When it comes to the big economic questions, Leave and Remain voters aren’t as divided as you think

Conversations with communities across the UK show what unites people across the spectrum.

Many in ‘overshadowed’ towns like Workop (pictured) feel excluded by a London-dominated economy.

While it was Leave voters who gave a kicking to the ‘establishment’ in June 2016, the sense of alienation and being left behind was shared by many across the spectrum.

Voters in towns and cities outside London feel ignored. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and UK in a Changing Europe (UKICE) commissioned 18 ‘deliberative’ workshops in April and May this year, involving low-income voters in nine different areas. What are low-income voters’ priorities if we’re to leave the EU?

While people might be polarised on Brexit, there’s a plenty of other issues they care about. Participants were “united in their desire for an economy that delivers opportunities to get a better job and improve their prospects and living standards.”

The focus of this project was on people’s economic aspirations – but several issues came up time and time again: a perception of rising crime levels and a lack of community safety, a sense that local places were looking worn-down and unclean – with high levels of litter and a lack of green spaces, a lack of things for young people to do, both in terms of work and leisure. isolation and loneliness among older people. And people mourned the lack of community and public spaces.

The low-income voters the pollsters spoke to “expressed frustration at the state of the local labour market, with low pay and a lack of security coming to the fore.”

One participant noted: “You can’t live on minimum wage. Once you’ve paid all your rent, all your bills, everything that comes out, your petrol, once you’ve lived, what have you got left?”

People need opportunities to learn and develop. As one from Dudley said: “[We need] more opportunities for adults to go and learn and develop their skills for free, rather than having to pay stupid university fees.”

But there was another comment that seemed to sum up the mood: “We haven’t got the attention before Brexit; I don’t know if we’ll get it after.”

While Johnson has been touring the UK to try and tone down his London-centric image, actions will speak louder than words in communities plagued by austerity and long-term neglect.

Take apprenticeships: the JRF note a sharp decline in lower skilled people starting apprenticeships – despite Conservative rhetoric about making it a priority. Significant cuts to the adult skills budget in recent years have also made matters worse.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation are recommending that the government’s so-called ‘Shared Prosperity Fund targets parts of the country where pay and employment are the lowest, and at least matches the £2.4 billion a year that currently flows through the EU Structural Funds it’s replacing. They are calling for a real living wage – not the government’s re-branded minimum.

Concluding, the authors note that “too much emphasis has been placed on how to appeal to Leave or Remain voters as separate groups, and far too little on how to bridge that divide.”

Across the spectrum, people are impatient for change. “They have made clear their hopes, fears and aspirations – and have provided politicians with a clear way forward. Now the onus is on them to listen and to act.”

Any party with a vision for Britain’s left-behind towns and communities – Brexit or no Brexit – could reap big rewards.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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3 Responses to “When it comes to the big economic questions, Leave and Remain voters aren’t as divided as you think”

  1. nhsgp

    Simple problem you ignore.

    220 bn a year going on the state debts.

    You even have to tax min wage earners to pay that

    How does a min wage earner pay his fair share of the state’s debt mountain? £450,000 plus interest.

    Hence you get austerity. Debt causes the austerity. Simple question proves it. Would 220 bn a year in spending or tax cuts fix austerity? Of course it would

  2. Barry Edwards

    One of the major problems is that our economy is seriously geographically unbalanced with not only the financial and commercial sector concentrated in London, but also all the central government political activity.

    We can have incentives to encourage companies to relocate but the experience with the BBC and Channel 4 suggests they are reluctant and it takes time.

    John McDonnell has proposed part of the Treasury to the north of England but I would suggest that this is far too timid an idea. I propose moving our political capital lock, stock and barrel away from London to the north of England.

    With the Houses of Parliament crumbling away this is the time to build a state of the art parliament building, probably somewhere centrally place like south Yorkshire and Ministries spread out around the north – all connected by fast transport links and communications.

    This would reinvigorate the north and stop the overheating of the south-east. It would give MPs the same benefits that are currently enjoyed by MSPs and Welsh AMs. The Houses of Parliament could become a museum, a hotel or even William Morris’s dung warehouse.

  3. wg

    And there’s your problem in a nutshell.

    Joseph Rowntree Foundation and UK in a Changing Europe – who the hell are they?
    Next week it’ll be the Fabians, or Progress, or the IPPR – do politicians ever speak to real people now?
    Who pays for them? Who’s elected them? In who’s interest do they work?

    Whether it be Demos, Davos, Soros etc. – we need them to butt out of our democracy.

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