It is becoming apparent that Brexit is about the fine balance between two firmly held & fundamentally different world views: isolationist and internationalist.
Isolationists think that in an increasingly complex world, it’s easier, safer and all-round better to rely on themselves as much as possible. Some people call this xenophobia, others might accuse it of being selfish, but it is more a desire for self-reliance. They are the kind of people who shut their front door when they get home, and solve their own problems.
Internationalists, on the other hand, take the opposite view: that it’s impossible to exist in isolation, and vital to engage with global partners to our mutual benefit. They are the kinds of people who talk to their neighbours, lend them lawn mowers and ask for help when the heating breaks down.
No amount of suffering will convince isolationists that they should engage with the world; no amount of evidence that things are going well will convince internationalists that it’s OK to turn ones back on ones fellow men. The two world views are truly diametrically opposed. It’s not about evidence, it’s about ideology, philosophy, almost religious fervour.
For most of the past 40 years, we have taken an internationalist view. The architects of this path have kept things stable with a kind of “performance approval”: whilst the people feel comfortably well off, they’ll let government get on with things. The financial crash and especially the subsequent austerity has changed all that. A growing trend to ignore the deep issues of deteriorating lives of so-called ordinary people was highlighted much more starkly as government cuts bit deeper and deeper. Tolerance has rapidly evaporated in the ever-growing segment of the population which feels left behind. The isolationists feel justified that they were right all along.
The only way to heal this rift is to restore a sense of affluence. Of course this is not really about money, though that helps. It’s about respect, as embodied in things like good schools, excellent hospitals and adequate homes. So, whilst preventing Brexit is vital (and the threat of Brexit is making affluence much harder to achieve), let’s not take our eyes off the other, real structural problems in our country.
Make people feel good again, and the pressure for Brexit will evaporate like morning mist on a summer’s day.