Sunday, 26 June 2016

What Leave Voters REALLY Think

It's a given that the Independent Online is total garbage, but I've seen a lot of people sharing this graphic and I think it needs to be corrected for the sake of public information.

The graphic, originally taken from this Lord Ashcroft post, was posted and shared under the title 'What Brexit Voters Really Think', and purports to show the attitudes of leave voters, but it is extremely misleading. It displays, for example, the voting patterns of people who think the internet is bad. This is not an especially useful statistic, far more important is the actual opinions of people voted leave versus those who voted remain. We care a lot less about the views of people who hate the internet than the views of brexit voters.
  The biggest problem here is that the number of people who think that the internet is a bad thing is very small. Only 5% of survey respondents thought this, and 71% of these voted leave. The graphic presents the data as if people who disliked this internet were a large part of the leave vote, and I have seen many people across social media interpreting it this way. This is completely untrue. Overall, 71% of leave voters think the internet is good, and 7% think it is bad, compared to 80% and 3% for remain voters, a very minor difference.


I've taken the data from from the original Ashcroft poll here, and plotted it to show the reality of what the voters from both sides think, and it is still interesting*. Opinions on capitalism don't vary much between camps, furthering the idea that the referendum didn't cut across traditional political lines. Views of the internet are also not very different between groups, everyone likes it. Leave voters don't even seem to hate globalisation that much, though they're more against it than the remainers. The biggest differences, perhaps predictably, are on immigration and multiculturalism, which may pose a problem for those on the winning team who are now trying to claim the referendum wasn't about this...

*Numbers don't add up to 100%, as some people were neutral or didn't know.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Brexit Isn't About the EU

Disclaimer - this article was written and submitted for publication before the Jo Cox shooting on Thursday. It's a bit out of date now, but still worth reading.

In a referendum, the general public will answer anything but the question put in front of them. In 2011, Britain declared overwhelmingly that they hated Nick Clegg. In 2014, Scotland declared unconvincingly that they didn’t hate the Tories quite enough. In 2016, Britain will declare whether or not they hate 2016.

On the surface, the referendum may not change very much. The most likely single outcome, a Norway style free trade agreement, would lead to little change in the long term. Following some initial instability, we would return to free trade and open borders, exchanging small amounts of influence for small amounts of flexibility. Britain will have some amount of extra money, which can be spent offsetting transition costs and replacing existing EU spending. The rest can be a raindrop in the municipal NHS swimming pool.

Despite this, however, I think that it is important to look at the tones of the two campaigns for clues to the future. What people are voting on is not a very specific policy question, but for one of two general themes and directions for the future. On the one hand, Britain the market state ruled by a technocratic elite, pro globalisation, openness and a nebulous idea of progress. On the other hand, Britain the nation state ruled by its own people, rejecting the neoliberal consensus in favour of sovereignty and common sense. 

There are those on the leave side who argue in favour of leaving in order to increase Commonwealth migration, and negotiate even more open trade agreements with the rest of the world than are possible inside the EU. While these would be theoretically possible, in this scenario we live in a country in which the majority of people voted for the leave campaign. That same leave campaign spent the last month telling anyone who would listen that we must leave the EU in order to escape the ravenous hordes of Turks ready to invade, and that free trade agreements prevent us from nationalising the railways. I don’t believe most of the people in charge of the campaign agree with these arguments, but if they’re the ones that win, politicians will have to take note of. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, opportunists who like to cast themselves as open to the world, have summoned egregores they may be unable to put down. 

This all ties into a large realignment we’re seeing in politics across the west. In the past, our political axis ran from right to left, at one end, faith, flag, family & free markets, and at the other end socialism, multiculturalism and social progress. These coalitions are starting to break down. I have written before about the alliance of social justice and neoliberalism, and in many ways the brexit campaign is its antithesis. Socially and economically protectionist, communitarian and conservative. The remain side may be best described as a coalition of the ascendent. Young voters, the upper middle class, ethnic minorities and growing cities. Their opponents are those in decline, the retired and socially dislocated, white working class people, and those left behind by a global knowledge economy. 

This is never more apparent than in the two sides approaches to expertise. The remain side proudly trumpet their endorsements from almost all working economists, and yet leave are unfazed. They don’t trust the experts any more, because they don’t trust anyone. Experts are always on side of the culture wars, and have been powerless to prevent the decline in their communities over the last half century. It’s no surprise that when someone offers to burn the world down, they jump at the chance. 

The Tories straddle this new divide, and therefore it’s not immediately obvious who are the more right wing. The nationalism and immigration restriction of the eurosceptics is of the right, but remainers talk far more about the virtues of markets and traditionally conservative cautiousness. This realignment leads to the strange sight of Tory ministers who spent the past six years cutting spending invoking the language of class warfare. 

Labour meanwhile are left nowhere. A combination of socialism and liberalism straddles both, but has little appeal outside younger voters at the moment. Their traditional working class base has abandoned the official pro-remain position, and even Jeremy Corbyn seems to have little interest in it. It isn’t surprising, he’s on neither side of the biggest and most polarising debate in most people’s lifetimes. 

This new divide was already forming, and we can also see it in America with the rise of Donald Trump, but the referendum campaign is laying waste to old coalitions and forming new ones. It  may even worsen the causes of the problem, there is research suggesting that the more extreme the levels of political polarisation in a country, the lower the levels of social trust, which can lead to an erosion of civil society, as more and more people retreat into their own bubbles and abandon the public sphere. 

I don’t know how Britain will vote this week, it’s too close to call, but it’s a vote on far more than our relationship with Europe. Voters are deciding what sort of country they want to live in, globalisation versus nationalism, neoliberalism versus paleoconservatism, a country ruled by the experts, or one ruled by the people.

Vote for the real rulers