07:05 4th June 2021
For many years, Brexit was the dominant issue in British politics, a paradigm-shifting issue that up-ended generations of received wisdom about how people voted and why. For some, it also became an unhealthy obsession that made them viscerally hate those on the other side.
As Rob Ford, professor of Political Science at the University of Manchester and co-author of the book Brexitland, notes in today’s interview, despite being relatively new labels Leave and Remain are now firm and powerful identities - perhaps more so than party affiliations.
Those “forged in the referendum are just not fading away,” he tells Making Common Ground - to a greater extent than other plebiscites. That could pose problems for Sir Keir Starmer, whose assertion that “we are all Leavers now” could end up alienating Remainers while failing to convince Labour Leavers.
Conversely if Boris Johnson is simply known as "Mr Brexit", the Tories are just as vulnerable to the political realignment of recent years.
Perhaps that is why politicians have sought to reinforce those partisan identities to take on new forms in other battlegrounds in the culture war - but they are pushing on an open door.
Prof Ford notes that people’s blinkered views have furthered polarisation, with negative behaviour on both sides simply reinforcing those perceptions.
Increasingly, he believes, people are failing to give people the benefit of the doubt - a phenomenon that is exacerbated by social media but exists outside it. Instead of believing that people vote or act in good faith, we increasingly take a cynical and pessimistic view of others’ behaviour.
Pragmatism has always been key to democracy but without trusting other people’s motivations, and without being able to see the other side of the argument, polarisation makes it next to impossible to compromise.
For the full interview, listen below.