At last! Now we know why those misguided Brits voted for Brexit. It was the ‘hang ’em, flog ‘em’ brigade exerting their prejudices.
That, in effect, is what the BBC tells us in this prominent website story. In case the message isn’t rammed home hard enough by the copy, there’s a large headline picture of a hangman’s noose.
The central gist is that, according to new polling, the referendum was won by ‘traditionalists’, cautious non-liberal individuals who support the death penalty and also – it is heavily emphasised – publicly flogging sexual offenders.
This, of course, fit perfectly with the BBC’s long-term approach to the EU: that ‘remainers’ inhabit the enlightened, educated, multicultural uplands, while those who want ‘out’ are broadly xenophobic, uneducated, bigots.
In fact, the story is based on a fascinating survey by the British Election Study (BES), a research body funded by various universities and the Social and Economic Research Council. The reality is that the findings do not support the BBC’s sensationalist conclusions. Their use in this way is a gross distortion of the survey.
It should first be noted that this latest poll, part of a long-term survey involving 30,000 individuals, took place before the official campaigning period in early May, and so is not a snapshot of opinions after the actual vote.
That said, BES’s main findings are very clear (and offer fresh insight into the vote):
Overall, our results suggest that the referendum campaign was not a fight about which side had the best argument on the issues: very few people voted leave to improve the economy and very few voted remain to reduce immigration. Instead, the fight was about which of these issues was more important.
In other words, the ‘out’ side, as the vote approached, was concerned that not enough was being done about immigration and were judging this was a major political priority. They did not believe – despite Project Fear which was already in full flow – that the economy took precedence. The polling also shows that there was concern among ‘outers’ about a raft of other issues including sovereignty, border control (and ‘control’ generally), laws, and ‘the country’ as a concept.
In summary, putting it another way, ‘outers’ were approaching the vote with a complex set of issues under consideration. At the heart of their worries was the control of immigration, but they were also firmly focused on Parliamentary sovereignty and national identity.
The remain side, in sharp contrast, was concerned most about the economy. Their other considerations included ‘Europe’ as a concept, trade, security, ‘rights’ (presumably more specifically human rights in the EU context) and stability. All these factors were themes being pushed hardest by David Cameron and by Britain Stronger in Europe, and clearly their messages were hitting home.
These core findings from BSE are the ones emphasised in their press release, and they clearly make a strong story, for example, that ‘leavers’ were not persuaded by Project Fear and wanted a Britain that could control immigration and with national sovereignty restored.
The BBC, however, took a completely different line. Finding where it came from is a detective story, and the most likely source emerges as The Fabian Society. The BES survey referred to above was released to the public on July 11. But the Fabian society (for reasons that are not clear) were given the results on June 24. They honed in like an Exocet on the BES subsidiary questions relating to public flogging and ‘traditional’ views and decided this was the real reason for the ‘out’ vote, rather than a division based on ‘rich’ and ‘poor’.
Another left-leaning think-tank, NESTA the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts – founded by David Puttnam and the Labour government back in 1997 – picked up the Fabian society’s spin and ran with it. They embellished matters by cherry-picking findings from some of the independent polling by Lord Ashcroft that showed that some ‘leave’ voters did not also like the internet, feminism, the green movement and multiculturalism.
In other words, stick-in-the-mud, vengeful, misogynist, Luddite reactionaries.
This was deeply suspect extrapolation, but this is precisely where the BBC enters the fray. A bee to the honey. They picked up the combination of the Fabian Society findings and those from NESTA and amplified them. This is the central point of the BBC’s website analysis:
The graph below, restricted to White British respondents, shows almost no statistically significant difference in EU vote intention between rich and poor. By contrast, the probability of voting Brexit rises from around 20% for those most opposed to the death penalty to 70% for those most in favour. Wealthy people who back capital punishment back Brexit. Poor folk who oppose the death penalty support Remain.
The BBC attributes this to ‘Professor Eric Kaufman of Birkbeck College’. What it does not say that he argued his ‘traditionalist’ line in an official release for the Fabian Society. The BBC report scarcely considers the core BES findings but hones in instead on both the Fabian and NESTA findings.
To round things off, there is a concluding quote from an organisation called Britain Thinks:
“… openness, modernity and other social-liberal values…were more popular among Remain voters. Often it’s (the leave perspective) about harking back to the past – sometimes a feeling that they don’t belong to the present.”
What the report did not say here is that Britain Thinks is run by Gordon Brown’s former pollster and a co-director whose other main activity is the Global Action Plan – an environmental group focused on an ultra-green agenda.
Overall, this was deeply biased report because it blatantly cherry-picked and then distorted the findings of an interesting piece of research. The deliberate intent was to underline that the ‘leave’ vote was based on reactionary prejudice. Graphs and graphics were used to amplify the message to maximum extent.
Reporting in this vein strengthens the impression that the BBC is on a mission to undermine the Brexit vote in every way it can. Yet again, it was emphasised that the ‘remain’ vote was forward-thinking and open. ‘Out’ was unenlightened and backwards.