Thursday, 14 July 2016

How wrong was Leave? [part 3]

Now to the next question: insofar as immigration mattered in the Brexit vote, was it control over immigration or a reduction in immigration that made the difference? In this post, with the assistance of a dodgy masseur, I will attempt to show that it was control.

I mentioned the psychological importance of control in yesterday's post. It is a big factor. People really value the chance to do something even if they have no intention of doing it: think of things as small as a money-back guarantee, or as big as having a bag packed and the passport of another country in your pocket 'just in case'.

Indeed, people are more likely to be receptive to something new if they have the ability to say no to it in the future should it all go wrong rather than having to make a once-and-for-all decision. That is true on an individual level. Imagine you are going for a massage and have a suspicion that your masseur has misunderstood what you are asking for: would you be more likely to go ahead with the masseur who says 'you can tell me to stop at any time' or the one who says 'once I start, I get in the zone and there's no stopping until I've finished'? Control matters.

Control matters on a political level too. Let's leave mass immigration aside for a moment and consider some other major change to your neighbourhood that might have a positive impact, but then again might be negative: a new out of town supermarket opening, a new road or airport perhaps, or a decision to film a big TV series next door. You would, I am sure, be ready to feel positive about it if your local council had the chance to shut it down if it all went wrong - and much more likely to feel negative if it was forced on you without your consent by someone you had no influence over who lived far away. And we can take it further: imagine how much more receptive to the new feature you would be if you were granted the magic power of entirely removing it at the press of a button if you thought it had turned out badly.

Back to Brexit. Again, I'm going to go with the data. On this point, the Economist provides the answer:

"MANY of those who voted to stay in the European Union in Britain’s recent referendum play up the lack of contact between Leavers and migrants. Although immigration featured heavily in the campaign, areas with the highest levels of immigration—notably London—were often among those most likely to vote to Remain (see chart 1 above). To mint-tea-sipping metropolitans, it seems absurd that people who live in areas with comparatively low numbers of Poles or Romanians should have been so keen to put a stop to migration.

But that is not the full picture. Consider the percentage-change in migrant numbers, rather than the total headcount, and the opposite pattern emerges (chart 2). Where foreign-born populations increased by more than 200% between 2001 and 2014, a Leave vote followed in 94% of cases. The proportion of migrants may be relatively low in Leave strongholds such as Boston, in Lincolnshire (where 15.4% of the population are foreign-born). But it has grown precipitously in a short period of time (by 479%, in Boston’s case). High levels of immigration don’t seem to bother Britons; high rates of change do."

Here are the graphs:

So, the British people, by and large, are a little keener on the EU if they live among immigrants than if they don't. But not the ones who live "Where foreign-born populations increased by more than 200% between 2001 and 2014". A 200% increase (i.e. 3 times the original figure!) looks like uncontrolled immigration. And it is. What the graph shows, bearing in mind the period, is migration from the EU, and EU freedom of movement precisely is uncontrolled and uncontrollable immigration. Literally hundreds of millions of people have the right to move to the UK tomorrow. And the council for the area they arrive in, whether Maidenhead, St Ives, Aldeburgh, John O'Groats, cannot treat those people any differently from British people. Now, of course, hundreds of millions of people don't do that (like fractional reserve banking, the EU relies on people not doing what they are allowed to do), but there are some places where something like that seemed to be happening - and those places voted Leave. They knew that voting Leave was literally the only step open to them to prevent immigration tripling (or, in the case of Boston, sextupling) again.

People in Boston surely aren't that different from people in, say, Sefton (Merseyside, voted Remain). But their impressions of how well immigration is controlled must be very different. The data, it seems to me, clearly show that people voted for control over immigration, rather than against immigration per se.