For a new report with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, we listened to hard-pressed towns—their biggest frustration is that those in power do notby Anand Menon and Matt Bevington / July 10, 2019 / Leave a comment
Brexit no longer means Brexit, to the extent that it ever did. For many voters, it has become symbolic of the failures of our wider political system. We’ve personally seen this in the poorest parts of the country, where we’ve held almost 20 workshops with low-income voters in collaboration with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The plan was to get a more nuanced view of public attitudes towards Brexit but it quickly became about so much more. For these people, Brexit has laid bare the gulf between rulers and ruled, and the contempt in which they feel politicians hold them.
Palpable in all our sessions—in north and south, in Scotland, Wales and England—was anger. You just have to listen to the frustration coming from British towns. There is anger among pro-Brexit voters that politicians have failed to act on what many see as an instruction. As one man in Dudley put it, “in what other job can you ignore something your boss tells you to do and not get sacked?” But also anger because, as one woman in Bolton asked, “how can we believe anything when everything is a lie?” Low-income voters—and we suspect many others—don’t know who to trust in politics and so they tend to trust no one.
In truth, low-income voters remain split on the rights and wrongs of Brexit, just like the rest of the country. And, frankly, it is just about the last thing they want to talk about. Instead, what enthuses them—and unites them—is shared passion for their local areas. Participants were engaged, enthusiastic and full of ideas about how they could improve, and sometimes revive, their towns and cities.
Indeed, the story of our research is not really about Brexit at all. From crime, to work and pay, to the lack of prospects for young people, to the state of high streets, to litter, housing and the lack of green spaces, our participants listed plenty of problems in search of solutions. But they were also brimming with ideas. They tended not to think in policy silos as governments do, but saw the opportunity to address several issues with relatively small changes. More police and cleaner high streets would attract more people to the area, and this would in turn bring in more businesses,…