Why the residents of Barking and Dagenham voted for leave

Black African and Bangladeshi along with Lithuanians could be factors in driving people of Barking and Dagenham to vote Leave.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Why the residents of Barking and Dagenham voted for leave” was written by Roy Greenslade, for theguardian.com on Friday 24th June 2016 13.43 UTC

Throughout the EU referendum campaign the newspapers I watched with the greatest interest were the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.

At the same time, I monitored events in the London borough of Barking & Dagenham because I know it so well, having spent my schooldays there before starting my career on a local weekly that served the area.

I also keep in touch with people who live in the borough and make visits at least a couple of times every year. And I click regularly on to the website of the Barking and Dagenham Post.

The link between the place and Mirror group titles is the Labour party. The papers have been long-time supporters of Labour and the overwhelming majority of their readers are Labour voters.

I’ll come to them in a moment. Firstly though, consider the political and demographic make-up of Barking and Dagenham.

Both of the borough’s constituencies have returned Labour MPs at every election since the end of the second world war (the current pair are high-profile members, Margaret Hodge and Jon Cruddas).

Of the 51 current councillors, 50 represent Labour (and the single independent was elected for Labour). At the May 2014 local election, Labour got 69% of the total vote.

I have been aware for several years of tensions in Barking and Dagenham. Ageing white residents (aka the traditional indigenous British working class) were antagonistic to inward immigration that dates back to the early 1980s.

Some of the hostility was undeniably racist, and it cannot be denied that the British National Party won 12 council seats in 2006. My soundings suggested the vote was informed by concern about the numbers of migrants being settled in the borough and the resulting change in local culture (I lost count of the times my friends complained about halal butchers).

Anecdotal myth-making played a part too. I have been told many stories about white people being “forced” to move out of the borough because houses and flats they thought they should have had were being allocated to immigrants.

Although the BNP lost all their seats in 2010, partially because of a well organised antifascist campaign, I didn’t notice much change of heart among the citizens. And I also noted that in 2014 Ukip came second to Labour with 15% of the vote.

In addition, there has been “white flight”. The 2011 census revealed that the white British population in Barking and Dagenham decreased from 80.86% in 2001 to 49.46% in 2011.

By contrast, there were substantial increases in the black African and Bangladeshi populations. Although the census did not record the incoming white migrants, I realised on a recent visit that one whole area in Dagenham was inhabited by Lithuanians.

This demographic change has aroused considerable opposition and is the basis of the 62.8% vote in favour of leave (a total of 46,130 voters) compared to the 38% (27,750) who voted to remain. And the turn-out, at 63.8%, was high by recent general election standards.

So, knowing all this, when I heard that the editor-in-chief of the Mirror titles, Lloyd Embley, was soft-pedalling on the remain campaign I wasn’t surprised.

He and his senior executives became aware of their readers’ negative views on the EU. They knew there was a disconnect between their political stance and their readers’ scepticism.

Readers associated EU membership with a rise in immigration. (And before you say it, I know that most of the people who have settled in Barking and Dagenham are second, and possibly third-generation migrants. And their arrival, or that of their parents, had nothing to do with Britain’s EU status. They are some of the black ironies of this catastrophic referendum vote and, incidentally, hostility towards them could well be due to the long-term anti-EU content in other popular papers, such as the Sun and Daily Mail).

Embley felt he couldn’t alienate readers who had registered their intense hostility towards the European Union by plugging away on behalf of the remain supporter.

I wouldn’t blame him for that. The potential outcome of upsetting his audience was to watch them walk away in even greater numbers than they are doing anyway.

So the leading articles in the Daily Mirror were calculated not to cause unnecessary offence. As I wrote earlier this week, the editorials in the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People were also carefully calibrated.

The People, a paper with a long pro-Labour history, was not even prepared to endorse the remain case. But it did dare to touch on the topic that undoubtedly played a large part in the referendum’s result.

“What the argument whittles down to,” it said, “is whether you fear immigration more than the economic uncertainty of going it alone.” Which, of course, reflects what happened.

For the indigenous residents of Barking and Dagenham, the economy is a vague concept compared to their everyday experience of immigration.

*Now read Joseph Harker’s piece to see the effects of anti-migration “scare stories.”

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