Butchers v academics: For me, Brexit has been a personal experience of a society deeply divided
is an author and social commentator. He is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury. Author of How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century. Follow him on Twitter @Furedibyte
Experience earlier this century in Ireland, France, and the Netherlands showed that whenever it is defeated in a referendum, the EU bureaucracy always succeeded in reversing the result. Many of us, who wholeheartedly supported Brexit knew that it was only a matter of time before the alliance of EU oligarchs and British cultural elites would launch a campaign to nullify the outcome of the 23 June 2016 referendum.
We did not have to wait long before the Remain lobby began to insist that ‘people did not know what they voted for’ and demanded that at the very least there should be a rerun of the referendum.
During the months following the Brexit referendum it became clear that the decision to leave the EU had very little support within the political class. With the exception of a handful of Conservative and Labour MPs, the vast majority of parliamentarians had little appetite for Brexit. The main reason why most Conservative Party MPs claimed to go along with the decision to leave the EU was because they knew that their base was fully behind Brexit.Also on rt.com As Brexit finally happens tonight, a warning to Boris Johnson, don’t tie us back in to the EU!
Since June 2016, it has become all too clear that the British Establishment inhabits a different political universe than large sections of society. Divisions run deep, and a growing section of society instinctively feel that the existing political institutions do not represent their aspirations.
The reality of a divided Britain was brought home to me in a very personal way the morning after the announcement of the referendum. When I went into my local butcher to buy a couple of steaks, I noticed that everyone behind the counter was smiling and laughing, and paying little attention to the customers.
When I asked one of them: “Why are you guys smiling?” she replied “Because we are leaving the EU.” Just as I was about to nod in agreement, she asked me how I voted. When I replied, “Brexit of course,” the butchers cheered with delight. One of them said: “We did not expect someone like you to vote with us!” What he meant was that he did not imagine that a university professor would share his emotional and political dislike of EU and vote for Brexit.
That my butcher friend had an astute assessment of the voting behaviour of different groups in society was brought home to me an hour later, when I went to work at my university. Virtually every colleague I encountered looked uncomfortable and sad. Many resembled patients waiting for their turn in a clinic. A couple of them reacted with horror when they discovered that I had actually voted to leave the EU. Attitudes at my university were very, very different to those expressed by my butchers.
The elites’ self-pity
A few weeks after the referendum I wrote an article in The THE about the epidemic of self-pity sweeping universities. I pointed out that the anti-Brexit mood was so powerful on campuses, that many academics were reluctant to publicly acknowledge that they too also supported Brexit. After the publication of this article I received many emails from pro-Brexit academics who thanked me for writing this article. What unnerved me about their emails was that almost all of them felt that if they expressed their pro-Brexit views, they would be ostracised by the majority of their colleagues.
I too have been exposed to a bit of hostility from colleagues. But I was not particularly surprised by this intolerant and illiberal response from censorious academics. What really hurt me was that one of my personal friends has stopped talking to me and my wife, because of our support for Brexit. That a friend, with whom we went on family holidays, could react in such a hostile manner caught me unaware and unnerved me. It showed me in a very personal way just how deeply divided the UK had become.
Thankfully the unhappy loss of a friend is more than outweighed by the realisation that the UK is finally going to have a chance of controlling its destiny. This victory for the people and the principle of national sovereignty more than makes up for the uncertainty and upheavals of the past few years.
I am also delighted that the new cultural and political elites know that they and their values have been decisively rejected by the majority of the people. Until recently they have smugly assumed that they possessed a carte blanche to impose their cultural values on the rest of society. Now they are squirming, because they know that millions and millions of people are ready to challenge them in the future. They realise that they have been decisively defeated by a people they hate so much.
Because deep inside I really feared that Brexit could not happen, I feel a sense of unbounded joy that we are finally saying ‘goodbye’ to the European Union. It is time to celebrate and welcome a new chapter in the nation’s life.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.