A divided nation

Simon Wren-Lewis, Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University:

However there are other aspects of the Ashcroft poll that I think are revealing. First, economic arguments were important for Remain voters. The economic message did get through to many voters. Second, the NHS was important to Leave voters, so the point economists also made that ending free movement would harm the NHS was either not believed or did not get through to this group. Indeed “more than two thirds (69%) of leavers, by contrast, thought the decision “might make us a bit better or worse off as a country, but there probably isn’t much in it either way””. Whether they did not know about the overwhelming consensus among economists who thought otherwise, or chose to ignore it, we cannot tell.

Third, Leave voters are far more pessimistic about the future, and also tend to believe that life today is much worse than life 30 years ago. Finally, those who thought the following were a source of ill rather than good – multiculturalism, social liberalism, feminism, globalisation, the internet, the green movement and immigration – tended by large majorities to vote Leave. Only in the case of capitalism did as many Remain and Leave voters cite it as a source of ill. These results suggest that Leave voters were those left behind in modern society in either an economic or social way (or perhaps both).

Taking all this evidence into account it seems that the Brexit vote was a protest vote against both the impact of globalisation and social liberalism. The two are connected by immigration, and of course the one certainty of the Brexit debate was that free movement prevented controls on EU migration. But that does not mean defeat was inevitable, as Chris makes clear. Kevin O’Rourke points out that the state can play an active role in compensating the losers from globalisation, and of course in recent years there has been an attempt to roll back the state. Furthermore, as Johnston et al suggest, the connection between economic decline and immigration is more manufactured than real.

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