Who Will Heal This Divided Country?
The referendum on the European Union has released demons which even the doom mongers had not foreseen. No sooner had David Cameron committed hara-kiri than Boris Johnson, hitherto the most unlikely candidate for political suicide, followed suit. Jeremy Corbyn has lost the confidence of his parliamentary colleagues, and some Labour MPs wonder aloud whether their party has a future. Significant developments which in normal circumstances might dominate the news are crowded out by even more seismic events, and so are barely reported. It is impossible to know from which direction the next thunderbolt will strike, and only a fool would predict with any certainty what is going to happen tomorrow.
Friends disunited: Will Conservative MPs and members forgive Michael Gove for his ruthless betrayal of Boris Johnson? (©Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images)
Some things, though, can be agreed. The country is deeply divided. There are people — many of the young, the more intellectual Left, many of the better educated, Londoners and the Scots — who believe that their country has been irretrievably taken away from them, and is never going to be given back. They feel bereavement, anger and astonishment. On the other side, there are millions of happy people who are rejoicing that the independence of their country has been restored, and relieved that we will at last be able to control our own borders. These two groups — the mourners and the jubilant — can scarcely talk to one another, and if they try to do so arguments usually bounce back unheard. Families and friends are split, sometimes bitterly so.
In the days following the referendum, my hope was that time would prove to be a great healer, as it nearly always is, and that if the economy did not collapse, distraught Remainers might grieve less. As I write, not enough time has elapsed for any healing process to get underway. The economy has not caved in, but there has been enough bad news for the pessimists to believe that their worst fears are being fulfilled.
Something else has happened which probably was predictable. There are an increasing number of people who do not want to accept the outcome of the referendum. Within 48 hours of the result a petition had attracted three million signatories. Nothing had changed. There was no evidence of electoral malpractice, or any other respectable argument for challenging the outcome. Lots of our fellow countrymen are simply unwilling to accept the democratic verdict of the majority of voters for no reason other than they do not like the result. Life-long Europhiles such as Tony Blair, Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke (the usual suspects, one might say) have been stirring the pot.
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