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.