BOB GARFIELD: In the movie, Cummings bemoans the lack of critical analysis about the state of British society and beyond.
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH AS DOMINIC CUMMINGS: Many important questions to be asked of our nation, our species, our planet. And no one's asking the right ones. [END CLIP]
MATTHEW GOODWIN: British national identity, or more specifically English national identity, was always defined by the fact that we are an island nation.
BOB GARFIELD: Matthew Goodwin is a Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent and author of National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy.He says the right questions were actually staring us in the face all along.
MATTHEW GOODWIN: Britain its entire post-war relationship with the EU was defined by Britain being the awkward partner. It had opt-outs of key things such as the Euro a single currency.
BOB GARFIELD: Euro skepticism, you might say, is in its DNA.
MATTHEW GOODWIN: We would never really fully committed to the European project in the way that the French or the Germans or the Italians were.
BOB GARFIELD: Goodwin explains that from 1995 to 2016, there was actually consistent and widespread public support for dramatically rethinking Britain's relationship with the EU.
MATTHEW GOODWIN: And groups think really led us to the opposite conclusion that remain was always the clear favorite.
BOB GARFIELD: If Brexit was a backlash, you say, it wasn't a backlash to immigration per se but to a larger issue the perceived overreach by liberal democracy in the form of the European Union and a perceived loss of sovereignty and national identity. All of which sentiments were hiding in plain view. The leave vote didn't magically materialize from nowhere and it wasn't just a bunch of racist ruffians.
MATTHEW GOODWIN: Well I think one of the ignored elements of the Brexit debate is the diversity that existed within the leave electorate. And if you look at actually who ended up voting leave, there was basically an alliance of pretty affluent middle class conservatives who were predominantly wanting a restoration of national sovereignty.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The European Union and its manifestations can impose laws on us which we do not want, can refuse to repeal laws which we think outlived their usefulness. [ END CLIP]
MATTHEW GOODWIN: There were white working class, traditionally left wing Labour voters, who were more anxious about what they saw as the sort of high levels of migration and rapid change at the local level.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: There are lots of Muslims. Lots of people around here, which are taking our jobs. [END CLIP]
MATTHEW GOODWIN: One in three of Britain's black or minority ethnic voters opted for leave and recent research suggests that they were unhappy with the way in which our migration policy gave preference to people from within Europe at the expense of some of their networks and relatives outside of Europe.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: The UK needs to be separate country. People like myself, paying tax, if somebody else in Europe not working and eating my money. Why? [END CLIP]
MATTHEW GOODWIN: And also there was a large degree of support for leave among Britain's pensioners who came of age in a very different period when Britain was a global superpower and when it wasn't so closely aligned to the European Union. Leavers wanted to talk about identity and sovereignty and community, and remain we're just talking to them about GDP, the national economy and financial costs and benefits.
BOB GARFIELD: The prevailing media narrative is that 17 million gullible and resentful voters who don't understand markets or governance or economics or law were tricked into consigning the UK into isolation and irrelevance. But you say that such blind adherents to the march of liberal democracy does a disservice to legitimate grievances.
MATTHEW GOODWIN: Well, leave were particularly effective was picking up on that sense among voters that they are no longer really being recognized or being given a voice in the political system. And Fukuyama famously argued in his book The End of History,that liberal democracy really did one of two things. Aside from offering the capitalist system and developing a very effective economic model, it actually also satisfied people struggle for recognition that gave them a sense of voice. I think what many leavers felt, particularly, by the time that we got to 2016 was that actually nobody in the political system was listening to them. And certainly in our book, we make the point that one in two working class voters in Britain had concluded that actually they weren't being listened to in Britain's political system. And they certainly weren't being listened to in the European Union's political system. And I think partly, therefore, the vote to leave the EU became something much more powerful which was an attempt by voters to get their views, to get their values back onto the political radar.
BOB GARFIELD: Now the occasion for your article is your own personal astonishment that amid the current polls Brexit chaos, to this day, few in the media, or government, or the academy have truly reflected at how it got into this mess. They see it, you write as a spasm of naked ignorant and malign populism, not as really a historical inevitability. Your piece was a bit of screed against that kind of self-validation and arrogance.
MATTHEW GOODWIN: Many people, not only in the academy, but also large parts of Britain's media struggled to make sense of the vote to leave and where it had come from. Our media is still incredibly London centric. Many people who are reporting on the mood in the nation have gone through Oxford or Cambridge and often private schools. And I think the shock that met the leave vote was partly a reflection of that. We just simply don't have a media debate. We don't have a national debate that's truly representative of the country. And that, perhaps, also explains why so many people expected remain to win.
BOB GARFIELD: We're having this conversation in the midst of chaos. Parliament has just, not just voted down, but crushed Prime Minister May's plan. And two months from the day, there's no mechanism for any kind of soft landing into whatever the new reality is. All the indications are instead for a catastrophic crash. There is talk of a referendum to reverse the first referendum but you believe that would surely be catastrophic. Why?
MATTHEW GOODWIN: Pragmatically, I can understand how we end up having a second referendum because there is no majority in the House of Commons for a Brexit deal. Mrs. May has lost her deal. She was defeated heavily and her opponents do not have a majority for an alternative route. There are many problems with that, however, the first is we have no idea what we put on the ballot paper. Would it be Mrs. May's deal versus a no deal? Would it be Mrs. May's deal versus remaining in the European Union? Would it be Mrs. May's deal versus some other option? And the reason that's problematic is when you survey voters they don't really know, even now, what's in Mrs. May's deal. So this is a very low information environment and referendums are supposed to be, really, only introduced when there's a very clear binary question. Are you in? Are you out? But secondly, I think it's problematic because it's going to send a pretty troubling message. We have to remember what happened before the first referendum. A lot of blue collar workers in industrial towns had simply stopped voting and they've been giving up on politics. They've concluded that when it came to these big issues like Britain's relationship with Europe, like immigration, like their role and their voice within the political system, that it wasn't worth voting. My worry, when it comes to the prospect of a second referendum, is actually we send those voters quite a worrying message which is that, actually, even though you came out and voted leave and you try to reclaim that sense of voice, you made the wrong decision and you're going to have to vote all over again. By asking those voters to vote again, effectively, until they give the right answer, are we not just pouring gasoline on the sense among many voters that backlashing is actually the only way to get things done?
BOB GARFIELD: Matt thank you very, very much.
MATTHEW GOODWIN: Thank you for having me. I've enjoyed listening to the show from London.
BOB GARFIELD: Matthew Goodwin is a Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent and co-author of National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, another global culture war is afoot, on YouTube.