Sobolewska and Ford acknowledge the absence of economics from their story, but really this is a feature not a bug of the approach they take. Brexitland holds up a mirror to the nation, asking who its people consider themselves to be, and not what they produce, own or need. At the core of their analysis is a typology of three different identities, each defined by their orientation to nation and ethnicity. The first is ‘conviction liberals’, a group which sees ethnic diversity as a good in its own right, to be assertively defended. Conviction liberals are typically university-educated, and as a result their numbers have swelled steadily since the 1960s, and especially since the early 1990s. The number of school-leavers going on to university jumped suddenly from 15 per cent in 1988 to 33 per cent in 1994, and continued to rise thereafter. By the time of Theresa May’s electoral humiliation in 2017, a quarter of voters were university-educated.
They make a compelling case in Brexitland that Brexit was the expression of deep-seated conflicts within the British electorate that had been building for decades. Pressures that had been accumulating for a long time were given sudden release in June 2016. “The fuel for a wildfire gathers on the forest floor for season after season before the transformational spark arrives.” Different groups of voters with conflicting interests “finally recognised themselves as two distinct and opposing camps”. “Two tribes” went to war over identity, diversity, immigration, culture and globalisation on the battlefield called Brexit. Theirs is a highly acute and insightful analysis, making telling use of extensive research, which induces the reader to think afresh about the political landscape we now find ourselves in and how we arrived here.