Four weeks after the #EURef BBC News 24 stopped by Watford's market to gauge peoples' reaction to the result and to ask about the government's future negotiating strategy...I just happened to be passing!
A week ago I blogged on my key experiences of campaigning for #VoteLeave in Watford a barometer voting district in the UK bordering London. See "Gary Ling: If Watford #Brexits, Britain Exits" from Wed 22 June 2016 here. How do the key points in last week's analysis stand up post #Brexit? What is the Conventional Wisdom (CW) today:
Prediction for Watford Result: A week ago I wrote: “It will be very, very close. I’m calling the result in Watford District as 51:49 for Leave on the day. If I’m right Britain is headed out of the EU…”.
CW Now: Total Votes Cast: 46,635. LEAVE 23,419 (50.2%) – REMAIN 23,167 (49.6%). LEAVE majority 252. Turnout 71.69%
++Key Experience 1. A week ago I wrote: “The Remainians have been trying to turn the tide on the effectiveness of the views of so-called ‘Experts’… The extent to which they are successful in this as the campaign ends will determine the outcome.”
CW Today: Clear that Government overplayed its hand when it controlled state communication machinery before the Purdah period. Vote Leave side was successfully able to make #ProjectFear tag stick all the way to the end.
++Key Experience 2. A week ago I wrote: "In fact, as a digital strategist I regret to say that social media buzz is a side show or an irrelevance to many working people."
CW Today: Got a lot of criticism from friends particularly those who do social media for FMCG about this comment. Admit it was too sweeping. Of course, young people are influenced by social media. But a lot of people I met who normally never vote but said they would in this plebiscite were not, in my opinion, heavy SM consumers.
++Key Experience 3. A week ago I wrote: "Since Watford is one of the most densely populated and diverse Districts outside of inner-City London, immigration is an important issue here."
CW Today: This important point still stands. Like many, I want to see an Australian-style points based system for UK immigration. If our EU trading partners don’t understand that we don’t accept the Free Movement of People principle, then both sides need to be prepared for tariffs on trade which will hurt European industry more than us in nominal terms (because we have a whopping trade deficit with them) but is counter intuitive, regrettable and will be a petulant move by the EU. Think this is unlikely but... Bottom Line: Free Movement of People must go.
++Key Experience 4. A week ago I wrote: "From the start it was obvious that there was strong support for Brexit in the Asian community in Watford."
CW Today: Stand by this as it is doubtful Leave would have won here without Asian support. Though whether a majority of this Watford community voted Leave is hard to tell.
++Key Experience 5. A week ago I wrote: "[The]…motivation of this [Young People] demographic to actually turn out and choose in this (to them) complex debate is questionable."
CW Today: ‘Nuff said:
++Key Experience 6. A week ago I wrote: "The determination of those who will definitely @Vote_Leave is remarkable. A plague of locusts could descend on Watford District tomorrow and Leave voters will fight their way through to the polling station. Thunderstorms are predicted Referendum day in this Town. Will that make even a marginal difference?"
CW Today: Thunderstorms afflicted Watford Voting District all afternoon on Referendum Day. When you win a campaign by 252 votes in a contest of tens of thousands the degree to which your supporters are motivated makes all the difference. So did the weather in Watford.
++Key Experience 7. A week ago I wrote: "Remain or Leave this event in Watford and nationally will have some serious structural implications for UK politics in terms of the futures of all the main political parties."
CW Today: Watch the news!
++Key 8. A week ago I wrote: "I have been involved in politics for many years and the people who say they ‘Don’t Care’ about voting this time around is the lowest I have ever seen in any plebiscite in my adult life… more people are thinking about the issues at least than for any campaign I have experienced including general elections."
CW Today: Record turnout. People who normally opt out of voting in party political elections made a critical difference in Watford. Despite what all the talking heads in the Westminster bubble and on TV tell us this really was a great exercise in democracy. People were discussing #EURef issues in the streets, in their homes, in places of work. Amazing. Those who say that people weren’t informed are dead wrong. I can’t think of an issue in my lifetime that got more public discussion. Hell, we went to War in Iraq with less public discussion. The worse criticism is those who say that the general public is too stupid to decide such things. This is woefully patronising and ridiculous. And Yes, I would have said this if the Remainians had won. Although I admit it would have been easier for the Leave side to accept the result since the European Union as a political project would have been doomed regardless of the result of UK #EURef. Brexit has given those countries in the East a chance to speak up against ever closer Union and take on the French-German Closer Union Axis.
Final Big Learning For Me: Think you can understand the mood of the British people by sitting on your backside and viewing things through the Internet and accepting a lot of the pap that the global corporatist mass media outlets pump out? Forget it. On important decisions, particularly binary existential ones like the #EURef, hitting the streets and discussing things with people from all walks of life who you live with in your community can't be beat!
Click here to read Gary’s article on “Why UK Watford is one of the most industrious places on earth”
Distressing to see the claim of how racism and bigotry was a driving force behind a win for #Leave supporters in the EU Referendum. Of course, in their dismay that they lost a hard fought democratic campaign, the Remainians are quite entitled to link those who voted Leave to the isolationist ignorance and hate that has always existed amongst the scummier parts of our society. But the hundreds of Leavers I know voted that way for many good reasons – most of them to do with wanting an Outward Looking, Global Trading Britain. None of them based on racism and bigotry.
Interesting too that those who shout “racism, bigotry” use this UKIP poster as a way to illustrate their understanding of this phenomenon. In fact, the poster illustrates the result of Mrs Merkel’s disastrous open door asylum policy last summer and the fact that many of these refugee asylum seekers seen crossing through Croatia will have Free Movement of People (FMP) access to Britain over the next decade unless the UK changes our current migration arrangements with the bloc and opts out of its FMP Treaty obligations as a part of the Brexit renegotiation. This is the mandate that the Government has after the Referendum result.
The British people had the right to know the effects of Mrs Merkel’s unilateral decision during the Referendum campaign and this poster reflects this. Last year Germany accept roughly 1.1 million asylum seekers. German authorities have lost track of appx 100,000 of these which is surely a matter of concern given the present security situation across Europe. Under EU rules the remaining will have FMP rights after, on average five years, if they seek permanent residency from the date of being accepted for asylum depending on the EU country in which they were accepted.
There is nothing ‘racist of bigoted’ in pointing out that potentially some of these people will want to head to Britain if present trends are anything to go by. Evidence suggests that it is highly likely that a proportion of the 100,000 who the German authorities have lost track off are already trying to get to Britain illegally through French and Belgian ports. As Keynes is purported to have said: In the short run economics is all about incentives. In the Long run its about demography. Mass, uncontrolled, unplanned, unskilled immigration into Britain compresses wage incentives for those at the bottom rung of the ladder to work – that’s why so many end up on 'Benefits Street'. It also compresses ‘long run’ demographic economic trends which means that the UK economy faces housing shortages, lack of school places and an NHS at bursting point.
Of course, an elected British government may decide to accept all people like those shown in the poster in addition to the 20,000 Syrians the UK is plucking from refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey over the course of this parliament at a cost of £2 billion and the 30,000+ people who are granted asylum EVERY year in the UK.The British people may well vote for a government that proposes a migration policy where the UK welcomes more that the current 336,000 net migrants a year. But this should be explicitly spelled out and the people given that choice. It should not be influenced by unilateral decisions made by the German Chancellor.
As the United Kingdom’s EU Referendum campaign comes to a close, here are 8 key takeaways from my 10 week part-time participation for the Leave side in the Hertfordshire town of Watford, one of 201 non-Metropolitan Districts in England that will declare a result 0330-0400hrs Friday morning.
Key 1. Even taking into account that the Remain side had the huge advantage of the government’s communications machine going for them, the national Leave campaign got off to a poor start back in mid-April when the @Vote_Leave organisation was officially designated. Crucially however, one thing that really struck home with the Watford public was the #ProjectFear story line. From my first weekend on the Leave stall in the Town Centre, ‘Government’s #Scaremongering’ was something that people mentioned to me right off the bat. Of course, this will only prove to have been amazingly effective if the District scores for Brexit. The Remainians have been trying to turn the tide on the effectiveness of the views of so-called ‘Experts’ ever since. The extent to which they are successful in this as the campaign ends will determine the outcome.
Key 2. Ten weeks of street stall conversations with random shoppers around the District does not a proper market research project make. Yet, my assumptions of the effects of ‘significant events’ amplified by social media on people’s choice in this Referendum were changed by my on-street interactions. I was concerned that President Obama’s intervention in Week 3 was going to have a negative impact on Leave. On the contrary, the street reaction that weekend was broadly that he should ‘keep his nose’ out. This was a surprise to me as was general anti-US feeling. Similarly, the brutal and tragic assassination of Jo Cox does not seem to have been a major topic on the streets these past two days despite social media frenzy. In fact, as a digital strategist I regret to say that social media buzz is a side show or an irrelevance to many working people.
Key 3. Since Watford is one of the most densely populated and diverse Districts outside of inner-City London, immigration is an important issue here. Many people walking past the Leave stall are eastern European immigrants who cannot Vote in this Referendum but whose increasing choice of Watford as a place to settle has influenced the decisions of people who can vote. Unquestionably the arrival of these new residents puts Watford’s public schools, hospital and local GP surgeries under pressure and drives up Leave vote pledges.
Key 4. From the start it was obvious that there was strong support for Brexit in the Asian community in Watford. Many mentioned to me the discriminatory nature of the EU’s free movement of people rules that allow EU citizens to enter the UK without visas while citizens from Commonwealth countries have to go through a harder, more restrictive visa process. Interestingly, the Mosques in Watford don’t seem to be putting out an ‘informal’ line on how to vote in this Referendum as far as I can tell from speaking to Muslims on the High Street. That’s significant.
Key 5. Many young peoples’ support for Remain is superficial at best. Those who stopped and spoke to us at the Leave stall asking questions left, in most cases, thinking seriously whether the celebrity fronted arguments pushed by the Remain side were as solid as they first thought. In any case the motivation of this demographic to actually turn out and choose in this (to them) complex debate is questionable.
Key 6. The determination of those who will definitely @Vote_Leave is remarkable. A plague of locusts could descend on Watford District tomorrow and Leave voters will fight their way through to the polling station. Many weekends, the Leave stall was almost side by side with a Remain one flying the EU flag. Can’t say I saw much enthusiasm for the symbolism of the stars on blue in Watford. I have no doubt there is a solid and substantial Remain vote in Watford. Obviously, who turns out to vote on the day is critical. Thunderstorms are predicted Referendum day in this Town. Will that make even a marginal difference? Studies of weather affecting election outcomes say not.
Key 7. Remain or Leave this event in Watford and nationally will have some serious structural implications for UK politics in terms of the futures of all the main political parties. Many mainstream UK parties were split on the EU issue - some more publicly than others. I met some great people from across the political spectrum in this campaign and it’s the first time I have ever delivered a political leaflet with a ‘Green’ message!
Key 8. I have been involved in politics for many years and the people who say they ‘Don’t Care’ about voting this time around is the lowest I have ever seen in any plebiscite in my adult life. This maybe because it’s a simple binary decision which people who have a great disdain for party politics can engage in. I don’t go so far as to say we’ll see a whole bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses turning up at the polls but, generally speaking, more people are thinking about the issues at least than for any campaign I have experienced including general elections.
Prediction: The conventional psephologist wisdom is that the closer to London a voter is the more likely they are to vote Remain. Watford borders Greater London and is often touted as the ‘Gateway to the North’. It is a barometer parliamentary seat and has voted for the party of government in every general election since 1974. After 10 weeks involved in the #EURef campaign here I can say with some certainty that things are very, very close as of today. The Remain camp need a larger margin here if they are to avoid Brexit as results sweep into London proper. Putting aside all my inbuilt bias as best I can, I’m calling the result in Watford District as 51:49 for Leave on the day. If I’m right Britain is headed out of the EU and into an Outward Looking, Global Trading future as an independent nation state.
Click here to read Gary’s article on “Why UK Watford is one of the most industrious places on earth”
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