The Disunited Kingdom


I get it. People are bored of politics. Until something important happens and then it’s all too much. That’s where we are right now.

A clear, stark line was drawn between the people who wanted things to stay the same and people who wanted them to change.

Basic psychology seems the easiest explanation. If you felt like you had something to lose you needed convincing, where facts were thin on the ground. If you felt like you had little or nothing to lose, you might as well shake things up.

I know that almost no one who voted to leave the EU (whatever that eventually means) will read this blog. Then again, few of those people have much power over how their country is run.

All that ‘leavers’ have grown to expect in the last few weeks is bitterness or smugness or an ignorant ‘I told you do so’.

Facts on paper meant nothing during the referendum campaign and they don’t mean much to those who voted out right now.

The benefits of the EU were empty-sounding words to those who wanted out. Freedom to work in Europe. Scientific collaboration. Shared responsibility for the migrant crisis. Market stability. What do these things mean to someone working on minimum wage (if they have a job) in a struggling seaside town or a council estate? Exactly nothing.


To many people, ‘Globalisation’ is just another word for lots of change I can’t keep up with. Someone should stop it, or at least slow it down, and give me back control.

Pull up the drawbridge and take me back to 1955.
Nationalise the railways.
Send the foreigners home.
Protect my job in a failing industry from the Chinese.

None of this stuff works of course, but it tells us something about what people want and what people fear.

People want tangible benefits from joining in a game where everyone wins. Otherwise, why play by the rules? The rich don’t even pay their taxes, so why should I trust them? Or worse, come to the conclusion, as Michael Gove so eloquently put it: that they’ve “had enough of experts”.

Many of us who voted to remain, came from working class towns, went to university and never came back. We moved on, went where the work and the money was, and stayed within the social circles that our new lives opened to us. We literally left those places behind. So it has new and poetic meaning when those are the people and places that put our bright and shiny futures into so much doubt.

And therein lies the great irony.

It’s easy to forget sometimes and hard to understand, that all of our lives are so dependent on groups of people that we never really meet. People we wouldn’t mingle with. People we’d pass in the street. People who make and sell us things from the other side of the planet.

“You can’t just shut yourself off from parts of the world you don’t trust or understand and pretend it won’t affect you.”

This is the very ignorance many of us have accused leave voters of when, in fact, we’ve all been doing the same; and in our own back yard.

As voters, we all feel pretty helpless. We can’t super-glue the labour party back together. We don’t really get to influence what a few dozen politicians decide is the best deal for our country. It won’t be up to us whether the United Kingdom itself gets split up into pieces.

But we can try to understand. When we forget how much we rely on one another, we pretend that we’re aren’t all part of a giant trade deal already. One where all parties need to be happy for things to work. And not just for us and the people we hang out with, but for everyone.


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