New research presents an entirely different picture
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.