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Brexit, A Continuation – Interview with Patrick Le Galès (Interview)
First lines: SASE: You have been studying the British political system for the past three decades, would you say that Brexit was essentially unforeseeable? Patrick Le Galès: Indeed, not many had foreseen it. We knew three things: 1) the British population remained hostile or indifferent to the EU, and a good deal of the media (in particular those belonging to the anti-European Australian business maverick Rupert Murdoch) have had years and years of brutal anti-European coverage. Comparative qualitative analysis (see Citizens’ Reactions to European Integration Compared: Overlooking Europe. Eds., Sophie Duchesne, Elizabeth Frazer, Florence Haegel, et al. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) precisely identified the dynamics and depth of ignorance and hostility among UK citizens. 2) Inequalities have increased in the UK, the north-south divide has been increasing (from health to income), and a large part of the population, particularly in former industrial towns and cities, felt left alone (no high speed train, lack of investment). One also has to remember that the Cameron/Osborne government elected in 2010 implemented the most drastic program of public services cuts that has been seen in the UK, which disproportionately targeted the bottom half of the income distribution. Part-time workers had already been having a hard time—after 2010, the cuts hit them badly. Local authorities in the north of England lost 40 to 50% of their financial resources because of those cuts, and have to close myriads of grants, libraries, subsidies to NGOs, and programs to support the poor. Cuts were decided in 2010 and 2011, and their effect was in full effect 3 to 4 years later. 3) The Brexit issue has been toxic for the Conservative Party for more than two decades. The electoral success of Brexit leader Nigel Farage in the European election of 2014 put a lot of pressure on the Conservative Party. The anti-European fringe became more vocal and Cameron started the referendum and the negotiation with the EU in order to get rid of them. Now, these elements did not lead most of us to foresee Brexit. My colleague Colin Hay has written a paper about the amazing set of events that led to Brexit to argue about the limits of predictive social science. At the very least, we did not anticipate Cameron’s gamble, the turn of events that followed, nor the fact that two of Cameron’s close allies, the ebullient Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, would choose to lead the Brexit campaign! Remember, it was reported that up until the last minute, with the arrival of the first results, the “Remain” campaign had no doubt they had won. Not many had seen the Tsunami coming.