I feel angry, let down, bruised, pessimistic and bitter. Not good.
But is there anything behind these feelings other than the fact that it didn’t go the way I wanted? I think there is and I would like to share those things based in nearly fifty years of trying to understand motivations, large and small.
Clearly, oh so clearly, it was a vote against rather than for something.
We don’t yet have a clear breakdown of the ‘leave’ vote, but my own understanding of it is that it is driven by one key concern. Wherever people looked from the ‘leave’ regions, others seemed to be doing so much better than them. And in their own country too.
Whether those others were metropolitan types, immigrants, the young, the educated, it just did not seem fair. Inequality was everywhere and they were on the wrong side of it, with little hope of redress. When you take away hope, what is there to be attached to in life if you have little already? All you have is your culture and that traditional working class culture was subjected to scorn and contempt from the middle, even the left-wing intellectual middle.
Many had felt abandoned, marginalized, forgotten for years. You can feel it in the high streets of so many English towns; closed down shops, poundlands, cheap cafes, interspersed with the odd national chain. Here and there an entrepreneur has created something with artisanal roots, a craft shop, climbing or walking goods, chintzy or lacy things. But hardly buzzing. Next to these occasional signs of aspiration are boarded windows and broken glass. If you were to predict the future you would feel things will go down rather than up.
There was a howl that ‘it used to be better than this’. But most have forgotten how poor we were in those post-war years and the turmoil of the 1970’s and 80’s.
The result of this toxic brew was the 52% for leave on 24th June 2016. The driver of that vote was envious spoiling. ‘If I can’t have it, then neither can you!’ This explanation and this alone makes sense of the objects of the attack – the selfsame metropolitan types, immigrants, students and the establishment. It is not that the ‘Leavers’ want the trappings of middle-class respectability or are directly envious of that; they want respect and compassion for their own culture and traditions.
And in truth, who can blame them? A vision of Europe never had much appeal on these islands that were not marched over in either of two great wars. Our politicians were happy to snipe at visions of a United Europe but offered no vision in return. Indeed, the principal vision of the past ten years has been austerity – lurking behind which was ever more inequality. The belt-tightening was most to be endured by the scrounging, lazy, overweight working classes through cuts to community services, welfare and benefits.
People have been conditioned to an opinion that federalism is failure, even though we are a federation of countries ourselves. It simply does not make sense. Only an explanation that accounts for the feelings of having and being less than others can account for the ‘leave’ vote. And until we address that issue via a fundamental re-balancing and redistribution of wealth/opportunity/well-being – and mutual respect – we will remain a deeply divided country.