The following is a small excerpt from my book, “2017”, available now in digital form (http://amzn.to/2lXBAdp) and paperback (http://amzn.to/2kYXmhh).
Why did Britain vote to leave the European Union on June 23rd, 2016, in a nutshell?
Like any election victory of any kind, the Leave vote was a big tent of different interests who rallied together to create a political result. Given how close the vote was – often forgotten already, just how close it was – each relevant interest group getting behind Leave was essential.
First off, you had traditional Tory voters. These tended to be an older slice of the electorate, people who vote Conservative at every election who nonetheless had been doing so in the last few general elections with some nose holding going on. They always disliked David Cameron, pretty much from the start, and were happy to disregard his pleas to vote Remain. They have long disliked the European Union and everything they read or hear tends to reinforce this position further.
Secondly, the hard right, who have long rallied around the notion of leaving the European Union as the solution to all of society’s ills. This is the UKIP group as well as the more extreme, overtly racist groups who find UKIP too squishy and liberal.
Thirdly, the hard left, people like Jeremy Corbyn in fact, who before his unconvincing Damascene conversation to the glories of European Union membership had spent decades rallying against British membership of it. The hard left version Euroscepticism is a simple inversion of the hard right position: if we leave the European Union everything will be great because then, having left the capitalist EU club, we can nationalise everything and turn Britain into a socialist utopia like the Soviet Union was before Gorbachev went and ruined everything.
Fourthly, a small group of traditional swing voters – those who have voted either Labour or Tory at general elections past based on taking stock of policy and leadership at the time – who were more convinced by the Leave campaign’s Project Fear than Cameron’s version of the same. Basically, people who would never say in public that large scale immigration from Eastern Europe is not something they are all that fond of, yet in the secrecy of the ballot box were more than happy to vote accordingly.
Fifthly – and most crucially, since this was the group that ultimately edged the referendum for Leave – working-class Labour and ex-Labour voters, particularly in the north of England, those who wanted some way to vote against the established order and saw this as the only way they possibly could.
It seems like you’re going along with the line that it was all the fault of the English, northern, working-class. Is that right?
In a way, yes. Without them, as I said, the Leave vote would not have won. But I do not support the line that tends to support this thesis that these northern working-class voters did so out of ignorance or because they had been fooled by the evil right-wing media. There was a clear logic to why this particular group of people voted to Leave.
Examine the last decade from a northern English working-class perspective: your wages are already stagnating at the start of this period; then comes the 2008 financial crash, which results in your public services being cut and your standard of living going down further while those who caused the crash, the financial sector, continue to visibly live the high life; Labour then elect a leader in Jeremy Corbyn who shares none of your values and seems outright condescending in regards to all of your concerns; then a chance is presented to you to slap all of that in the face and register your dislike of the entire situation in one easy go. It is remarkable in a sense that even more of this group didn’t vote to Leave when you think about it in any depth.
The northern working-classes were taken for granted by the Remain campaign, just as they have been taken for granted by the Labour Party for a very long time. They decided on June 23rd to stop doing what they were told.
If you want to read more about this and the other topics I cover in the book – the future of the Conservative and Labour parties will be like, Trump’s first year as president, the French elections, you can find the book on Amazon as an e-book:
Or on paperback:
Is there possibly a sixth group, the so called liberal leavers? The ones that somehow think that the UK’s economic potential is held back by being a member of the EU (despite strong evidence to the contrary). I guess they could be called the Singapore model group. That said, I can never really work out if this group really exists or if they are basically just the group you identified in 1, but living in an urban centre and therefore perhaps too embarrassed to admit it
Actually, Richard, I loved this comment from you as I go on in the book to discuss exactly the group you’ve alluded to, dedicating a whole chapter to the “liberal Brexiteers” and their behaviour post-referendum – and where I think they might be headed now.