Opinion

Paul McNamee: The public gets what the public wants

There is no way of speaking for vast swathes of the country in the way senior politicians who are wheeled out push for a no-deal Brexit do

Brexit bus

Boris Johnson with Gisela Stuart in front of one of Vote Leave's battle buses

I’ve been up and down the country and people tell me they want this thing done. Says every senior politician wheeled out at present to push for a no-deal Brexit. People are, according to these senior politicians, sick of things.

Where are these people, I wondered? We get a lot of letters into The Big Issue – yes, letters, handwritten. We get emails, Facebook messages, tweets. We get a lot of poetry. And there is nuanced argument in all of these missives from all of you. Even most of the poetry. Also, our vendors are out on the streets of Britain every day, speaking to thousands of people. They’re not reporting such clarity as those senior politicians report.

How are they getting such clear and uniform responses? No doubt some people here and there will say it. But all of them? Up and down the country?!

Every time one of the no-deal flagwaving politicians trots out their lines, they must be challenged on what has happened to the poorest, and what they are going to do

There is a fascinating website called YouGov Ratings. It’s part of the YoungGov market research network. The YouGov Ratings part of it, according to YouGov Ratings, measures the popularity of everything. And boy do you lose time
in there.

I started with no-deal Brexit. The majority of people, when offered various scenarios, felt the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit would be damaging – where they live, on jobs, on prices in supermarkets. That still doesn’t answer whether they want this thing done, as those politicians say.

Then I got lost. According to YouGov Ratings, an ever-evolving up-to-the minute rendering of public mood and taste (my description, not theirs) Boris Johnson is the most popular public figure in Britain, within politics and current affairs. I should qualify that. He has a 33 per cent positive rating. He also has a 48 per cent negative opinion. Things liked by people who also like Boris Johnson include Blackburn Rovers, Shandy Bass and Rosamund Pike. And Wrangler jeans.

The tweed-loving, poorly reviewed would-be historian and arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has a 19 per cent positive rating. Though he has 40 per cent negative rating. People who like him also like retired Welsh rugby hero Shane Williams, Scottish acting royalty Dougie Henshall and the brilliant At Home With Colin Murray radio show and podcast.

Two things became clear to me during my increasingly lost hours of research. The first is that this is a fascinating game to play – guessing who likes what based on their favoured politicians. It’s almost impossible. And due to this impossibility, there is no way of speaking for vast swathes of the country in the way senior politicians who are wheeled out push for a no-deal Brexit do. It’s almost as if they’re being creative with the truth.

The majority of people, when offered various scenarios, felt the economic impact of a no-deal Brexit would be damaging

Operation Yellowhammer illustrates that regardless of what else occurs, under a no-deal scenario, the poorest in Britain will be disproportionately hit. This should come as no surprise. It is the poorest who have been clobbered most already by austerity. I don’t hear admittance of that fact from no-deal Brexit pushing senior politicians. I don’t hear them saying it is a scandal that one household is made homeless every four minutes in England. Or that the sneaking trickle of criminalisation of small debts in local authorities is in danger of cascading. Last year more than 1.4 million council tax arrears were handed over to the heavy knock of debt-collection bailiffs. This is no way to live. If people are in trouble they need help, not a Pontius Pilate brush-off.

Every time one of the no-deal flagwaving politicians trots out their lines, they must be challenged on what has happened to the poorest, and what they are going to do. It’s easy to hide under the cape of ‘this is what the public want’ because of the 52 per cent majority in the referendum. But that cape is getting tatty. And the £100million ad campaign urging us to get ready for Brexit is money that could be so much better spent.

Also, I know you’re wondering – what do people who like Nigel Farage also like? Veteran German golfer Bernhard Langer, popular 1970s sitcom star Richard O’Sullivan and hang-dog American actor Walter Matthau.

I really like Walter Matthau. I’m not sure about anything any more…

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue  

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