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Specifically, your question about why the vote went the way it did and why people were surprised, despite what the learned Prof Thompson says.

My first answer is that the vast majority of the British public (Should I say English? I don’t believe for a moment that the Scots love the EU any more than we do. It’s all about hating us! Although being quite keen on our money!) Sorry for the diversion. How the vast majority of us were, and probably always have been, against the EU. Why do I say that? The majority at the referendum wasn’t enormous after all. I say that for several reasons. First, the majority was achieved despite the fact that all the major political parties, most of the media, the BBC, the Bank of England, the massed ranks of the civil service, most of the leaders of business and finance, all said loudly and repeatedly that leaving the EU would be a disaster. Second, if you add to the 17.4 million who did, despite all this, vote Leave, all those who didn’t like the EU but thought it was too difficult to leave, you have what I refer to as the vast majority. Third - related to that - none of the above Remainers (there must have been some exceptions, I guess, but I didn’t hear them) managed to articulate why the EU was a good thing. All they could do was try to frighten us by explaining the negatives. A negative message is maybe never much of a vote winner. So it proved.

Perhaps the more difficult question is, why the surprise? The first thing to say is that many people managed to persuade themselves that the referendum went the way it did because the Leavers lied to the public. Specifically that they misled us all about the savings that would accrue to leaving. The campaign bus said that we would save x million (or probably billion), whereas it should have been x minus y. I guess they gave a gross rather than a net figure. No idea. The idea that that could have swayed the vote is ludicrous. The numbers are so big as to be meaningless to normal people, including me.

No, I think the surprise element comes back to the dreaded question of social class. Frankly, to leave the EU was bad news, or at least worse news, for middle class people than for those less well off. Speaking personally, obviously I would be a Remainer if I just looked at my personal interests with my house in France and regular visits to the continent. I remember friends saying how their young children and grandchildren were horrified by the thought of leaving the EU. Why? Well, obviously they enjoy the freedom to visit and indeed work in other EU countries. And have no problem about Europeans working here. Indeed they love it, happily making friends with them. But do these feelings resonate in the same way in those northern cities which voted Leave and then, surprise surprise, voted for Boris at the General Election. They could easily be more concerned (rightly or indeed wrongly) about immigrants taking their jobs.

So, should it have been such a surprise? Pursuing the class angle, all the groups I listed as being Remainers were, of course, heavily middle class. We tend to live these days in our bubbles. I fear that one of the consequences of all these lockdowns is that the social divisions will be even worse - as our children and grandchildren work from home and do their distance learning, armed with their laptops, whereas those less well off struggle.

6 January 2021

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