Economically, the financial crash of 2008 set UK society on a course that led to the 2016 EU referendum. Socially, the gaps between the haves, maybe-haves and have-not’s became wider in the UK than anywhere else in the EU. After 2015 the UK was more politically polarized than it had been since the aftermath of any election in the last 120 years. Geographically, the north-south divide continued to deepen as the country split between a London commuter-belt, and the Northern and Western archipelago of declining cities. It was life’s losers and the old who disproportionately voted to leave the EU in June 2016. Losers can be found everywhere, and can appear to be better-off than average, but they believed that in being part of the EU the UK had lost something. Because of differential turnout, a narrow majority of Leave voters lived in the South of England and most were middle class.
This lecture consider the antecedents to the vote: the rapid decline in living standards after 2010, failing health and rapidly rising mortality due to austerity. A majority of the electorate voted for something other than this. They did not vote for what they will get because no one knows what they will get. The UK fares unfavourably in relation to other large countries in the EU in terms of health, educational fairness, housing, income distribution and poverty. It was not the EU that made us less equal and which created so many of the social problems that result from growing inequality, an ignorant elite, and a state slowly adjusting to no longer being the once ‘great’ centre of an empire.


Danny Dorling giving the Annual John Hamilton Lifelong Learning Lecture, Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Liverpool, October 14th 2016: “Leaving Reality: The UK and the rest of Europe”.