Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget.
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.
The Secret People, GK Chesterton
Well, we have now, Gilbert, and there may be hell to pay. Consider the confusion that is engulfing us. Consider the misery, the uncertainty, the bad blood and resentment, the ill will and spite. And that’s just in the home. It is worse in the pubs, I am told.
But there is joy, too. Among the Brexistentialists, you will find a giddy triumphalism. July 23 is now their Independence Day, and Nigel wants the date to become a bank holiday. No wonder some of us were almost catatonically depressed on Friday morning.
The Out vote was ultimately a victory for xenophobia and its close ally, paranoia. The people of England voted against “them” – “elites” whose sole purpose is to destroy our liberty. This is all classic conspiracy theory stuff. No doubt in some quarters “they” are identified as werewolves. Yes, the EU is a mess and needs a revolution – not least a moral revolution – but the answer is not to leave but to work for reform from the inside.
The short-term consequences of the Out vote are pretty clear in the jittery markets. Money is only money, however, and at least the months ahead are going to be … interesting. They may also be very funny as good ole Boris and good ole Michael Gove put on grave faces and address the nation from the podiums of power. Boris’s performance on Friday was spectacular. For what must have been the first time in his life, there was not the tiniest hint of mockery in his eyes.
Still, I am in no mood to forgive either the referendum or its results. What especially irks me now has nothing to do with GDPs or bank rates, or exports or even the threat of Turkey. No, what irks me now is that I have been stripped of my European citizenship. I was happy to be a subject of Her Majesty and a citizen of the European Union. Now that privilege has been snatched away from me by white van men.
On Sunday morning I went to Knightsbridge to talk to people leaving the 11am Mass at the Oratory. It would be interesting, I thought, to know what the liturgically conservative Catholics were thinking. The first person I spoke to was a gentleman in his late 60s in a panama and dark glasses. Was he perhaps one of the London elites who had voted in such large numbers for remain? No, he most certainly was not.
“I was absolutely overjoyed by the result.” So not at all keen on the EU, then? “It has been a calamitous failure,” he said. Oh, dear.
Then I spotted the young fogey. He was standing on the steps of the Oratory filling his pipe – one of those curved things known as the Bent Bulldog. Bliss: here was a twentysomething with a pipe! I don’t think even AN Wilson matched that in the glory days of fogeydom. Turned out he’s a Pole, but is neither a nanny nor a hod-carrier. He is doing a PhD here in London. So what did he think about the result? He, too, was overjoyed.
“The EU is evil, dysfunctional. There is nothing good about it,” he said in a relaxed and light-hearted manner. We talked about the rain on polling day. “It was an act of God,” he said. We laughed. When I put it to him that English Europhobia was a Protestant thing, dating from Henry VIII’s break with Rome (thus making Henry the first Eurosceptic), he said that my argument had “no dialectical force”. (Oi, I thought, that’s enough of your filth, clever clogs.) We laughed again.
Couple of days earlier I’d been in touch with an old friend of mine from the happy days of Boris at the Spectator. When the results came in on Friday she wanted to make her confession to me. “I voted Out,” she said. “Yes, my child.” I said. “How often?”
“Only once. I am not a ballot cheat. Thing is I love Europe and the idea of being European, but I hate the bureaucracy as well as the feeling of not being involved in the whole process. But I couldn’t sleep last night. I comforted myself by thinking that the Ins would landslide it in the end…
“And now I feel like a complete low-life scum. It is all made worse by the vitriol from my friends on Facebook who are appalled at the result … I’m not a racist!
I just want to live in peace and harmony with everyone else – in all parts of the world.” I forgave her. Let us hope and pray, meanwhile, that Nicola Sturgeon and others find a way of overturning the democratic will of the people. We need government, not people power.