Sunday, 26 October 2014

Purple Haze: UK Voters Want to Stay in the EU

Just in case you've been missing him; a photo of Nigel Farage
We have been bombarded now for months, even a couple of years, of relentlessly being told that UKIP is surging a tidal wave of anti-European sentiment.With their powerful victory at Clacton likely to be followed up with another, probably less emphatic, win in Rochester in a few weeks time, print and broadcast journalists - especially the excitable, ill-read types who seem to inhabit the BBC these days - jabber about the "Brexit".

This, according to the BBC yesterday, is Britain's apparently more or less done deal on leaving the European Union (BRitish EXIT, geddit?) following a referendum, promised by David Cameron if the Tories win the next election and almost certainly a demand from any UKIP MPs in a Tory-UKIP Coalition (although it is to be noted that UKIP do not actually support a public vote: they would just withdraw as soon as they had the legislative power to do so).

And yet, as the Faragistas have risen and fallen and risen again through the year, almost completely unreported and certainly ignored by the mainstream media, has been another more substantial shift in public opinion. And that is, while UKIP have scrabbled up the polls from 10% at the start of the year to 16% in this weekend's UK Polling Report average, support for staying IN the European Union has risen exponentially among British voters.
Ipsos-MORI October 2014

Consider this: between September 2010 and February 2014, thirty out of thirty-three national opinion polls - showed clear majorities for Britain leaving the EU. Survation in January 2013 gave 54% for out and just 36% for staying in. And a whole slew gave the anti-EU vote in the mid to high 40%s with the pro-EU camp hovering in the low 30%s.

But since March this year, as the BBC hammered home UKIP's apparent inexorable rise ahead of and since the European elections, there has been a sea-change - possibly in response to the not-so-popular populism of Nigel Farage.

Of the twenty-seven polls published since March, only six have shown a majority for leaving the European Union, and even these have given margins well below half of the 15 to 20 points in polls of previous years. A single poll from June gave a dead heat, but all the others - 20 out of 27 - have shown majorities for Yes to staying in Europe. An Ipsos-Mori poll taken between 11th & 14th October gave 56% for staying and just 36% for leaving, with 8% unsure. Excluding the unsures, that is a 61 to 39 margin for remaining part of the EU, not far off the 66 to 34% margin in the 1975 referendum that confirmed our original membership of the Community. (note - these figures relate to polls about leaving the EU without any prior renegotiation of membership terms; a set of figures covering a renegotiated but continuing membership unanimously show big margins for Britain remaining part of the EU.)

Of course, these are just polls, but they perhaps point to a few things that our media should ponder long and hard if they intend to continue to emit the smokescreen over truth that is their evident obsession with UKIP.

1. UKIP may well be expressing the discontent of significant groups of people, but many more do not support its narrow, xenophobic take on the ills of our country. And indeed, even among UKIP voters, the EU is rarely top of their list of concerns - many, when you scratch the surface, actually support left of centre policies quite alien to their current party of choice.

2. The majority of British voters remain as they have always been - broadly progressive, fair minded and tolerant. The rise in support for the EU may be an expression of this - anti-Tory, anti-UKIP, pro-international engagement.

Source: Another Angry Voice
3. As traditional party politics collapse, UKIP has benefited as an officially sanctioned channel for discontent, a bit like the Czar tolerated the liberal Octobrists and Kadets in his Duma for a few years. But much deeper undercurrents are at work. A glance at the opinion polls will confirm that UKIP polls by far best among people aged 55 and over, while among young people support fades away and is negligible among first time voters - one recent poll tied them on 4% with the Lib dems. The Greens by contrast are chalking up figures in the mid-teens, often ahead of the Tories as in this month's Channel 4 survey. Simultaneously, membership of the party's youth wing, the Young Greens, has reached record levels. A new narrative is being written, one centred on a need for greater equality, tax justice rather than tax cuts; one in favour of public ownership, community service and personal freedom.

4. Public opinion has probably not been as volatile in over a century. And this uncertainty is disquieting to lazy journalists schooled in the comfort of an Establishment that is now peeling away. It's potential is also what should in contrast give heart to anyone with a socially progressive agenda.

5. All the above apply even more fully to younger people - almost two generations on from the fall of the Berlin Wall, and nearly sixty years since the Windrush, we have the rise of a new age of people at ease with diversity and used to travelling, learning, working, living and planning a future in and/or with other Europeans. Coupled with the radicalisation of Scotland in the recent referendum and the inspiration of actions like the Occupy Democracy protests outside parliament last week, the politics of grumpiness represented by Farage and his acolytes are dating faster than a dusty old reel of Alf Garnett. (Who he? - ed)

This is not to say that the European Union is something which progressives, Greens, ecosocialists or other leftists, should happily embrace in its current form. It is overweeningly pro-big business, as witnessed by the current shenanigans over the mooted TransAtlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP). Yet it provides some minimum degree of employee, consumer and environmental protection which would otherwise be absent (notably, these are the things UKIP and Tory Euroskeptics are keen to do away with while keeping the pro-business stuff). And we need transnational bodies like the EU if we are to have any hope in hell of countering the existential threats of resource scarcity and environmental collapse in the years ahead.

But it does give the lie to the narrative that UKIP represents some silent majority. It plainly does not. A focus group on UKIP voters a while back found them to be relentlessly negative about Britain - too much rubbish on the pavements, too much political correctness, too many immigrants, too many loutish youths, too many gay people, and so on. When they were asked if there was anything they liked about our country, the one thing - the only thing - they could think of was "The Past".

And, even now as Nigel makes his plans and swills another pint down his gullet to wash out his livid liver, that is indeed what they are - the past. A final burst of actually rather tragic melancholia, looking back to a  tarnished "golden age" of offices filled with Madmen, cigarettes smoked by doctors and women in pinnies in the kitchen. As the polls show, purple is the colour of the sunset.

The morning is green.

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