The forgotten dream of brexit

It is now easy to forget that the whole brexit thing, before it became cancerous, was built on this pretend idea of a bucolic, rural, white England which existed just beyond memory and to which we could somehow return, sloughing off the present like a bad dream.

And maybe it even did exist for some small minority of people. My mother, who was born just before the second war as a Wiltshire farmer's daughter, lived in a world a little like that I think: thatched farmhouse, almost certainly an Aga or equivalent, tennis with the neighbours, watermeadows, country churches &c &c. So if you were fairly well-off and lived in the right place, it perhaps did exist. Well, it existed for a few thousand people. In fact I grew up in what had been two labourers cottages on a farm owned by two brothers and a sister who must have been born in the early years of the 20th century, and the dying remains of that world were still visible to me in the 1970s even. But, again, how many people grew up on a farm like that? Not very many.

Of course the multiple tumours that overtook brexit – Cummings, eugenics, racism, the slide towards fascism, together with all the other lurking horrors which it has helped bring to the surface – make it hard to remember what that time was like. But when the brexit vote happened Trump was still a clown who obviously would not become president, the tory party was still recognisably a conservative party populated mostly by people who valued competence over ideology. Explicitly racist policies were still something that tories were shy of. It was a different time: no-one knew what was coming.

My mother's friends probably almost all voted for brexit, to her dismay, and of course many of them are racists. But they are racists because they're well-off white people in their 80s: they grew up in a world where racism was endemic and acceptable and it's hard to change your ideas when you are 80-something. But they voted for brexit because they wanted a return to this lost dream of England, not because they wanted the malignancy that it has helped bring forth. I think this is worth remembering.

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