I have a confession to make. I’m a serial May doubter. When Theresa May was appointed Home Secretary in 2010, I honestly didn’t think she had what it takes. I was wrong: she turned out to be a solid Home Secretary, whose speech to the Police Federation in 2014 was one of the most important political events that took place under the Collation Government.
And I was wrong again two weeks ago. I was not a May supporter. I feared that her premiership would continue David Cameron’s Notting Hill liberalism. I was mistaken.
It’s not just the impressive way in which she has formed her Government which has given me faith in our new Prime Minister, but her commitment to serve in the interest of the ordinary people of the whole of the UK – rather than just those loud voices from the metropolitan suburbs that surround Westminster in a tight ring. To me, this demonstrates that she truly understands the concerns of ordinary people and the reasons why they voted to leave the EU.
Vote Leave won because the British people felt enfranchised for the first time in generations; they felt their vote mattered, and that they could have a real say. Meanwhile, David Cameron and the Westminster bubble lost the EU referendum because they didn’t understand what the nation was really thinking.
The people I spoke and listened to whilst out on the campaign trail felt that they had a chance to bring back power from faceless Brussels bureaucrats and from the mega-global corporations – and to give two finger to the MPs and experts that they simply didn’t trust.
What these people were telling me was in contrast to the view of the experts, who simply didn’t understand what was going on outside London. Think back to the voter registration extension. There was belief at the time that the thousands of new people registering to vote were young students despite to vote to remain after responding to the rallying cry of June Sarpong to save their Eurail Pass (which won’t go now that we have voted for Brexit).
But many of those the people I spoke to were new to the electoral roll and never voted before – or at least hadn’t cast a vote since 1997. They were fed-up with third-way politics, and saw the referendum as their only chance to have a real say on what they think about the status quo and the breakdown of the social contract. These newly-enrolled voters wanted to leave the EU.
From what I saw, the more dependent voters were on public services, the more likely they were to vote for Brexit. From the mum who is struggling to get her child into her school of choice; through the retiree who has to wait two week to see a GP; to the low income worker who can’t gain a council home – all voted for Leave on the basis of their life experiences.
Since the referendum, much of the media and many politicians continue not to understand why people voted for Brexit. They have pushed the narrative that the majority of those who voted to leave are elderly racists – or, at best, xenophobic little Englanders who are out of step with the modern world.
George Osborne said after the referendum that “one clear message from the referendum was that there were parts of our country which felt left behind” before committing to continue spending on his Northern Powerhouse, which of course includes HS2. I’m not sure that the people who voted to leave felt that their greatest priority is the spending of more than £50 billion on a new train line which will only save half an hour in the journey from London to Birmingham.
The truth is that people outside London see politicians as a group of out of touch posh boys. They see the ‘too big to fail’ multinational corporations as the only entities that benefit from the closed system of Brussels cronyism and open door migration.
The Prime Minister in her first week has at least indicated that she understands the concerns of the population outside of SW1. If the Prime Minister can follow her intentions though, she will win the votes, support and the confidence of the majority of the British public. If she can turn her words into action, the Conservatives under May could win in places that would have been unthinkable under Cameron.
Only history will tell if I’m being naively optimistic. But, on the basis of her first week, I feel she could be the Prime Minister who understands the concerns of the nation – and lead us from the bureaucratic, corporatist EU state into the free, fairer, enterprising world.
Nic Conner is Senior Research Fellow at the Bow Group who until recently worked for Vote Leave.