Attending a rough Essex comprehensive in their 1970s nadir, I was the only person in my class lucky enough to go to university, and one of only two-or-three in the entire year. I was no more intelligent than my peers – somewhat dimmer than the brightest, in fact.

Since my father was a civil engineer, higher education was an expectation, which I eventually acquired via night school and a politics and modern history degree at Manchester University.

Yet there's been one unexpected result to my tortuous education: that I've always maintained two quite distinct sets of friends – those I know from home that mostly left education at 16 or 18; and those I met at university who graduated and in many cases went on to higher-earning jobs in law, finance and the media.

So I know both sides of the "educational attainment" tracks, so to speak, which has given me a strong insight into the way both groups think, as well as presenting me with one-mother of a dilemma since 23 June 2016.

It's a dilemma concurring almost exactly with Martin Rosenbaum's recently-published analysis for the BBC. His study detailed the extraordinary extent to which educational attainment correlated with voting patterns in the 2016 EU referendum – finding that, as suspected, those with college degrees were likely to vote Remain while those with lower level qualifications (or none at all) favoured Leave.

Yes, nearly all my non-graduate friends from home voted Leave. And, yes, nearly all my graduate friends – whether from Manchester or those I've met since in London – voted Remain. So far, so Rosenbaum.

Indeed, I could have saved him the trouble and, frankly, wish I had because Rosenbaum's main achievement has been to pour oil onto these already troubled waters. I'm the man from "f****** Brexit land" (as Bob Geldof accusingly called Essex during a less-than-stellar Boomtown Rats gig in Brentwood) now living and working in the Remain hotbeds of graduate London.

Two of many recent quotes sum up my discomfort.

"They [i.e. non-graduates] couldn't understand the arguments or even the literature they were sent," said one Remainer graduate I know, commentating on Rosenbaum's findings. This was a familiar refrain with phrases such as "thick idiots" and even "dim proles" thrown in for good measure – one acquaintance even suggesting that non-graduates struggle with literacy.

"Uneducated people shouldn't vote on such complex issues," said another associate. This one had been working inside the government at the time of the referendum and thought constitutional issues were beyond the simple parochial brains of the great unwashed.

Of course, all these Remain-voting detractors thought they were in a safe space, among their own. In fact, they were – at least until their vitriolic slur on the "uneducated" UK electorate, which has strained the sympathies of this Essex-boy interloper to breaking point.

That's because many of my graduate acquaintances have been indulging themselves in a level of class bigotry that would be unacceptable, even illegal, if thrown at other demographics. And it's also because – as is normally the case with prejudicial views – they're wrong.

The qualification of common sense

For 30 years I've pursued this dual life. And for 30 years it's been obvious to me that probably the greatest difference between my two sets of friends has been their varying levels of common sense. Unsheltered from middle class privilege, my "homies" ooze it from every pore. They've had to deal with life's hard knocks far earlier and far more severely than any of my graduate chums.

Many have struggled financially and there's certainly been a higher proportion of divorces and single-parenting. Their aspirations have also been more grounded – based on a need to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Unlike my career zigzags, which they greet with wry incredulity, most of my non-graduate friends learnt a trade and stuck to it – often in the building industry, though also in white-collar jobs such as insurance and banking.

And to a far higher degree than my graduate friends, they've started their own small businesses, often employing people while still in their early 20s. Others ended up in sales – several on City trading floors.

Above everything, my non-graduate friends know the value of money. They got on the property ladder early, though in houses many of my graduate friends would sneer at. Some are wise investors in the stock market and they certainly appreciate higher-marque cars.

Brexit
The Essex man wanted out: A Vote Leave supporter shows off his T-shirt Matt Cardy/ Getty Images

My graduate friends, meanwhile, are more creative and more idealistic. Their houses are more tastefully appointed, and they're better read and more articulate than my non-graduate friends. They're also more focused on identity politics – especially feminism. And they're more environmentally conscious. Some even go on protests – a pastime my home friends would gently mock me for in my more radical days, suggesting my energies better spent earning cash on their building site.

Yet the graduate's laudable attributes – grounded as they are in beliefs such as internationalism and a desire for equality – do not trump the hard-won common sense of my home friends. A common sense that I only began to appreciate when I started my own business – employing versions of my younger self, with all the same gobshite certainties I had when leaving university.

Certainly, I know who I'd ask advice from regarding how to run my small company. And the fact I've always deferred to my graduate friends on matters of politics and economics doesn't necessarily make them right.

Indeed, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines common sense as "sound and prudent judgement based on a simple perception of the situation or facts". Yet, during the referendum, while I found my graduate friends focused on the emotional bonds they felt with Europe (which I share), it was my non-graduate friends asking the simple yet searching questions that required an answer.

Here's one of them:

"There are five presidents running the EU. You tell me how I can get rid of any of them?"

And here's another:

"The EU's now obsessed with saving the euro – how do we avoid being lumbered with the bill?"

The first came from a junior school teaching assistant and the second from a general builder. Sure, both questions can be answered reasonably positively by Remainers (although the Remain campaign's relentless negativity succeeded only in hiding the positive aspects of EU membership).

But such enquiries are hardly the stuff of the semi-literate, racist, council-estate dwelling Neanderthals we're led to believe voted Leave. Given this, perhaps it's time studies such as Rosenbaum's were given a health warning: beware this survey contains confirmation bias.


Robert Kelsey is the best-selling author of a series of "anti-self help, self help" books, including What's Stopping You?, Get Things Done and The Outside Edge. The former financial journalist and investment banker is also the deputy chairman of entrepreneurial think tank The Centre for Entrepreneurs which he co-founded with serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson.