Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Too complacent by far

I’m not particularly surprised at the finding in the recent poll that Welsh voters are as likely to vote to leave the EU as are English voters.  The oft-repeated speculation by some Welsh politicians about the ‘constitutional crisis’ which would follow an English vote to leave and a Welsh vote to stay has long owed more to wishful thinking about the differences between England and Wales than to hard fact.  And the assumption that voters would fall in behind the leaders of the parties which they usually support flies in the face of the clear distrust which most voters have for most politicians.
It isn’t good enough either to try blaming the poll findings on in-migration.  Whilst it’s true that Wales has a very high proportion of non-Welsh born (and especially English-born) voters, the antipathy to the EU isn’t restricted to the areas which have seen the greatest in-migration.  Indeed, some of the highest votes achieved by UKIP in May were in constituencies with some of the highest levels of Welsh-born citizens.
There has been a high level of complacency amongst the Welsh political classes on the issue, partly perhaps as a result of the lack of any discordant voices amongst those classes themselves.  The result has been a comfortable consensus in relation to matters European, and an assumption that it would be ‘obvious’ to people that Wales benefits from UK membership of the EU.  It’s a complacency which may yet turn out to be fatal to the chances of a yes vote.
I think that the poll findings may well overstate the extent of the movement in opinion, although I accept that that might reflect a certain amount of wishful thinking on my own part.  But I don’t think that there isn’t movement happening – the ‘leavers’ are winning the argument.  What makes the shift even harder to counter is that they’re winning the argument without even making their case.  They are in total disarray and arguing amongst themselves, but still opinion is moving in their direction.
I suspect that that is partly because of the way that Cameron’s fabled renegotiation is being increasingly exposed as little more than a sham, but mostly a reaction to immigration and the daily news stories on that particular issue in the media which are most influential in shaping opinion.  Logically, the EU actually has little to do with immigration, and leaving would make a lot less difference than most seem to believe, but it is the issue on which far too many will probably make their decision unless there is a change in the prevailing climate of opinion.  And it’s not an argument which is easily countered by logic and reason.
Can this movement in opinion be countered, or is it already too late?  I really don’t know, and nor do I know which side is favoured by a quick vote in June (which seems to be the government’s preferred option).  On the one hand, an early vote might be a question of acting before opinion moves too far and too solidly against (particularly if the summer sees yet another increase in the numbers of people traversing the Mediterranean).  On the other would a longer time period give a better chance for a rational and considered rebuttal of the antipathy towards immigration and the connection (or rather lack of) between that and membership of the EU?  Such considerations are rather more significant than whether the campaign overshadows the Assembly election, which seems to be the biggest concern of most of our politicians.
And a case for continued membership based on a belief that we’ll get more handouts from Brussels than from London doesn’t even begin to tackle the much darker feelings which are the real issue, yet that’s still where Labour’s biggest party seems to be.


Anonymous said...

Agree entirely.

Good analysis, well written and good to know that even if we don't agree on many things we do agree on this particular issue.

Any thoughts on what we can do to ensure the 'real issues' get proper attention?

welsh politics observer said...

Yesterday’s poll caused a stir among voters but did it have any effect on our complacent Welsh ruling class?

I suspect it’s too late for the EU Remain camp and for the future of the Welsh Assembly, with UKIP on the march anti Assembly rhetoric will be rife over the next term and Assembly abolition will become mainstream.

And while its while its correct to blame UKIP for spreading hate, turning people against each other and successfully exploiting the platform the BBC gives them, its Welsh politicians of all parties that are to blame for the mess Wales is in.
Specifically Labour ones who’ve taken Wales for granted for so long that the only option the Welsh electorate see for change is a Faustian pact with extreme right wing English xenophobes running riot in the Assembly, followed by voting Leave the EU in big numbers.

In the face on this onslaught Scotland found its confidence and is slowly working its way to independence, Wales has fallen in to the trap and is slowly but surely being assimilated in England, grim times ahead.

Democritus said...

The thing about Referenda is that they often become less about the question on the ballot than a verdict on the government and prime minister of the day.
The most certain short-term consequence of a Leave vote would be David Cameron's resignation. For many non Tories that makes Leave look awfully tempting and in particular it makes most Labour people reluctant to back Remain all that strongly; a reluctance enhanced by the damage done in Scotland as a consequence of Labour's participation in "Better Together".
It's an open secret that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are privately as virulently eurosceptic as Bill Cash or Jacob Rees Mogg (Corbyn voted No in 1975 and has consistently opposed ratification of pretty much every EU Treaty since his election to parliament in 1983). He understandably sees the EU as a barrier to the pursuit of a radical socialist economic policy. Unlike Trident Corbyn knows he has no chance of changing Labour's official policy since none of the Labour affiliated unions would agree to it. He will however have nothing to do with Labour's own "IN for Britain" campaign, which he's ensuring is starved of resources. It is rumoured in Labour circles that he and McDonnell both refused to add their names to the weekend 'recantation' letter signed by Benn (Hilary), Beckett, Blunkett, Kinnock and Straw. It's futile in short to hope that Labour will come to the rescue of Cameron's Remain campaign in any significant way.
The Unions may be a different matter, but given the attacks on them via the Trade Union Bill and other legislation the government appears to be doing its utmost to alienate the TUC on the domestic front which can only make it all the harder for broadly pro-European General Secretaries to swing their organisational machines behind any Remain campaign that looks and sounds like it's being directed from Downing St.
As in Scotland two years ago the only real winners, regardless of the result, of this referendum look likely to be the 'nationalists', this time in the shape of UKIP.