On the day of the parliamentary debate on the second referendum petition BBC News in its wisdom decided to mark the occasion with a feature set in Stoke on Trent in which it interviewed people from the city about how they feel about Brexit several months on. Unsurprisingly in a place where a solid majority of 66% voted to leave the EU all but one that they spoke to reaffirmed their delight at the outcome. However, one woman dissented. She said “They’re thick, the people in this city”. The reporter enquired “isn’t that disrespectful to the Leave voters?” Her response was: “They’re thick”.
Here in Bristol it is a very different story. 62% of us voted to stay and in the Bristol West constituency, where I live, that number was about 80%. So are we cleverer that Stoke citizens? Well, on average we are likely to be better educated, living as we do in an old University City and one that enjoys economic prosperity. The Leavers dismiss us as the “metropolitan elite”. So they at least think we are different from the denizens of Stoke.
Sir John Major used to talk about creating a Britain that was more at ease with itself. Whatever else he achieved during his term, his legacy is not a more cohesive country. In my lifetime I don’t remember us being more divided. There is a yawning incomprehension between the people Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford and London and places like Burnley, Stoke and Sunderland.
The other day my wife was creating a montage of leaflets and flags in our front window to mark the forthcoming March for Europe and was about to place a Union Jack alongside the European flag. I found myself saying, “I don’t want that flag in my window!”. She said “What would your father have thought of you?” It was one of those moments in life when I realised something big had shifted inside me. I have always been proud of my nationality. I was brought up to be proud of my national flag. Suddenly I feel different.
I don’t think that the Leavers understand what they have done to people like me. Some Remainers who are now busily adjusting themselves to a world outside the EU don’t understand either. The vote to leave the EU is PERSONAL. I feel European. My world view is as a European. My people are Europeans. The exit of the EU threatens me, my children and my grandchildren. This isn’t an intellectual exercise for me. If those who seek to engineer a constitutional change of monumental proportions, and in the process cause me and millions of others great harm, and then expect us to roll over and have our tummies tickled - they are wrong. If they can’t understand that what they want to do is a personal affront, then maybe they are thick.
(P.S. My wife comes from Stoke on Trent and she says she is far from thick.)