Centre for Research in Communication and Culture


22 May 2019

"2019 European Election Special: Reflections on the UK Experience"

Presented By Dr Simona Guerra (Leicester), Nathan Ritchie and Professor Dominic Wring (Loughborough)
  • 14:30 - 16:30
  • U0.05 Brockington Building

About this event

‘More in common (1):  The emotional experience of Brexit in the eyes of generations’ with Simona Guerra, Deputy Head of Politics and International Relations at the University of Leicester.  Simona is author of What is Euroscepticism? Unleashing Emotion in Contemporary Contentious Politics (Edward Elgar), and co-author of Euroscepticism, Democracy and the Media.  Communicating Europe, Contesting Europe (Palgrave)

In this presentation, I will examine emotions as my dependent variable and how different generations have experienced the British EU referendum, the Brexit negotiations and are feeling in the run-up to the 2019 European Parliament elections (YouGov survey, run the first week of May 2019). At a time of emotional polarization, where Remain and Brexit positions are more salient than political ideology (Curtice, 2019), it is critical to understand how people felt and still feel. Among the disappointed expectations for a continuously extended departure from the EU, within a divided Parliament, the gap between those who feel confident and those who feel uncertain can widen. At this juncture (see Capelos and Exadaktylos, 2017) lies the feeling of social, institutional and political trust. Hence, it becomes now critical to address not just hopeful and uncertain citizens, but a wealth of diverse expectations and draw attention towards the possible social and economic impact of Brexit. This is more urgent, as the outcome of the referendum showed significant intergenerational issues, with lower turnout among young people (aged 18-24) and higher percentage of votes for Remain, with an immediate outpouring of comments addressing these differences (Rhodes, 2016). This study takes a first step to understand how different generations have experienced the referendum, and how a dialogue can be enhanced, underlying the common patterns. The well-being of the social and political life of Britain depends on the good management of these different emotions, where, the data shows, young people and older generations are closer than generally reported. Within this context, the support of mini-publics, in the case of a future People’s Vote or after leaving the EU can help move beyond contestation. Deliberative democrats have been critical of referendums, as an inferior form of making collective decisions (Setälä, 2011). Possibly, the quality of the institutional debates can support the opportunities for voters to weaken the emotional polarization and familiarize with the EU or the process of leaving the EU, and sustain an informative debate. This would also provide a moral notion of accountability to future generations.

1. From Jo Cox’s quote ‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us’. Jo Cox was the Member of Parliament for the Batley and Spen constituency, from her election in May 2015 until 16th June 2016, when she was fatally stabbed a week before the 2016 British EU referendum.

‘From Awkward Partner to Reluctant Participant: The UK Campaign for the 2019 EU Elections’ with Dominic Wring of the Loughborough Centre for Research in Communication and Culture’s EU Referendum project and co-editor of EU Referendum Analysis: Media, Voters and the Campaign, and Nathan Ritchie (with Cristian Vaccari) are the CRCC team and UK partners in a 28 member state wide investigation of campaign advertising funded by the European Parliament.

Against prior expectations the UK looks set to participate (for the last time?) in EU elections three years on from the momentous Referendum and its resulting vote to Leave the European Union.  Whereas previous British campaigns for the European Parliament have failed to capture the public imagination, this one is set to be different given the current febrile state of Westminster politics.  Already two new parties, Brexit and Change UK, have been formed to explicitly contest these elections on pro- and anti-EU platforms.  For their part the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru and what remains of UKIP regard the campaign as a significant opportunity to promote their own perspectives on Brexit amongst other issues.  In Northern Ireland the election will be keenly contested given the salience of the proposed backstop in post-Referendum debate.  By contrast the two main parties approach this campaign with some trepidation having together dominated the 2017 General Election agenda.  Whereas Labour’s divisions have revolved around whether and when the party should press for another referendum, the Conservatives have been convulsed by the fallout from their government’s failure to make progress over Brexit.  This eve of polling day presentation will provide a timely opportunity to reflect on the 2019 election, offering some first reflections drawing on our analysis of promotional material both on and offline.  Inevitably there will be pro- and anti-Brexit messaging, particularly from the UK’s newest political formations.  But the campaign will also be significant for the way the larger parties, including the governing Conservatives, try to shore up their positions in this most challenging of electoral contests.