Labour have to face up to ‘uncomfortable truths’ after Greater Manchester backs Brexit, says expert

A Manchester academic described the political circumstances which led to seven out of ten Greater Manchester boroughs voting to leave the European Union as a ‘perfect storm’.

The city of Manchester itself had the strongest Remain vote in the North West with 60.4%, followed by Trafford (57.7%) and Stockport (52.3%).

But Bury, Bolton, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Tameside and Wigan lead the way for Leave as the northern boroughs of Greater Manchester voted out.

Professor Andrew Russell, Professor of Politics at the University of Manchester, said the vote reflected disillusionment with globalisation among working class voters who feel marginalised by the political elite.

“VoteLeave had that anti-establishment, anti-politics appeal,” he told MM.

“Whether in the rise of UKIP or maybe even the Greens, you can see how a vote for change can appeal to people who think that politicians are all the same.

“And in recent times, if you think about the expenses scandal, the Panama Papers, you can see how people might feel a distance between themselves and the political, ruling elite.”

Professor Russell said the results across the north of Greater Manchester were a damning indictment of Labour’s failure to engage with its core support who voted against the official party line.

“Labour has to face up to some uncomfortable truths,” he said.

“Their failure to see that huge swathes of their core support rejected the party’s official position, or perhaps even worse failed to notice it, is at the heart of understanding this result.”

The strongest Leave vote in Greater Manchester was recorded in Wigan, where the perceived impact of immigration on jobs lead to 63.9% of voters opting to Leave.

The borough is home to key Labour figures Lisa Nandy (MP for Wigan) and Andy Burnham (MP for Leigh), who last month declared his intention to stand for mayor of Greater Manchester.

“Across Europe, populist, right-wing parties are taking advantage of marginalised groups and Labour were very slow to recognise the UKIP challenge to their core, working class constituency,” said Professor Russell.

“It’s an anti-establishment vote from people who feel they’re at the sharp end of globalisation.

“Labour have really got to reflect. Those people who you would have assumed to be at the forefront of a Labour Party recovery, such as Nandy and Burnham, are going to have to account for the fact that their core areas failed to vote for Remain.”

Of all the voting statistics emerging from the referendum, the difference between younger and older voters was the most striking, with a YouGov poll revealing that 72% of voters aged 18-24 voted to Remain, whilst almost 60% of over-65s backing Brexit.

But Professor Russell, who has conducted research into young people and politics, warned that voting patterns at the younger end of the spectrum are not quite as black and white.

“When we talk about young people, I think we have to talk about two distinct groups,” he explained.

“Firstly, the group of engaged young people who might be in education, might have pro-EU views and might even be looking forward to living and working abroad at some stage.

“Secondly, you have marginalised young people who are at the sharp end of unemployment and whose prospects have likely been harmed by globalisation.

“It is probably the case that more of those young people voted because the Leave campaign focused so heavily on immigration.”

He added that turnout also plays a significant role, with older voters known to be much more likely to vote than the younger generation.

In the end, 72.2% represented the highest turnout for a national vote since the 1992 general election, but the extra voters came out in favour of Leave.

“What we’ve seen in England and Wales is real polarization,” said Professor Russell.

“This isn’t just a case of Scotland versus England, it’s also cities and their suburban areas versus large towns where the Labour vote hasn’t been mobilised.

“The Remain camp had its strongest support among those parts of the electorate who are hardest to mobilise and failed to recognise the extent of dissatisfaction with Europe among its core heartland vote.” 

Image courtesy of BBC, via YouTube, with thanks

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