Brexiters mostly lost out from what Margaret Thatcher did but drew nourishment from what she said

Andrew Brown writes: In 1945, things were dreadful, but everyone knew their role and knew what their country should do. Now things are very much better, but no one knows where they belong. The post-war consensus and much of the optimism lasted until about 1973 but collapsed altogether under Margaret Thatcher. In a sense, this campaign is the last outworking of her legacy. Both sides of the argument are the children of Thatcher, who opposed the European Union rhetorically and emotionally but did as much as any political leader to knit us into the single market.

The Remainers are largely those who profited from her revolution: the rich, the skilled, and the educated, especially those who live in London and the South East portion of England. At the same time, they tend to be the people who resisted and were repelled by her message and her instinctive social nostalgia. They are, in a word, Blairites: He largely continued her policies but switched the rhetoric 180 degrees to welcome a future as quite glorious — and imaginary — as Thatcher’s vision of the past had been.

Under both Tony Blair and Thatcher, and under their successors, the rising prosperity of London and the South East has been accompanied by an astonishing loss of jobs, hope, and self-confidence in other parts of the country. There, in the traditional heartland of England, is where the Brexit movement draws its emotional strength. The Leavers are mostly those who lost out from what Mrs Thatcher did but drew nourishment by what she said. So they felt doubly betrayed in the post-Blair era, when the economics of the new order went on hurting them, and the rhetoric turned against them, too.

But the Leavers are not a homogenous group. Take away their English nationalism, and they fall into two profoundly opposed groups. By far the largest are the foot soldiers, small-c conservative and genuinely hostile to immigrants of every sort. (More than half the immigrants in this country are from outside the European Union.) The ordinary Leavers are found almost everywhere outside London, in all the places where globalization has devastated the economy and where many of the jobs that are left have gone to foreigners.

They are nourished by the extraordinary and unremitting hostility to “Migrants” in some parts of the press. The Daily Express, a traditionally patriotic tabloid now owned by the pornographer Richard Desmond, has run 37 front page splashes warning about migrants this year alone. Few were based on anything anyone else would recognize as news. The Daily Mail, its more respectable competitor, has run more than 20. Even if you never buy these papers, the front pages are displayed in every supermarket, and their effect is cumulative. My mother, who is still alive but rather confused, asked me the other day, as I drove her through the English Tourist Board poster countryside, where all the migrants were. Why couldn’t she see any since they were invading the country? [Continue reading…]

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