There is a lot of talk right now about an angry, mainly old working class who used Brexit as a way of kicking back at an establishment that had brought them nothing but grief over the last decade. The Leave campaign managed to channel that into anger at the EU, even though it had precious little to do with the EU. The key is to ask how did that happen, and why did it not happen just one year ago?
In the 2015 general election Labour highlighted the decline in UK real wages, and promised more money for public services. They were defeated - no angry electorate wanting to get rid of the establishment then. Did that electorate feel passionate about European migration? UKIP only managed to get one MP elected.
In 2015 the electorate voted Cameron back in because they thought the Conservatives were more competent at running the economy, and that Cameron would be a better leader than Miliband. In the last few hours we can clearly see that both beliefs are incorrect, and some of us said it back then. But that cannot be the whole story because that same leader with the same economic competence has just been heavily defeated.
Did people just vote for the higher food and petrol prices that sterling’s depreciation will bring? Of course not. Nor did they vote for a possible recession. They did vote for lower immigration, but only in a small minority of cases because they dislike immigrants. People thought less immigration would lead to a better NHS, more secure jobs and higher real wages. They may get lower immigration, in time, but they will certainly will not get a better NHS and substantially better working conditions as a result.
It is tragic that we have left the EU. But what is equally tragic is that people who voted for that are very quickly going to find out that they were sold a pig in a poke. They have been deceived, and that will only increase the disillusion and disenchantment with the political system. Of course we should blame Johnson and Farage and the rest: the UK has paid a very high price to facilitate political ambition. Of course we should blame Cameron and Osborne for taking the referendum gamble and stoking anger with austerity. But a few politicians alone are not capable of fooling the electorate so consistently. To do that they need to control the means of communicating information.
In 2015 I argued that mediamacro had won it for Cameron and Osborne, and pretty well no one took this seriously. Just a year later, the united voice of economists has been successfully dismissed as Project Fear. Not by the people, but by politicians working together with most of the tabloid press, and a broadcast media obsessed with 'balance'. The tabloid press has groomed its readers for Brexit. If any good is to come out of this, it will involve defeating most of the tabloid press, and then forever reducing their influence. And given the power of that media, this can only be done by a united opposition that is prepared to cooperate in an effort to beat Johnson and Farage.
There is also a very big warning here for the US. Clinton may be ahead now, but do not underestimate the power of the media (which is still giving Trump much more coverage) to turn that around.
Brexit is perhaps the first major casualty of the political populism that has followed the financial crisis and austerity. That populism triumphed in the UK because the establishment underestimated its power and did nothing to tackle the resentment on which it feeds and the misinformation on which it thrives. It has been strong enough to turn a traditionally outward looking nation into one that turns its back on its neighbours. The leaders as well as the people of other countries should not make the same mistake as the UK just made.