Austerity Caused Brexit

Yves here. Lambert sent me a copy of the underlying paper on Brexit voting patterns a week ago, suggesting I write it up. I sat on it due to focusing on seemingly more pressing stories, plus being behind on administrativa due to travel. I’ve embedded the article at the end of this post.

This finding by Thiemo Fetzer of Warwick University is reminiscent of the work done by political scientist Tom Ferguson on the win by Scott Brown in the 2010 special Senate election in Massachusetts. The Brown victory was pivotal, since it led to the loss of the Democrats filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Ferguson’s district by district analysis found that the propensity to vote for Brown was highly correlated with the level of foreclosures.

Narrowly speaking, Fetzer’s paper confirms Lambert’s volatility voter thesis, that people who think they are losing, even if “losing” means a loss of stability or relative status, as opposed to disaster, are inclined to kick over the table, particularly if they believe the system is stacked against them. In the UK, as Clive has described, using his mother and her friends as examples of a type, Little Englanders are a significant part of the pro-Brexit faction and are dogged in their belief that people who warn of coming hardship are worrywarts or “Remoaners.

My current favorite Brexit pundit, Artist Taxi Driver, gives austerity prominent play in hia Brexit commentary, calling the plans “Spamageddon” and calling out how “austerity smashed the country” and has impoverished the NHS, firefighters, and town councils.

And it goes without saying that Fleet Street stoked these sentiments:

By Thiemo Fetzer, Assistant Professor, University of Warwick. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

With the Brexit process well underway and the clock to reach a withdrawal agreement ticking, the first prominent calls are being made to hold a second referendum on the exact shape of the agreement—or whether there should even be a Brexit after all.

Amid this political climate, our academic understanding of why Britain voted for Brexit has developed significantly in the last two years.

Since the EU Referendum, a rich literature has developed to study the underlying correlates of support for, or against, Brexit. “Leave” supporting areas clearly stand out by being more deprived: having lower levels of income and life satisfaction, with fewer high status-jobs, an overall weaker economic structure, an ageing demographic, and lower levels of educational attainment (see for example herehere or here).

An important cross-cutting observation is that Leave voting areas have been “left behind,” and the local population is particularly reliant on the welfare state.

In a recent new paper, I bring together broad and comprehensive evidence which suggests that the implementation of austerity measures since 2010 was a decisive factor that could have had substantive impacts on the outcome of the EU referendum.

The austerity-induced reforms of the welfare state since 2010 were extensive. Aggregate figures suggest that overall government spending for welfare and protection contracted by 16% in real per capita terms (see Figure 1 below), reaching levels last seen in the early 2000s. While the National Health Service was ringfenced from direct cuts, the rapidly ageing population implied significant increases in demand for healthcare, worsening the quality and access for many and contributing to the now regular crisis in the healthcare system during winter, when demand usually surges.

Furthermore, overall public spending on education also contracted, while spending on pensions steadily increased in real terms, suggesting a dramatic shift in the overall composition of government spending.

Figure 1 Overall public sector spending in GBP per capita (real). Data are from HMRC and ONS.

At the level of local authority districts, spending per person fell by about 23% in real terms between 2010 and 2015, and the poorest areas were hit the hardest, with drops in local authority spending in some areas reaching up to 46% (Innes and Tetlow, 2015). In 2013, it was estimated that many of the measures included in the Welfare Reform Act of 2012 would cost every working-age Briton, on average, around £440 per year.

The impact of the cuts was far from uniform across the U.K. as is visualized in Figure 2: it varied from around £914 in the northwest England city of Blackpool to just above £177 in the City of London. The overarching observation is that the most deprived areas were most severely affected by the cuts, as they had the highest numbers of people receiving benefits to begin with.

Figure 2 Distribution of austerity shock simulated by Beatty and Fothergill (2013) and used in Fetzer (2018). The measure is expressed in financial losses per working-age adult per year.

The austerity-induced increase in support for the pro-Brexit UK Independence Party (UKIP) is sizeable and suggests that the tight referendum result could have well been the reverse had it not been for austerity. Estimates suggest that, in districts that received the average austerity shock, UKIP vote shares were on average 3.58 percentage points higher in the 2014 European elections and 11.62 percentage points higher in the most recent local elections prior to the referendum, compared to districts with little exposure to austerity.

The tight link between UKIP vote shares and an area’s support for Leave implies that Leave support in 2016 could have been up to 9.51 percentage points lower and, thus, could have swung the referendum in favor of Remain had the austerity shock not happened.

These effects are detectable not only in aggregate voting outcome data, but also when looking at how individuals’ political preferences shifted, once they had experienced a benefit cut. For example, one of the welfare-reform measures was the so-called “bedroom tax,” which implied reductions in housing benefits for people living in social housing with a spare bedroom. The results suggest that households exposed to the bedroom tax increasingly shifted towards supporting UKIP, experienced economic grievances as they fell behind with their rent payments due to the cut to housing benefits, and, in some cases, avoided the benefit cut by moving to less spacious housing (see Figure 3).

The paper argues that austerity—by curtailing the welfare state—has likely activated a broad range of existing economic grievances that have developed over a long time period. Not only in the U.K., but also elsewhere in the world has economic distress been linked to increasing support for right wing political platforms (see hereor here). Identifying and quantifying the relative contributions of different factors that cause the underlying economic grievances, especially among the low-skilled, is an active field of research.

For example, Colantone and Stanig (2018)suggest that trade integration with low income countries, by intensifying competition, has hurt manufacturing goods-producing areas in the U.K., which is why voters in these areas have been more likely to support Leave. Similar evidence, linking economic hardship due to trade integration to populist or extreme voting, is being documented in the context of the U.S.and Germany.

Similarly, evidence is compounding that some forms of immigration do have small, but detectable effects on labor markets, by curtailing wage growth at the bottom end of the wage distribution (for evidence from the U.K. see hereor here, for the U.S. see here).

Similarly, there is some evidence suggesting that automation, by reducing demand for low-skilled workers, can also suppress wage growth among the low-skilled. In the historical context, this type of (manual) labor-saving technological progress has been linked to political unrest. The rise of the gig-economy, zero-hours contracts etc. may also push people to become reliant on the welfare state to top up salaries. Each of these factors is likely to exacerbate the economic cleavages between the well-educated and those with low human capital—a phenomena that is referred to as the growing skill-bias (see hereor here) in labor markets.

The natural implication is well-known to economists—trade integration, or globalization more broadly, and the welfare state are complements. In order to maintain continued public support for globalization, government policy needs to deliver solutions for those who lose out from globalization. This can take the form of continued investment in education, training, and designing a welfare-system that can help individuals transition into new jobs.

The U.K. welfare state seems to have done (in some part) exactly this up to 2010. From 2001 to 2010, the U.K.’s welfare state was responsive, expanding benefit payments to those who become economically worse-off in relative terms. From 2010 onwards, marking the onset of austerity, this trend of expanding benefit payments came to an abrupt halt, which I argue is strongly associated with the growth in electoral support for UKIP and, eventually, the triumph of Brexit.

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  1. none

    Lambert’s volatility voter thesis, that people who think they are losing, even if “losing” means a loss of stability or relative status, as opposed to disaster, are inclined to kick over the table,

    This is perhaps a version of the Ultimatum game.

  2. JBird

    So neoliberal elites commit austericide on those already the most badly off and are surprised when they get punched back? And are further surprised after repeatedly crying wolf while punching down, when the very real Brexit wolf is arriving they are disbelieved?

    Why are they surprised? Seriously, why? If I did not know better, I would think that the ruling class wanted a Brexit, preferably a catastrophic one.

    1. Clive

      For the worst of the swivel-eye’d Brexit loons (there are various subgroups in both Leave and Remain) I’d say that the underlying dynamic is that (and pay close attention to both the lack of agency and lack of a subject to the verb) if there are bad outcomes, they are “a price worth paying”.

      Note, of course, “who” is doing the paying (and, a special bonus) the “how much” and “for how long” is omitted.

      And yes, in the Conservative party heartlands which I come into contact with where Brexit supporters were particularly hardline — it’s a base drawn from the retirement community that is over represented on the south coast of England — this sentiment is virtually de rigueur. When it’s uttered by people living in £1m houses drawing £50k a year pensions accrued during the golden era of the social contract in the 1960’s and 70’s, you do get the distinct impression that in the highly unlikely event it might be them who does end up paying, they can probably afford it. Wowsers, a class and generational warfare double-bill !

        1. Clive

          The problem is that the complexities wound up in Brexit are off the scale.

          Here’s a real-world example. My mother-in-law has a pretty strong (for her) loathing for the Brexit Ultras. She voted Remain and told me that my voting Brexit was a mistake (and we rarely discuss politics or take a view on anything more controversial other than whether she should allow her cat more freedom). So she’s quite willing to take a stand and be pro-Remain.

          So far, so good, right?

          Not so fast. A couple of months ago we were leaving from having a lunch at a reasonably upmarket place and as we were walking out, she wispered to me “Did you see that?”. “No”, I replied, “what?”. “Well” she continued “that woman, the one with the big blonde hair and all the jewellery”, she then nodded in the direction of a very smart lady who I had noticed and vaguely recognised as possibly a WAG who liaised with one of the local premiership teams’ first squad players, “when I looked in that push-chair (stroller) she was pushing there was a black baby. Can you imagine? I don’t know what to make of it all these days…”

          At which point I hissed vociferously “you can not say things like that, honestly, this isn’t the Daily Mail editorial meeting, words fail me” (etc. etc. trying to splutter my displeasure and attempt some sort of education about how to live in the 21st century).

          My mother-in-law is 72. There is absolutely no point in trying to knock out of her the effects of an upbringing in 1950’s Britain (where such attitudes were all pervading, I do my best but I’m always going to be up against engrained thinking). That isn’t really, anyway, the point of my anecdote. It is, rather, that — in England, here as elsewhere — ideas about race, immigration, nationality and sovereignty are deeply entrenched and entwined. And into this god-awful mess you have the EU and you have Brexit. My mother-in-law manages to be both a committed Remainer and a low-level casual racist (not a malicious one but not thinking one, either) simultaneously.

          You could put this national neurosis on the psychiatrist’s couch for 20 years and still not get it cured.

          1. skippy

            What I was goofing around with is the whole Weinstein aspect that both engage in but from different angles and different targets – its just so Carthaginian thingy.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Clive.

        I know what you mean.

        A much older former colleague and near neighbour in Buckinghamshire, joined a UK bank from school and became CRO for EMEA ex UK, reckons that his good fortune had nothing to do with the post war settlement and everything to do with his hard work, “rugged individualism”. I was tempted to ask who built and housed him in a council house and paid the university fees for his children.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Plus he’s always on about sovereignty, even though he voted in in 1975, and reckons younger people are motivated by money, not sovereignty.

          At drinks, EU27 friends said avoiding war was more important than sovereignty. He would not have it and talked about gun boat diplomacy. He’s puzzled his pharmacist daughter supports Corbyn.

          Your analysis is spot on.

        2. Enquiring Mind

          Colonel Smithers,

          I enjoy reading your comments and those of others currently or formerly across the pond. That helps me have a greater understanding and appreciation as a far west Anglophile.

          There is an American baseball expression about being born on third base and thinking that one has hit a triple. Is there some similar expression in England, sporting or otherwise?

            1. Clive

              I can say categorically we have no such equivalent! Our loss, it’s one that quite a few people should consider…

              1. Mirdif

                The closest one is probably “born with a silver spoon in orifice of choice” but it doesn’t have the connotation of not appreciating the advantage in life, in such abundance as third base and triple.

          1. Tony Wright

            Maybe from a more current context the word ” Trump” seems to summarise this US expression.

  3. Musicismath

    So it seems that one of the effects of austerity has been to radicalise working-class conservatives, driving them away from the Tory party and into the arms of UKIP. I wonder if that will continue to hold true for whatever UKIP 2.0 Party we end up getting in 2019.

    1. digi_owl

      IMO, that has been the outcome of EU in general.

      This because these conservatives watch their colleagues (and even relatives) at the factory floor being replaced by “temporary” workers from abroad that accept lower pay (and often show up on questionable contracts).

      These concervatives are often people that are mortgaged to the hilt because that is how their parents and grandparents did it after the war, and probably have deep social roots in the region.

      Then you get the far right on the TV talking about how the foreigners are responsible for all the hardships and crime, without making any attempt at separating foreign workers and refugees in their claims.

      For the far right it is like shooting fish in a barrel, especially with the champagne left being committed to EU as some kind of European peace project.

      1. fajensen

        For the far right it is like shooting fish in a barrel, especially with the champagne left being committed to EU as some kind of European peace project.

        Don’t forget The Fetishes of The Left: Gender Issues, Diversity and Identity Politics!

        The Left has firmly committed themselves to never discuss anything that matters materially to anyone, especially not Class – leaving The Right as “The only people getting things Done”. The Right are sadly winning, not because of a huge following, but because there is no political opposition worthy of the name!

        1. digi_owl

          Indeed. I will talk ad nausea about how the Democrats in USA lost the presidential the moment they insisted on going with Clinton and gender issues over Sanders and economic/class issues.

          And rather than being self aware enough to notice this problem, they have since doubled down on gender and become even more rabid, to the point that it is spilling over the Atlantic.

          But then i suspect USA have never been good about talking about class, in particular thanks to the red scare. After all, many of the biggest corporations during the war supported Hitler in various ways even as the nation’s leadership decided to fight the Nazis.

          The real worry is that more and more it seems like at least the social zeitgeist is more and more dictated by US norms even in Europe.

          Thinking about i can see why the French are so weary of that nation across the sea, and how it may impact their old nation and its social structures.

  4. David May

    Interesting the way the red areas on the map correspond with the de-industrialized areas. These were the areas which created the original wealth which was siphoned off by those with residences in London, and now those areas are being further savaged. Capitalism really is theft.

    1. makedoanmend

      Yeah, the red areas really do stand out and often tend to overlap areas where the UK Labour party traditionally had some quite strong support. One could be forgiven for thinking that the Tories’ Austerity ideology was aimed at those areas.

      On the other hand, we can jettison the notion that that the Tories are somehow superior analysts and have a dynamic understanding of how their ideology will play out in the long run. Cameron and his sidekick Osborne had no clue to how their ideology would affect the attitudes of these “red” voters during their tenure and in a fit of hubris called their referendum with the hilarity that has since ensued.

      Of course, the Tory leadership, like its fundamentalist base, is pretty much insulated from their implementation of their ideology. So far. As a commentator mentioned above with regard to UKIP, the results of messing with people’s lives might have repercussions that the masters of the universe never intended. So intent is the Tory desire to eradicate an alternative to market based dominance of our lives that a more bitter rightward reaction could possibly reappear.

    2. digi_owl

      And this is something that has been dismissed over and over again by the champagne left as they try to convince the world that the outcome was about racism.

      Sorry, but the labor parties of Europe has long since abandoned their former bedrock. This by switching to the thinking that education solves all economic ills (someone still has to fix pipes and remove trash), and that EU is a peace project for Europe (err, cold war anyone?).

  5. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    Professor Charles Dumas, a City grandee whose family arrived as Calvinist refugees from France in the late 17th century and whose family name is engraved on the Lloyd’s insurance market, has just written about that, too, as per

    Dumas’ book, launched in the City three weeks ago, compares the UK with Italy, the EU’s sick men, Germany, France and the US. There were academics, City types and diplomats from Italy and Germany. They agreed with Dumas’ stance and said how their own elites are out of touch and expected their countries to get worse, with or without Brexit.

    Dumas recommended a big infrastructure programme, higher taxes (especially taxes on assets), a crack down on tax evasion and a “reconciliation” programme, inspired by South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission.

    What Dumas meant by reconciliation is that communities have been neglected and belittled for decades. There are households where no adult has worked since the 1980s. Readers based in the UK will be aware of the insults aimed at Liverpool by Tory rags and politicians. These isolated communities will have to be trained for the new world and made to feel part of the wider community, including greater decentralisation.

    Dumas split the talk at the launch as “Insult and Injury”, the latter was the destruction of manufacturing etc., the former opening the labour market to immigrants and calling opposition to such migration as racist.

    Brexit was mentioned. Apparently, many people who had not voted for several elections were mobilised to do so – and vote out. The metropolitan elite was mistaken to think that such people were past caring.

    The book was well received by the audience. On the way out, I did wonder why Labour, not just Corbyn, but Brown, too, never engaged the well meaning people in the City.

    The other aspect of the talk that caught my attention was how the continentals sympathised with the Brexit voters. They saw the same dynamics at home, but did not expect change for the better any time soon, but a blow up later. An Italian diplomat, on assignment from the Bank of Italy, said Brexit asked the right questions, but gave the wrong answers. Away from home and the Westminster and Kensington bubble, the continentals felt free to air their views.

  6. Colonel Smithers

    Fetzer’s paper did the rounds at the UK regulators last week, including the Bank of England. No one was surprised by the conclusions. I hope Vlade chimes in as we discussed it a week ago.

    1. vlade

      I had thought of it some more since, and believe that while austerity wasn’t not the _only_ reason for Brexit, it was a contributing one.

      In FT, when this was put in, a valid point was raise – in 2015 elections, or even in 2017 ones, Tories, the austerity party, got the most of the popular vote. I.e. more people voted for austerity than against.

      IMO, the important thing to ask there is what does it mean at the margins. I.e. we can count on stable large Tory brexit base, but the austerity might have flipped enough non-voters (+1/3rd of Labour voters – but Tory vote was also split, althoug only 57/43) to get the Brexit result.

      If you split the actual votes Tories/Labour/LD/UKIP (four major parties) got in 2015 by their propensity to vote remain/leave, you get pretty close result, 13.3m for remain, and 13.6m for leave. If you take in SNP and Green (together about 2.5m more votes), which tilted Remain, you probably push it to about 15m votes Remain, 14.5m Leave – so Leave picked up somewhere extra 3m voters. IMO, it was the non-GE-voters who voted for Leave who were the decisive factor – and austerity was likely one of their drivers.

      Telling is, that in 2017 UKIP imploded (to less than 15% of its 2015 vote), but Tories still picked up only about 2.3m votes (out of more than 3m votes available) – but even then, if you count LD as pro-austerity (which they were in coalition with Cameron, IMO they are now fence-sitters), anti-austerity parties (Labour, Green, SNP) have less than pro-austerity.

      TLDR; – austerity may not have been the main cause of Brexit, but it could well have been the tipping point.

        1. vlade

          Of course, a bigger question is, why people vote against themselves… But that’s an entirely different story.

          1. a different chris

            I think it’s really, really rare that “people vote against themselves”. I think Dylan is closest here to the human condition:

            We always did feel the same
            We just saw it from a different point
            Of view
            Tangled up in blue

            Find out what their point of view really is. They might be wrong, but that’s not the same thing as deliberately aiming at their foot and pulling the trigger.

          2. skippy

            In the military we had a little game we played when the grumbling about the state of things got to Legato, say morning exercise. All we did was give each lower ranking member of the platoon a turn at running an exercise.

            Once the shoe is on the other foot they invariably go even harder than the previous drilling by a significant factor.

  7. Biologist

    Great article, thanks.

    The U.K. welfare state seems to have done (in some part) exactly this up to 2010. From 2001 to 2010, the U.K.’s welfare state was responsive, expanding benefit payments to those who become economically worse-off in relative terms. From 2010 onwards, marking the onset of austerity, this trend of expanding benefit payments came to an abrupt halt, which I argue is strongly associated with the growth in electoral support for UKIP and, eventually, the triumph of Brexit.

    In 2010 Labour lost its majority, and the Tory / LibDem government came to power, and started austerity. Given how clearly austerity has driven deprivation (see Fig 1), it hardly seems surprising that people got angry.

    What I wonder is why these voters did not turn to Labour.

    I know that Labour’s platform was much more neoliberal than Corbyn’s current one, but it was still miles better for the working class than anything the Tory / LibDem government was doing or proposing. Was it Blair’s toxic legacy? Or was it simply the newspapers and in fact Conservative politicians blaming everything on the foreigners and the EU?

    Why did Labour fail to capitalise on this growing anger with austerity? I honestly don’t know, but I think it’s a huge failure. Perhaps Corbyn is a game-changer, but given the economic constraints post-Brexit and the hostile press, it will be difficult enough just keeping the country from not collapsing.

    We’re seeing this failure across Europe, where the left is not capitalising on anger with austerity-driven declining living standards. Instead, extreme right-wing parties are growing or even already in power.

    Why is the left so weak, when there should be demand for left-wing policies?

    There are good models, of course, and Corbyn may well be one, as is e.g. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win in NY.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you.

      With regard to Corbyn, hostility comes not just from the media, but most of his MPs and the apartheid state in the Middle East.

      I don’t know if you are in the UK. It’s easier to count the days when Corbyn’s anti-Semitism does not feature than the days when it does. The MSM takes it in turn to smear.

      1. Biologist

        Thanks, good points. Yes, I’m in the UK. I try to tune out from the media from time to time, just to preserve sanity.

      2. sharonsj

        I am confused. What does Israel have to do with hostility and austerity in England. And although I know your reference is to Israel. it is the Arab countries that are apartheid, such as Saudi Arabia (no non-Muslims can be citizens), Jordan (no Jews can own land or be citizens) and Syria (no Jews can work in finance, government, or join the military).

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you.

          You are right about the wider Middle East. Dad was based in Riyadh from late 1992 – mid 2013. I visited the region every spring or autumn.

          As Corbyn supports a two state solution and defends Palestinian rights, Zionists here and in Israel are gunning for him. The Zionists are marketing the take down of Corbyn as a way of getting rid of a Brexiteer.

          Zionist interference in UK affairs extends to threats against UK politicians and private citizens.

        2. leroy


          A year or so ago an employee of the Israeli Embassy in London was filmed boasting of how he had vast quantities of money and his mission was to undermine the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.

          It’s all out there, should you care to look.

          What we are seeing now, the smearing of the most anti-racist party leader in British history, is simply what everyone knew was coming.

          Have a look at Craig Murray

        3. Clive

          Israel has largely succeeded in getting the subject of discussing Israel turned into political poison here in the U.K.

          In overly-simplistic but sadly not that far from the truth terms, it goes something like “Criticising Israel is criticising the population of Israel. The population of Israel is largely Jewish so you’re criticising the Jewish people. Criticising the Jewish people is antisemitic. So you’re an antisemite.”

          It’s been stunningly well played by the Blairite faction. There has been, however, some awful Corbyn own-goals which were totally avoidable.

    2. makedoanmend

      Good questions Biologist. Imo, part of the answer lies squarely with Blair’s Labour party, for example. Blair and much of his party largely accepted neoliberal economics as the correct way to manage their society, knowing that economic inequality was going to expand. They thought they could manage this condition. As time elapsed they became more and more enamoured of their new client base in business, finance and the MSM communities. They then laid the foundation and bull dozed the path for austerity whilst the Tories gleefully implemented the inherent solution. This story has been repeated time and again across Europe over the last 20 years, but the process accelerated after the financial crisis. Why these parties and leaders did what they did is probably multi-varied but all resulted in the same conditions. (And one can never rule out they many Leftists might have simply be bought by capital. If every porcine entity is feasting at the trough, it only makes sense to get one’s snout in there too.)

      Meanwhile, the further Left, such as it was, was either mired in nostalgia or more often preoccupied in toying with the minutia of creating a perfect ideology. They became insulated from the real problems of this world. They became a bubble within a bubble, so to speak. They made themselves irrelevant. Only after several of their better known members left the various splinter formations, came outside blinking in the daylight, did they realise the futility of their efforts and that a new direction needs to be found and taken.

      Imo, it will be up to a new generations, along with input from ‘veterans’, to create new ideas and do an unimaginable amount of work to revitalise the alternative to TINA. Old lessons forgotten need to be relearned and new ones will be encountered. Tony Benn in his last years admitted that the work of Leftists is never done. History stops for no one nor perpetuates favourable conditions for anyone. The Left just has to keep working, and working, and working…

      1. Biologist

        Thanks, I agree with your points, in particular regarding Blair, and in general the role of third way social democracts in the 90s / early 2000s. They were the parties of neoliberalism, taking over from Thatcher et al, and as you say becoming more and more enmeshed with these policies up to the point it became nearly impossible to distance themselves from it (both for ideological and eh.. corruption reasons). Externally, they were likely (and correctly) viewed as being the neoliberal party, and this is probably still the case.

    3. Fried

      I’ve also met people who believe the financial crisis was caused by the Labour government spending too much. No idea how widespread this is, though.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you.

        The idea is more widespread than one imagines.

        It was / is also pushed by the Blairites to scupper Ed Miliband and Corbyn, vide Labour voting with the Tory government for cuts to the welfare budget when led in the interim by the upper class Harriet Harman. NB Harman’s extended family is evenly split between Tory and Labour politicians, all neo-liberals regardless of rosette.

    4. digi_owl

      IMO it comes from Labor (and their equivalent) in the rest of Europe, is seen as having sold out. This because their leadership (until Corbyn rose to the surface) has been hard line pro-EU.

      This not because they do not see the flaws of the EU, but because they have come to believe that EU is central to the post war peace in Europe.

      Also, more and more of them has benefited from various EU programs involving eduction etc, leading to few of them actually having background in industrial or service work. Most have instead walked straight in from University.

  8. PlutoniumKun

    One factor that I think has led to a lot of puzzlement among UK commentators is that, quite simply, they are not used to referendums and don’t know how to interpret them. In Ireland, we have far more of them, including ones which resulted in anti-EU votes despite very strong pro-EU sentiment. There are a number of rules of thumb at work with referendums:

    1. When people don’t really understand the question they are asked, they will reflexively vote ‘no’.

    2. People who feel their lives aren’t going great tend to resent those who they percieve as doing better. Hence if there is a clear concensus among, say, the upper middle class urbanites that something is good, rural and working class people will often vote ‘no’, on the not unreasonable grounds thats whats good for that lot, is bad for us (it also occasionally works the other way).

    3. Related to the above, people outside the leading cities don’t like elites, but for some reason always interpret elites as the university educated urbanites, not the billionaire tax dodger who owns a chain of tabloids.

    4. When a referendum topic is complicated, people often focus on very specific aspects, which may or may not be relevant. These are often aggravated by personal contacts, meaning door to door campaigning (if carried out with sufficient cynicism and focus) can be far more effective than with other types of election.

    5. There is a strong tendency towards confirmation bias in peoples attitude to complex political issues.

    For me, the core motivation behind Brexit was straightforward English nationalism. Even the Welsh ‘no’ vote was closely tied to the more anglo-southern parts of Wales. This was heavily aggravated by a combination of falling incomes (yes, austerity) along with the perception of people losing control of their environments, for which an inflow of immigrants is the most obvious cause. The root cause can be traced all the way back to the 18th Century, when English nationalism was deliberately subsumed into a ‘British’ or ‘UK’ identity. The Scots and non-Loyalist Northern Irish (there are hard Loyal Scots as well of course) have always had a broader, more European sense of identity, so have never had an issue with the EU. But with the gradual weakening of the UK’s stance in the world, the English have never had a core identity to fall back upon – other smaller nations have happily seen the EU as part of a hierarchy of identities – but England had the Empire, WWII, etc., etc.

    So yes, austerity certainly soured the national mood, and a soured electorate is far more likely to vote ‘no’ to anything than ‘yes’. This alone probably caused the last minute swing from ‘narrow stay’ to ‘narrow leave’. But the root causes for the vote go much deeper.

    1. makedoanmend

      “For me, the core motivation behind Brexit was straightforward English nationalism.”

      Yeah, this is one of the facets, often downplayed by the MSM, that helped decide the final outcome. The thread of nationalism ran throughout many arguments for leaving the EU and often may have been a deciding factor affecting an individual voter’s choice. One might consider that nationalism provided the glue that bound disparate reasons for leaving into a coherent choice for some voters.

      Yet, one has to consider that nationalism isn’t necessarily a monolithic concept. Nationalism can mean different things to different people. While some might be considered little Englanders with scant regard for the results of their actions and have a tendency to live in the past, others might have genuinely thought that total control of sovereignty confers certain benefits. The later nationalism isn’t necessarily connected with the ‘special’ status that must conferred upon UK people as the former group tend to think. Yet others might have just let knee-jerk nationalism muddle their thoughts.

      In short, yeah it was a very,very important factor, but I think it was bound up with other considerations.

      Imo, English nationalism has become more pronounced over the last couple of years. Post referendum, the Tory party has use coded nationalist references projected via the MSM to drum up dislike for the EU, and they seem to have carried out their negotiations on this basis.

      What will be more telling is how nationalism might play out in the UK post-Brexit – especially if a crash out occurs.

      (And we might as well leave out the class bound nationalism of the Bojos and Moggs of this world as it’s just too ugly and disturbing)

  9. Colonel Smithers

    Marky Mark tweets: Lavish grotesque Tory Summer Garden Parties, a collapsed NHS child poverty wages going backwards Austerity Brexit Windrush Grenfell a homeless epidemic and here they all sit under a gazebo of darkness (pic by lily Allen)

    — ARTIST TAXI DRIVER (@chunkymark) August 2, 2018

    The Tories are still, mainly, neck and neck with Labour in the polls. EU27 diplomats think Corbyn is an irrelevance and expect May to hang on until the next general elections.

    Further to Tory summer parties, at one in Cornbury (Oxfordshire) and hosted by his Tory peer brother in law in the late noughties, Mark Carney was introduced to local MP David Cameron. Cameron, Osborne, Gove and Johnson live nearby, “the Chipping Norton Set”. This is where and when the wheels to install Carney at Threadneedle Street were put into motion. This is how Britain works. And then people are puzzled by Brexit.

  10. The Rev Kev

    It has been proven that austerity is a terrible idea and always makes a bad situation much worse. Even the IMF has come out and said don’t do it, it doesn’t work, though that has not stopped them from still trying it. The economist Mark Blyth wrote a book about the subject called “Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea” (
    Having said that, I do not think that would have stopped the UK government from doing it to the British people as they and the elites think that this is the ‘right’ thing to do. Being very subjective here but my reading of English history shows a common theme over the centuries and it is this. The UK’s elite hates the average people and I really mean hates them. If I read this as true, then of course the UK elite and the government would opt for austerity when the time came to choose.
    And now when the time came to have their say in the future of the UK, all these people came out to lodge a vote against the direction that the country had taken. Personally I think that this was a result of disobeying that old adage about never trying to cheat someone that has little left to lose. Too many people who had been cheated and robbed of their hopes, their aspirations and their futures came out and said if we are going down, we can all go down together. And here is where we are now.

  11. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Hooray! And duh!

    Brexit voters weren’t deplorables motivated by ignorance and racism. They were the growing underclass with backs against the wall who had no other way of sticking their two fingers (English equivalent of the digitus impudicus) in the face of the 1% Ruling Class.

  12. John Beech

    Interesting article. Well written, well presented. Extrapolating to the USA; as health care costs continue rising, will Medicare For All find traction? I’m a Republican voter and support the idea. Just defended my thoughts after being called a tool for my position while responding within a article on The Hill:

    My point? As people becomes desperate due to increases in health care costs, will they too be willing to kick the ant hill? I voted for Trump in large measures due to my dissatisfaction with the status quo ante. I am entertaining thoughts of doing the same again, but for Sanders in 2020. Presuming the Clinton-machine and DNC establishment don’t deny him the nomination once again.

    1. Arizona Slim

      I think that Bernie Sanders is done with the Democratic Party. After all, he went back to Independent status in 2016.

      1. a different chris

        I agree with everybody else in the world -to a first approximation :) – that a third party candidate cannot win the US Presidency in my lifetime (which I’m guessing will be another 10-30 years).

        However, I feel Sanders could come darn close in 2020. That’s how messed up our duopoly has made things.

    2. HotFlash

      As people becomes desperate due to increases in health care costs, will they too be willing to kick the ant hill?

      I sure hope so. My MI relatives were Bernie supporters, even the dyed-in-the-wool Republicans. When he didn’t get the nom they split Hillary (IMO, older women, Dem loyalists) and Trump (IMO, younger persons, men, and Republicans). This is anecdotal and based on what I know first-hand, but you know, politics and religion are not discussed in polite company, so hardly comprehensive.

      I live in Canada, have for decades, and I do not understand why US businesses, esp small ones, are not demanding single-payer. How you can ride a bike or skateboard there? Why you think it’s OK to have fund-raisers for your neighbour’s chemo, MRI, dialysis, compound fracture or gunshot wound (I am thinking about the Las Vegas shootings right now).

      Socialized medicine — 60% of the cost, better outcomes, everyone covered. The losers? *INSURANCE COMPANIES* Well, let ’em die.

      We are humans, we help one another.

  13. Carolinian

    Thanks for all the great comments. Some of us are here to learn. I find it interesting how the UK situation tends to mirror that in America. For Thatcher substitute Reagan. For Bill Clinton substitute Blair. Indeed Blair supposedly studied Clinton’s triangulating methods as his route to power.

    Meanwhile Murdoch and Fleet Street come to America and make our press more like yours. Surely the media do play a huge role in what’s going on in both countries. I’m currently reading Gore Vidal’s Empire and Vidal opines that Thomas Jefferson’s statement–given the choice of a government without a press or a press without a government he’d choose the latter–was the most foolish thing he ever said. The Brit press blackballing of Corbyn will doubtless be mirrored in US media attacks on Sanders should he ever threaten to become president. Perhaps these wealthy press barons are the real menace, controlling the national conversation and ensuring “there is no alternative.” A recent Alex Mercouris article said Corbyn is the only way out of Britain’s ruling class nervous breakdown. Can a Corbyn government possibly happen?

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you.

      Unfortunately, I doubt a Corbyn government can happen.

      Why? Corbyn has as many enemies in his party as outside. He has powerful external enemies, the USA (Chagos etc.) and Israel (recognition of Palestine).

      I have worked with and for the 1%. I don’t get the impression that Corbyn’s supporters, especially the middle class Momentum, know who they are up against and how dirty they have to play.

    2. HotFlash

      An interesting, if ‘fictional’, look at Murdoch-style journalism from the inside is Dick Francis’ Forfeit. And it’s cracking good murder-mystery as well.

  14. Larry Coffield

    I believe austerity was the root cause of Brexit but I don’t believe any large plurality is capable of discerning cause from effect. Crowd sentiment for Brexit was driven by xenophobia but underlying which was the debt-generating policy of austerity creating economic insecurity. Austerity is a key factor of neoliberal privatization, which entails the same LBO strategy popularized by corporate raiders in the Eighties.

    Whereas the banking cognitariat preys upon the present divisiveness, our masters know Hitler scaffolded his agenda on an anti-austerity platform. That’s why we are being tyrannized by increasing authoritarianism. Coats said yesterday that the simple folk must be protected from Russian ‘messaging’ that also involves other evildoers. Oh dear!

  15. Schofield

    Oh come on Thomas Palley hits it on the head with his paper “Three Globalizations Not Two” when he says capital is reasserting its dominance over labour to increase income. So austerity cuts, outsourcing, insourcing (EU free movement of labour), huge rise in consumer debt, house price hyper-inflation, unfair global trading (currency rigging, direct government subsidies, tax havens, tax breaks), Mundellian Neoliberal Eurozone construction, control of mainstream media, etc. are the methods it’s using to do this. Palley’s analysis is simply putting modern day flesh on a traditional Marxist analysis.

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