Media still don’t understand referendum result

The biggest issue with the referendum result is not, in fact, what now happens with regard to the UK’s relationship with the EU, but who governs the UK and with what legitimacy.

The media continue to misunderstand this, but presenting the referendum victory as one for Messrs Johnson, Farage and perhaps Hannan. Those names were not on the ballot paper, and I would safely say that if they had been, only a minority of Leave voters would have voted for them.

The Leave vote is being characterised by the very Liberal Elites they were kicking in the teeth as essentially a rural Conservative/UKIP one. Look at the results charts, however, and that fundamentally misunderstands who Leave voters are.

The very first sign of the Leave victory came from a whopping lead secured in Sunderland. This is hardly a citadel of Tory farmers! On it went – Sheffield, Hull, even Birmingham had Leave majorities of varying sizes. While not discounting the Conservative voters who did vote to leave (though even many of these came in some of the poorest parts of the south, such as Hastings and Folkestone), the vast majority of Leave voters were not Conservatives or even UKIP. A lot were (previously, at least) Labour and, most notably of all (but missed completely by the media) a huge number were non-voters.

Actually, overall, the north of England voted Leave in greater numbers than the south. So where in the media are the northern English voices about what should happen now?

Many Leave voters were putting down a marker not just against the political elite but also the media elite which it feels ignores them too. The fact it is ignoring them even now rather demonstrates the point!

The average Leave voter simply does not look like Mr Johnson or Mr Farage. Think urban north and you are much closer. This is very important – because they are still distant from real power, and indeed with Mr Johnson and Mr Farage in charge they will only become more distant.

This brings us to the most important issue of all. In the words of the Prime Minister who took us into Europe: “Who governs?”

And with what legitimacy?

A Prime Minister Johnson, or Gove, or even May comes to power without an election, but is also entirely unrepresentative of the Leave voters who in effect created the vacancy. (For the reverse reason, their legitimacy would also be instinctively questioned in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but we will come to that in another post!)

The media have to be very alive to this issue, but it seems they are not. Focused as their are on political (would-be) leaders rather than the actual social issues the voters themselves were feeling, they are simply missing the point – and the people. There is no point reporting who the next Prime Minister will be or even how negotiations will likely proceed without also assessing the legitimacy of that Prime Minister’s actions through the eyes of those who in effect put him or her in office.

As I wrote from the start, these are not political matters so much as social and economic ones. So they need to be reported as social and economic ones. To report them otherwise is to miss the point – and to contribute to the very alienation which drove much of the Leave vote in the first place.


9 thoughts on “Media still don’t understand referendum result

  1. Alan Burnsidd says:

    It’s more straightforward than you allow. Still same Govt but now entrusted by ref result to disengage us from EU. They need to do this before the next GE or there will be an electoral bid to reverse the ref. This would be legitimate if it were a manifesto pledge.

    • That doesn’t sound straightforward to me!

      One reason it’s not straightforward is there is a choice, noted by Philip Hammond this morning, between taking control of the borders and leaving the Single Market, or retaining the single Market but not controlling the borders. Which do the public really want?

      • Gareth Griffiths says:

        I would prefer minimal change so I’d go for a Norway solution but apparently that isn’t politically acceptable

      • I wonder about that. I could see a situation where that is the “temporary solution” pending the real negotiations, yet the real negotiations simply never take place.

      • Gareth Griffiths says:

        Maybe. Getting the impression Mr Johnston has not given it much thought , judging by his latest Daily Telegraph piece, just out.

  2. Peter says:

    Dear Mr Parsley,

    I’m thinking that perhaps the people should be dissolved and another elected in its place?

  3. Gareth Griffiths says:

    Since you are talking about the media. I think Northern Ireland’s Nolan was a disgrace and his approach is symptomatic of the problems we have getting a reaonable argument across on topics as difficult as the EU.

    On his radio programme, instead of discussing issues with Claire Hanna in a civilized manner, he prepared a series of “gotcha” questions. Like – “can you name all the EU Presidents?” And then showing a great deal of faux outrage when she does not know some of them. With the intent to create a “car crash” interview. Is this a way for our licence money to be spent? At a time of one of the the most serious decisions in our history?

    The Nolan TV debate programme was a lot of shouting and didn’t allow anyone to develop points; if you were brave enough to attempt an argument of any detail he would cut you off. He seems to think that his audience cannot handle detailed arguments. The only good part was when John Campbell was doing his “pieces” on each issue.

    He is not the only guilty one. The BBC’s “The View” had, on one of its debates, as its “Remain” people, a FF TD from Donegal and a SF MLA, and for “Leave” Gregory Campbell and Eamonn McCann. Is that mix a recepie for a sensible debate given that the FF TD was understandably reluctant to tell anyone from NI how to vote and Eamonn McCann’s politics are on the fringe for most of the audience. None of them really are at all capable of setting out the basic economic arguments and issues.

    Moreover the BBC in general carried out its obligation for balance in a way that was unwilling to challenge bad *arguments*. Generally the would present a news story in the form “Remain argues X, but Leave argues X is not true”. They did sometimes do *fact* checking but rarely did they do much *strength of argument* checking. As Timothy Garton Ash argued: “the world’s finest news organisation is doing well on being impartial, less well on being robustly informative, which requires distinguishing not just between fact and fiction, but also between well-informed guess and mere bravado.”

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