Andrew Vine: Brexit reveals the stark contrasts of a divided nation

ukip leader Nigel Farage resonated with blue collar voters.

ukip leader Nigel Farage resonated with blue collar voters.

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A COUPLE of moments over a weekend when Britain digested how it had voted, and wondered about its new place in the world, summed up the gulf that the referendum has revealed so starkly.

The first was a wailing phone call from some friends in London that plumbed the unfathomable depths of metropolitan insularity. What’s to become of our place in Provence? France just won’t feel the same, and it’s all the fault of beastly Northerners who voted for Brexit.

Well, might just as well blame the beastly Welsh, or the beastly people of Cornwall, or all the other beastly regions which voted to leave the EU.

Besides, millions of us voted to remain, whether in the North or anywhere else.

Oh, and by the way, I haven’t a clue about your place in Provence. But given that it’s only one of your three properties, and when granny died she left you a couple of million, I’m sure you’ll muddle through somehow in a post-EU Britain.

The second moment was more firmly rooted in real life, given that the backdrop was a pub in Cleckheaton for a drink with a relative, where all around the hubbub of talk was about now being able to do something about immigration.

It was occasionally uncomfortable to listen to, and anyone who voted to remain would have found themselves gritting their teeth at the extravagant praise heaped on Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

For many there, he was the hero of the hour, rather than Boris Johnson, who is a hated Tory, and they don’t like Tories round here.

But Nige, now there’s a top bloke. Tells it like it is, does Nige. Talks sense.

Likes a pint.

This environment would be more alien to the London couple fretting about their gite than being stranded in a foreign land where they had no grasp of the language or culture.

Though less than 200 miles apart, we might live in two different nations, and doing something about that is as great a challenge in the aftermath of the EU referendum as determining Britain’s new role in the world order.

And it is also central to finding that place, because although a two-speed Britain might just about have worked inside the big tent of the EU with its grants and subsidies, it will be a major hindrance outside it where, economically, Britain needs to be as nimble and cohesive as possible.

The gulf between the two nations is at the heart of what happened last Thursday, which can be viewed as a revolution of sorts by the have-nots against the haves.

Only one electoral moment in the history of post-war Britain really rivals it in magnitude. That was the Labour landslide of 1945, when Winston Churchill, cheered to the heavens by a grateful people, was then unceremoniously booted out of office by them.

That was an electoral coup driven by those at the poorer end of society demanding their lot be bettered, and so is this watershed moment for our own times.

Even though the referendum was about international relations, it came down to the fears and concerns of people like those in the pub at Cleckheaton about the nuts and bolts of everyday life.

Nobody should have been surprised that backers of Brexit were divided along lines of income from the Remain camp, because those with the least have been registering protest votes for years.

It’s just that the political mainstream chose not to listen, or read the signs. These are the people who have been left behind by globalisation, suffered the effects of job insecurity and wage erosion, expected to shoulder the burden of a creed of austerity preached by millionaire politicians and seen the nature of their communities changed by uncontrolled immigration.

If anybody had bothered to take notice, the signs of a gathering revolution by these blue-collar workers were to be seen in places like Cleckheaton for a very long time.

They were the former industrial heartlands of Yorkshire that had registered protest votes by giving the odious British National Party its mercifully brief place in the sun about a decade ago.

That was less an embrace of the politics of hatred than an attempt to send a message to the Labour government of the time, and the Conservatives then breathing down its neck, that neither was listening to worries about immigration.

But the protests went unheeded as too much attention was paid to well-heeled metropolitan voters for whom globalisation and mass immigration meant chic holiday homes and cleaners willing to work for below minimum wage.

It wasn’t just beer making the people in the pub feel buoyant. It was that the country had finally been forced to listen to problems and concerns that had been ignored for too long.

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