Friday, June 24, 2016

The implications of a close vote

All those on both sides of the EU referendum who have strong views about it would be wise to think about how they would be feeling if as the last polls before the vote had suggested it would, instead of being 51.9% to 48.1% for Leave, it had been the other way round.

Nigel Farage apparently said on 17th May that

"In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way."

Funnily enough he only seems to apply this one way round.

Personally I think that those of us who lost have to respect the majority decision, and I would have been of that view whichever way it had gone, but I also think that in a vote this close the winning side owe it to their country to recognise that they have not won an overwhelming victory.

Let's put the votes cast for both sides in context

Winning Leave vote in this referendum: 17.4 million

Losing Remain vote in this referendum: 16.1 million

Record vote cast for any government in history: 14.1 million

Votes cast for the present government in 2015: 11.3 million

Votes cast for the Labour party in 2010: 9.3 million

In other words, BOTH SIDES in this referendum received millions more votes than any government in British history.

Leave polled nearly double the votes cast for the Labour party next year: Remain polled five million more votes than the government.

There is clearly a massive disconnect between various parts of our country and between al the main political parties and the electorate.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Part of it is that a significant proportion of people feel they have not shared in the prosperity of our country and had nothing to lose from taking a massive gamble.

Part of it is the consequence of Blair and Brown breaking their promise of a referendum on what started as a constitutional treaty and was then imposed on them as the Lisbon Treaty.

Part of it is the consequence of many years of the elite ignoring the views of voters on a range of issues, and particularly migration, where people who expressed reasonable concerns about issues like housing and public services were liable to be called a racist or bigot by parts of the establishment. Labour MP Pat Glass showed during the referendum campaign that this is still a problem today.

That disconnect urgently needs to be addressed. But let us try to address the legitimate concerns of the seventeen million people who voted Leave without ignoring the legitimate concerns of the sixteen million people who voted Remain.

It is a good thing that so many people took part in the referendum, which was a massive exercise in democracy and we must now implement the result of that democratic decision. But whoever becomes Prime Minister must think very carefully what the referendum does, and does not, give him or her a mandate to do.

In my humble opinion the new Prime Minister will be in a particularly difficult position because  Leave was foolish enough to make incompatible promises during the referendum, he or she will face the choice not of whether to break pledges made to the voters, but which promises to break.

The people who voted Leave were given the impression that they were voting for a reduction in net immigration. The new PM will have to try to deliver this. But they were also promised that our businesses would still have access to the single market. I believe that a majority of voters - almost everyone who voted Remain and a significant proportion of those who voted Leave - would regard this as an even higher priority.

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