The dust has started to settle on the referendum vote on Britain’s relationship with the EU.
At this point it seems appropriate to reach for the hyperbole – a most historic moment in British history, a decision that changes everything, a revolution, even.
The referendum vote is undoubtedly a marker, and a significant political event. There were numerous reasons for why the number of people voted the way they did, as is true for any vote, indeed. Where before the vote the political classes were engaged in order to try and influence the direction of people’s votes, in the aftermath they have been engaged with trying to interpret them.
The most immediate issue is that the vagueness of the question before the electorate had an influence on the way people felt about it. This applies to all parties, and people of various political persuasions across the political spectrum. The choice was summed up by the unofficial labels given to the two campaigns – ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’. The framing of the question makes perfect sense if the expected outcome – and the desired one from Cameron’s point of view – was to remain within the EU.
It is apparent that the vote was came to be understood as a choice between the status quo or a change to it. Very crudely, between, Remain the Same or Leave it Behind. In turn the people wanting to maintain the status quo – or a version of it – were not necessarily common political bedfellows. So it was that the official positions of the all the major political parties could be united behind a campaign that they all collectively lost. The Green Party argued for the peace and environmental benefits of membership whilst establishment Conservatives mostly discussed the economics of the choice.
At the same time some on the ‘fringes’ of those parties, and UKIP, were united together in arguing for a Leave vote. The ‘Lexit’ (Left-Exit) arguments of the more ardent Marxist end of the Labour movement so despised the free market ideology of the EU they wanted to get out. The Tory right-libertarians – of the David Davis ilk – saw the EU as a threat to British national sovereignty. These erstwhile allies were coming at the vote from very different starting points.
Over a series of posts I’m going to be examining how each of the political parties has been affected by the outcome and the fallout from the vote. Some of these effects are obvious and ongoing. As ever, I’ll be trying to place them within their longer historical context and drawing out the undoubted continuities. There has been much change in the area these last several weeks, but a theme has been of how the vote has largely catalysed changes that were taking place more slowly in any case.