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Further Adventures Outside The Bubble - Three Takeaways From A Discussion With Middle Class Remain Voters

22/05/2017 16:34 BST | Updated 22/05/2017 16:34 BST
Rui Vieira/PA Wire

And so to Bedford with Radio 4's Today Programme for the latest Election Takeaway. This week, Ipsos MORI convened a focus group of seven middle class Remain voters, moderated by Nick Robinson. Over Thai food, the discussion concentrated on the factors that these voters are weighing ahead of the General Election and how their previous opposition to Brexit will affect their choice on 8 June.

Here are three points that stood out from the discussion.

1. No more referendums...but the public want a say over the deal (in some way)

A year on from the EU referendum, our middle class participants in Bedford are still unhappy with the result and worry about the impact it will have, particularly on the next generation. Yet in spite of this, there is no appetite for another referendum on the UK's membership of the EU. A "waste of time, effort, and money" that could prove even more divisive than the original vote was the general consensus.

In contrast to our Leave voters in Halifax, some do want a say on the terms of Britain's exit deal and expressed a strong desire for a public vote once negotiations are completed. For these voters, there are too many unknowns about what shape Brexit will ultimately take. With this uncertainty, and with such a large proportion of the population having voted to Remain, they feel it is their democratic right to have a say on the final "settlement". The form this should take was, however, unclear, whether through a vote in Parliament or another General Election.

"May is saying 'I'm strong and stable leadership, I'm the best person to negotiate' but you won't get a say on what is negotiated. It just seems a strange thing to say. What does a good deal look like? No one knows!" - Alistair

There were still those, however, who felt that the government just needs to get on with it. The referendum result, though regrettable, needs to be followed through as quickly and effectively as possible. They accepted that the referendum decision had gone against them and that the objective now was to "make the best of a bad situation". A good deal is, for them, necessary to ensure a strong economy. This, in turn, underpins effective public services and there are widespread concerns about deteriorating NHS services. These participants want ready access to timely GP appointments and local A&E services, which they fear would be under threat if the deal over leaving the EU results in cuts to funding.

"If we don't get a good deal, it affects our economy. And if we get a bad deal we can't fund the NHS." - Abi

2 - Lib Dem fightback on hold

Reflecting the lack of detailed awareness of Labour or Conservative policies we saw in Halifax, our participants in Bedford knew nothing of the Liberal Democrat manifesto promise to hold a second referendum. Nor were they able to name Tim Farron as the current party leader. And all this despite several being one-time Lib Dem voters. This suggests that the party's core message is not cutting through and that, even if it was, there is little to gain from making a commitment to hold another referendum.

"The fact that I don't know the leader of the Lib Dems scares me because I don't know about their policies. And I voted Lib Dem last time!" - Fiorella

3 - The "least bad" option

The big issue our Remainers in Bedford are voting on in the forthcoming general election is which party will perform best in Brexit negotiations. Though there was little love for Theresa May, she was considered the better leader in this regard - "a businesswoman", tougher and stronger than Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader was, as in Halifax, described as "lacking charisma". This is particularly important to these voters, who feel that British voters respond well to leaders "with a bit of front" - something they also believe will be essential during negotiations with EU leaders.

"When I see Corbyn on the telly I turn it over...May is the best person to take us forward." - James

For Radio 4's Today programme, we recruited seven participants in Bedford. All were defined as "middle class" - i.e. social grade B or C1. All seven also voted Remain in the 2016 EU referendum. Otherwise they were drawn from across the political spectrum, with a mix of past voting behaviour and current voting intention. The discussion took place on the evening of May 17th at the Bedford Corn Exchange. It was moderated by Nick Robinson, and will be broadcast across BBC Radio 4 and the BBC News Channel