Early on the morning of June 24, when the result of the referendum became known, a number of myths began to circulate as to who had voted Leave, and why.
Sir Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets half way around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” As the morning progressed, embittered Remain supporters took to social media in significant numbers to generalise, in varying degrees of politeness, that the 52% who voted Leave were some or all of the following: Poorly-educated, chavs, the unemployed, Northerners, thick and racist.
Most of those peddling the myths were members of the metropolitan liberal elite, a small, privileged yet vocal section of society that lives in a world of espresso coffees, cocktail bars, cheap foreign nannies, hipster beards, exotic gap year travels and summer weekends camping at music festivals. They consider themselves to be progressive, enlightened, and well-educated.
Many suffer from what I call ‘liberal superiority complex’, by which they believe they are better than you because they are liberals, rather than because of anything you’ve actually said. Another characteristic is their lack of familiarity with their own country. They are quick to tell of their travels to Florence or the Taj Mahal, but very few would even consider taking the time to explore the equal splendour of Lincoln Cathedral. Outside of the bubbles in which they live, work and socialise, they barely know their own country at all.
Their caricatures of those who voted Leave were very obviously untrue. As I wrote on this website two days after the referendum: “The Leave side won because a coalition of traditional, working-class Labour-supporting communities teamed up with the ‘Middle England’ voters who normally support the Conservatives and delivered the establishment a very firm message that they were sick to death of having their concerns ignored, primarily on immigration, but also on sovereignty and the erosion of parliamentary democracy.”
Five months on, we are in a position where we can put some ‘meat on the bone’ with academic evidence to back up my statement.
Before we go any further, here is a little about NRS social grading system, which is used in everything from polling research to advertising targets for television.
To use a very basic example, if ITV showed Coronation Street on a Friday evening, and it got eight million viewers, it may well be less successful in terms of advertising revenue than if it showed a Six Nations rugby union match between England and France in the same slot which got just five million viewers.
This is because the English rugby fans who tuned in would largely be from the A, B and C1 demographics.
A = (Upper middle class) Higher managerial, administrative or professional.
B = (Middle class) Intermediate managerial, administrative or professional.
C1 = (Lower middle class) Supervisory or clerical and junior managerial, administrative or professional.
Those A, B and C1 demographics are attractive to advertisers because they are more affluent, often live in Southern England, and have money to spend. The remaining NRS demographics are:
C2 = (Skilled working class) Skilled manual workers.
D = (Working class) Semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers.
E = (Non-working) Casual or lowest grade workers, pensioners, and others who depend on the welfare state for their income.
What it means, in terms of this example, is that the rugby would be more appealing to advertisers because, although the viewers would be fewer in number, they would largely be from the A, B and C1 demographics. They don’t watch as much television as the less affluent demographics, and are therefore ‘at a premium’ because they’re harder to reach, plus they tend to have more money to spend on things like cars and electronics.
In contrast, the Coronation Street viewers, while larger in number, are more likely to come from the C2, D and E demographics, therefore advertising slots are likely to be taken up by things like washing powder and frozen food.
Compare and contrast for yourself what items are advertised during ad breaks on the soaps and rugby union matches (especially those involving England) to understand this point further. It’s not a coincidence that ‘big ticket’ items are advertised when A, B and C1 viewers are tuning in.
Now let’s apply this NRS system to the referendum. The caricature painted by the bitter (and often downright insulting) Remain supporters is that most of those who voted Leave belonged to the lower demographics, especially ‘E’ (those bigoted old pensioners, those welfare scroungers in the Welsh Valleys and in the ‘racist North’, as we’ve all heard). Yet the facts don’t back this up.
Lord Ashcroft Polling found that 59% of all Leave voters came from the A, B, C1 demographics. In other words, 59% of all Leave voters were middle class, and came from ‘white collar’ backgrounds.
Of those, 34% were A and B. Just 17% were from C2 (white van man, to use a cliché/caricature).
Therefore, we now know that the vote to leave the EU was largely due to the ‘Middle England’ vote I referred to in my article shortly after the referendum.
It’s true that Ashcroft also found that professionals were the only social class group to vote majority Remain, 57% across the UK, but they were such a large group of voters, and turnout among them was so high, that they also constituted the largest group of Leave voters.
The cliché that the Leave vote was largely due to the North of England is also untrue. Picture a map of the UK in your head. Now draw a line, beginning at The Wash in East Anglia and ending at the Bristol Channel. 52% of all Leave votes came from BELOW that line.
There are a few hotspots in the South, such as London, Oxford and Cheltenham, that are the exception to this rule, where the majority voted Remain. In these areas, house prices and rents are high, and you have to be ‘doing well’ to live there, but across the rest of the South of England, a narrow majority voted Leave in almost every place.
There is also another myth that affluent selfish elderly voters supported Leave, and in doing so quashed the dreams of the young. The ultra-cosmopolitan journalist and LBC radio presenter Stig Abell went off on a lengthy rant to this effect a few weeks before the referendum, while in the days that followed the vote, I found several obnoxious younger voters on social media say things along the lines of ‘I will never give up my seat on a bus to an elderly person again’.
The truth is somewhat different. Since 2012, the life expectancy of elderly women in Britain has fallen, and in 2015, we had one of the largest rises in mortality since the Second World War, with 52,400 more people dying than in 2014. Our health is getting worse, not better. The old have not been doing well in the UK in recent years.
Prior to Britain joining what was then the EEC in 1973, the country was one of the most economically-equal large countries in Europe (only Sweden was more so). That has now changed completely.
The UK is now the most economically unequal country in Europe. The best-off 10% take 28% of all income. Half of that is taken by the best-off 1%.
‘Middle England’ is neither a happy nor a healthy place. On June 23, they combined with the traditional working class communities, with whom they would normally have little in common, to vote for the anti-establishment option.
This is the reality. There is nothing wrong with being Northern, or from a working-class demographic, or shopping in discount stores rather than Waitrose, or being elderly, but to caricature the majority of those who voted Leave as being from these demographics is not only derogatory, it is also utterly wrong.