“It was the first time in my life that I had to queue to vote,” said Nicola Davies, remembering the Brexit referendum, “so I knew straight away we were going to lose. People were coming out asking ‘why do I have to use a pencil?’ It was obvious some had never seen a polling booth.”
That was the way in which the people of Newport, in South Wales, helped deliver Brexit in the referendum on June 23, 2016. The city and its surrounding valleys were home to some of Britain’s earliest and heaviest industries, and are still a heartland for the Labour Party. But neither loyalty to Labour, nor expert opinion that Brexit would mean industrial doom, could stop 60 percent of Newport’s voters’ choosing to quit the EU.
A walk down the city’s high street answers the question “why.” Just as in 2016, shop after shop stands closed. Those stores that are thriving are mainly payday lenders, pawnbrokers, and the many charity shops selling second-hand goods. The sodden blankets of the rough sleepers, the groups of young addicted men, the prevalence of diseases of poverty, all confront the people of Newport with a daily reminder that their community has got a very raw deal from the neoliberal era.
I went to Wales because, two years on, there is a glimmer of hope for those who want to reverse Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed Brexit plan, agreed at Chequers on July 6 2018, has fallen apart spectacularly, triggering the resignation of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and a civil war within the Conservative Party; this has dented not only the party’s poll rating but support for Brexit itself. The resulting popular disillusion has now shown up in the opinion polls.
In August the anti-Brexit Best for Britain campaign released a deep and detailed poll, using an unorthodox technique called multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP), showing that 112 constituencies have now switched from a majority supporting Leave to a majority for Remain. According to the poll, 2.6 million people have changed their position on Brexit—with 1.6 million mainly Labour voters switching to Remain, while around a million Conservative voters switched to Leave.
People’s Vote support
This has boosted support for the People’s Vote campaign, an alliance of liberal centrists and Labour right-wingers who want a second referendum to overturn the result of the first. When the national data from the MRP polling is projected onto Newport, it predicts a 9 percent swing toward Remain—although Leave would still have a narrow majority in the city.
But Nicola Davies, a community-center manager and Labour activist, is skeptical. Though she would personally like a second referendum, it would be “absolutely disastrous for this area. It would divide the community even more. For years we complained: You’re not interested in politics. Then for the first time in their lives they vote—do we say to them your vote does not matter?”