by James Billot
Wednesday, 10
February 2021

Lockdown scepticism is not Euroscepticism repackaged

New research presents an entirely different picture
by James Billot
Nigel Farage’s Reform Party has its work cut out.

Nigel Farage, Toby Young, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Allison Pearson, Dan Hannan… what do these names have in common? They are all prominent lockdown sceptics, but also (in what seems like a lifetime ago) ardent Brexiteers.

On the face of it, support for Brexit and lockdown scepticism have much in common: an anti-establishment feeling, pro-business and a streak of libertarianism.

But new research from King’s College London presents an entirely different picture. According to the paper, there is no link between lockdown scepticism and pro-Brexit values — in fact, it is quite the opposite. Based on a survey of roughly 2,000 people, researchers asked questions based on 10 values — universalism, benevolence, tradition/conformity, security, power, achievement, hedonism, stimulation and self-direction — to explain a large range of attitudes and behaviours, including political ones.

This values system is useful because universalism and the three conservation values (tradition, conformity and security) also predicted voting in the UK’s 2016 EU referendum, both directly and via their effect on attitudes to immigration and European identity.

On the key question of suppressing civil liberties to combat the virus, they found that lockdown sceptics disproportionately valued hedonism, stimulation, power and achievement whereas those who were more accepting of limits on freedoms during the pandemic overwhelmingly valued security, conformity, universalism and benevolence.

Contrast that with the values profiles of Remain and Leave voters:

Interestingly, those valuing universalism were the strongest supporters of Remain, and those valuing security and tradition were the strongest backers of Leave. But these two groups now find themselves relatively united in support of lockdowns.

Still, it is worth bearing in mind that many of the more prominent lockdown sceptics are Leavers. In Parliament, it is Conservative MPs who are most vocally sceptic on lockdown; of the 34 Tory MPs to vote against the Government last year on additional Covid measures, some 30 were Leavers in 2016.

If Nigel Farage had hoped that his ‘Reform’ Party could easily pivot from Brexit to lockdown scepticism as an animating mission, he might be disappointed.

Join the discussion

  • It suits the anti Brexit bits of the media to emphasise that many lockdown sceptics are in favour of brexit. (I remember one Guardian article saying something like “not all brexiters are lockdown sceptics but most lockdown sceptics are brexiters”. They can then use this as evidence that lockdown sceptics are bad people, because supporting brexit is beyond the pale.

    From what I have seen on discussion forums, there are perhaps more pro brexit lockdown sceptics, but it is by no means universal

  • Well said. But there are two riders to your remarks. First, the leave contingent contains a platoon or two of conformist social authoritarians prepared to swallow wartime analogies and believe whatever British leaders and officials may say – especially now that their Great Inspiration, “Boris”, is in office. These will favour lockdown. Second, the better sort of Remain supporters were those who favoured a pragmatic approach in the perhaps false but still plausible belief that prior to 16 Britain had the “best of both worlds”. These people will not have supported the antics of Bercow and company and they will not like lockdown either – think of Lord Sumption. So I believe that whilst your characterisation of the two camps at heart is true, your peripheral topography is perhaps less so.

  • I used to work in the USA and I have since visited about 30 times – not to the tourist centres but as a consultant to manufacturing industries. Sometimes I have taken my wife who had to hang around waiting for me for hours. In that time:

    She has ridden the subway and been approached by a group of black young women who told her that she should never ride the subway again because it was reserved for black people.
    She has sat in a park near fountains watching children playing and been told (politely) that she had to sit in other seats because she was white.
    She has been stopped twice by police cars when she was walking along the Elizabeth River in Norfolk, Va, and been told that walking alone signalled that she could be in the sex industry.
    She had to walk about 100m in San Diego in the evening to meet me and she was stopped by a police officer because it was suspicious behaviour.

    My point is that your country does not really deal in civil liberties – it is just something from politicians or people who are ‘wishful thinking’.

    Just to add, some of my colleagues from the USA visited for two weeks and we spent most of the time visiting clients in Sweden, Finland and Germany. I was told over and over again that it was not safe to go outside in the evenings. Mostly we had to stay in the hotels. We have more freedom and civil liberty in European countries than you could ever dream of. My worry is that we will get ever closer to the USA, get fatter and fatter, our children talk with American accents.

    Deadly indoctrination.

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