The terrible price of a ‘People’s Vote’

To overthrow the Brexit vote would be to overthrow democracy itself.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Brexit Politics UK

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The Remainer elite is feeling excited. Why? Because it thinks it might finally have beaten down the democratic desires of ordinary people, especially the poorer, less educated ones. It is hopeful that its relentless fearmongering, its highly moneyed, deeply cynical campaign to depict Brexit as the worst thing to happen to Britain since the war, might finally be paying off. This is the truth behind the Remainer elite’s wild cheering of a poll analysis that seems to reveal that more and more constituencies have shifted towards having Remain majorities: it spies in this alleged shift an important victory for its campaign of delegitimising the democratic vote for Brexit and sidelining the rough, ill-informed people responsible for that vote.

Of course powerful Remainers do not say these things openly. Instead they engage in PC-speak. They says this poll analysis shows that people are finally ‘waking up’ to the disastrous reality of Brexit. They say progress is being made. They say the time is right for a ‘People’s Vote’ to allow the public to decide if the Brexit Theresa May secures is acceptable. Their euphemistic excitement has been triggered by a consumer company’s analysis of two big YouGov polls, one carried out before May revealed her Brexit plans on 6 July and the other carried out afterwards, which seems to show shifts to a Remain outlook in 112 constituencies. Where just 229 constituencies were Remain in July 2016, against 403 that were Leave (a powerful reminder of how much bigger the Leave outlook truly was!), now 341 constituencies seem to be leaning more to Remain, against 288 that still lean to Leave. ‘People are coming to their senses’, elite Remainers say, when what they mean is: ‘Wow, is our relentless, business-funded, fear-laden project of rubbishing Brexit and its bovine supporters finally paying dividends?’

They think it is. But, as always, they are running ahead of themselves. The truth is that YouGov and other polls have captured many, mostly quite small shifts in referendum intentions over the past two years. Some shifts have been towards Remain, others towards Leave, or towards getting on with Leave once and for all. And given that in some constituencies the referendum result in 2016 was fairly tight, this means it is easy for such shifts in sentiment to cause, or seem to cause, the fall of an entire constituency to, in this case, the Remainer worldview. The truth is that if there were to be improvements in the Brexit negotiations, and if May were to get the British government’s act together, the outlook in these constituencies could very easily shift to Leave again. In some it probably already has. In a quite small section of the polled public, there is a changeability in relation to Brexit.

We know the elite Remainers are getting ahead of themselves because another huge poll, also released this week, runs counter to their zealous hope that the nation is finally embracing their pro-EU worldview – or at least feeling defeated by their politics of fear. Many Remainer media outlets interpreted the YouGov polls analysis as proof that Labour constituencies in particular are dumping the Brexit ideal. However, a ComRes poll shows that Labour constituencies remain pretty committed to leaving the EU. And within those constituencies, the poorer voters, the ones less likely to have a degree or a professional job, remain very committed to leaving the EU. Which is a useful reminder of the truth of the divide in Britain in 2018. It isn’t left v right. It isn’t even Remainers v Leavers, in the sense that among everyday Remain voters there is little thirst for destroying Brexit. Rather, it is an influential elite that despises Brexit v significant numbers of less well-off people who see Brexit as an important political opportunity.

The ComRes poll, deflating the self-congratulatory elitism of the Remainer set, found that in Leave-voting constituencies that returned a Labour MP in last year’s General Election, Brexit is still the thing. This poll of 10,139 residents of such Labour Leave constituencies discovered only minority support for having a second referendum or for overturning the referendum result. It found significant flashes of optimism about Brexit and quite generous support for the idea of having a single-issue Brexit party to finish the job of leaving the EU. Over 50 per cent of respondents said they would consider voting for a party that was singularly devoted to making Brexit happen ‘quickly and fully’.

And, as always on Brexit, class differentials are key. So where 47 per cent of those in these Labour Leave constituencies who have a professional qualification would consider supporting a Full Brexit party, among those who only achieved secondary-level education the percentage rises to 55 per cent. More strikingly, where 51 per cent of the educated in these constituencies would welcome Brexit being stopped, just 32 per cent of the less educated would. Forty-eight per cent of poorer voters said they would still vote to leave the EU, against 39 per cent who said they would vote to remain. Worryingly for Labour – or not, given it is now fashioning itself as the party of the pro-EU middle classes – very few people in these Labour Leave constituencies think the party is serious about making Brexit happen. Twenty-seven per cent of those with a professional qualification and just 23 per cent of those without such a qualification believe Labour ‘officially supports’ leaving the EU.

These findings are important because they point, yet again, to the existence of Two Britains. On one side, a comfortable, mostly London-based group of influential players who cheer loudly when any poll suggests people’s support for Brexit is waning, and on the other side some of the least well-off, most ignored voters in the country who see in Brexit a new way of doing politics. When elite Remainers celebrate the deflation of the Brexit spirit, they are celebrating the deflation of the political aspirations of these isolated people. It is elitist reaction disguised in the pseudo-democratic language of having a ‘People’s Vote’ to let people decide on the deal.

Here is the bottom line: to have a second referendum before the result of the first referendum has been fully enacted and given the time and space to take effect would not be an act of democracy, but of anti-democracy. It would be an attempt to usurp the largest democratic vote in British history. It would represent the cynical, Orwellian deployment of pseudo-democratic language to the end of wounding and killing a great and historic act of democratic engagement. And it would tell voters in Labour Leave constituencies, and elsewhere, that they don’t matter. They are irrelevant. Society does not and will not listen to them. This would be the terrible price of a so-called ‘People’s Vote’: in seeking to undermine the democratic decision of June 2016, it would throttle democracy itself. Is remaining attached to Brussels really more important than maintaining the hard-won existence of democracy in the United Kingdom? Remainers must now ask themselves this question.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked. Find him on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty

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Topics Brexit Politics UK


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