Blog: Brexit and the myth of ‘mastermind’ Cummings – The Guardian

Julian Coman perpetuates the commonly held idea that the loss of Labour’s “red wall” seats in 2019 was the culmination of a cunning strategy developed by Dominic Cummings during the Brexit campaign of 2016, in which a large lie on the side of a bus appealed to “a deep nostalgia for a lost politics of solidarity” (Cummings should not be forgotten: Labour has to learn what he got right, 16 November). However, the social geographer Professor Danny Dorling has shown that it is a mistake to identify the “red wall” constituencies as the Brexit heartlands: “The capital of Brexit was Essex. The leave vote was won in the larger, white middle-class commuter country surrounding London. It was won by persuading very large numbers of people in southern middle-England that membership of the EU was terrible for them, their children and their grandchildren.” Dorling’s research goes on to say that, although most northern and Midland constituencies did vote to leave the EU, they did so in lesser numbers and with less enthusiasm than those in the home counties. He also points out that, without the votes of relatively affluent English settlers, Wales would have voted to remain.

The truth is that Labour’s support in the “red wall” had been ebbing away for years, long before Brexit became an issue, simply because Labour in power did nothing of any consequence to reverse the terrible damage done to people’s lives by Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies. When, in 2019, Labour finally did come up with a vision to improve things, the party’s political incompetence ensured that “red wall” voters did not take the offer seriously. As for Labour “learning” from Cummings, there was nothing new about his strategies: we have the whole of human history to know what happens when charismatic politicians tell lies to people who feel they have little to lose.
Michael Pyke
Shenstone, Staffordshire

• Must the Guardian really burnish the Dominic Cummings myth as the man who won Brexit and last December’s election? In 2014, I wrote a book called Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe. It got little attention as the London political-media establishment, especially the liberal-left as well as the CBI and TUC, refused to believe Brexit could happen. Yet every referendum elsewhere in Europe this century that had the EU on the ballot paper was lost. The referendum was fought on a populist anti-immigration platform, which the Tories had been pushing since William Hague’s leadership when Cummings was unknown. Lord North lost America and David Cameron lost Europe. Nigel Farage was more important than Cummings and the referendum was Enoch Powell’s posthumous revenge.

Nor was Cummings responsible for Jo Swinson and Jeremy Corbyn handing Boris Johnson the general election he craved. He could have been kept swinging in the wind but we had an opposition leadership with zero tactical skill. I canvassed in red-wall and other seats last December. For every voter who mentioned Europe, 20 ranted about Corbyn.

Labour tried to appeal to anti-European working-class voters all through the 1980s. It didn’t work. Europe is but one of many reasons why voters turn left or right. The success of pro-European politicians in Europe in reducing the share of populist anti-EU votes, as well as the win for Joe Biden in the US, should tell us that progressive politics aping xenophobic, anti-EU populism rarely works.
Dr Denis MacShane
Former Europe minister, Brussels

• While I’d love to think Adam Hart (Letters, 16 November) is right about the demise of neoliberalism, Julian Coman tells a more likely tale. Rishi Sunak is a “free-market” Tory. Even the lavish spending of public funds to fight the virus has gone, wherever possible, to the shamefully inadequate private sector. And to realise Coman’s “radical post-Covid vision for England”, what can we expect from a centralist, social democratic opposition?
John Airs
Liverpool

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