Dia Chakravarty and Janet Da­ley:

The gov­ern­ing class’s be­lief that vot­ers are big­oted know-noth­ings doomed Brexit from the start

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - JANET DA­LEY

Yes, boys and girls, this is re­ally hap­pen­ing. Your gov­ern­ment is ac­tu­ally collapsing into in­tractable chaos while the in­tegrity of your coun­try is be­ing of­fered up for a hand­ful of in­dul­gences from a rul­ing body over which you will have no con­trol. Like every­body else, I have ab­so­lutely no idea where this is go­ing to end – but I do have a pretty clear idea of how we got here. Given that the cat­a­strophic place at which we now find our­selves was rooted in the ear­li­est as­sump­tions with which this mis­ad­ven­ture be­gan, it is not sim­ply an ex­er­cise in melan­choly to re­view the his­tory. Some­times re-watch­ing the col­lapse of a mon­u­ment in slow mo­tion can pro­vide in­sights that the sim­ple fact of its im­plo­sion does not pro­vide.

So let’s re­mind our­selves of what it was like in the Age of In­no­cence when we all thought we were be­ing given a say in what every­body now agrees is the most im­por­tant na­tional de­ci­sion since the war.

The ref­er­en­dum was go­ing to pre­cip­i­tate a pub­lic de­bate in which the two sides would con­front one an­other with rea­soned ar­gu­ment, both ev­i­den­tial and philo­soph­i­cal, on the great ques­tion. Both sides would ac­cept the ra­tion­al­ity and con­sci­en­tious­ness of the other’s po­si­tion.

Well, that’s what I thought was sup­posed to hap­pen; didn’t you? As you may re­call, it wasn’t quite like that. One side – now known as Con­ti­nu­ity Re­main – sim­ply de­cided that the op­po­si­tion con­sisted of big­oted know-noth­ings be­ing de­ceived by self-serv­ing op­por­tunists who were us­ing the Leave cause as a ve­hi­cle for their Machi­avel­lian pur­poses. There was only one way to treat this threat – or rather two ways which formed a kind of psy­cho­log­i­cal pin­cer to achieve the same end: first, a ter­ri­fy­ing se­ries of threats in­volv­ing eco­nomic col­lapse, food short­ages and planes fall­ing out of the sky, and then a sys­tem­atic cam­paign of vi­cious abuse, the vile­ness and shame­less snob­bery of which I have never wit­nessed be­fore in Bri­tain. And guess what? To the eter­nal, mag­nif­i­cent, stag­ger­ing credit of the peo­ple of this coun­try, it didn’t work.

Even I, who as a be­sot­ted im­mi­grant to this land have al­most un­lim­ited faith in the char­ac­ter of its pop­u­la­tion, was taken aback by this ut­ter re­fusal to be bul­lied or de­ceived. I have writ­ten of this be­fore, but now that we are reach­ing the endgame it is worth re­peat­ing: the Bri­tish will not be in­tim­i­dated. They are not fright­ened by threats. They are in­sulted (and even­tu­ally en­raged) by them. And as for be­ing tra­duced by their “bet­ters”, they are used to that: they know how to mar­tial their own com­mu­nal sol­i­dar­ity to stand up to it (this may be, iron­i­cally, a use­ful con­se­quence of the class sys­tem, the very same in­su­lar­ity which Re­main­ers de­cry in the post-in­dus­trial pro­le­tariat in­ures them to the de­ri­sion of con­temp­tu­ous met­ro­pol­i­tans).

How could the coun­try’s elites have got it so wrong? How could they have so dis­as­trously mis­un­der­stood the na­ture of their own elec­torate and fallen so stupidly into the “the­mand-us” model which is em­bed­ded in the con­scious­ness of al­most all or­di­nary Bri­tish peo­ple? From the early days of Project Fear to its fi­nal splut­ter­ing stage last week in which a six-week de­lay at our ports had sud­denly trans­mo­gri­fied into a six-month one, the whole thing has been so crassly id­i­otic.

So pur­blind and ar­ro­gant in fact that it even got some of the most ba­sic premises wrong. There was that end­lessly chanted re­frain (re­peated by Philip Ham­mond in the Com­mons de­bate just last Thurs­day) that Leave vot­ers, in their be­nighted naivety, did not re­alise the eco­nomic con­se­quences that Brexit would bring: no­body, it was said, had voted “to be­come poorer”. Re­ally? But if those vot­ers had be­lieved half, or even a tenth, of what they were told by the Gov­ern­ment’s Project Fear prog­nos­ti­ca­tions, then that is ex­actly what they were vot­ing for – or, at the very least, it was what they were pre­pared to risk.

Sim­ple de­duc­tion: if they were ready to vote Leave in spite of all the hokum (sorry, ex­perts’ warn­ings), ei­ther they were ready to ac­cept be­com­ing “poorer” for the sake of some­thing they val­ued, or they did not trust a word they were be­ing told by their gov­ern­ing elites. Didn’t it oc­cur to any­body in the sub­limely vain Re­main camp, which was deeply em­bed­ded with the odi­ously self-re­gard­ing EU “ne­go­ti­at­ing” team, that the Ref­er­en­dum, hav­ing gone the way it did, meant that their en­tire strat­egy for deal­ing with Bri­tish na­tional opin­ion was dras­ti­cally mis­judged? Then again, maybe it did oc­cur to them, but how were they to counter the more pro­found, prin­ci­pled ar­gu­ments for Brexit – the de­fence of Bri­tain’s demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and the ba­sic con­cept of ac­count­able gov­ern­ment? Per­haps there was a quite cyn­i­cal de­ci­sion to ig­nore the big ques­tions and con­cen­trate on the small ones, be­cause that not only got you off the thornier philo­soph­i­cal hook but also im­plied that Leave vot­ers were ba­si­cally small-minded peo­ple.

Ul­ti­mately it would be that be­lief – that Leav­ing was not about prin­ci­ples but prac­ti­cal­i­ties – that would be the Gov­ern­ment’s un­do­ing. Theresa May had one brief glo­ri­ous mo­ment dur­ing the Lan­caster House era when she ac­tu­ally seemed in­ter­ested in the larger, more ed­i­fy­ing sense that leav­ing the EU could be a moral mis­sion. Then she lost an elec­tion and the ad­vi­sor who had been script­ing that in­car­na­tion, Nick Tim­o­thy, af­ter which she handed the whole mat­ter over to the tac­ti­cians in the civil ser­vice who re­gard ev­ery prob­lem as prac­ti­cal. To be fair, it is not the proper busi­ness of the civil ser­vice to be driven by political con­vic­tion. It was now just a mat­ter, as Mrs May loves to say, of “get­ting the job done”. So the pass was sold.

From the out­set, the Brexit project was doomed by a dis­as­trous fail­ure – per­haps un­der­stand­ably on the part of the Euro­pean Union but un­for­giv­ably by most of the Bri­tish gov­ern­ing class as well – to un­der­stand this coun­try and what drove it to de­part from the EU in spite of all the risks and calumny that might in­vite. But this is still the same coun­try – and the same peo­ple. It’s not over yet.

The Brexit project was doomed by a dis­as­trous fail­ure to un­der­stand this coun­try and what drove it to de­part from the EU in spite of all the risks

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