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The EU referendum


Nigel Farage got what he wanted

As someone who was strongly pro EU and had written several articles for Left Futures, as well, as participating in local activity on the issue, I feel a bit gutted, and like most people got it wrong. While things looked a bit desperate three weeks ago it appeared that the murder of Jo Cox had begun a move back to remain, but if that was so it was not sufficient to win.

I shall briefly look at what happened, why, and what  it means.

What happened

The broad outlines do not need repeating , but certain features stand out. With some exceptions, particularly in the Fens, where there was clearly a problem about pressure on local services, the vote for Leave was in inverse proportion to the number of migrants, whether from the EU or elsewhere, in a particular area. Thus the biggest concentration , proportionately, of migrants, in London, saw the highest vote for Remain outside of Scotland and Northern Ireland, which are special cases, whereas large parts of England and most of Wales saw big votes for Leave in areas with few migrants or those from earlier ethnic minority settlement. It is not therefore possible to argue that the vote for Leave by and large  reflected any direct experience of pressure on local services because of migration.

The differences in terms of age, class and income are clear. Younger, better educated, better off and middle class people tended to vote Remain, particularly in cosmopolitan cities; their reverse counterparts voted for Leave. I have not yet seen a turnout analysis, but higher turnout by older people, a clear feature of most recent elections, undoubtedly applied here and helped Leave.

Why did it happen?

The growth in support for UKIP in the last three years has been well documented in the excellent ‘Revolt on the Right’ by Ford and Goodwin, where they argue that leaving the EU, while it always remained the basic aim of the party, is now part of a much broader nationalist, populist and right wing movement, that despite its incoherence has gained the support of large numbers of older working class people, from both previous Labour and Tory allegiance, who see UKIP as providing answers to the perceived decline in  their values and  material situation.  But of course the vote for Brexit went well beyond support for UKIP, and in part represented a widespread view that goes back to the 1950s when it first became an issue, long before the UK actually joined.

It was the Labour left who was most strongly opposed in the 70s and 80s, and the Tory right from the 1990s, and large numbers of supporters of both parties have maintained that view. It is borne of the island nation tradition, winning the war and ‘Britain Alone’, racism, (of the ‘I’m not racist but…’variety), xenophobia and ‘Little Englandism’, helped considerably by an irresponsible press that has continued to pump out lies and distortions about the EU for a long time.  But Labour is also to blame. The disdain for the interests and concerns of many of our traditional supporters in the Blair years led to many of them abandoning us, while a lack of any effort to promote political understanding and knowledge, about the EU and much else,  has allowed illiterate lies and nonsense to determine the result rather than informed debate.

What does it mean?

It clearly reinforces what was evident at the last election, namely a move to the right represented by the combined Tory and UKIP vote. There is a view in some quarters that the result represents a defiance of the establishment that can be built upon by the left. I’m afraid that in the short term at least this is probably wrong, but it does mean that Labour must now put a coherent set of policies forward that address the problems that people face, particularly in view of a likely election following the installation of a new prime minister. There is no doubt that the result reflects the problems of incomes, housing, local services and  more experienced by many people, but despite a new left wing leadership of the Labour Party, which has held its own electorally, Labour’s traditional supporters overwhelmingly chose to support the simple answers proffered by Farage and the Sun, many of which were straight lies or gross distortions. There was no proper debate, and ‘Project Fear’ became counter productive, although I am afraid that the dire forecasts made by some of the more respectable institutions are probably correct.

It also means that racism and xenophobia are likely to increase, as in many ways the result will be seen by many as a vindication of those views, despite that not being the motivation for most who voted Leave. The increase in racial incidents since the referendum is therefore no accident, and for many the term migrants is not confined to Poles or Romanians but to all ethnic minorities, even if their grandparents came here in the 1950s.

In class terms it means a clear victory for the petit over the big bourgeoisie, as borne out by the increasingly anxious tones of big business prior to the referendum who overwhelmingly, and with good reason from their point of view, supported Remain against the alternative of a huge loss of markets following Leave. High levels of foreign ownership of business in the UK mean that there is less likelihood of loyalty to retaining business here than might otherwise have been the case, but such loyalty is increasingly unlikely from many who see themselves as members of a transnational bourgeoisie.

Exactly how the newly triumphant petit bourgeoisie seeks to develop its concerns remains to be seen, but a meaner, nastier and more right wing government ( if that is possible)is in prospect, probably led by the completely unprincipled opportunist Johnson.

I have been writing this during the coup against Corbyn. At a time when the formulation of coherent policies to deal with the problems we face is so necessary, it is tragic that internal conflict has taken precedence over that.


  1. jeffrey davies says:

    whot whot twadle the peasants had enough of the lies from parliament and the eu changing policies did the eu protect the jobs nah the yanks just came in and bought took the jobs overseas yes you can crow but the peasants have had enough of the lies deceit that it brought jef3

  2. John P Reid says:

    Jeff3 I wouldn’t have out it on so many words, but yes, you’re right

  3. Eleanor Firman says:

    I see the issue as fight between capitals not necessarily small v. big, but between libertarian / anarchist right and neoliberal conservative right. Neoliberals go along with regulation if it delivers public services into private hands. Libertarian right don’t want government or public services full stop.

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