Now some of the dust has settled after the Brexit vote, I thought it might be useful to take a look at who voted which way, and why what happened might have happened.
I got from the BBC’s website the data on votes cast in each borough, and sorted them by percentage of votes cast for Remain and for Leave. Having decided I was only interested in the results in England and Wales, not in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Gibraltar, I then looked at the top 25 on each side within England and Wales.
Of the 25 boroughs with the highest percentages for Remain, 18 were London boroughs. The remaining seven were Cambridge (8), Oxford (10), Brighton and Hove (16), St. Albans (19), Bristol (21), Manchester (24) and South Cambridgeshire (25). (The last of these is the hinterland of Cambridge, enclosing the city on all sides).
With the possible exceptions of Manchester and St. Albans, all these are strongholds of modern Progressivism. They do very nicely out of the current political arrangements and agendas, thank you. In particular, they are among the “greenest” places in the country. Indeed, if you asked me to name the five most car-unfriendly cities I’ve visited in England and Wales, I’d give you London, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton and Bristol.
So on the Remain side, the picture looks quite simple. The city slickers and big businessmen that benefit financially from the current set-up, and the supporters of big government and the green agenda, also support the EU. The latte-sipping, Grauniad-reading, political-correctness-loving, humanity-hating classes that think they’re the only people educated enough to be allowed to have opinions on anything, are Remainers to the core.
On the other side, it’s much more complicated. The areas with the strongest Leave votes were mostly in a few parts of the country – Essex, Lincolnshire and the industrial Midlands and North. But the reasons for that support seem to vary from place to place.
Some will tell you the Leave vote was all about immigration. It’s true that in the borough with the highest Leave percentage of all, Boston (Lincolnshire), immigrants from the EU are the major issue of the day. And quite probably this was also the cause of the high Leave vote in neighbouring South Holland (2).
It seems that in Castle Point (3) and Thurrock (4), both in Essex, the local political hot potato is encroachment on the Green Belt; which, of course, is an indirect effect of large scale immigration. This may well also have been a cause in Havering (12) and Basildon (18). And in Harlow (20) the problem is closely related; there’s a long running battle between those who wish to expand the town northwards and those who don’t.
But in Great Yarmouth (5), the key issue is a quite different one; the destruction of their fishing industry, of which quotas set by the EU was a major cause. This may be a factor also in North East Lincolnshire (10), which includes Grimsby. In Fenland (6), it looks different again; becoming a dormitory area for an expanding Cambridge seems to be the worry.
In Mansfield (7) and Bolsover (8), the issues seem to be the decline, over several decades, of mining and other industries in the area, and the resulting unemployment. This may well also have been the problem in Ashfield (11), Hartlepool (13), Stoke-on-Trent (15), Barnsley (19) and Hull (25).
Doncaster (16), in which about 8 per cent of the population are not white British, has also suffered the decline of its mining industry, and there have been serious troubles in local government stretching back almost 20 years. Rotherham (21), with a similar ethnic composition to Doncaster, has become a by-word for mismanagement and turning a blind eye to criminal abuses. Walsall (22), also with a similar demographic, has been described as among the most deprived districts in England. And Dudley (24) has suffered both racial tensions and severe economic decline.
It’s notable that many of these areas have had huge amounts of tax money poured into them in recent years for “regeneration” schemes. Too late, I suspect, to change the minds of the people who experienced the degeneration.
In some cases it’s hard for a non-local to fathom the reasons for the large Leave votes. In East Lindsey (9) it may have been annoyance at over-zealous charging by the local council for green waste. Tendring (14) is a UKIP stronghold, and there have also been recent troubles in their local politics.
But I confess that I’ve no idea why 68.9% of those who turned out voted Leave in Cannock Chase (17), unless it’s because Walsall is next door. Or why 67.8% voted Leave in Bassetlaw (23).
It seems plain to me that this Leave vote isn’t about one single issue. Immigration was a factor in Boston. I’m not sure how much of a factor it was in Doncaster, Rotherham, Walsall or Dudley. But in those cases, the immigrants concerned aren’t from the EU. So the meme we’ve been bombarded with, that Leave voters are all just racists who hate immigrants, doesn’t hold water for me.
Long term economic decline is a common theme in many of the places with the largest Leave votes. And this decline has taken place over 40 years or so, very much the same period during which Britain has been a member of the EU. Correlation, of course, does not prove causation; but many people will have made the link in their minds. I suspect that economic decline, rather than immigration, is the primary reason for so many people voting Leave.
In fact, it goes further than that. I’m not even sure that it’s all that much about the EU. What I think this Leave vote actually represents is a cry of rage and pain. It is coming from people who feel that for years and decades they have not been cared about or listened to by those in power. That’s why more older people voted Leave than younger ones; they have been suffering far longer.
My own thought processes leading up to the vote may be of some interest. I make no secret of the fact that I despise all politicians and all politics. For me, the only good parliament is a hung parliament – hung at Tyburn, that is. I have vowed never again to vote for any politician. And before the referendum, it had been 29 years since I last voted.
As to the European project, objectively, it has had positives and negatives. Personally, I’m in favour of free movement of people; I would have welcomed Schengen if I had had a chance to enjoy it. And, with some reservations, I approve of the European Convention on Human Rights, which New Labour incorporated into British law as the Human Rights Act. (It was the only good thing they ever did). The European Court of Human Rights, also, has made some right decisions.
On the other side, the endless torrent of regulations about things like bananas and light bulbs has for years been extremely tiresome. And it’s becoming increasingly obvious, to all who can see, that the EU and the eurozone are economically unsustainable. The Greeks nearly pulled it all down a couple of years ago. And when the EU does come down, it will end in tears. Big time. I don’t want to be there when the bomb goes off, thank you very much. That was my first reason for deciding to vote Leave.
The second issue was that the European project was mis-sold to me and to all of us. When the 1975 referendum took place, “Europe” was the EEC (though many preferred to call it the Common Market). The EEC, for me, was generally a good thing. It enabled me, for example, to live and work in Holland for three years in the late 1970s. But about 1990, “Europe” ceased to be an economic construct, and morphed into a political one. That was when I lost all confidence in the European project. What has happened since has only confirmed my apprehensions.
My third reason was Cameron using millions in tax money, stolen from me and others, to send to every household in the land a booklet of propaganda for the Remain side. This was the “final straw” which caused me to make the decision to vote Leave.
These were my three rational reasons. But I had a fourth, more emotional reason. As I wrote a few days before the referendum: “It’s the first time in my 63 years living in a so called democracy that I feel my vote has actually had any value at all. It’s my first (and probably last) opportunity to say fuck off to the establishment that have treated me, all my adult life, as if I was sub-human.”
My own vote for Leave was a cry of rage and pain from the heart. But on Thursday 23rd June 2016, I found out I was not alone. In fact, I think I may have acquired 17.4 million new and unexpected friends.