The people of Britain woke up to a very different country on Friday 24th June 2016. It is a country that has ignored Nelson Mandela and chosen fear over hope, isolation over cooperation, ignorance over knowledge, prejudice over understanding, bitterness over generosity and, who knows, maybe even strife over peace.

We also woke up to a divided country – divided as never before. This is not the division of Right and Left – that we’ve seen before and have coped with. No this is the division between North and South, between the educated and the less so, between the rich and the poor, between the older and the younger, between the optimistic and the pessimistic, between the informed and the ignorant and, crucially, between the decent and the malignant.

My wife was born near Walsall in the West Midlands – it’s a predominantly working class town and very typical of urban, provincial England. 68% of its electors voted for Britain to “Leave” the European Union. We now live in the London Borough of Richmond – a typical leafy middle class commuter suburb of London. 69% of its electors voted to “Remain” in the EU. The divisions of social class were a key factor in this outcome.

Across the country the win for “Leave” was narrow, but decisive. But this does not represent the collective will of the British people in anything but a head count. 48% of us did not want and are horrified by this outcome.

I do not charge the “Leave” voters with being “malignant” of course. But I do lay that charge at the feet of those who persuaded them. The referendum was called in the first place because our Prime Minister David Cameron was being attacked from his right by a significant body of “Eurosceptics”. He was not the first Conservative PM to suffer from this plague. But it would be wrong to characterise this group as being solely motivated by aversion to the European Union. As I wrote here this has been a coup orchestrated by the neo-liberal political right. Europe was the battleground. But the prize was the political control of Britain. And the Right has won. They did so by preaching fear – a simple gut message summed up by their slogan: “Take our country back”. Above all take it back from those who are not like us. Foreigners. Immigrants. The establishment. In the leafy groves of Richmond most of us could see through this and were appalled by its bigotry, xenophobia and dishonesty. In the Walsalls of our land however it struck a chord.

So what now? Well nobody knows and my crystal ball is as useless as anyone else’s. Ultimately David Cameron was to blame for this tragic charade and he is history. As “The Economist” put it   “Having recklessly called the referendum and led a failed campaign, he has shown catastrophic misjudgement and cannot credibly negotiate Britain’s departure.” And he won’t be doing so. As ever the victors will take the spoils and by October an (almost) bloodless coup will have delivered my beloved country to the dark side. Without an election but tragically with the blood of the young Labour MP Jo Cox having been spilt along the way. At a gathering to honour her her widower spoke movingly of what she believed in:

“[Jo has] come to symbolize something much bigger in our country and in our world, something that is under threat—her belief in tolerance and respect, her support for diversity and her stand against hatred and extremism, no matter where it comes from. Across the world we’re seeing forces of division playing on people’s worst fears, rather than their best instincts, trying to divide our communities, to exploit insecurities, and emphasize not what unites us but what divides us. Jo’s killing was political, it was an act of terror designed to advance an agenda of hatred towards others. What a beautiful irony it is that an act designed to advance hatred has instead generated such an outpouring of love. Jo lived for her beliefs, and on Thursday she died for them, and for the rest of our lives we will fight for them in her name.”


Which of the gruesome bunch of ambitious neo-liberal adherents to the doctrines of the likes of Friedrich Hayek is in Number 10, and which Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary in October doesn’t really matter. They will have captured my Country. And they captured it by playing on fear, by dividing our communities and by expoiting insecurities. On the day that Britain chose fear over hope.

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