Saturday, 25 June 2016

Eltham for Exit in UK's EU Referendum 2016

On Thursday 23 June all eligible Brits trundled off to vote at their local church hall, school or in my case, portacabin, to place their 'X' against whether the UK should remain part of the EU. We all know how that ended:

Source: BBC
The actual date of the referendum had been known since 20 February 2016, the day PM David Cameron had announced it. Before that, it was on 22 January 2013 that he had gambled in announcing that if the Conservatives won the next 2015 election they would seek to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU and then give the British people the "simple choice" by the end of 2017 between staying in the EU under those terms or leaving the EU.

Source: BBC
It is commonly accepted that, rather than apolitical concerns about 'giving the people a choice', it was concerns about UKIP gaining ground and pressure from within the Tory party which had led Cameron to take this huge risk. It was this throw of the dice, which ironically may have helped him win the 2015 election, that ultimately led to his resignation announcement on 24 June 2016, the day after his referendum defeat.

I write two days after the referendum when I, along with the rest of a shocked country, am still taking in the results. Many of us who had to be up the day after EU Referendum Day blearily closed down our tablets at 12.30am that night, hearing that the 'Remains' seemed likely to win over the 'Brexiters' albeit by a small margin. Having inched ahead a couple of weeks earlier, the mood of the country had seemed to change after the terrible death of MP Jo Cox on 16 June. It wasn't a seismic change. Despite the outpouring of grief for this popular 'Remain' MP, one felt that people were still sticking to their positions. The Brexiters upped the ante on their anti-immigration rhetoric (Farage had unveiled his vile 'Breaking Point' poster on 16 June) and Turkey bogeyman dog-whistles, while Remain, well er... continued to stress the benefits to the UK economy.

When, even more bleary-eyed at 5.30am the next morning, I immediately reached for my smartphone and saw the shock result, I admit I uttered an F-word to my equally surprised (though always unflappable) husband who then knew it was serious because I rarely swear.

Turning on the BBC I saw Farage's triumphant speech claiming the result as a victory for "real people, for the ordinary people, for the decent people". When I tracked down the Greenwich borough results, it seems our borough was full of unreal, unordinary and indecent people. The overall borough result was 55.5% remain - 44.4% leave. However the breakdown of results for each of the 17 wards wasn't openly available - only via those attending the count on the night. (Next day update: ward results available now on Royal Greenwich website.)

Luckily obtained the results (from @5tewartChristie) and they are posted on his 853 blog with excellent analysis.

All four Eltham wards voted leave, with only two others (Abbey Wood and Plumstead) doing the same. The 853 blog points out how Eltham has often behaved differently to the rest of the borough in elections - certainly Eltham has often the only wards returning Tory Councillors to the Council.

With Cameron's resignation, the way is clear for a more right-wing 'Brexit' government, set to be in place by the October Tory party conference, with the obvious top candidates being Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (leading Brexiters) and Theresa May (officially a Remainer, but a very quiet one...wonder why). No one has heard a word yet from Cameron's side-kick George Osborne.

Since then there's been talk of healing, building bridges and moving on - a lot of transformational journey metaphors. Anyone saying naughty things (i.e. having a heated go at the 'other side') is being outed and shamed on social media by presumably far more decent people. In some cases this is even extending to those expressing the view that the EU Referendum was really ultimately about immigration for many voters. Understandably many Brexiters are sensitive to charges of having run a xenophobic campaign, preferring instead to stress the democracy and sovereignty issues.

I've been thinking about the effect on one-time colleagues in higher education. I know that last Friday UK universities everywhere will have been focusing on the implications of our EU exit on their research funding, on their existing EU students and on their potential future EU students.Will EU students have 'overseas' status in future and, if so, will they still come? It was sobering to see the Times Higher Education's estimate of the "academic subjects most dependent on EU funding and now facing huge funding cuts":

This doesn't bode well for some of our south-east London universities, e.g. Goldsmiths and Greenwich, which offer these subjects.

Much analysis continues about the forthcoming EU exit negotiations, which PM the Tory membership will give us, whether the UK will break up and whether Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will face a coup and replacement. Perhaps to be ready for an election earlier than the Fixed Parliament Act- decreed 2020 date?

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