Referendum fault lines

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Most know of the Tyne-Wear rivalry because of the football derbies between Newcastle United and AFC Sunderland

Only a few miles may separate their city centres but the views of several neighbours on the EU are not so close. Why would one vote to leave while its near neighbour wanted to remain?

The rivalry between Sunderland on the Wear and Newcastle on the Tyne is well established, even if most only know it for the football.

But it would seem it’s not just their sporting allegiances that divide them.

In the EU referendum Newcastle voted to remain while Sunderland was overwhelmingly in favour of leaving, along with the 10 other areas of North-East England.

In Yorkshire, Leeds supported remain while Bradford opted for leave and further west Salford voted to get out of the EU while Manchester wanted to stay.

The reasons for this are linked, according to Paul Chatterton, professor of urban futures at the University of Leeds.

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More than half of Manchester’s population is aged between 18 and 44 which may help explain why the city voted 60% in favour of remaining in the EU

“In each case you have a larger, more diverse metropolitan city and their smaller urban hinterlands.

“The core cities of Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds are more diverse and see more economic wealth than the second-tier ones of Salford, Sunderland and Bradford.

“This has arisen because while we are very good at generating wealth in Britain, we are not so good at sharing it around.

“There has been major investment in the core cities but less in the next tier.

“The question on the ballot paper was wrong, people really felt they were being asked ‘do you think we have helped you to prosper over the last 30 years, do you think we have looked after you and your interests?’

“Well the people in Bradford, Salford and Sunderland would say ‘no’.

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Sunderland has a different demographic to Newcastle with a higher proportion of older people

“They see investment and wealth being generated in other places, high rises going up in Manchester and Leeds, the riverside in Newcastle being developed.

“It is about the haves and the have nots, you are either part of the system or you feel excluded.

“Where you feel part of it you vote remain but where you feel excluded you vote to leave.”

The reasons why one prospered over the other go back some time.

Sunderland’s wealth was built on the back of salt-panning and shipbuilding as well as being a port distributing the minerals mined from the surrounding coalfields of County Durham.

But Sunderland suffered when, in the 1600s, King Charles I awarded coal-exporting rights to Newcastle, crippling the trade in Sunderland.

Which is why, when the Civil War broke out in 1642, Newcastle favoured the King who had favoured them while Sunderland wanted the change promised by Oliver Cromwell’s campaign.

Even back then, Newcastle favoured the status quo while Sunderland wanted a change.

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Bradford was a prosperous city built on tailoring and wool industries

“Though they are close geographically they are quite different cities,” said Dr Gidon Cohen, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Durham.

“The main differences are the demographic and the ages of their residents.”

Newcastle is home to more than twice as many professionals as Sunderland, while Sunderland has more people employed in manufacturing, construction and retail than Newcastle.

Sunderland also has a higher unemployment rate, 7.2% against Newcastle’s 6.7%.

Similarly, Leeds has more professionals than Bradford as does Manchester over Salford.

“There are different kinds of opposition to the EU but one of the main things is opposition to politics and the elite generally,” said Dr Cohen.

“That comes from the left-behind worker, the person who feels they have not benefited from growth, economic growth and particularly globalisation and ‘Europisation’.

“There are more of these left-behind workers in Sunderland than there are in Newcastle.

“Newcastle attracts a large amount of people in jobs which require higher education and have higher levels of pay in industries such as technologies, universities and the civil service.”

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Newcastle has a historic rivalry with Sunderland

Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah agreed that the remain victory in the city was a narrow one but she said it was still a significant indication of the city’s position.

“In Newcastle the benefits of EU membership are clearer,” the Labour MP said.

“Not absolutely clear, as can been seen by the number of people who voted leave, but I do think they are more visible – for example, the investment in the riverside and university research grants.

“Also Newcastle has long-established communities, such as the Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Polish, and while there have been challenges we have experienced the many benefits immigration and diversity can bring.”

In the case of Leeds and Bradford, the former prospered over the latter mainly because of geography and investment in infrastructure, said Prof Chatterton.

“Leeds invested in canals and railways, it had great connections to both sides of the country, and then on top of that came faster rail and then the motorway.

“Even though Bradford was doing very well through tailoring and wool industries it just was not able to grow as well as Leeds in an increasingly global market.

“Also, thanks to a few quirks of geography, such as fewer hills, Leeds has been able to better expand.”

And with Salford and Manchester, though the former had a thriving textiles industry it was overshadowed by the rapid expansion of the latter.

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Newcastle sided with the royalists in the English civil war while Sunderland supported the parliamentarians

The age of each city’s inhabitants is also important.

A poll of 12,369 people carried out after the election by Lord Ashcroft found that the older people were, the more likely they were to want to leave the EU.

According to the Office of National Statistics, about 45% of Newcastle’s 292,883 population is aged between 18 and 44 while only 34% of Sunderland’s 277,150 is.

Newcastle’s over-45s make up 36% of the population, while in Sunderland that figure is 46%.

Leeds, which voted for remain, has more people aged between 18 and 44 than over-45s but in Bradford, which supported leave, the opposite is true.

And in Manchester slightly more than half of its inhabitants are in the age groups most likely to support remain, while in Salford that’s 41%.

  • 51% : 61% Newcastle voted remain : Sunderland voted leave

  • 50% : 54% Leeds voted remain : Bradford voted leave

  • 60% : 57% Manchester voted remain : Salford voted leave

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It is interesting to note that in the cases of Leeds and Bradford and Newcastle and Sunderland, the city that voted to remain did so with a much smaller margin than the city that voted to leave.

Dr Cohen said although the remain city has a large proportion of people who fit the bill of a Remain supporter (young professionals for example), there was still a significant number of residents who voted to leave.

“Take Newcastle,” he said. “Yes there is high number of professionals in the city centre but in other parts there are still many of those who fit the left-behind worker mould. This is why, though the city overall voted remain, the margin between remain and leave was so small.”

The argument follows therefore that in the cities that voted Leave, the ratio between the stereotypical supporters of each side is weighted more towards outers than the ratio in remain cities is towards remainers.

Ultimately though, it comes down to how well a city feels it has done under the EU, whether or not the EU was responsible for perceived decline or prosperity.

A city that felt overshadowed, or that it was not doing as well as its neighbour, went for Leave while the city that was comfortable wanted to remain.

For the former, leaving the EU represented a chance to change, for the latter, it was a case of if it ain’t broke, don’t Brexit.



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