The political analysis of the local elections last week highlighted the divisive media rhetoric that continues to polarise Britain.
Last week, people across England and Northern Ireland voted in local council elections; this was the biggest democratic exercise in the UK since 2017. However, the analysis provided by political commentators in the days since has highlighted the extent to which political rhetoric is contributing to the deepening polarisation across the UK since the 2016 EU referendum.
The headlines following the local election results highlighted the big losses experienced by the Conservatives and Labour across England. The Conservatives lost over 1,300 councillors, whilst Labour lost 82 councillors. Politicians including Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, claimed that the results were an indication that people wanted them to ‘get on with’ Brexit. Commentators including the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, argued that losses experiences by the main parties were a response to failures to negotiate a Brexit deal. Across the board, there is an evident trend in rhetoric that conjectures that the population unanimously voted to leave the EU. This is an incorrect portrayal and must be challenged.
I agree that Brexit did have significant ramifications in these elections. Brexit is a political black hole, as it dominates political debate and agenda, and therefore influenced the way people voted. However, I must argue that the analysis made by many commentators on the loss in Conservative and Labour votes is false. Some claim that people are angry about the botched deals offered or angry because they just want politicians to get on with it. These comments fail to exemplify that the biggest gains were made by pro-remain parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. Both of these parties took significant proportions of the votes cast and are committed to a second referendum. Combined with the losses experienced by the Conservatives and Labour this trend can be simplistically understood as a change in the will of the British people.
Commentators have used this polarising rhetoric and framing of events, since the 2016 referendum. For almost three years, commentators have failed to acknowledge that 48% of people voted to remain in the EU. Politicians have frequently labelled the referendum result as a ‘clear mandate’. However, a difference of three percentage-points fails to give much clarity; especially when the issue itself is so polarising. I accept that the Leave campaign did win the referendum, but the majority they had was very slim. Polling data suggests that this majority support does not exist now and continues to decline with time; the most recent polls put remain at 54%.
There must be a change in rhetoric to avoid further polarisation across the UK. Brexit is dominating the agenda and will continue to do so for some sometime. If a significant proportion of the electorate’s views continue to be rendered obsolete, then polarisation will worsen. Consensus must be sought, and this is not achieved through divisiveness and polarity. This change is necessary in order to reunify this country.