Report: Why we must listen to ‘Leavers’

We know the figures, and they are daunting. 51.9% voted ‘Leave’. 17,410,742 people. That’s a lot of people! But we don’t yet really know why. The media have been quick to offer explanations of people’s ‘Leave’ votes:

  • To take back control.
  • To stop immigration.
  • To free up money for the NHS.
  • Because Boris Johnson is believable.
  • Because the EU is too right wing. Too left wing.
  • Because Brussels is interfering.
  • To teach Cameron a lesson. To halt austerity.
  • To make Britain like it was in the good old days.

The truth is probably all these reasons and more. The votes of 17.4 million can’t be explained away as the result of simple ignorance, or racism, or swallowing Brexiter lies.


With the ‘Ten Towns’ project, CommonGround want to find out for ourselves. Not because we agree, but because it is good, and necessary, for us to listen. We might find we can make common cause with some ‘Leave’ voters. On making migration work for all? On making globalisation work for the whole UK, and not just for parts of it? Who knows? It is worth trying.


If Brexit is ever to be stopped or reversed, millions of ‘Leave’ voters will have to change their minds. So we’re starting by going to some of the places that voted most strongly to leave. These parts of Britain often feel impoverished and ignored. Stoke was 69% for ‘Leave’. The towns of the North West and the Midlands were up to 60% for ‘Leave’, so we’ll start with my hometown of Preston.


We will also go to places where we might have thought the ‘Remain’ case would resonate strongly. Felixstowe, the biggest port in the UK, but which voted to leave. Sunderland, home to Nissan, but which voted to leave. Birmingham, the most multi-cultural and the youngest city in the UK, which voted, nevertheless, to leave. We will connect with people of all kinds – activists and MPs, local councillors, but business people too, shoppers, students, parents.


We want to go beyond the obvious, beyond the politician’s cliché, and really, really listen. Listen like the brilliant DJ and broadcaster Studs Terkel of Chicago. He spent a lifetime recording interviews with every kind of American. The Library of Congress, preserving his archive, called it “a remarkable rich history of the ideas and perspectives of both common and influential people living in the 20th century”. For him, there was no story that could not be heard or retold. We need something of that spirit: open, curious, ready to listen and to learn.


We’ll build a record of everything we find out, however hard it is to hear. Whether Britain stays in the EU – as we want – or not, we need to listen and learn from ‘Leave’ voters about their hopes and feelings. Without this deeper understanding, we have little chance of remaining within the EU, and no chance of healing the deeper divisions that the vote has exposed.


If you’re interested in ‘Ten Towns’ as a project, why not join us as a supporter or volunteer?

Thanks to Reasons2Remain for publishing a version of this article: