Theresa May said today that Brexit would be delivered for “those whose voices for too long have not been heard”. There is a lot to say about this, but my first reaction is: “You have got to be joking.”
It’s become a cliche that Brexit voters are the “voiceless”. But that’s rubbish. The voices we are talking about have been heard very clearly. We could all, I think, repeat the script verbatim. We’ve heard it again and again on TV news vox-pops, reports from working men’s clubs, and from Nigel Farage on the radio and television for years and years. There are plenty of “unheard” voices in this country, but these are not among them.
But let’s take it at face value. If people really were hacked off with Westminster politics, and really cared about having their voices heard, they had a great opportunity to do something about that in 2011, when we had a referendum on proportional representation (in the form of AV, the alternative vote). That would have give smaller parties -- like UKIP and others -- a bigger voice.
But what happened? Nobody bothered to vote. Turnout nationally was just 42%. The lowest was in the North East, at just 38.8%. That region also had the lowest percentage of votes for a change to the system, with 28.05%. Just 212,951 people from an electorate of 1,968,137 voted to change the system which, supposedly, they hated so much. (All these figures come from the Wikipedia page about the election, which draw on government statistics.)
The voting patterns in the AV and the Brexit vote map onto each other pretty well: AV voters tend to be remainers, and FPTP enthusiasts Leavers. Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Greater London voted for AV and Remain. In the North East and East of England, they tended to vote FPTP and Leave.
The people who complained in 2016 that their voices were not being heard were precisely who voted against their voices being heard in 2011.
What’s going on?
One thing that’s going on is that both the anti-AV and the Leave campaigns were run by Matthew Elliott, a bloke who is mixed up in all the shady right-wing think-tanks and pressure groups with mysterious funding, like Migration Watch and the Tax Payers’ Alliance. Both campaigns used the same tactics, targeting the same people with the same messages.
Here are some of the Facebook posters they ran in the AV campaign:
I’m sure I don’t need to point out the similarities with the Leave campaigns posters.
Did people really vote for FPTP and Leave because their voices were unheard? I’m sure some people did. But what do they want? More money for the NHS and army? I can think of policies that might assuage those concerns without causing wholesale disruption to the UK economy.
And if Theresa May really does want those voices to be heard, there’s an easy fix for that: change the political system, so that we have a wider range of voices in parliament.