Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Brexit: Losing My Religion



You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  To which well-worn maxim must be added a post-Brexit Prime Ministerial coda: This time you can please none of the people none of the time.

Within a few short weeks we will have a new Prime Minister and, remarkably, there are people who want that job.  Whether any of them are even remotely qualified for untangling the hideous Gordian knot that he or she will inherit is doubtful.  Still less likely is it that any of them are sufficiently mighty to cleave it in two.  They are sailing direct for the Scylla of the 52% and the Charybdis of the 48% and the prospect of reaching any kind of land let alone the biblical sunlit uplands foreseen by prophetic Leavers is remote.

No extra money for the NHS: in fact no extra money for anything at all because all the money is fleeing our shores as swiftly and definitely as immigrants are not.  I wrote recently about how the agonies attendant on divining a path through this morass will, eventually, be a cathartic experience for Britain or whatever is left of it.  I have no idea what path that will be but neither does anyone else.

Most are familiar with the German concept of Schadenfreude, something that many Germans may now be feeling.  However many fewer know the expression Weltschmerz which on one translation means sadness over the evils of the world.  This feeling afflicted me the moment the astonishment and then numbness at the result of the referendum had worn off.  I know that I am hardly alone in having felt this and confirmation has come by way of an LSE study that investigated the emotional reaction of voters to the result of the referendum.

It was reported that:
The strength of young people’s negative feelings was particularly strong in relation to the loss of their rights as EU citizens: 78% said they would miss the right to live anywhere in the EU as well as the sense of being part of a European community.

The automatic right to work or study abroad would be missed by 77% of young people, 72% would miss having an EU passport and 55% would miss EU symbols such as the EU flag. Some 10% said they were more likely to relocate abroad as a result of Brexit.

These findings are congruent with a theory I have about the remarkably emotional dismay and anger that so many Remainers have felt.  Ironically for a country with an established church, and a head of state who is its Supreme Governor, Britain must be one of the most secular countries in the world.  Church, Queen and country is just not a rallying cry that resonates with many if any under the age of 50 still less 30 and mania for sovereignty is a middle aged man’s game at best.

Young people don’t find spiritual connection under spires and in pews but in the fields of Glastonbury and other festivals.  The War was not their parents’ war, it wasn’t even their grand-parents war.  Europe is not a place they go to it is a place they are in.  Communion is as important to the young as it has been to all humans ever but it’s not delivered at the hands of an old man in a robe instead it’s found at work and play in all of Europe’s capitals.

The Leave campaign, as well as promulgating barefaced lies about health spending and illusory promises about sovereignty, appealed to a romantic conception of Britain and specifically England that resonates with the old but not the young.  Where Remain failed was in making a positive emotional case for Europe and it is surprising that it did not capitalise on this because insofar as the young identify with religion it’s by way of shared experience and no experiences are more like ours than those of our nearest neighbours.

The march on 2nd July was a collective declaration of defiance by those for whom Brexit is an act of lacerating self-harm wholly at odds with their conception of Britain, its values and its place in the world.  Whatever the fate of Britain its young must, and I believe will, work to perpetuate the fellow feeling that exists so instinctively between them and other Europeans.

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