The 48%: The modern-day Cassandra?

History is written by the winners, so they say. Definitions of winning, however, adapt with historical context.

Take Brexit, for example. Right now it seems as though the 48%, and anyone else broadly sympathetic to the Remain cause, are being pushed to the margins by the brashly victorious Leave campaign. Called “sore losers” (as if this is a child’s football match or something else that barely matters), and told to stop being so bloody-minded and undemocratic, it may look as if anyone who voted Remain is soon to be consigned to the footnotes of future grammar school textbooks. Like Cassandra of Greek myth, given the power of foresight but cursed to always be unheard.

But if you think that, you’re highly likely to be proven wrong. In fact, it’s probable that none of us actually even need to do anything in particular to be able to say “I told you so” in years to come, for what that’s worth. And I don’t even suggest this out of some hard-faced certainty that the experts should have been listened to, or because I think the economy will crash, or because of any other plain-as-day prediction ignored before the vote.

With hindsight, we now understand that the EU In/Out camps are remarkably even in the UK. Almost 50/50 in fact, according to the referendum result. This means that, whoever had won the referendum, almost half the country would be currently prepping their pitchforks and flaming torches in readiness for the first thing to go wrong. 

Imagine the UK had voted to Remain. Then imagine the very first time the economy struggled, or we suffered a terrorist attack from a foreign national, or the NHS struggled to offer service to those in need. To millions of people who voted Leave, regardless of whether factually right or wrong, it would be because Britain is still in the EU, subject to the perils of the Eurozone, free movement and the mythical £350million membership. The same is true the opposite way around. Leave won, therefore whatever goes wrong from this point on, from economic performance to train timetables, it will, to a large section of society, be all Leave’s fault.

Add to this the relative age groups involved in both votes, and you have a near-certainty that Leave are on a losing platform in the long run. According to some figures, 64% of voters aged 18-24 voted with Remain, compared to just 33% of retirees. This puts the reflection upon Brexit squarely in the hands of a future population predominantly Remain in perspective. Given the above, and the likelihood that “oh it’s because we left Europe” will become the default narrative of political and economic issues from this point on, it’s also likely that the Remain position will stay largely entrenched and passed on to the next generation too young to have taken part.

It seems, then, that history will be written by the winners even here, but those winners will not be the ones who claimed an absolute, unequivocal and incontrovertible 4% victory in a referendum in 2016. The winners will be the keepers of a narrative begun in the hearts of underdogs and those left behind by a specifically dark form of politics.

We must continue to argue against the Hard Brexit stance, together with the apparent blank cheque the May Regime seems to think it has, but regardless of the gravity of this battle, we can at least be assured that the burden of history is on Leave, and not Remain. It seems inevitable that future generations will point to this moment as an inexplicable part of modern history, when powerful men and women got their own way by demanding that people on the breadline ignore those who know what they’re talking about.

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24 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Oct '16 - 5:12pm

    Even if brexit it a disaster lots won’t say remainers were right because now it has become about whether the UK can survive as an independent country. If any country who leaves the EU gets economically crushed then people will say the EU is anti-freedom so I don’t think an economic disaster puts remain on the right side of history.

    I voted remain but I want brexit to succeed and I actually hope the leave voters can turn around and say “I told you so” because I care about Britain and Europe more than my own voting history.

  • Paul J Carroll 11th Oct '16 - 5:17pm

    Cassandra needs to find a loud voice.
    Trouble is that nobody of any high profile seems to want to provide it.
    This government is taking a narrow victory in a misguided and shallow campaign to inflict Brexit on roughly half the population.
    I am not saying that the EU is without fault in all this but a reasonable and proportionate response to the Brexit vote would have been to go back to the EU to discuss the dissatisfaction of 14 million citizens and see what could be agreed to address the situation. Not this complete and dismissive dash for exit at any cost.

  • Dave Frearson 11th Oct '16 - 5:37pm

    Patience and persistence. I don’t want the UK to suffer for Brexit, but I am not willing to raise a finger to help the Tories dig themselves out of the hole they are in. As such, I am crossing my arms and pointing out there is a better way when the opportunity arises. By doing so, potentially there is a real possibility of a Lib Dem government around 2025-2030, as long as we don’t descend too much into negative politics.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Oct '16 - 5:40pm

    Former Chancellor Ken Clarke was on the Daily Politics as guest of the day. His constituency in Nottingham voted Remain. He thinks that we will all be poorer because of Brexit and cares about his children and grandchildren. He also itemises the many conflicting things that different parts of the Leave campaign said at different times. He makes no mention of Nigel Farage or UKIP so he is presumably talking about the official Leave campaign. The overall impression is that his views are evidence based rather than based on mere hope or inherent bias.

  • paul barker 11th Oct '16 - 6:04pm

    Even if the Government can keep to thir proposed timetable, Brexit doesnt happen till April 1st 2019, I am not giving up on stopping it yet. Of course the fallout has aleady begun, four people have lost their lives as a direct result of the poisin released by the “Debate”.
    On the other hand, The Leave Vote has a lot to do with The Liberal Revival. Its worth Looking at The British Election Studys latest research on The Referendum. Something I noticed in particular was the changes in Identification. As you would expect, Leave had higher levels of identification with their cause than Remain, throughout the campaign. Equally unsurprising is that levels of identification on both sides went up as the Vote approached.
    The big surprise to me was that immeidiately after The Vote levels of identification on The Remain side shot up while among Leavers they fell sharply. That suggests to me that it will be a lot easier to build a coalition of Remainers than one of the other side. We saw what happened in Scotland when The SNP managed to unite The 45% behind them. If we can get two-thirds of the 48% behind The Libdems then we can form a majority Government. Its a huge challenge but I beleive its one we can meet.

  • “Imagine the UK had voted to Remain.”

    Go further and then imagine the government had taken the result as a mandate for “hard remain”; a mandate to join the euro, join Schengen, the charter of fundamental rights and the area of security freedom and justice then signed up to a commitment to ever closer union despite never making it clear before the vote that it was is how the result would be used. Imagine how the Leavers would be squealing about it. Yet that is the very mirror image of the way they are using a leave vote.

  • I suggest that will history will record that the UK people had the sense to get out at the start of the EU collapse.

  • Richard Underhill.
    I really wish people would stop talking about the referendum as if it was an election. No constituency voted remain. That was just the way the votes were counted. Otherwise it would have involved shipping 30 odd million ballot papers to one place and counting them there. I actually sort of wish they had done that.

  • Philip Rolle 11th Oct '16 - 9:42pm

    The concerns about the level of immigration mean that a “soft” Brexit is not politically sustainable at present. If the EU is willing to compromise on freedom of movement, then it may once more come back into the mix.

  • Richard Butler 11th Oct '16 - 11:20pm

    Here’s the problem with involving die hard Remainers; I read them and listen to them day long, today for example James O’Brien on LBC, 3 hours of twisted propaganda ignoring completely the vast benefits of Brexit and the dozens of economic indicators showing we are, as Channel Fours News reporter stated today, firing on all cylinders.

    Day long the posts from Remainers are all underpinned by this notion of us as weal and impotent agents, that will just allow bad stuff to wash over us, and to wit their response is hysterical terror, wanting to run away and grasp familiarity as opposed to rise to the challenges, and see the vast benefits before us.

    I would bet many reading this will it have given due thought to the incredibly opportunities before us.

  • There is a way forward out of this mess but the government doesn’t want to take it because the Conservative Party is so badly split.
    (I know Cassandra by the way. An American who calls herself Cassi. She doesn’t like Trump)

  • Denis Mollison 12th Oct '16 - 8:02am

    “According to some figures, 64% of voters aged 18-24 voted with Remain, compared to just 33% of retirees. ”

    That for me is the strongest justification for pulling the plug on Brexit.

  • jedibeeftrix 12th Oct '16 - 9:10am

    “a near-certainty that Leave are on a losing platform in the long run. According to some figures, 64% of voters aged 18-24 voted with Remain”

    Have you never heard the old saw – and I paraphrase here – if you don’t vote left when you’re young you have no heart, if you still doing it when you’re old you have no brain?

    I’m pretty sure the same basic principle applies here.

  • Barry Snelson 12th Oct '16 - 12:23pm

    It’s a little unfair to blame the EU if a leaving nation is economically crushed. The deal has always been clear. The single market is a fantastic 500 million strong trading opportunity but to be on the inside means following the market’s rules.
    The UK wants to leave, OK “bye” but the damage. is self inflicted not a punishment

  • jedibeeftrix 12th Oct ’16 – 9:10am………..Have you never heard the old saw – and I paraphrase here – if you don’t vote left when you’re young you have no heart, if you still doing it when you’re old you have no brain?……….

    Maybe…But where does that leave life-long Lib(Dem) voters; Do they have both, or neither?

  • Graham Evans 12th Oct '16 - 3:31pm

    @ jedibeeftrix As someone now classed as “old” I can assure you that your quote regarding head and heart is fatuous. What is perhaps the difference is that when an old person puts forward a stupid idea they do so as though it were a self evident truth, whereas a young person is more likely to do so out of mere ignorance. At least there’s there hope for the latter in seeing the folly of their ideas through increased knowledge, but for the former the last thing they are interested in are the facts.

  • Graham Evans 12th Oct '16 - 3:50pm

    @ Mark Wright Of the few remaining countries which might qualify for membership of the EU, their presence or absence will have little impact on the EU. Indeed their membership could represent an increased burden on the richer members. Like the membership of Spain and Portugal before, the accession of Poland and the Baltic states was a political decision, not an economic one. Given the reluctance of Western powers to confront Russia I cannot see membership of the EU being offered in particular to the Ukraine. As for any economic failure of Britain after Brexit being blamed on the EU, I don’t suppose that will worry the remaining EU members provided they sort out the other problems which confront them.Moreover just as young Germans blamed their parents and grandparents for the folly of Nazism, there is every possibility today’s young people will blame their parents and grandparents if Britain does go into relative economic decline.

  • jedibeeftrix 12th Oct '16 - 9:48pm

    @ Graham – “What is perhaps the difference is that when an old person puts forward a stupid idea they do so as though it were a self evident truth, whereas a young person is more likely to do so out of mere ignorance.”

    I think you rather missed the point of the truism presented:

    In the long term there is a drift in opinion, so nothing to suggest that demographics will transform 52:48 into 48:52 via the grim reaper.

    In the short term thete is accommodation, which is born out by recent polls showing the margin has increased to 54:46.

    @ expats – good question. I’d say it’s a mix.

  • Graham Evans 12th Oct '16 - 10:42pm

    @ jedibeeftrix The point is that it’s not a truism. Old people can be just as stupid as young people in their views and a margin of 52 to 48 could quite easily reverse. Human progress can at times be a two steps forward one step back process but if people’s views did not change down the generations we’d still be hanging people for stealing a sheep, sending gay men to prison, and shooting soldiers suffering from shell shock.

  • Richard Butler
    “I would bet many reading this will it have given due thought to the incredibly opportunities before us.”
    And what and where are those incredible opportunities? I don’t see any British machine tool companies with a presence in Asia. There are a lot of Korean and Taiwanese companies.
    Textile machinery makers? That largely no longer exists in Britain.
    Digestive biscuits? Khong Guan make ’em cheaper.

  • Andrew McCaig 13th Oct '16 - 9:49am

    @jedibeeftrix
    There is a big difference between views on Europe and views on politics.

    When people are young they have few responsibilities and not much money. Socialist and egalitarian views are common. As they get older their focus becomes more on earning money, supporting their family and passing on wealth to the next generation. Hence they become more selfish and more Tory.

    With Europe it is different. The attitude is born out of an Internationalist or supra-nationalist viewpoint where the nation state is no longer seen as paramount. It is much less likely that this viewpoint, which is not strongly linked to personal prosperity, will erode with time.

    Personally I think the internationalist viewpoint is an inexorable demographic and the Liberal Democrats have positioned themselves on the correct side of that fence, and the Tories on the incorrect side. If only we also had a policy on tuition fees we might do quite well…..

  • jedibeeftrix 17th Oct '16 - 10:38am

    @ Andrew – “When people are young they have few responsibilities and not much money. Socialist and egalitarian views are common. As they get older their focus becomes more on earning money, supporting their family and passing on wealth to the next generation. Hence they become more selfish and more Tory.”

    True enough, with regards left/right, but we might equally note that idealism morphs in realism with age, and the EU’s ambition of ever closer union has always been driven by idealism. Hence why i said: “I’m pretty sure the same basic principle applies here.”

  • another thing that happens as we get older is that we become more aware of history, of standing in the tradition of those who came before us.

    Young people think only the future matters: as we get older, we realise the past matters as much if not more.

    (Actually I suppose this might be just another way of saying the young are idealistic and the old realistic, but either way, point is that attitudes to things like the traditional nation-state can change with age just as much as attitudes to economic policy)

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