"This isn't so much a blog post in the spirit of UK Unleashed - it's just a footnote."
|The sun sets on the referendum. Tomorrow, the Brexit debate continues.|
After months of campaigning, I thought it worth tailing this blog with a simple footnote. The vote for Brexit has caused a huge ongoing political earthquake here in the UK, one which risks forcing a shake down of all major political parties and a complete reboot of parliamentary democracy.
I have this quaint idea that at some point in the future, tomorrow's generation will study this moment as part of a history curriculum or other. Rather than reach for the text books, they'll take to the blogosphere to research points of view from activists to find out the motivations and concerns that fuelled a country to ignore all the risks and portents of doom laid before them by the establishment and to turn their back on a future within the European Union. Perhaps blogs like this will provide historic, if extremely subjective, insight.
In the run up to polling day, Leavers who had been tracking the polls were not overly optimistic. Polls had narrowed from a brief Leave lead to 50/50 in the final week. Yet in the last 24 hours there were some crushing numbers coming in from pollsters like ComRes, YouGov, Ipsos Mori and Populus - the first and last showing between eight and ten point leads for Remain.
Remain commentators were buoyed and we heard the likes of Peter Kellner predicting a 55% win for Remain. For Leavers, there was that creeping sense of horror that we would be consigned to a decade of smug ridicule and, much worse than that, the sense that the country we loved was about to give a democratic endorsement to a political entity which would see it as a green light to continue with the slow erasure of our national identity.
I can't comment on how other Leavers reacted, but I immediately contacted all and sundry letting them know my voting intentions and the reasoning behind my position (if they didn't already know). I rang round to make sure that people less able than me were able to get to the polling station (one person took me up on my offer) and I reached out to my local Leave campaign team to offer any last minute support.
At 10pm, there was nothing left to do but sit and wait for the results. After months and months of bombardment where 'experts' and 'celebrities' had allowed themselves to be the munitions in the Remain arsenal, we Leavers were left with nothing but the vague hope that somehow, there was an unrepresented Leave strata of society that had been ignored by pollsters and pundits alike.
I'd consigned myself to catching the first few results and then trudging off to bed by 2am in the depressing knowledge that after months of activism and, in my case, over twenty years of concern about the EC/EU - we'd remain. Things proved to be remarkably different.
The North brings hope
It was no surprise to anyone that Gibraltar came in first with a 95% endorsement for Remain. It was never going to be any other way and it wasn't in any sense a weathervane.
Then the Newcastle result was called and we saw the first glimmer of hope. A city we'd expected to have a significant Remain margin came in for Remain but at a much reduced levels than predicted. Almost 50/50.
When the results for Sunderland were announced, it became clear that it wasn't going to be an early night. Sunderland fell to Leave and the margin of victory was significant as it exceeded predictions by circa 6 %. Yet another sign of the trend the Leavers had been so eager or even desperate to see. It meant that I had to wait for every subsequent result in order to see whether the pattern not only emerged but truly established. And it did. Whereas London weighed heavily for Remain, there was a reduced turnout. Scotland also apparently fatigued by the whole affair seemed to show comparatively lack lustre voter turnout. Remain were unable to find a corner of the UK significant enough to damage the lead that Leave were creating for themselves.
Towards the morning, cities like Liverpool and Manchester who meekly voted Remain were easily absorbed by Leave who had been mopping up region after region accumulating a surplus of around 1 million votes, including surprises like Birmingham.
As the TV stations each in turn declared victory for Leave, I reflected on the big question as to whether the online polls (marginally Leave) or the phone polls (heavily Remain) would turn out to be more accurate. My prediction that there would be a shy Leave element, under-represented in the polls (see HERE), may well have been true. Or other factors could well have been at play here. Most interesting for me was to read this piece from Yougov published on the 28th on June: https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/06/28/online-polls-were-right/
Intriguingly, they suggest that the Remain campaign had invested in analysis by NCP (presumably by Matt Singh, newcomer and guru of GE2015) to determine whether phone or online polls were the most accurate, and he prompted for the latter. Yougov trash the analysis quite thoroughly and then go on to suggest that the misguided work provided Remain with false confidence, resulting in them taking their eye off the ball. To quote them:
"It is entirely possible that if the Remain campaign had not been misled as to their margin of victory, they might have run a different, and successful, campaign."
This wasn't the only major predictive failure of the referendum. For reasons which were utterly beyond me, the media had become fixated on the notion that where there's money, there's truth. The betting markets emerged as the new crystal ball, presenting Remain in the lead with probability of circa 70% or above in all but the final hours of the campaign. Yet when the figures came rolling in, they fared no better than the phone polls and will likely never be taken seriously again.
Moment of victory
In the early hours of Friday morning on the 24th, after no sleep and hours of febrile activity, the realisation of the victory finally sank in. I enjoyed a rather sober celebration in the comfort of my living room, connected to friends and associates via Twitter and also expats in Spain via Skype - all of whom had been willing on the victory that we thought impossible. The people of the United Kingdom had stood up to the threats and the scaremongering. We ignored the manufactured horrors that were paraded before us over the previous months; we turned to look at Brussels and the notion of a future wed to the European Union, and we said 'No' by well over a million voices.
And there is a small irony buried in all this. At the start of the referendum campaign, it seemed clear to me that Labour were intent on sitting back and watching the Conservatives tear themselves apart over Europe, like some re-run of Maastricht in the early 90's. They smugly pronounced themselves a united party on this front (ignoring Hoey, Field, Mann, Skinner etc), almost mocking in their tone. Yet it was their own disaffected electorate in the North that set the trend and snatched the UK, its sovereignty and democratic future, from the gulping jaws of the EU. We owe them a debt for the guts they showed. And in the wake of all this, Labour has since turned to infighting and recriminations, steadfastly refusing to accept that from the perspective of their traditional vote, they've been wrong on the matter of the EU for years.
It would be an easy thing to pick through the bones of the Vote Leave campaign and point out every mis-step they made during the process. At times they seemed caught off balance and lagging behind the curve. Almost certainly, if the 'Britain Stronger in Europe' (BSE) campaign had managed to get their act together, Vote Leave would have been found wanting. However, BSE were woeful - and when it mattered the most, during the final televised debates, Vote Leave won the sentimental arguments, if not the technical ones.
BSE on the other hand failed to inspire. Perhaps a sense of hubris, underpinned by their confidence in the phone polling results and a fatalistic sense of pre-ordained victory, caused them to slumber in to a complacent spiral. Exaggerated scare stories were thrust upon the public, sandwiched between layers of 'experts' confidently telling the electorate not to budge on the matter of 'Europe' for fear of economic collapse, World War Three or the permanent evaporation of workers rights. On and on this relentless routine went, never once stopping and pausing to consider changing tact, even when it desperately needed to. The merchants of fear became just so much white noise in the end, consigned to the same mental space that the sound of bickering children and industry manufactured rap music get swept in to. Their carousel of experts and celebrities, just more contemptuous and patronising malodour from people who only bother to connect with the real world when they want to control them.
It's hard to talk about this referendum without mentioning Nigel Farage. He's an oddity. Hero worshiped and reviled in equal measure, there's no doubting that he's had a huge effect kickstarting the process of the referendum. Tory defections to UKIP and a swelling of public support almost certainly animated Cameron in to dangling the referendum as a prospect to the UK voter. And it's for his efforts in this run up period that Farage should be most praised. His razor sharp tongue lashing of Herman Van Rompuy, amongst the most famous victims of his parliamentary apoplexy, drawing attention to the absurdity of the assembling european superstate.
Yet his own success at elevating himself to the position of the UK's most prominent eurosceptic made him a primary target for the bile of the europhiles. By the time the referendum was called, rightly or wrongly, he'd been tarred with a brush that meant he was unpalatable when it came to winning over the undecided vote. It meant that he needed tact to avoid constantly being framed as the kind of latent fascist that europhiles imagine him to be. Unfortunately, swelled by the notion that the Brexit cause was best served by the tidal pressure of immigration, he allowed an undercurrent of 'racism' to creep in to the debate with his 'Breaking Point' poster. That's not to say that it was racist; it surely wasn't otherwise he'd be in the dock. But the poor judgement opened up the attack surface against the Leave campaign, allowing the Remain camp to turn the torch towards moralistic and hugely emotive matters rather than defending the inadequacies of the European Union.
I wonder if there was a further twist to this though. The thrust of the accusations; the veritable explosion of 'racist' chants and finger pointing came at a point when the Remain team had handed the campaign batten over to the Labour party in an attempt to woo over the traditional left wing vote which they sensed was flagging. New Labour returned to type and went back to the same script they'd been reading from for the last decade. It contained the same divisive sentiment that weakened the glue between the parliamentary Labour party and their own grass roots. The sentiment where concern about immigration equated to racism, therefore the conversation had to be shut down through ridicule and derision. The mantra quickly became "not all Leavers are racists, but all racists are Leavers".
Whereas immigration turned out not to be the leading motivation for Leavers (Sovereignty won that), this almost instinctual attempt to shape the outcome by shaming people with this insincere and manipulative attempt at equivalence may be have bashed the beehive and provoked its own angry reaction. Failure to sting the aggressor hard enough would have left the electorate subject to a future dominated by career bee keepers smoking them in to submission.
That's not to say, if this scenario did play out, that it was a calculated move by Nigel Farage or that I'd condone that poster. Moreover a reminder that eventually, you reap what you sow.
End of the blog
This blog ends but the future of Britain is still subject to much speculation - to much chicanery and intrigue - to developments in the wake of the political shock-wave that has swept over this country. It's to those matters where we will need to turn our attention next.