On Friday 8th May, 2015, following a victory for the Conservative Party in a closely fought general election, a resurgent David Cameron said: “we must ensure that we bring our country together. As I said in the small hours of this morning, we will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom.”
Right now, Britain couldn’t be more divided; further from the reality that the PM envisaged just 12 months ago. Cameron is slowly beginning to clear out his office. The Labour Party is in turmoil. Britain has voted to split from the European Union, and angry remain voters are throwing insults at pretty much everyone, from Boris Johnson and the self-serving political elite to the “racist” working classes. As though this isn’t enough, a second Scottish independence referendum is all but inevitable, and thousands of Londoners are entertaining the possibility of joining their kilted comrades.
The EU referendum was like one of those ideas that you devise with your mates when you’re horrendously intoxicated, standing outside a nameless drinking establishment collectively pissing in a gutter. These ideas always sound ingenious at the time, but when carried through they end up with a massive fist fight and someone vomiting over a nurse in A&E.
Britain is now nursing the mother of all hangovers and a bloody-nosed Remain campaigners are in quiet shellshock, leaving their nest of self-pity only to hurl a short volley of insults at whoever they think caused their pain – not really remembering who supported the idea of a referendum in the first place.
The divides are bitter; seemingly impossible to reconcile. Britain is eating itself, and the outcome may leave us with the shredded carcass of a former powerhouse. Even if the outcome is messy, however, there seems to be one, perceptible rupture that’s collapsing our social foundation.
It’s a problem that we didn’t quite understand when the referendum was first called, and one that many people are still failing to grasp. Britain is now two nations, with two fundamentally different attitudes towards the modern world.
One nation has embraced cultural globalisation and has experienced distinct benefits from a more inter-connected, inter-reliant world. This nation is predominantly young, urban, socially liberal and open-minded regarding religion and race. The other Britain feels as though it’s being left behind, both in terms of its economic well-being and, more importantly, its culture. The downbeat, typically aged members of this second nation feel as though their identity – once steadfast and secure – is being eroded through pan-continental social and technological co-operation.
This was drawn to light by a large-scale survey conducted by Lord Ashcroft on referendum polling day – the results of which are summarised here.
As you can see, the EU referendum unearthed the polarisation of our nation. Leave voters are not just anti-immigration; they distrust anything and everything associated with modern culture. These people are culturally regressive, and unashamedly so. Presumably they preach the pre-eminence of the 1950s, when Britain was a self-reliant, racially homogenous nation of miners and housewives. In contrast, those who voted Remain are culturally progressive; they are at ease with immigration, appreciate the benefits wrought by feminism and generally can’t comprehend a world improved by an absence of technology.
This cultural divide – an alarming fragmentation of the nation into two wholly incompatible worldviews – provides a monumental quandary for our politicians. If the government seeks to restrain the forces of factionalism, who are armed with wall-building fanaticism, it must act urgently. An ineffective leadership, saddled by a Prime Minister with an imminent expiry date, will not be able to re-stitch our national fabric. As for Labour, it must decide who to represent. In a vacuum of official leadership, Labour has a historic opportunity to provide a bold new direction for the nation. But it cannot do so by solely speaking on behalf of forward-thinking Britain, and neither can it do so by solely venting the frustrations of left-behind Britain.
More often than not, political slogans are baseless and hollow. One Nation Britain is probably the most overused political slogan in recent history; rammed down the throats of browbeaten voters at every half-opportunity. Through the EU referendum, it has also been shown to be the most hollow. There’s no pretending that Britain is gradually becoming more unified and single-spirited. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that we will suddenly be swept up in the warm embrace of our political opponents. Our nation is divided; our political conversation vicious and dogmatic. Consensual politics is now a footnote of history.