So to my last post about the months which saw the UK’s Referendum on membership of the EU. What happened and, to an extent, why, is no longer news. The focus has shifted to where we go next and to the election across the pond.
The question which has most perplexed me recently was how ‘Remain’ lost the vote. Yes, there were a lot of people who felt strongly about leaving, but there were just as many who felt strongly the other way. The vote was won, or lost, by some 1.2m votes or less than 2% of the total population eligible to vote. This was a close run thing (not that you’d think so listening to the rhetoric of the Tory Party conference last week). Up until the last moment there were quite a lot, the polls said, of ‘swing voters’, who didn’t feel strongly either way, but they swung to the ‘Out’ camp.
Why? The British are a pragmatic folk and don’t usually vote for less prosperity. Did people really want fewer immigrants so much that they balanced it against the (major) likelihood of having a lower standard of living and decided that it was worth it? Or was the vote much more of a gut reaction? A reaction to being left behind and told what to do by the establishment ( see The Weekend After )?
Part of the answer is must lie with the perfidy of the Brexiters, but part also lies with the failures of Remain. It’s not like there wasn’t enough brain-power and it’s not as if the people running the Remain campaign weren’t au fait with the dirtier tactics available to politicians and demagogues.
It was when I was writing Nothing to Fear… that I began, in part I think, to understand. The very people who were prompting us to remain were the people who would not take responsibility, in national terms, for what made the ‘abandoned’ voters angry in the first place. Massive inequality and an austerity programme which had more to do with the ideological rolling back of the state than retrenchment. How could Osborne, who had told the poor, the northern, the ‘ordinary’ of Britain that they would have to lose even more support services in the name of prudence, then say that, actually, money could be spent. That the worry and unhappiness caused by the stretched social fabric in those areas heavily impacted by incomers could be alleviated and managed and negative impacts weren’t necessarily the fault of the EU and migrants. It’s just that his administration (and its predecessors) didn’t choose to do this. How could he paint a bright picture when he had been urging doom and gloom and the cutbacks which attended it, for years?
The May administration is now borrowing to invest, following the logic, oft-urged on Osborne, that borrowing costs are lower than they have ever been and investment in the economy yields dividends. Unfortunately it has taken a 13% devaluation of the pound to force them to do so (and this before we have even begun to leave the EU). It is also veering wildly and without any thought for the long term, towards a sharp and nasty Hard Brexit. Divorces don’t have to be acutely painful, but can be made so.
I’ll sign off this subject by saying that there are things, in my humble opinion, which shouldn’t be lost sight of.
- The Referendum result was not ‘over-whelming’. It was a close-run thing decided by less than 2% of the voting population, so there is a massive minority, the views of whom must also be taken into account when deciding the way forward (and that’s not counting the 28% who chose not to vote).
- That minority is unlikely to share the more extreme right-wing views of some (by no means all) of those who voted to leave, there is not a consensus for societal change rightwards, or backwards in time, and the Referendum result does not give anyone a mandate for this.
- Those who voted out will have done so for differing reasons and not all of them will be negative ones to do with immigration, so this doesn’t mean that ‘Hard Brexit’ is automatically the way to go, regardless of how loud the Hard Brexiters shout, the public has not necessarily chosen this.
So, who is going to launch the legal challenge to ensure that Parliament considers the terms upon which we leave the EU?
SINCE this article was written a case has been taken to the High Court, seeking judgement on the attempt of the executive branch of government to use royal prerogative to exclude the legislature from the decision making process as regards the terms of Brexit. Watch this space! (15/10/16)