So the referendum happened, Britain decided to do a very stupid thing and a lot of people started maneuvering for power and saying some very silly things. Here I’d like to take a look at some of the silliest of the silly.
Silly Statement 1:
“It’s all Corbyn’s fault!”
Not sure anyone said this specifically, but the rush to put blame on Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, for a leave vote in a referendum announced by a Tory PM, campaigned for by prominent Tories – and UKIP lizard, I mean leader, Nigel Farage – voted for by Tories and UKIPers and voted against most prominently by Labour supporters is somewhat bizarre.
The blame came from all quarters – Tories wanting to deflect blame from themselves, Labour MPs who’ve tried at every opportunity to remove him from head of the party – including desperately trying to spin successful council elections into a defeat – Right-Wingers who just don’t like Corbyn and lefties who can politically gain by attacking Corbyn and Labour.
The most prominent of these lefties is Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems – that party that used to be in government then imploded. Tim’s main accusations levelled against the Labour leader on the BBC in the immediate aftermath of the referendum results essentially amounted to this; ‘Labour failed to deliver their areas.’ That comment is either a cynical piece of power play politics on behalf of the Lib Dem leader trying to grab pro-EU lefties from Labour or a demonstration of great idiocy. Maybe both.
Whilst it’s true many Labour areas did turn out to vote leave, that is hardly a failing of the Labour Party and its leader and more to do with simple demographics. People in lower income cohorts were more likely to vote leave and shock horror, Labour areas tend to be lower income areas. Additionally one has to remember that many of these Labour areas don’t have the highest of voter turnouts at general election time – Sunderland and Newcastle that were two of the earliest positive signs for the leave camp both registered 57% turnout at the 2015 general election, whilst Labour seats accounted for the 20 lowest in terms of turnout in 2015. Meanwhile, the turnout for the referendum was UP on the general election at 72% compared to 66% (a figure that was bolstered by higher turnout in Scotland to back the SNP). That means a lot of non-voters at the 2015 general election came out for this referendum, and my guess is those were low income and elderly people, many in Labour areas, voting to leave.
So whilst Labour areas will have turned out to vote Leave, it will not be because of Labour voters/supporters. A minority of Labour voters will have voted leave (compared to a majority of Conservative voters/supporters) but when combined with far-right voters and usual non-voters you have enough to give leave a majority from Sunderland to Sheffield to Birmingham. And one last point – the only region of England to vote for Remain was London, who, incidentally, just elected a Labour Mayor. Still, from Blairites, to Right-wingers (if indeed the two aren’t mutually inclusive), to Lib Dems to Tories, the silly statement keeps coming.
Silly Statement 2:
” If only 16-17 year olds could have voted we would have remained in!”
This is a bit unfair as I don’t think people actually think this, but there are a lot of angry young people who were not allowed a vote at this referendum, but whose future will be shaped by it and are wishing/believing that if they had a vote then maybe things would be different.
Well, the sad fact of the matter is that even with 16-17 year olds voting, we would still have voted leave. Some back of an envelope calculations show this:
Leave Vote: 17.41m, Remain Vote: 16.14m, Difference: 1.27m
Approx 1.5m 16-17 year olds in the Uk. Assume that 1m of those register to vote and turnout and that they vote in line with the youngest cohort who did vote at a ratio of 3/4 remain and we get:
New Leave Vote: 17.66m, New Remain Vote: 16.89m, Difference: 0.77m
So leave still wins. By a smaller margin, yes, but still by 770,000 votes – not nothing. It’s a shame we voted leave, it’s a shame 16-17 year olds didn’t get a say and they’re right to be angry, but their vote would not have changed the outcome.
Silly Statement 3
“It’s Labour/New Labour/Corbyn’s fault for not doing enough on immigration / people’s legitimate concerns on immigration have not been listened to by elites/the Labour party”
This is another statement that’s come out from various groups, many on the right of the centre-left in a bid to put the blame on Corbyn (again) or to make a Tory referendum, campaigned for by Tories, voted for by Tories about Labour in some self-mutilation narcissism that only the political left is capable of.
The problem with this statement is that, whilst mostly bullshit, it has some element of truth. Certainly the Labour party and political left have failed to address immigration as a policy over the last few years. Back in the Blair/Brown years it wasn’t too much of a concern; the economy was doing fine, any immigration concerns could just be waved off by talking about the economic benefits and dismissing any deeper concerns as xenophobic and racist. On the whole though, the issue was simply left off the table with a feeling that it wasn’t something we really wanted to talk about.
The problem of course came to a head with the financial crisis. The resulting recession and austerity policies resulted in the poorest in society feeling the pinch the most and of course the tabloid press were happy to present immigrants, the unemployed, the disabled, public sector workers and Europe as scapegoats – and not the wealthy and tax cuts for the wealthy that such tabloid press owners were and wanted. As a result a strong emotional feeling against immigration, elites and the change of the last decade or so emerged.
Now you might say I’m concurring with the statement; Labour failed to deal with the problem. Well yes, that’s true. But I don’t believe the solution lies with bowing to those concerns in the way that’s implied by the people who reel out this statement. To them – and I use Mr James Bloodworth as an example here – the solution to these concerns was to implement immigration controls, limit immigration numbers etc… Essentially, bow to what the right-wing wanted and, in the process, essentially admit they are correct in their fears and solutions. On this I disagree.
We could have, as Mr Bloodworth suggests, implemented controls on EU immigration in ’04. We could have ‘got serious’ on immigration, but ‘getting serious’ is usually code for promising cuts to immigration levels. And let’s be clear where that would have led: to a race to the bottom on immigration. Which party could promise the biggest cuts. Labour says 50,000, Tories 100,000, Labour 150,000, Tories 200,000… and all the while that kind of policy making and rhetoric plays right into the hands of the far-right who sit their smiling saying we promise no immigration full stop.
And immigration numbers are not the cause of people’s concerns – at least not directly. Most people who are anti-immigration live in areas where there are very few immigrants. Rather people’s attitudes – how authoritarian they are – economic/social/public services fears – built usually off the back of misinformation in the tabloid press – and emotional response to cultural change are what determine people’s view on immigration. Therefore I would argue bowing to the misinformation and fears would simply be seen as an endorsement for those beliefs and make them more concrete.
Rather, I would like to see an impassioned, emotional argument FOR immigration. Not more immigration per se, but for the principle. If immigration is put on the back-burner and ignored, I agree, resentments and concerns can build – as they have – but a left-wing party putting immigration front and centre as a policy – talking about it, positively, at every turn puts an opposing view into the public discourse that counters the lies and misinformation and gives those who aren’t predisposed to an authoritarian outlook an argument that they can get behind.
You could argue people will react negatively to this argument, and some will. But an MP was gunned down in the street, an EU referendum has been lost, how much more negatively are people going to be? I would argue ignoring the issue or going Tory-lite in a race to the bottom on the issue will be just as bad if not worse on the down sides. At least a positive approach to immigration, one where emotion, hope and direct benefits to working class communities are talked up over vague economic numbers will show people they are being listened to and that there is an alternative to the far-right on this issue.
Silly Statement 4
“The Polls predictions were wrong.”
This is a personal gripe more than anything. Polls aren’t predictions. Polls are a (vaguely) scientific attempt at gauging people’s opinions at that point in time. The number of ways the data the polling companies have gathered could be wrong and the fact people can a) lie and b) change their minds mean no poll is ever going to be a perfect reflection of people’s views. Equally predicting the future is a totally different game from polling. It is one in which polls can be used as an input when making your prediction, and pollsters themselves may well make predictions off the back of them, but polls and predictions are not interchangeable.
It’s also important to remember that polls can change people’s minds. There have been a few leave voters who have come out and said they didn’t actually think leave would win and are now a bit worried about the ramifications of the result. Would they have voted the same way if polls had been ‘predicting’ a dead heat? Equally, I dare say plenty of voters like to be on the winning side, or will stay at home if they think their side will lose anyway. Thus, if polls can influence how people vote, they cannot be great predictors in their own right.
Finally it’s worth pointing out that some polls did polls the correct outcome (or near as) whilst the polls ended up being much closer to the outcome than the betting markets believed. For myself, I will probably never let it drop that I predicted this outcome four years ago, but hey, when the stopped clock shows the right time it’s a big deal.