I listened to LBC’s James O’Brien this morning. His morning radio programme is a non-stop Brexit related phone in. He’s anything but neutral; he sets up a question and takes calls from anyone brave enough to call in. And he takes no prisoners! This morning’s question was (and I paraphrase), “Did leave voters understand that back in 2016 the UK would be worse off after Brexit, and in the light of current events and information, why have they not changed their minds?”
In the space of 20 minutes this morning he dispatched several leavers after they made complete fools of themselves. Now I can only assume this is normal and I wonder how the programme continues to get any leaver callers. But O’Brien is pretty brutal, insisting on sticking to the point and calling a spade a spade. And the leaving callers keep coming! His basic thesis is that the Leave campaign promised sunlit uplands. A land of milk and honey where the NHS would be funded by the money saved on EU payments; where UK laws could be made unhindered by the nasty EU. But of course callers were completely unable to name any laws that needed changing, and refused to believe that the UK was heading for a crashout at the end of October.
And of course, he’s pretty funny. He talks about politicians and parties and suggests choosing between the primary participants is like choosing between cholera and typhoid!
However, my primary worry about James’ argument is that he’s really providing entertainment for Remain sympathizers, and he’s missing the point about leavers. My observation is that many Leavers voted as a protest against the status quo AND given great dissatisfaction with current state of affairs, saw CHAOS as better than austerity. So I don’t believe they saw Brexit would be better, just DIFFERENT.
In my college days I studied the Hawthorne effect experiments carried out in the 1920s in the Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory outside Chicago. The Hawthorne Works had commissioned a study to see if its workers would become more productive in higher or lower levels of lighting. The workers’ productivity seemed to improve when changes in lighting were made. But the extraordinary finding was that productivity improved if the lighting was improved or reduced. And when even the lighting was reduced to a very low level, productivity still increased until conditions actually prevented work. The conclusions were that productivity gains occurred as a result of the motivational effect on the workers of the interest being shown in them.
And my thinking is that back in 2016 ordinary people in the UK were very annoyed with the state of the nation, with austerity, social problems, changes in technology causing loss of employment, or worse downgrading of workers rights and conditions in the gig economy, or graduates only being able to find employment in low skilled positions. And so on. And ordinary people were probably deeply unhappy with the obvious change to a multicultural society.
So the Leave Campaign promised CHANGE. Lots of it. And that was instantly attractive. James O’Brien keeps banging on about how leave voters must see that the promises made will not be kept. But he’s not smelling the coffee! Leave voters want change, and any change. In fact they see chaos as being highly desirable, even though it may hurt them personally. Now in Johnson they have a Prime Minister who is promising change will occur. And Johnson is himself chaotic. He can’t be trusted, but that’s clearly irrelevant. He can be trusted to make change even if it doesn’t work out. The ordinary workers now see that some sort of change will happen. And THAT’s what they voted for.
You might think that if this analysis is accurate, Johnson will be a very short-term prime minister. But I wouldn’t bet against someone who clearly understands what binds his audience to him, when the opposition are in such array. For me, O’Brien’s programme illustrated this conundrum perfectly and on that basis, I believe No Deal is unstoppable.