Josie Pagani has written for UK think-tank Policy Network, which invited her to the 2016 Progressive Governance Conference in Stockholm this month.

Iwas sitting with the Prime Minister of Sweden and his counterpart from Albania in a room with about 150 centre-left political leaders and analysts as we tried to understand why Britain is thinking of leaving the EU. We were in Stockholm, at a Progressive Governance conference - a kind of lefty-Davos.

The Swedish and Albanian leaders stood out because they are a rarity in Europe: Social democrats who have won recent elections. UK Labour pollster Deborah Mattinson explained that the vote for social democratic parties is at its lowest since the 1950s. I was invited after writing an article that said progressive parties lose when their message to voters is: "Your life is miserable, your country is going to the dogs, the world is scary, and by the way you're fat - Vote for us!"

A reactionary and bleak message is part of the problem, but I realised in Stockholm that there is a deeper trend in play: working class voters are frustrated. The Brexit poll has directed anger toward the institutions and traditional representatives of working people.


Working class voters - traditional Labour constituencies - have been the most important swinging vote in the Brexit campaign. Those voters are sick of being told in an election campaign that their lives are miserable, then in the Brexit debate that they're racists if they respond. The "Leave" campaign certainly included some racists, but a much larger proportion of Leavers felt the only way to express their frustration was vote to quit the EU.

I heard a UK Labour MP ask, "How could people be so silly to vote leave Europe? We need people to vote with their heads, not their hearts." This sort of comment is the reason "Remainers" have struggled, and why their parties have lost so many elections here, in the UK and in Europe. They struggle to understand or represent the values of the people whose votes they need and in turn those groups feel disrespected or neglected.

Pollster Mattinson identifies the need for progressive parties to build a coalition to win elections (and referendums). She describes it as a combination of the traditional working class (she calls them Settlers), the aspirational lower-middle class (Prospectors) and middle class social liberals (Pioneers).

The trouble occurs when progressive parties become the property of Pioneers (middle class liberals). Pioneers don't just disagree with the working class base, they disapprove. They are less likely than others in the potential support base to understand that someone could comprehend the facts yet reasonably disagree with them.

The Remain campaign in Britain was at its least successful when it was run by and for the Pioneers. Fifty six per cent of voters said concerns about immigration contributed to their voting choices in the past election, but they felt it was a subject you shouldn't talk about. They trust Boris Johnson, who fronted the Brexit campaign, not because they agree with him, but because they think Boris is "prepared to say unpalatable truths".

Settlers and Prospectors link immigration to changing demographics at local schools and access to health services. Pioneers make a progressive case for immigration that misses these concerns and drives Settlers and Prospectors to support right-wing populists.

Mistrust over values has spread into mistrust over economic management. Social democrats get kicked in Southern Europe for austerity, and in the North for bailing out the same governments of the South. The global financial crisis, caused by greedy bankers, has been conflated with over-spending and voters punish left-wing governments.

But what's really going on, say pollsters, is that voters know these parties don't like them much. The only way progressive parties and ideas like a united Europe can succeed is if middle class liberal Pioneers cede some of their power to broaden the support base and stop selecting only people who agree with them.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven won because he's a former welder who came up through the union movement. He appeals to working voters who want their kids to be middle class, and to the middle class who aspire to have middle class savings. Albanian leader, Edi Rama, is a former basketball player, sculptor and a socialist who believes in making markets work for people. It's no coincidence he is capable of winning elections or that 80 per cent of Albanians want to join Europe.