A series of links aiming to show how we got into this mess in the first place, and why, ultimately, there is probably only one person to blame, and it’s not Cameron, Farage, or Boris.
So, now I’ve broken the golden rule of blogging – don’t give away your conclusion – let’s get on with the history, and the links, for those that want them.
We start with the FT, and eleven possible reasons why Cameron called the vote in the first place.
“The offer of a referendum in 2013 was intended to stop Conservative voters defecting to the anti-EU UK Independence party. But it was not very effective, argue Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo, the academics, who point out that three months later Ukip won more than 160 council seats. More importantly, Mr Cameron appeared to have overestimated the Ukip threat — although the party took 3.6m votes in the 2015 general election, it won only one seat.”
So, it’s all Farage’s fault? Maybe… From the Independent:
“The “political earthquake” predicted by Nigel Farage looked set to come to fruition as Ukip took more than 150 seats from Labour and the Conservatives in a remarkable performance in the local elections.”
So why did UKIP get such a huge vote at the local elections? From the BBC:
“We have got a chance, four-and-a-half weeks from now, of causing such a shock in the British political system that it will be nothing short of an earthquake. If UKIP win these elections, a referendum and an opportunity for us to get back control of our country will be one massive, massive step closer.”
But as we’ve discovered, that local election success didn’t carry on to the General Election of 2015. Thanks to our electoral system of first past the post, the Conservatives actually won in their own right, just, with 11.3 million votes and 331 seats, a 24 seat gain, and UKIP’s 3.8 million votes, more than the LibDems and the SNP combined, got them just the one seat. But losing the moderating influence of the LibDems also took away the one thing Cameron was using to keep the right wing Conservative MPs off his back. Quite why they still wanted a referendum, having seen off the UKIP threat, is anyone’s guess, but Cameron had promised them a referendum before the election, and while many election promises have been broken before, for reasons probably only known to Cameron, he didn’t break this one.
But to understand Farage’s rise from fool to threat, we have to go back to the FT article, and their reason number 8, however unpalatable it may be:
“8. If Tony Blair had taken a more restrictive approach to eastern European immigration.
“Unlike most of its EU partners, the then Labour government of Tony Blair decided to give the immediate right to work to migrants from eight former communist countries that joined the bloc in 2004. Official estimates that those countries would provide a net inflow of 13,000 people a year proved far off the mark; in the 2004-12 period the cumulative net total was 423,000, as workers were attracted to Britain by opportunities for better pay and employment.”
Farage seized on these figures and shouted them from the rooftops. A lot of people voted for UKIP in the 2014 local elections because they wrongly (obviously) believed him when he said that immigrants, and specifically the Eastern Europeans, were taking their jobs.
But the British public weren’t as bothered by immigration as he was telling us, because the referendum was eventually won by a very small margin, 52% of those that voted, which translated into only 37% of the actual voting population. So 63% of the voting population either voted to remain or cared so little about leaving the EU, and supposedly therefore stopping the immigration, that they didn’t bother to vote either way. If Cameron had demanded a majority of the voting population had to vote to leave, the whole thing would have been dropped the next day.
But after all this, what does it come down to? What really swung the referendum vote?
For me, we go back to the FT article, and reason number 4, which is basically what we all knew anyway.
“4. If Johnson had backed Remain. By the end of the campaign, Boris Johnson was de facto head of the Leave campaign — and the politician most trusted on Europe by voters. Yet until late February, Downing Street thought he would back EU membership. Mr Johnson had doubts, writing two versions of his newspaper columns, one backing Remain, one backing Leave. He published the latter version and Leave found its figurehead.”
The Daily Express summed it up with their post-referendum front page. To be fair, they’d been campaigning to get out of the EU for years, but it didn’t stop them shouting.
But the Express didn’t bargain for Karma coming back and biting Boris on the a**e. He had stabbed his old friend Cameron in the back and switched to Leave, but on the eve of the race to succeed Cameron, he too was stabbed in the back by an old friend.
So it’s Gove’s fault we have May as PM as we stumble out of the EU, and not Boris’s. We will never know whether Boris or Gove would have done a better job. I doubt it, but I would have loved to have seen the day when they were forced to admit that the NHS were never going to get the 350 million a week they promised them.
So there you go. Ultimately, it’s mostly Boris’s fault, but only because 4,376,635 people voted UKIP in the 2014 local elections, 27.7% of the turnout of 16,454,950, which in turn was 36% of the voting population of 45,325,100.
So actually only 10.35% of those eligible voted UKIP in 2014. The future of the country, decided by 10% of the population.