Signage for a Welsh polling station, 2010. Photo: Flickr/Walt Jabsco Signage for a Welsh polling station, 2010. Photo: Flickr/Walt Jabsco

The high stakes and volatility of post-Brexit Britain are at a premium among the Welsh valleys, maintains Seb Cooke

In the South Wales valleys, the Leave vote in the EU referendum vote won by a big margin across many constituencies. In some cases, the turnout was up to 10% higher than it had been for the general election in 2015.

In every constituency across South Wales, the Leave vote was much higher (sometimes more than double) than the combined UKIP and Tory votes at the last election. In other words, over 50% of the leave vote couldn’t be easily attributed to a traditional UKIP or Tory euro sceptic voter base (and that’s also assuming that every Tory voted Leave).

What this points to, then, is that somewhere near half (or more than half) of the people who voted Leave in these areas – among the poorest places in the country – were a mixture of non-voters, Labour voters and in some cases third party voters. Ascribing a set political character to this constituency is very difficult because of its complex and contradictory nature.


This group is not unique to South Wales either; it can be seen across the UK, often in areas with a similar historical experience of Thatcherism and the economic dogma that followed. They were decisive in turning the result of the referendum and for any left wing project that hopes to change society for the better, winning their political trust is an unavoidable necessity. There are barriers to doing that (most notably over immigration), but also clear signs that it is possible if the correct approach is taken.

These challenges are reflective of the contradictory nature of this group of Leave voters, who were not expressing a pure left or right wing outlook but a far more mixed set of political views. It is our job both to try to understand this mix but also contest its political direction. The first step of doing that is respecting the fact that they won the outcome of the referendum by a large margin.

For the left to fail on this first hurdle is a sure fire way to turn the political character of this group further to the right which would be very dangerous.


This is the political reality that faces Corbyn and Labour over the triggering of article 50. It is fine if you are the Lib Dems to take a totally cavalier attitude to the idea of respecting the result of the referendum because you are not seeking to win mass support. But for the left, the anti-democratic principles which underpin the approach of the Liberal Democrats cannot be a feature of our politics.

Corbyn is right not to seek to stop the triggering of Article 50, but the debate around Article 50 masks a bigger issue which is how Corbyn (and wider elements of the left) chart a left wing break with the EU that both rejects the clampdown on immigration whilst also taking on the neo-liberal impulses of the EU.

Such an approach can win support from both working class leave and remain voters. Without this, the danger is that May will be allowed to set the tone of the debate and project herself as the one most serious about changing the political landscape.

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