Though there were comfortable majorities for the Remain campaign in Manchester and Liverpool in last week’s EU referendum, the big Northwest cities found themselves out of step not only with the majority for the country, but the majority of the region too.
Whilst city dwellers delivered a big vote to support the Status Quo, Brexit was secured, albeit by a small margin, as surrounding towns and boroughs like St Helens, Halton, Knowsley, Wigan, Rochdale and Salford were joining the 52% of the country who believe that the UK is better outside of the EU.
But why did the Remain campaign chime so successfully with the two major conurbations of the region? For me, there were three key reasons.
Firstly, the economic growth that has been enjoyed and the physical regeneration of Manchester and Liverpool has provided Liverpudlians and Mancunians alike with a swagger and confidence in their future. It was easier for Remain to sell continued economic prosperity to those who witness it on a daily basis – even if some of them haven’t necessarily benefitted yet on a personal level. There was also a recognition among voters of the significant contribution European funding had played in the renaissance of both cities.
Second, immigration is never an easy card to play in Manchester or Liverpool. To places that have been built, developed and grown by migrants, multiculturalism and diversity is seen by most as a huge benefit, rather than the huge problem it was being portrayed as by ‘Leave’. Indeed, as recently as 2008, Liverpool boasted the strap line ‘A World in One City’ – a nod to the important part migrants had played in the city’s history, as well as a welcoming message for those who want to visit, or indeed, come and settle in the city.
Finally, the Labour Party in each city has effective campaigning machines that far outperform many of their counterparts in other areas of the country. Sir Richard Leese often comments that he is neither New Labour nor Old Labour. He is Manchester Labour. This consistent engagement with the electorate and local communities was an important aspect in Remain being able to get out the vote in Liverpool and Manchester; a lesson that needs to be learnt by Labour organisations across the country if the party has any realistic chance of a nationwide recovery any time soon.
Nevertheless, despite Manchester and Liverpool voting, in my view, the right way, Britain’s exit from the EU now seems likely. What comes next will depend on the players who emerge as the political leaders of the future.
Their first job must be to try and heal a deeply divided nation – or indeed divided city regions – and business leaders must do all they can to support them in their efforts.