The English Question

This posting is not about the Brexit vote but about the United Kingdom. No, really!

It is about what happens after June 23rd when Britain will either remain within the European Union (cue collective sigh of relief from the British Establishment!) or be trying to deal with the brute fact that the British people want 'out' when their rulers do not. Of course only a fool would try to predict what will happen after June 23rd (not that this has stopped the fear-mongering predictions of one side of the tussle) but why not be that fool since our view is no better or worse than that of any other fool.

The simplest prediction arises from a decision to Leave. If the vote is decisive (55% or above), it would be hard for Cameron to stay on as leader of the Conservative Party and so as Prime Minister. The negotiation with the European Union would almost certainly be in the hands of another Tory politician with an eye to the 2020 General Election. The crisis, if there is one, will be in the Labour Party as it dawns on its leadership that it would have to choose between the ideological purity of being a European Socialist Party and becoming electable.

Our national political crises truly start if there is not a decisive Leave decision. A narrow majority for Leave might merely encourage pro-Europeans to fight on and renegotiate yet another non-binding deal with a bit more of a nationalist flavour. A narrow majority for Stay would, however, create a most interesting problem for the political class. To understand what that problem is you have to study the map that indicates where those who petitioned against the Government leaflet in favour of a Leave position came from.

To the undoubted surprise of Government, over 207,000 people (as of the date of this posting) voted against the Government's position, double the amount required to force a debate in the House of Commons. This much might be predicted from the mobilisation of angry campaigners. What is more interesting is the sharp delineation on the map of the Scottish border and (with anomalies) the Welsh border from that of England. Digging deeper, the petitioners were much weaker in urban areas with large ethnic minorities and significant public sector white collar employment.

This is where only the wise fool sees the danger. A Stay vote that is short of the 55% decisive threshold is tantamount to a vote that can be interpreted as a denial of the English rural and small town majorities of their 'birth right' by the Celts of the United Kingdom, Government in all its manifestations and (probably unfairly) the ethnic minorities. The commitment of Government to act against 'traditional' values implies (perfectly reasonably) that Government no longer represents this heartland. The defeated may start looking for someone who does represent them.

Where does this lead? Certainly to rage against the Tory Party's liberal-ish elite within its natural base. There are growing signs of this in the Party's grassroots. It also implies a resentment by irreconcileables not so much at urban elites or minorities but at the Celtic nationalists who did rather well (in the eyes of the English) out of the European Project and who have taken out their ancient resentments on the English. A weak Stay opens up the English Question. A newly blooded activist base may be ready to merge this question with the question of resistance to the European Project.


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