Vale Angliae

A darkness descends…

I was driving to my office in Cambridge on Friday morning (24th June 2016), from Suffolk and across the land of a large estate owner.

The early morning sun was shining through the trees and looking, I saw the deer and pheasants abroad in the verges, seeking their early breakfast.

Having an historical sensibility I was reminded of that warm, sunny day I had read about, in the July of 1914 when war was declared. The one which became known as The Great War.

As then, after a climactic announcement, nothing seemed to have changed. There were still scones for tea and sport to be undertaken the next day. Yet then,within four years of complete military, social, economic and cultural destruction, millions were to lie dead from Flanders Fields to the harsh, dusty landscapes of the Middle East and Africa.

There was something of that ‘phoney war’ sensibility about the post ‘Vote Leave’ result. Nothing seemed to have changed, yet as the weekend progressed the markets and our currency were in freefall, we had lost a Prime Minister and within the Labout Party the Shadow Cabinet began to fall on their swords, in order to ferment a revolution in the palace.

The majority of the polity had voted, we were told, to endorse a strange ‘Faragist’ notion of good people declaring themselves against the ruling elite, big banks and an imagined anti-democratic Europe.

There had not been many celebratory banners for European achievements, or detailed analysis of the support the European process has tendered UK communities, workers and business. Populism had triumphed over rationalism and the certitude of achievement made clear.

For that triumphant electoral cohort dissapointment is due. There will be no new hospital built every week, £350 million refunds, or an end to entrance at Dover for the imaginary millions of newly joined Europeans.

We also learned that working class communities in Wales, for example Ebbw Vale, devastated historically by the economic politics of the right and with a history of grants in aid from the EU, running into many millions of euros which had transformed the infrastructure and landscape of whole towns and villages… even they too had voted to leave.

The end results for this referendum are that no assault has begun, or will begin, on banks, international corporations or the movement of individuals across borders. It is unlikely that there is any plan to replace EU funding from core UK budgets to continue the enhancement of disenfranchised communities.

That the next Prime Mnister may be another ex-Etonian, Bullingdon Club member, who enjoys an income and personal resources that would stagger ‘ordinary’ people, I suspect.

The most pernicious and subtle long term consequence is that The Tories, for all their One Nation rhetoric, and the Brexiteers in particular, have divided our nation as never before along new lines. Journalists and data scientists have shown us these new fault lines post-referendum.

The old and the young. The university educated and the not. The social internationalists and the not. The compassionate for immigrants and the not. The Europeans and the not. A constituent part of the UK, or not for Scotland or Northern Ireland. These new schisms could make the old fault lines of major party loyalty seem irrelevant.

I have long been a class-warrior for working class justice and equality, but have striven to achieve an education, to build a small social business, the both done in concert with and supported by other generous and compassionate individuals, that focused on cross community engagement and literacy. I have enjoyed a whole adult life of access to European culture and community which has enriched my economic and social existence.

The referendum has put me at deep odds with my neighbours.

It has shattered my belief and pride in being both European and English with, to the date of the referendum, no recrimination for my socialism, internationalism or multi-culturalism.

Simplistically, it is possible to see the conditionality for conflict in 1914, and on into the The Thirties, as prolonged economic depression, the rise of nationalism and the facism of the far right, all coupled to a resentful Germany. The whole propelling a continent, and our island, to war not once in the twentieth century but twice.

The fear and opportunities for racism the referendum campaign has now created will be abroad in our urban centres, where the newly arrived seek their homes and dreams, for a long time to come. The cross border tensions in our own island will open old wounds and emnities I suspect, as the Six Counties and the Scottish Borders contemplate a non-European future. Labour will be divided, instead of being the natural home for the compassionate.

My distinct personal fear is that the referendum will spiral us back into history, to a socio-political landscape that has more to do with the 1930’s than with the dawn of a New Jerusalem.

After Note:

When I began writing this journal about my inner political landscape only recently, I could not have envisaged the leaving of Europe or the tensions and divisions just taking the decision has engendered.

I could not have imagined writing a political journal from the personal perspective of an immigrant.

However, over the Autumn of 2016 we will be looking for a new home on the European mainland.

There will be a wealth of compare and contrast political assessment to come for a long while, as we mark our new  journey here. Copy I never voted to write…

Vale Angliae.

Tim Smith.


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