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British society is more united than we are led to believe, finds study

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The culture wars do not resonate with most Britons, according to a report, which says that despite Brexit the country is actually united on many fronts – especially climate change

Brexit, immigration and successive coronavirus lockdowns have left the British public divided and entrenched in partisan views – or so the narrative goes. But a landmark study into people’s beliefs suggests that, while a small minority of political extremists have stoked the so-called culture wars, the rest of us have formed broad consensuses around supposedly divisive issues.

Conducted by More in Common, a thinktank founded after the murder of MP Jo Cox, the study used focus groups, academic interviews and a poll of 10,000 voters to gauge the mood of the British public following a tumultuous five years.

The results – published in October in a report titled Britain’s Choice: Common Ground and Division in 2020s Britain – concluded that the ‘them v us’ narrative playing out in newspapers and on social media is largely inaccurate and that the fault lines in society are not as deep as we might believe.

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“Our conclusion is that Britain is not divided into two opposing camps of remain versus leave, left versus right, north versus south, or rich versus poor,” read the report. “Instead, we find seven distinct groups, who are distinguished not by who they are, where they are from, or what they look like, but what they believe.”

The seven tribes – progressive activists, civic pragmatists, disengaged battlers, established liberals, loyal nationalists, disengaged traditionalists and backbone conservatives – certainly have differing opinions on subjects such as Brexit. However, they overlap on many issues that some commentators have attempted to weaponise, including climate change, which 85 per cent of participants believed should concern everyone regardless of politics.

“There is a lot of consensus on the climate agenda. I have not seen this anywhere else,” said Míriam Juan-Torres, the report’s lead author, who carried out similar studies in the US, Germany and France. “It’s astonishing the desire for action.”

Despite divisions over Brexit, Britain remains united on many fronts, according to a report

Despite divisions over Brexit, Britain reportedly remains united on many fronts. Image: Jannes van den Wouwer

Racial and gender equality are other issues on which there is consensus, with 79 per cent of participants claiming they felt proud of Britain’s progress on gender equality, and 77 per cent agreeing that racism is a problem. However, differing views were offered when it came to how racial injustice should be tackled.

Juan-Torres warned that such divisions have the potential to widen, but hoped the study would help “lay the foundations for an agenda built on empathy and understanding, not division and polarisation”.

Compared to the picture we get from our screens every day it gives us much reason for hope

There was also agreement on the subject of Britain being too London-centric, including from Londoners. And across the board there was a perhaps surprisingly loose affinity to political parties, with just 13 per cent of people saying they felt proud of their partisan identity.

“The picture of our country that comes from this study is sometimes surprising,” concluded the report. “Compared to the picture we get from our screens every day it gives us much reason for hope.”

Illustration: Cristina Estanislao/UN


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