Divided Kingdom

John Harris writes: What a strange, unsettling, anxious moment this is. I mean that partly in the sense of vote, but also of the emotions that are still raw after the death of Jo Cox, and what the last month or so has highlighted about the state of what we must still call the United Kingdom. Many people knew the rough story, of course: of a country cleaved by rising inequality, prone to great outbursts of anger and frustration, and now in the midst of its own version of US-style culture wars – a picture, in fact, that now applies to much of Europe, and is coming into even sharper focus in America itself. But if the build-up to the referendum has told us anything, it is that all this has reached a disturbing peak.

On Tuesday I was in Northampton’s market square, and finding leave voters was a cinch. One or two, just to make this clear, were plain racist, but the majority were not: they talked about immigration, but in the context of jobs, housing and all the rest. An hour later I was on a London tube train sprinkled with successful-looking professionals, a few of whom had “Stronger in” stickers on their Herschel rucksacks and laptop bags. They would presumably echo the views of leave voters that a young woman about to go to university had expressed in Northampton. She talked about their supposed view of immigrants: “They think they’re stealing our jobs … bringing in crime and terrorism. It’s just nonsense.”

Two nations, in short, are staring at each other across a political chasm. To make things worse, while the rightwing press have been up to their usual disgraceful tricks, the parts of the media that might offer a counterbalance have mostly failed to understand that it is the restive mood of millions of people – not David Cameron or Jeremy Corbyn, or the late entry into the debate of David Beckham – that is the referendum’s main story. In the last week or so, this problem has turned nuclear: the awful events in Birstall have made “hate” a ubiquitous trope, and the prospect of any real understanding of the national mood has receded even further. [Continue reading…]

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