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Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Phone Home

An ICM poll for British Futures suggests that three-quarters of those who voted leave think that EU nationals already in the UK should be allowed to stay, with only 16% of the total population backing repatriation. While Theresa May has refused to give assurances on the status of EU nationals, her stance is clearly aimed at preserving bargaining chips rather than a determination to "send 'em back" (the infamous Home Office vans on her watch were little more than a PR stunt). That pretty much everyone else has insisted that EU nationals should be reassured (though David Davis has tempered this with talk of future curbs) suggests that politicians think that popular opinion is not as xenophobic as claimed by some shocked remainers, though this then leaves us struggling to explain why immigration was the decisive factor in the referendum.

The poll could be taken to suggest that it is the future expectation of immigration that drove the support for leave (hence the power of the Turkey "threat" and the "breaking point" poster), and is thus a matter of flow rather than stock. I'd personally take that with a pinch of salt, given popular ignorance of the ethnic and foreign-born share of the population. Clearly immigration is an immediate concern, not the calculation of a future discounted utility. We know that anti-immigrant sentiment is highest in areas with low immigration, which means that "pressure on public services" isn't a credible explanation, and we also know the issue is immigration across the board, not just the free movement of EU citizens. The suggestion during the campaign that fewer Polish plumbers would mean more Bangladeshi curry chefs was not what most leavers were hoping to hear.

It would be easy to assume that abstract xenophobia is the driver, or that immigration (like the EU) is a proxy for modernity more generally, standing in for developments as diverse as gay marriage and kale juice. There certainly seems to be evidence that reactionary views, rather than age or education, are the best indicator of whether someone voted leave. Some even espy a cultural divide: "liberal cosmopolitanism versus anti-liberal populism", or a cognitive division between "those who dislike difference – signifying a disordered identity and environment – and those who embrace it", but these look like magazine articles masquerading as academic studies. There are plenty of reactionaries in London and 38% of those who voted in Sunderland opted for remain (I doubt many of them would self-identify as liberal cosmopolitans). I'm going to suggest an alternative thesis: that the concern over immigration is driven in part by internal migration, as experienced by the "left behinds", and related to this, that the antipathy towards the EU incorporates a large dose of resentment towards London.

Much has been written about the impact of commonwealth immigration on old textile towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire during the 1960s and after, but less attention has been paid to the way that internal migration impacted on mono-cultural areas such as the North East and South Wales from the 1980s onwards. In Britain, there has historically been a fundamental difference between the larger industrial conurbations and both the smaller industrial towns (that specialised in sectors such as coal, shipbuilding and steel) and rural towns. The conurbations were populated in the 19th and 20th centuries by immigrants from both the surrounding countryside and further afield (e.g. Irish and Welsh factory-hands in Manchester), while the small towns were often relatively insular with only a small number of skilled immigrants (e.g. Scottish engineers) or itinerant workers who were not encouraged to stick around (e.g. seasonal Irish agricultural workers). What distinguished these in turn from small towns in other countries, like Ireland or Italy, was the absence of regular emigration in the twentieth century.

Though we think of the pivotal shift from manufacturing to services as occurring in the 1980s, it's worth remembering that the UK has been a predominantly service economy for the best part of a century. What changed in the 80s is that service jobs, as well as manufacturing jobs, were lost from small towns to cities as industries like financial services consolidated and as globalised business services expanded. This trend was exacerbated by the development of the digital economy in the 90s. Far from allowing people to work anywhere, the Internet made remote service delivery easier and thus amplified agglomeration in city-based "hubs". This process simultaneously transferred jobs to the larger service centres (i.e. provincial cities as well as London) and accentuated the differential in wages between the metropolis and small towns. To give an example, the Isle of Wight, which voted heavily leave, is poorly-served (many online retailers won't deliver there), wages are low, the economy is overly-dependent on pensioners and the state (prisons), and talented youth head to Southampton or London.

We're familiar with the fact that many old industrial towns in the North have lost both skilled jobs and many of their young, but the same outcome - a reliance on low-wage work and a growing proportion of the elderly - has affected small towns across the South and Midlands as well. Before the 1980s, the worry that the cities would lure away the small-town youth of Britain was largely limited to those families whose children benefited from the expansion of further education in the 1960s - i.e. classic "social mobility" that often entailed geographic mobility. Thatcherism extended this deracination to skilled workers ("get on your bike"), and not just in the North and Wales but across the rest of the UK too. This was then exacerbated by the further expansion of tertiary education in the 1990s, which funnelled teenagers who might otherwise have looked to apprenticeships with local employers into often-distant urban colleges as a stepping-stone to work in the service sector.

In other words, the sense of disturbance captured in the fear of immigration may be more to do with contemporary internal migration, and the negative impact this has on family ties, than the dismantling of industries a quarter of a century ago, let alone the loss of empire. The young quitting Sunderland for London, or York for Leeds, may actually be more significant than migration from Poland (blaming migrants for your town's decline is one way of dealing with guilt over "desertion" by your adult children). In these smaller cities and towns, the average age and the proportion of OAPs has gradually increased, not because retirees are moving in but because the young are moving out. This has led to suggestions that a policy of managed decline should be adopted for some areas, further encouraging the emigration of the young or skilled. This suggestion is typically directed at old industrial towns in the North, but the problem of poor wages and too many pensioners is just as relevant in the South outside London.

If this thesis is correct - that the concern over the arrival of EU nationals during the last decade is actually resentment over the departure of native youth that started in the 80s and accelerated in the 90s - it helps to explain why concern over immigration mounts in the late-90s, 5 years before the accession of East European states to the EU in 2004. The political focus on immigration and asylum that started in the mid-90s certainly validated these as "legitimate public concerns", but its hard to believe that their resulting salience in small towns with minimal exposure to actual immigrants (let alone asylum-seekers) can be fully explained by either the power of the press or an increase in racial prejudice. There appears to be something else at work, and something more tangible and immediate than a cultural divide. "We want our country back" may have been an anguished cry directed at children who rarely phone.

35 comments:

  1. "York for Leeds"

    This is not your best example! York is something of a growth pole itself, more 'liberal cosmopolitan' than Leeds and close enough that anyone in York who did get a job in Leeds would simply commute. My own experience is a better proof of your thesis- I went from Scarborough to Leeds, and other east coast towns such as Whitby, Bridlington and even Middlesbrough will have seen a similar process. As you suggest, it is not limited to the educated. I have three brothers, and the two that left school at 16 have ended up in Leeds and Sheffield, though the other, university-educated, brother has unusually ended up in the ancestral home of Sunderland!

    I'd agree that there is much to be said for your theory. The idea that areas that never see foreign immigrants have been negatively impacted by them always seemed very implausible. That said, I think many people treated the referendum as a plebiscite on identity, and those living in more insular areas, remote even in terms of their own country, were always likely to see themselves as less European.

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    1. I bow to your superior knowledge of internal migration in Yorkshire.

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  2. I'm sat here writing this in Leeds, so I won't claim to be too much of a genius on migratory patterns generally! I'm also pretty clueless on the trends in migration elsewhere in the county, and whether people in Doncaster choose to make a new life in Sheffield....

    PS: After a few hours more thinking about this post, it does make even more sense. The BBC made the fairly ridiculous point that Leeds, York and Harrogate voted remain because they were 'prosperous', ignoring many other decidedly affluent rural areas in the county. If we take your thesis as a starting point, then it makes more sense to see it as areas that happen to be close to a 'growth point' in service industry and internal migration.

    Obviously it also fits in with the situation in areas of the south. (Though Essex is a bit of an outlier considering commuting into London rather than moving outright is more of a possibility there).

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    1. Essex, like other areas just outside London, has seen a two-way movement as older white residents in places like Romford and Dagenham have cashed in their property chips and moved further out to small towns like Leigh-on-sea and Clacton (where the commute into London is only for the hardy). In other words, the "left behind" are often internal migrants as well.

      The young have tended to head further in to the convenience of Stratford and Walthamstow, with good transport links into the capital, which creates enough distance to make keeping in regular touch with parents difficult. The irony is that the postwar dream of "a home of your own" has ultimately helped break families up.

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    2. Just to be clear (or pedantic), Romford and Dagenham are not in Essex and haven't been for a very long time. For over half a century both towns have been in London, Romford in the London Borough of Havering, Dagenham in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Some people say that these areas are postally in Essex. This is incorrect as checking any address in these towns on the Royal Mail website will show.

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    3. Let's say, spiritually in Essex.

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    4. Maybe David is using traditional counties rather than administrative divisions? (Igor certainly is when he puts Middlesbrough in Yorkshire.)

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    5. Coincidentally, I just read an interesting post on the London/unLondon divide in terms of council spending cuts, which makes the point that the sociological boundary doesn't precisely match the geographical: "Havering is the most easterly London borough and surrounded on three sides by Essex. It is just a half hour’s drive from Newham, but a very different place."

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  3. I bow to your superior knowledge of internal migration in the South-East!

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  4. Herbie Kills Children21 July 2016 at 17:46

    I live in Sheffield and have family all over South Yorkshire! I can say with much confidence that the vote to leave the EU was almost entirely Xenophobic.

    The nasty racism wasn't so much leveled at EU nationals but Syrian boat people. The message was clear, let those fuckers drown in the sea.

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    1. Seriously? The country voted to leave the EU because Aylan Kurdi made us feel guilty?

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  5. Herbie Kills Children24 July 2016 at 11:51

    "The country voted to leave the EU because Aylan Kurdi made us feel guilty?"

    Who implied this? I think I am implying the opposite, there was no guilt at all over Aylan Kurdi. Years of anti immigrant feeling was the number one factor in this vote in my opinion.

    If you are suggesting the vote to leave was based on an intersection of well thought out concepts, a veritable carnival of rational thought, a towering example of how debate should be conducted then I would have to say, are you for real?

    Momentous decision taken by ignorant fools wouldn't be too far off the way I see it. It certainly beats the opposite.

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    1. If it was anti-refugee rather than more general anti-immigrant sentiment that was critical in the Brexit vote, then that makes me really suspicious about those gang-rapes in Cologne (which caused a huge increase in anti-refugee sentiment across Europe).

      At the time I wondered if Daesh had something to do with those attacks (as refugee flight from Syria clearly delegitimizes them) but I regarded it as unlikely because Daesh's MO is usually focused on mass murder rather than mass rape. (While in Egypt during the Arab Spring, gang rapes perpetrated by Hosni Mubarak's hired thugs were used in an attempt to delegitimize the Muslim Brotherhood.)

      What I'm now thinking is that maybe the rapists were dispatched to Europe by Bashar al-Assad, under instructions from his patron Vladimir Putin. It is well known that Putin wants to break up the EU and has bankrolled far-right parties across Europe with this aim in mind (and there has certainly been pro-Putin rhetoric from UKIP), and also that Syrian shabiha (pro-regime thugs) have posed as refugees in order to infiltrate Europe.

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    2. Herbie, I was being sarcastic. I very much doubt that your average Brit feels strongly about Syrian refugees, either for or against. Empathy reflects geography ("a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing", as Neville Chamberlain once said). Anti-EU feelings clearly predate the Syrian civil war, so your thesis that the result was due to "boat people" strikes me as fanciful.

      As I said at the top of the post, I am sceptical that public concern over migration is about flow rather than stock. The use of language like "swarm", or the scaremongering about a Turkish EU accession, is clearly a euphemistic way of pandering to bigotry about the existing ethnic and religious makeup of the country. But, I don't believe that xenophobia alone comes anywhere near to explaining the referendum result.

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    3. Herbie Kills Children24 July 2016 at 15:16

      I do mean general anti immigrant feeling. But I was using the Syrian crisis as a specific example, which given the crisis was playing out as the vote was being taken probably means it was high up in the sub conscious, if that isn't a contradiction!

      I see a close link between racist bigotry and anti EU feeling. Racist bigotry existed before the Syrian crisis.

      There are probably 101 reasons why people voted to leave the EU, but while 100 of those reasons were shared by say 10% of those that voted to leave, the other 1, namely immigration was the motivation for the 90%. So we could say that there are many reasons for voting to leave the EU but seriously for a minute, there was one issue that dominated.

      The think the idea that Putin can simply dispatch dark skinned people to attack women in Europe, like some Bond villain, is fanciful and probably doesn't help getting to the truth of the matter, which I suspect is rather more mundane.

      Incidentally, I think your average Brit feels more strongly about immigrants, be they Syrian or whatever, than almost any other issue. If I talk to people about tax evasion of inequality I get a vacant stare, mention dark skinned immigrants and you can see the neck veins bulging and the face reddening and the mouth beginning to froth and you better be prepared from the bile that follows. I am now wondering how much you get out david!

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    4. Where do you live Herbie? Maybe you're in an especially racist part of the country.

      And given that it was the generation born between 1940 and 1970 that was the backbone of the Leave vote, I wonder how much anti-Germanism fomented by the dominance of World War II in post-war popular culture (such as all those boys' comics about heroic Brits – and occasionally Americans – killing "Jerries")had to do with the Leave vote, especially given that the ill-conceived Euro project (which resulted in peripheral Euro countries being saddled with huge unpayable debts) is turning the Eurozone into a de facto German financial empire.

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    5. Herbie, don't know how I missed your comment upthread about living in Sheffield!

      Given that you mentioned that the nasty xenophobia you noticed was directed at Syrian refugees (mostly Muslims) rather than at EU migrants, it seems like the leave voters in your area were driven mainly by Islamophobia.

      Could Islamophobia in Sheffield have not just a racial component (which I'm guessing resulted mainly from the exposure of a Pakistani-dominated paedophile ring in nearby Rotherham) but also an ideological one (given that Sheffield is the Muslim-convert capital of the UK)?

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    6. I live in the north-west of England, and in my experience Herbie is completely correct. It's a dirty secret rarely mentioned on Brexit blog discussions or in post-referendum analysis.

      When David Timpney writes, "I very much doubt that your average Brit feels strongly about Syrian refugees," well, sorry to break the news to you, David, but your average Brit in my neck of the woods hates Syrian refugees with passion. Hard to credit, I know, but it's true.

      If I had a pound for every time I have heard the canard that the EU allows in Syrian refuges, and one in Europe those refugees are free to move here, and isn't it disgraceful, I'd be a wealthy man.

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    7. Why are Syrian refugees hated so much? Is it the "rapists" angle (which is why I had my suspicions that those attackers in Cologne were actually shabiha), or is it due to fears that Daesh supporters are hiding among them?

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  7. "If this thesis is correct - that the concern over the arrival of EU nationals during the last decade is actually resentment over the departure of native youth that started in the 80s and accelerated in the 90s - it helps to explain why concern over immigration mounts in the late-90s, 5 years before the accession of East European states to the EU in 2004."

    Wasn't there a big rise in non-EU immigration in the '90s, which was partially replaced by EU immigration after 2004? That would seem a far simpler explanation for the rise in anti-immigration sentiment then...

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    1. There was a step up in immigration in 1998, and then a further step up in 2004, but this initial increase was even more London-centric, i.e. few people in small towns experienced it directly (the popular perception was influenced by media tales of asylum-seekers and the growing intolerance of benefit claimants of any kind). It's probably impossible to disaggregate this retrospectively, but my suspicion is the rise in concern over immigration in the late-90s owes more to projection than xenophobia or racism.

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  8. Hi David ... as other commentators have alluded to....
    I know countless people who voted Leave who very directly associated 'immigration' and 'The EU' with the Jungle camp and asylum seekers. There is CONSIDERABLE racism towards muslim immigrants and every news article about Calais would generate a torrent of anti-EU and anti-muslim abuse at the pub TV. My own mother in law though 'not a racist' (using a 1960's definition) voted leave because of 'all the immigrants on boats and in France coming to the UK. I like your ideas on 'abandonment by the youth' and think it may be relevant and provide a backstory to some of this tide of feeling, but also feel that you are not giving anywhere enough credit to the simple confounding of 'Muslim migrant' and EU by a large number of the population. I suggest you read the Express' for a solid week as you apear to be in a bit of a 'bubble'. The Express draws these direct and incorrect links daily.
    Mark

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    1. Mark, I wasn't trying to provide a comprehensive explanation of people's motives for voting leave, merely suggesting that there was more to it than xenophobia. I'm also well aware of the pernicious effect of our press, having specifically addressed it in the run=up to the referendum, here and here.

      If I was simply to say that Brexit is the result of newspaper-led racism, I would be guilty of living in the bubble of groupthink. What I tried to do in this post is look at other factors in play - not to downplay the role of the press or absolve bigots, but to consider whether the vote reflected fundamental, secular changes set in train in the 1980s.

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  9. Could an alternative explanation for the geographical distribution of the vote be the fact that people outside the big cities feel as though they are "locked out" of the better big-city job opportunities by the high price of big-city housing, and blame foreigners for these high housing costs?

    Much of what used to be council housing (reserved for citizens) is now in the hands of private landlords who let it out to the highest bidder, and immigrants from poor countries are often able to outbid natives because of their greater tolerance of overcrowding and substandard living conditions.

    It wouldn't surprise me if a significant number of people voted for Brexit precisely because they hoped for a house price crash...

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    1. For that to be true, you'd have to assume that those people probably a) didn't already own property, b) were in the early stages of a career, and c) wanted to move to a big city. Problem is, the typical Leave voter was the opposite of all three: older, property-owning and anti-metropolitan. Some Leave voters may have fitted that profile, but I doubt they were a significant number.

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    2. While a desire to crash house prices may not have motivated the would-be movers themselves to vote Leave (as being younger and better-educated they would be more aware of the benefits of EU membership) it would be more likely to affect their less-educated parents. Note that although outright homeowners did vote majority-Leave, their Leave vote wasn't as heavy as that from those living in social housing.

      I'm not analysing the "core" Leave vote here, but rather the marginal voters – and while educated southern Tories did make a late swing towards Remain (these people could be the heaviest losers in a house price crash, while even homeowners in the non-metropolitan North would have less equity to lose) this was hugely outweighed by swings to Leave in the North East, South Wales and among Muslim voters. This swing was enough to clinch unexpected Leave victories in the first two, and while Remain did still win the Muslim vote, it was nowhere near the 90%+ landslide predicted (and perhaps the Muslim swing may have been enough to let Leave win in Bradford and Birmingham).

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  10. ... "blaming migrants for your town's decline is one way of dealing with guilt over 'desertion' by your adult children"

    Don't understand that – why would parents feel like they were to blame for their being no decent jobs in their area for their children (such that they want to assuage that guilt by blaming immigrants)?

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    1. Some parents will have voted to accept generous redundancy terms in the 80s as old industries shut down. At the time, many rationalised this by assuming that their own circumstances were exceptional - e.g. "our factory is shutting but there's still the steel mill" etc.

      Some of those people will now look back on the decision and wonder if they did the right thing. Should they have fought harder to preserve jobs? Did their individual decision have a cascade effect on other employers in the area? One reason why mining communities fought hard against closures in the 80s was because there were usually few other employers nearby. Once the pit shut, they knew that many of the young would have to leave.

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    2. The fact that the former mining communities which you mention still voted heavily Leave in spite of fighting hard to save their jobs (really, attempting to bring down the government that wanted to close down their industry) is an argument against this hypothesis.

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    3. I disagree. A lot of leave votes in former mining areas reflected a desire to turn the clock back, and not just because of an ageing population. Despite the prominence given to Brussels and immigration by the media, the issue of sovereignty for many was essentially about economic sovereignty: taking back control of jobs rather than borders.

      It might not make much sense in terms of the likely outcome, given the way that trade works, but many seemed to think that going it alone gave a better chance of preserving jobs over the long run than staying in the EU and risking those jobs being transferred elsewhere. I think this, rather than a fear of Sharia law, explains why many Nissan workers on Wearside voted leave.

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    4. Perhaps the fact that Nissan had earlier threatened to quit Sunderland if the UK didn't join the Euro had made people there think it was a case of the boy crying wolf, but didn't they realize that Nissan set up in Sunderland precisely in order to produce for the EU market, and is virtually guaranteed to close in the event of hard Brexit?

      Is it not the case that many giant multinational firms pretty much have just three factories: one in the Americas, one in Europe and a third in the Far East?

      And isn't it the case that Britain was robbed of its economic sovereignty not by the EU, but by the rampant Home-Owner-Ism that has plagued Britain since the Thatcher era? This starved British firms of investment as any spare money was pumped into land rather than into productive investment, and also incentivised the destruction of most of the UK's Mittelstand-equivalent firms by asset strippers making windfall profits by converting their sites to residential use?

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    5. I agree the Nissan workers are probably deluding themselves, but the psychological high of "taking back control" was just too strong.

      As for the deeper malaise, you are right that too much capital has been diverted to property and this has had a negative impact both on investment generally and the manufacturing sector specifically.

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  11. There's a lot to this. "frictions" for economists equate to gap toothed high streets (I hail from nr Redcar, but lived away longer) and there's no easy fix. Two anecdotes (of which the plural surely must be data): Walking along Redcar high street, bagpipe player (for charity) echoing down the high street: pass by a Grandmother - why the F is a bagpiper here, should stay in F (add as many as you like) Scotland. Relative re Grenfell, "well it's the foreigners you see,they don't understand our ways, washing machines and things". Point being (obv) that there are plenty of bigots out there that would wind the clock back to perceived/imagined omnipotence of local folk...

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    1. Meant to add this is consistent, perhaps, with the admittedly problematic (simplifications if nothing else) - Racism As Rent Seeking
      Roback, Jennifer. Economic Inquiry; Huntington Beach 27.4 (Oct 1989): 661.

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