Us & Them
Paradoxically, Londoners work, live and play in Europe.
‘It’s not like this in Europe. The cafés are open, the wine is pouring, everybody’s laughing and gay, ha ha ha ha – not over here though.’ – Tony Hancock, A Sunday Afternoon At Home
Now that the last remaining shreds of logic have fled from every sore-throated worn-out Brexit argument, like torch-bearing villagers fleeing the lunacy of Castle Frankenstein, we can start to take stock and wonder; what the hell just happened?
Remain politicians were wrong to be blind to the rest of the country. Leave politicians were wrong to lie and commit fraud. At the root of it all, a self-interested government ignored parliament and ignored its people, topped with two ideological fantasies; a rosy 28-country-strong future as a united European power and a 1940s Blitz mindset that restores the UK to global relevance.
I suspect that we all have a gut instinct taking us partially one way or the other. I have always been drawn towards Europe. I am not a patriot; I would not fight for ‘British values’ while they rely on surreptitiously selling arms and laundering fortunes. I am not especially a monarchist. I feel more German than English. I live in the ‘London bubble’ through an accident of birth, and much of Britain remains unknowable to me. We say we are multi-cultural but our instinct is to kick others out. We don’t mix between classes or races. We can’t even be consistent on any subject; For example, we theoretically use imperial measures but nobody in their right mind does because they’re rubbish. In metric one millilitre of water occupies one cubic cm, equals one gram, and needs one calorie to heat up one degree. We’ve only recently stopped adding up in multiples of twelve.
I love many English towns and coasts but had no experience of the countryside as a child and thus it remains invisible. Trudging in drizzle through a cow field before being ignored by locals in a Straw Dogs-style pub was my father’s ninth circle of hell, and I suppose it was transmitted to his children.
For kids of my generation and background, a European holiday was unthinkable. My first exposure to Europe was a day trip to Bologne. The second time, I paid for myself. Everything about the place felt magical, and much of it still does. I read more European history – grander, more exciting, always about shifting borders – than English history (for more on borders read Tim Marshall’s ‘Divided’) but the more you study a country the more you see its fault-lines. Catalonia, for example, can’t be granted autonomy because there are so many other regional claims lined up behind it.
Paradoxically, most of the Londoners I know work, live and play in Europe. It’s on our doorstep and we’ve spent decades building trade links. I live next to Eurostar and see the massive queues heading to France every morning. The result is a personal blow because we were planning to move to Barcelona, and now we won’t be able to. All I can hope is that we come out of this remembering that Farage, Rees-Mogg and Johnson only had their own self-interests at heart.
Why did it happen? One, chance – the referendum result could have varied by a couple of degrees on any given day. Two, voter complacency – for over two decades no-one was interested in who their politicians were. Three, Government arrogance – the idea that any day was ‘a good day to bury bad news’ (copyright Jo Moore).
We can only hope that something better will grow from this. Although our track record on learning from the past doesn’t suggest it will.