The Two Nations of the United Kingdom | Honest Liberal
I walked into a shop called Planet Organic last week, and it triggered a stark realisation in my mind.
I walked down aisles of organic, vegan, gluten-free, sustainably sourced food, peering at the slick packaging and brand names. I saw staff that would tick all the boxes on a diversity monitoring form, perfectly 50/50 male/female, black/white, and all standing around chatting. As I walked past the produce, I realised that they were all expensive, the majority not sourced from the UK, and they all took aim at the ‘moral market’ – people who buy things for a good cause or, more often, to enable them to boast in their middle-class milieux.
I realised that I was experiencing not just a shop, but the imagined future that a certain class of person has for this country. The people that live in cities and have good jobs, are wealthy enough to pay top dollar for these products, and others that are far beyond necessity.
They are internationalistic and left-wing in their outlook, they think about moral issues, and they care terribly deeply about the environment, though they own a 4×4 in central London and drive Tamsin and Lucas to school just two miles away. They go out for drinks in the evening, still wear masks, and they sneer at those who don’t do the same. They are ‘sound’, as Sir Humphrey Applebee would describe. They think that Britain’s history is a patchwork of evil and is today terribly unequal, despite the fact that they are part of the dreaded top 1%.
This is the modern middle class, they have no idea how their compatriots live, and most of them voted remain. The working class, (a phrase I hate, but readers will know what I mean), shop in supermarkets, look for 2-for-1 deals, and don’t give a fig whether their lamb comes from Great Britain or New Zealand. They have more immediate priorities than the middle class, and therefore a different outlook. They care about the environment, but can’t stand preachers like Greta Thunberg. They consume less quinoa and more cans of Coke. They spend their evenings making tea and sitting in front of the TV, exhausted from their day’s work. They espouse ‘common sense’, and think that Britain’s best days were in the last century.
These are the Leavers and they do have an idea about how the better half lives. There are two nations that live in the UK, as Disraeli’s Sybil, described almost 180 years ago:
“Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.”
It is again true today that we are so separate, particularly in our visions of the future, our priorities, and our own identities.Why did the Remain campaign lose the Brexit Referendum? Dominic Cummings, kingpin of Vote Leave, contends that it’s because the argument was over so much more than economics, something which Remainers still don’t understand today. He’s right of course, it was not about being poorer, it was about how the nation saw its future.
The shock that Remainers like myself felt was not just shock at the referendum’s outcome, that was just a symptom. The shock was that I did not understand my countrymen. I didn’t know what they wanted or what their values were. I was lost in my own country.
The people of this country mostly divide into those two groups, with two very different visions of the future, and nearly all the ministers in government belonged to the middle-class group before the referendum. The consequence is that the country is moving towards a future that only half of the population desires, without the consent of the nation as a whole.
Workers in Durham and Sunderland don’t know that they will need to fork out thousands of pounds to replace their old boiler with a heat pump, or their diesel car with an electric car in order to reach the government’s zero-carbon target. They don’t know that they will in fact be the first generation since much before the Second World War that will be worse off than their parents. They will have to spend more to transform their way of life, they will at the same time have to consume less.
This is the battle between the middle-class progressives and true conservatives, the anti-woke working class. They don’t know each other, they don’t understand each other, and their world views are directly opposed. This is the battle for Britain in 2021, this is the real culture war.