Socialist Worker

Working class Brexit voters weren’t conned by Facebook

The official Vote Leave campaign fell foul of spending rules. But focusing on it ignores why people voted out, argues Sarah Bates

Issue No. 2616

Remain supporters want a second referendum, and many claim the result of the first is invalid because the official Leave campaign broke spending rules

Remain supporters want a second referendum, and many claim the result of the first is invalid because the official Leave campaign broke spending rules (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Allegations of theft, fraud and corruption during the 2016 European Union (EU) referendum have fuelled calls for a second vote on Brexit.

The Electoral Commission fined the official Vote Leave campaign £61,000 and referred it to the police for breaking spending regulations. It wasn’t supposed to spend more than £7 million on campaigning.

But because it donated £675,000 to the BeLeave campaign, it was able to pump out more social media adverts.

Prominent Remain campaigner and investor Gina Miller was one of the first to respond to the revelations.

She characterised the referendum as “a fight between a group of well-meaning career politicians and their professional advisers and a collection of obsessive haters of the EU prepared to do whatever it took to win.”

This ignores what drove the Brexit vote.

Brexit vote was a revolt against the rich
Brexit vote was a revolt against the rich
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It is true that Vote Leave broke the laws about campaign spending limits and this allowed them to produce more publicity. But ultimately the result was not caused by some extra Facebook adverts.

The vote to leave the EU was about what was going on throughout society—not just what was going on at the top.

And by placing so much emphasis on the role of social media, ordinary people’s reasons for voting leave are ignored.

Fundamentally, as Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbot said, it was a “roar of defiance against the Westminster elite”.

Anger against the establishment was manifested in a contradictory way, but class played a decisive role in how people cast their votes. A poll by Lord Ashcroft showed that a majority—57 percent—of the more affluent AB social group (higher managers and professionals) voted Remain.

The C1 group made up of white collar workers was split down the middle.

But the poorer C2, D and E social groups voted Leave by nearly two thirds.

The official Remain campaign headed by then Tory prime minister David Cameron pitched itself as the choice for those who wanted to retain the status quo.

The official campaign positioned a Leave vote as an opportunity to shake-up the status quo.

Saying social media was the clincher for deciding which way to vote is based on a patronising attitude about working class people.

People don’t just passively absorb what the media tells them.

Did big data rig the votes?
Did big data rig the votes?
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If that was the case, 2 million people wouldn’t have marched against George Bush and Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

And Owen Smith would have beaten Jeremy Corbyn in the second Labour leadership election.

Many ordinary people are drawn to the argument for a second referendum out of genuine fears about the far right, racism and jobs.

But the Remain movement’s leadership is made up of right wing liberals who offer no alternative to austerity or racism.

The real solution is to exploit the deep divisions over Brexit in the Tory government in order to drive it out of office.

And if the Tories try to push through a deal that’s bad for working class people, we have to unite on the streets and picket lines.

The left should unite around a socialist and anti-racist vision of Brexit.

That can unite working class people and shape the anger that fuelled the Brexit vote in a left wing direction.


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