Happy Independence Day everyone (groan). One year on from that momentous day, here are 13 things we’ve learnt from the Brexit vote.
- Most people will take any argument that suits them. They will swap ideological clothing if needs be – note how many on the Left suddenly care deeply about the pound and the City, while many on the Right seem keen on huge economic risks.
- Most voters are ignorant. This applies to both sides, although on average Remainers are better educated. But as Dominic Cummings has pointed out, the average Remainer didn’t know that much about how the EU actually works; they just looked at Nigel Farage and knew they were against that. Maybe we should stop pandering to ‘the people’, and especially voters with low information levels; that includes the 18-24 age group, who everyone in politics seems to have a fetish about for some reason.
- People don’t vote on economic interests anymore, as they once did in Britain. It’s not the economy, stupid, as Eric Kaufmann put it; people align on values now. In the case of Brexit or rich Londoners getting on the Corbyn Train, they will even vote heavily against their own financial well-being.
- The Left v Right dynamic has changed a great deal, and it’s now about Global v Local, or what David Goodhart calls Anywheres v Somewheres. This is the critical division of our age. Most people in the media are Anywheres; most people outside of it are Somewheres.
- A large gap between the elites and public is a really bad thing. I’m not of the opinion that the people are necessarily right and the elites wrong – I’m, I suppose, a member of the elite, albeit an obscure and unimportant one. But well-educated and sociable people are more susceptible to fashionable ideas, which are often idiotic (indeed idiotic ideas have many advantages over sensible ones). The gap on the critical, existential issue for Europe – immigration and diversity – is now enormous. As the song goes, there may be trouble ahead.
- On the other hand, most British people are quite moderate, and veer away from the extremes. Likewise most aren’t especially hostile to immigrants; in fact post-Brexit British people have become more positive towards them. There was not a great surge in hatred and violence, despite the warnings, although undoubtedly many hostile individuals took it as a carte blanche to act on their worst impulses. Also, the 52 per cent did not vote for a ‘hard Brexit’, necessarily. So some sort of compromise is probably a good thing.
- The choice of Brexits should have been decided before the referendum. The decision should have been about whether we remain or adopt a particular alternative, such as the EEA; instead it simply turned into a row about worldviews and who you hate.
- A lot of prominent Remainers are quite hysterical and, strangely, nostalgic. The only difference is they say ‘I want my country back’, while conservatives say ‘We want our country back.’ Also, people who threaten to leave almost never do. Meanwhile some public intellectuals, such as A.C. Grayling, seem to have totally lost their marbles over the subject.
- Personally, I feel more European than ever. The referendum has crystallised that, following on from the Leave argument that we should reach out to the world and trade more with China, India etc. That’s great, sure, but I feel I have much more in common with the Dutch and the Germans than with anybody else, except for those countries settled by the British (which increasingly are less so anyway). Lots of Eurosceptics, of course, feel strongly European, they just don’t feel like the EU represents Europe.
- An unhappy marriage is often preferable to a divorce. My view is that we should never have joined and we should never have left. Britain and Europe was a doomed marriage, whereas we should have stayed on the fringes where, historically, Britain’s place is. But sometimes being stuck in an unhappy marriage is preferable to dealing with divorce lawyers, losing your home and ending up above a kebab shop on your friend’s sofa. Which is where Britain now is, metaphorically speaking.
- In retrospect a lot of British newspaper coverage of the EU was wildly inaccurate. We seem to be at the other extreme to most of the continent, where the media is almost universally, uncritically pro-Brussels. But the European Union was often reported on in a simplistic way, and some eurosceptic language was pretty moronic.
- All of this might have been for nothing anyway. We may well end up in an EEA which is almost indistinguishable from our EU membership; we’ll still be subject to most rules but also still get most of the benefits. Our membership of bodies like ERASMUS will probably continue. This is what I want, anyway – I call it Anglican Brexit because it’s neither Catholic nor Protestant. The idea that we can totally disconnect ourselves from the EU and sail on the open seas like 16th century pirates preying on Spanish galleons strikes me as courageous, as Sir Humphrey would put it.
- The Coalition wasn’t that bad after all. Make Britain boring again, I say.