

    “Even leave voters tend to support qualified freedom of movement; while only 4% favour complete freedom, 58% think workers and students should be free to come to Britain. Just 31% of leave voters want a sharp reduction in EU immigration.
    […]
    ….it is increasingly clear that the great majority of British voters are happy to admit economically useful EU immigrants, so long as this freedom is not extended to those who do not have, or do not quickly obtain, a job or university place.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/10/freedom-of-movement-theresa-may-immigration

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  38. We weren’t asked whether we wanted to join the Common Market as it was then, but in 1975 a referendum was held to find out if we wanted to stay in. I voted no. The majority was yes, presumably because of the (perceived) trading advantages of a ready-market.

    What has since become the EU is not what we joined and the UK has had very little say in how the EU has changed and is evolving.

    As I understand, the EU is an experiment in socialism which if it is going to succeed then means each member state having to lose/give up its own individual national identity. Probably the pace of change would’ve been gradual had it not been for a surge of refugees and so on from the war-torn crossing the borders into EU – an exodus whose plight has preyed upon the accommodating nature of our humanitarianism – having presented a superb opportunity for the EU ‘elite’ to accelerate the experiment, because member states are obliged to accommodate millions of ‘foreigners’. It was and continues to be a shock to the system.

    Migration policy as i understand was never designed to cope with a huge influx at one time. That we have managed to accommodate so many is on one hand a tribute to the authorities; on the other, the cost of integration and damage to the social fabric and social cohesion is quite possible irreparable.

    As a white person who in London especially is now in the minority, I cannot afford to be particularly racist. My livelihood depends upon not being overly discerning. However, I should imagine that the old-fashioned ‘white v black’ is also in the minority, having paled into insignificance compared with the intensity of racism that exists between non-whites of different nationalities that live and work in the UK’s more urban areas.

    Remainers wonder how on earth the UK is going to be better off leaving the EU. By better off, the implication is the context of financial: economy stuff. But the question for Leavers was not whether better or worse off in the context of the economy.

    The difference between Leave and Remain I think is the difference between long- and short-term thinking on direction. It benefits Remain to think status quo because so much of the economy is latched on the existence of single EU market. It benefits Leave to rise above the mundane because, as a consequence of years of experiencing the EU and a sense of what the EU is planning, we know in our hearts that the way forward can only be without the EU.

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