June 24th - Business As Usual?

On balance, we still expect a Remain vote on June 23rd but we are far from sure about this.

The sheer weight of elite pressure on the voters - international economic institutions, Government and the vast bulk of the professional political class - has raised questions of insecurity for a population that is uninterested in more sophisticated arguments about democracy and which has no serious understanding of how the European Union works or its likely trajectories. The BBC, as primary source of national news, seem to be finding it hard to be genuinely neutral.

On the other hand, there is strong print media support for Leave and Leave social media warriors are more aggressive than Remainers. Anecdotal information suggests that the Leave vote in rural areas is overwhelming, that many working class people worried by the 'free movement of labour' are defying the call to Remain from their natural party [Labour] and that Scotland is far from likely to vote as a bloc for Remain. Evidence from Glasgow in particular has suggested an undercurrent of Leave sentiment that has surprised us.

The main question for us now is less whether we remain in or out of the European Union but what will the lasting effect of this Referendum, one which has been verbally vicious and brought out existential differences within the traditional parties, be on British politics. Will it be business as usual on June 24th or will there be tectonic shifts as there were after the repeal of the Corn Laws or the founding of the Labour Representation Committee? The answer depends, as our Marxist friends might put it, on the 'social forces' involved and we may come back to that another day.

What has to be considered is that there is almost total cohesion (barring a few Tory baronial renegades) across the political and economic elite for Remain. Yet, despite all this, even if Leave loses, something like a minimum of 40%-45% of the population has tended to engage with the Leave position, regardless of scare stories, regardless of threats of dire consequences. The political elite should be worried about this because, although many will drift back to old habits, a substantial proportion of the population, across traditional political boundaries, is existentially committed here.

Nor is it the case that the situation is so inherently stable that the Leave die-hards can be ignored like eighteenth century Jacobites because the Remain side has simply 'got it right'. The Remain campaigners have had to make claims about the prospects for the economy under the European Union and about the ability of the European Union to control economic migration that are going to be severely tested, with the diehards watching every step of the winners and exposing their failures. Then there is the debate over Cameron's deal and whether, limited though it is, it can hold.

Brexit also solves little if the win is not decisive (more than 3% and probably more than 5% of the vote). This looks unlikely. The pressure then starts from the political elite to change the vote or to make it meaningless by negotiating a departure in which nothing really changes and Cameron's deal is preserved regardless. We also have a Labour Party totally committed to a European Socialist model over the heads of the substantial euro-sceptical element in its working class base. We may come back later to what we think will happen next but it will definitely not be 'business as usual'.