That the obsessions of Westminster do not necessarily coincide with those of the country has been obvious for a long time, but even so, the dislocation between last week’s news and this weekend’s opinion polls looks bizarre.
The government looks in a greater shambles than any in history. We have a Prime Minister who has been in office for two months and has yet to win a Commons vote, who has been cornered and attacked for anything he tries to do, whom BBC lawyers seem happy for one of the corporation’s comedians to brand a ‘liar and a racist’. The Conservative party is in open warfare, with 21 MPs ejected from the party by Downing Street and two ministers resigning not just their jobs but their membership of the Conservative party.
And what do the polls tell us? That the Conservatives have increased their lead over the past week. According to the latest from YouGov, the Tories are on 35 per cent while Labour has slumped to 21 per cent. Westminster’s Remainers have their tails up – and yet the ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ Lib Dems are polling little higher than the Brexit party. You can sense the puzzlement among those who have spent the past couple of weeks efficiently executing a Parliamentary revolt on behalf of the people (as they see it) against what they view as a deeply unpopular, barely legitimate government which is acting in the interests of a privileged or deranged few.
The tragedy for hardcore Remainers is that while they see themselves as internationalists they know little of their own country beyond the narrow circles in which they move. In their minds, the mood of the country has changed towards their own way of thinking – that Brexit is a self-inflicted wound. They fantasise that there are millions of Leave voters who now regret their decision – in spite of there being little evidence of this. On the contrary, on the occasions this year the public has been asked to choose between leaving without a deal and Remain, 40 to 45 per cent have tended to back no deal. Whether or not you personally believe that leaving the EU without a deal would be the catastrophe many are trying to paint it as, it is hard to escape the conclusion that this view is far from universally shared by the public.
The archetypal Remainer has often been portrayed, according to David Goodhart’s definition, as an ‘anywhere’ while the archetypal Brexiteer is a ‘somewhere’. Yet this isn’t just an oversimplification – it is fundamentally flawed. There are many Remainers who would feel perfectly at home in Bratislava or Vilnius – yet have little knowledge of, say, Scunthorpe. Their world revolves around the centres of capitals and other large cities. It does not include industrial towns, remote rural places of even the suburbia of major cities. They are not ‘Anywhere’; they are ‘Anywhere with a Prada’.
There are, of course, some MPs who, while they personally favour Remain, understand where public opinion lies among their constituents – Lisa Nandy (Wigan) and Caroline Flint (Don Valley) being obvious examples. But the Forces of Remain are going to have to be extremely careful that they don’t win the battle at Westminster only to see Remain MPs and parties savaged in the approaching election.