Geoffrey Evans and Anand Menon’s authoritative text digs into the rebalancing of political values that lay behind the referendum, writes Rosie Corrigan
If you ask someone why they believe that the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, it is likely that you will hear an explanation regarding the referendum campaign. Perhaps they will tell you that the 52 per cent voted for an extra £350m per week for the National Health Service, or that Nigel Farage’s pronouncements about reducing immigration swung it.
However, the referendum campaign did not exist in isolation. It was the tip of the iceberg – a complex iceberg at that. That is what Brexit and British Politics is all about – looking beyond the campaign (while acknowledging it) at the historical social and political factors that led to the referendum. Demystifying the iceberg.
Geoffrey Evans and Anand Menon are both authorities on political science. They chart the key factors affecting the outcome of the referendum as a British aversion to feeling Europe and its institutions, and an erosion of trust in political parties.
A key argument is that the main political parties ‘converged on the liberal centre-ground’, leaving voters feeling that, as we hear on the doorstep, ‘they are all the same’. The authors argue the changing makeup of parliament, in particular the Labour party, toward the end of the 20th century ‘led to a gulf [emerging] between the major parties and those who were not university-educated and middle class’. They argue that ‘voters tend to trust those politicians to whom they can easily relate’, and while there may be truth in this point, it neglects to acknowledge the doubling of women elected to parliament between the 1992 and 1997 elections. In fact, it was Labour’s decision to champion issues that women cared about – including education and health, that arguably saw the shift from women supporting Conservatives, to Labour around the 1997 election. It is a pattern that has continued through to today and which, in my view, should not pass by without acknowledgement.
The book moves on to a fascinating interrogation of the rebalancing of the relationship between social values and party support. The authors assert that voters are shifting away from a traditional class divide to one that is more nuanced, and takes more into account age, geography and education. They argue that these changes were not created by the referendum, but rather highlighted by it; stating that ‘social divisions had been exposed, but these divisions were not created by the referendum or its result. Britain is not now more divided than hitherto. The referendum simply gave a voice to these longstanding divisions’. The book may have benefited here from a more in-depth discussion about the impact of immigration, and of metropolitan versus rural areas on the development of social attitudes.
Finally, Brexit and British Politics sets out the contemporary political landscape and discusses the potential shape of things to come. It sets out that the redrawing of the political map, a return to a two-party system (which has curiously resulted in a minority government), and considers whether the emergence of leaders like Jeremy Corbyn signals a return to a system more obviously marked by rigid ideology.
Rosie Corrigan is a member of Progress and former mayor of Selby district council. She tweets at @Rosie_Corrigan
Brexit and British Politics by Geoffrey Evans and Anand Menon
Polity | 140pp | £12.99