Grieving for a lost empire



There has been a huge amount of analysis about the reasons why British people voted to leave the EU. Some of it is very good: some of it less so, saying more about the biases of the writers than it does about the motivations of the British (no, I won't link any of those posts here!). I confess, I have added to the literature myself. I leave it to you to judge into which of these categories my contributions fall.

But in all the vast verbiage written on this topic, there appears to be a no-go area - a taboo, if you like. And it is not immigration, nor even racism and xenophobia. Nor is it the loss of Britain's manufacturing and the seizure of its fisheries. Nor the divide between London and other areas, the old-young split, the fact that people with degrees tended to vote to Remain. Plenty has been written on all of these. No, the taboo subject is the legacy of World War II and the loss of the British Empire.

I grew up in the shadow of war. My parents were children during World War II. My mother was evacuated, which from the little she has told me was an unbelievably traumatic experience, even though (unlike many evacuees) she was sent to stay with relatives. And my father lived through the Blitz. The war scarred both of them for life, and their experiences as children in turn coloured my own childhood. Even though the war was long over, we dug for victory, growing large amounts of our own food. My parents told us stories about the war: I remember my father describing the sky lit up with fire the night the London docks were bombed, and my mother (who returned to London towards the end of the war) talking about collecting shrapnel. And my grandparents told us stories not just about the second World War, but the first one too. They had lived through both.

In my childhood, popular reading material of the time - even for children - was unashamedly triumphalist. Boys' comics, in particular, were full of stories about heroic British (sometimes Americans too) defeating the "Jerries". Films at that time were also dominated by war stories. But we also lived with the threat of a new war. So we had Soviet spy stories too. This was the age of James Bond, uncomfortably juxtaposed with the Dam Busters and "Where Eagles Dare". War was a constant risk. But we knew we could win. After all, we had won two world wars.

But - had we, really? The cracks in the British Empire were already showing by the time the First World War ended, with the secession of Ireland in 1921 and the creation of the Commonwealth in 1931. And much more of it peeled away after the second World War. India, the "jewel in the crown" of the British Empire, became independent in 1947. The Suez crisis of 1956 exposed Britain's political and economic weakness: rapid decolonisation of the Middle East and Africa followed, as Britain, struggling with high debts, rising inflation and a stagnant economy at home, was forced to relinquish the colonies it could no longer support. The British Empire effectively ended in 1997, when Hong Kong was returned to China.

So although Britain won the wars (with a lot of help from its friends), it lost its status as the premier global power. For those who grew up in the post-World War II era of British triumphalism, this was bad enough. But worse was to come.

Britain was not a founder member of the European project. Indeed, its application to join the nascent European Community was twice vetoed by French President De Gaulle. And even when it finally joined in 1972, its membership was half-hearted: a referendum in 1975 confirmed that it would stay, but subsequent governments repeatedly fought against the terms of membership. Something in the British psyche just didn't like being drawn into a European project in which it was not the leader.

The further the European project moved towards integration, the more uncomfortable the British became. The creation of the Euro in 1999 - which Britain refused to join - created a "core" of which it was not part. Gordon Brown's decision not to join the Euro probably protected Britain from a major collapse in the 2008 financial crisis, but it meant Britain could not be at the heart of the EU. And David Cameron's famous "walkout", in which he refused to sign the fiscal compact that would draw the Eurozone countries into an austere embrace, left Britain sidelined. Britain had not only lost an empire, it was becoming a peripheral state in what was looking more and more like a new empire. And the Greek crisis showed all too clearly that the new empire was increasingly dominated by an old enemy.

I have been at a loss to explain the almost visceral hatred of the EU that I have experienced from people I have spoken to and from pieces I have read, particularly in tabloid newspapers. But I think I now understand.

Yesterday, my next door neighbour told me why she (and her family) voted to leave. "It was my mother," she said. "She reminded me that we fought two wars in order not to be run by the Germans. Now they are telling us what to do." And she continued: "That, for me, was the clincher."

My next door neighbour is a similar age to me - in her 50s. She has lived in this area all her life and is solidly working class (she and her husband run their own car respraying business). Like me, she grew up in the era of post-war British triumphalism. And for her, Britain becoming a vassal state in a new European empire run by Germany was a bridge too far.

I don't agree with her view. I don't see Germany in that way: I know how much soul-searching the German people have gone through since the end of World War II. I do believe that Germany does not wish to become an imperial power again. But in defiance of the post-war consensus - that Germany should never again be allowed to build an empire - the world is egging on Germany to take control.

For this, we must blame those who designed the European Union. The idea that European nations can simply put behind them their bloodstained past and cooperate with each other to create a greater whole was a lovely dream. And for a while, it appeared to work. But when the crises came, the nations fragmented, exposing the leadership vacuum inherent in the EU's design. Inevitably, the world looked to the strongest nation in the bloc to show leadership. And that nation was not the semi-detached Britain. It was the largest nation at the heart of the EU. Germany.

Whether or not Germany wishes to be an imperial power is beside the point. In the eyes of many older British people, today's EU is the German empire that they thought they had destroyed, rising like the Phoenix from the ashes of the financial crisis. No wonder they voted to leave. They did not wish to be part of such a monstrosity. And they further hoped that by leaving, they would destroy it. It has been very clear that a fair few Brexit supporters believe that the EU will not survive Britain's departure - and gleefully anticipate its unravelling.

I fully accept that this is by no means the only reason why people voted to leave the EU. But in my view it is a significant one. And I believe it goes some way towards explaining why it is older people, particularly, who voted to leave.

I know that what I have said here will raise hackles. I expect to get shouted down, to be told that I have written jingoistic nonsense and no-one in Britain really thinks like this. But I have one parting shot in defence of my case.

A few months ago, in the early days of the referendum campaign, I was invited to attend a book launch in London. I turned up not really knowing what to expect: the book itself sounded interesting and not obviously pro- or anti-EU. But as speaker after speaker presented an anti-EU case, I realised that I had walked into a Brexit meeting. As a committed Remainer ever since the Rochester & Strood by-election in 2014, in which I refused to vote for UKIP, I felt increasingly uncomfortable. But what made me uncomfortable was not the fact that they were as committed to Leave as I was to Remain. No, it was who they were - and the reasons they gave to justify Brexit.

The room was full of white men. Most were quite a bit older than me. They had all had senior careers, many of them in merchant banking, stockbroking and the law: some had been officers in the armed forces. They were not the "white working class" that we are told voted Leave to administer a massive kick to the elite that had failed them. No, they WERE the elite - in their day. But their day was gone. And they thought that leaving the EU would restore it.

One after another, they talked about restoring British "sovereignty" - which was a thinly disguised metaphor for "empire". They talked about Britain becoming a new global power at the head of a renascent Commonwealth. They discussed Britain becoming China's principal trading partner, ahead of the US and the hated EU. They seemed to believe that Britain could simply walk into any corner of the world and set up trading relationships on its own terms. It did not apparently occur to them that the Commonwealth might not be too keen on Britain trying to lead them once again, China might have other ambitions, and other countries might not wish to accept Britain's terms. For them, once Britain was out of the EU, the glory days would return.

I felt incredibly sad for them. And I still do. For leaving the EU will not bring back Britain's lost empire. It will not enable it to establish itself as the leader of the Commonwealth. It is unlikely to encourage China to treat it as the trading gateway to the world. It will not restore Britain's influence in the world. It might even reduce it.

For sure, even after leaving the EU, Britain will have an important role: it is still one of the world's largest economies, and it has powerful advantages in location, law, language and culture. But the glory days are gone forever. Far from bringing them back, the vote to leave the EU has ensured that they will never return.

Related reading:

Looking behind the Brexit anger - Flipchart Fairy Tales
Currency Wars and the Fall of Empires - Pieria
Gazing into the distance

Image from britishempire.co.uk


Comments

  1. The usual argumen: the description of the Brexiter anthropology. Old people wand to restore the past that will never come back. Please you can do better.

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  2. Great analysis Frances. My boyhood was strongly influenced by WWII for exactly the same reasons - the war was a constant presence at family dinner tables, especially so when older relatives were present (although not in any nostalgic sense). And wartime habits - especially gardening for food - continued until the 70s. I think you are right - that nostalgia for lost empire and global leadership - played a bigger part in the leave vote than we might suppose. And like you I can understand it too. But it's a misguided and selfish nostalgia. Leaving the EU will only diminish the UK's standing in the world. Indeed that diminution has started already.

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  3. Nostalgia for past glory permeates not only the British psyche - just listen to the diatribe at the Republican Convention in Cleveland. The elite class in the US, too, is harking after something that never really was. I am Irish and a proud European and I do not see any contradiction in this. The biggest danger in the EU is not that Britain is leaving, it is because the mandarins behind the scenes see themselves as manipulating and using the structures of the Union to impose an insane economic model on vulnerable states without regard for the social implications of their punitive austerity measures. Their uber-economics has replaced the good of society. The IMF, the European Commission and the ECB - the troika that humiliated the Greek people, did so knowing that the Greek debt was subject to yet another rash of reckless loans to which the German banks were exposed. So Greek austerity is, in essence, another banking bailout - what a farce! For the European Union to flourish, the parliament has to be given primacy in decision making, the European Bank has to play the full role of any Central bank and the Commissioners need to be abolished. An executive should be voted by the Parliament and it should be replaced every three years at most. Like in Britain and the US where both poles in politics feel deeply alienated and ignored by those who would claim to represent them, I honestly believe that the people have to get their voices back and the elected representatives must pay heed.

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  4. Thank you for this alternative analysis - one that was needed.

    In my small corner of the world there is another "explanation", or at least contributory factor for the leave vote. It is that the EU is not working, and the reason is that it has expanded beyond its competence. By taking in nations that are so relatively underdeveloped it has set up to fail. It was constructed as a free trade area and is now trying half-baked political and economic union which has failed. People want out!

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    1. Only so many of the people who voted OUT did not know the first thing about the EU, its structure and workings. They just 'wanted their country back' and that country was Disneyland or Narnia. I absolutely agree with Frances' analysis: further proof is how scaringly effective were UKIP's racist posters or the spike in xenophobic and/or racist attacks we are witnessing, sadly predictably, now.

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    2. Worth pointing out maybe that rapid enlargement was pushed heavily by the UK.

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    3. NM, I've pointed this out in a previous post: http://www.coppolacomment.com/2016/06/the-eu-greatest-achievement.html

      To be fair to Farage, he always opposed enlargement.

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  5. I could not have put it better but I think you miss a dimension. Pre boomer voters were fir Remain I believe. They lived the war not the myths! My mother in law (not a Communist by any means) had a Red Army general as a hero when she was an evacuee. She knew all about Rostiv on Don, my father's home city. I by contrast just knew the British heroes from the Lion and Tiger.

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  6. Richard Harris21 July 2016 at 09:10

    Superb! My understanding exactly. Britain still reeks like a sixty year old wardrobe, moth eaten dresses amid the bitterness.

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  7. Not really convinced re 'the war' or 'empire' but a feeling of missing out and being left behind did seem a driver. Even before WWII the Brits sat in between Europe and America and our politics and planning (or lack of it) has swung between the two ever since. Never sure where we were, always 'mid Atlantic'.

    There has always been an element in the Tory party that wanted a much more go-getting, low-tax American model for the UK. I suspect some of them saw Brexit as a route toward that. The old, the left-behind, the oop-north were just useful tools in this agenda, not realising this meant much less caring or non-existent social support. The Tory rich being very well aware. Having got what they wanted we shall see how the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph present the less pretty side of Brexit.

    Globalisation affects the poor in the USA just as much as in Europe, neither system will alter that but equally the rich will be just dandy either way.

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  8. We chatted about this on Twitter, so you know I'm in agreement.
    What worries me is how much of the "optimistic case" for Brexit relies on a view of the world distorted by Britain's past glories. We can do good business in China and India - I've spent years advising European companies on aspects of entering those markets. Yet, the Brexit optimists seem to assume that we have some inherent, intangible advantages. It's not really ever spoken out loud what they think those are, but I agree with you that it seems to relate to the past. The reality is we're not special and just like any other country, if we go the hard-Brexit route and cut ourselves off from our geographically closest market, we'll be making it a lot harder for ourselves.

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  9. Sadly you are right. Seems every brexit argument starts with a legitimate concern about the EU from there quickly veers into the land of conspiracy theory thinking about how "Britain is held back" or "the Germans are empire building" .... Instead of the rather mundane explanation that it is like most bureaucracies (from the police to the BBC), it is Bloated and clumsy but still we are better off with it. The fact that such conspiracy theory thinking has such traction is probably a sign of our inflated view of ourselves. (Most other countries have les of an impressive history so have a much more realistic understanding of their place in the world)

    Sadly I think we'll now learn this the hard way. Already Brexit had made UK assets cheaper for investors. I suspect any trade deals with "the world" will probably involve some quite installing choices. (I note that Norway is doing a trade deal with Indua that involves Salmon for easing visa controls for Indian IT workers.. A deal that would hardly be popular with the anti immigrant voters).

    Essentially Brexit is the parting "gift" from the baby boomers and will mean a long period of lower growth for their grandchildren.

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    1. Should read.

      I suspect any trade deals with "the world" will involve some interesting choices.(I not that Norway is doing a trade deal with India that involves Salmon for easing via controls for Indian IT workers. A deal that would hardly be popular with the anti immigrant voters).

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  10. brough cheshire21 July 2016 at 12:45

    OK! Frances Coppola
    Someone who voted to remain and lost and sits in bitter resentment of the result.
    I also voted remain, but not from a point of view of what the UK may become if we left, but of what the EU might become without our cultural influence. But let me tell you where the referendum was won and lost. East Derbyshire which voted a massive 69% to leave. Within in this district is the small town of Shirebrook which at once upon a time was a thriving coal mining community. The now retired workers in this town were once among the highest paid in the land and now see thier children and grandchild amoungst the lowest and on zero hour contracts. The man seen at the centre of thier demise is one Mike Ashley who only one week before the referendum stood up in front of a Parlimentary Select Commitee and openly admitted his company probably broke the law by paying his employees under the national minimum wage. Not one MP stood up and denounced the man, not even Dennis Skinner,well known defender of workers rights and local Derbyshire MP. No wonder large swathes of former industrial Britain voted leave, they must feel unrepresented and any economic benefits of being in the EU largely passing them by. Baby Boomers, lower ecomonic growth for thier grand children you've got to be joking for them any change is better than there present situation.

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    1. Forgive me if I do not believe for one second you voted remain. You can't know much about how employment law works in our country if you think that zero hour contracts are the fault of the EU.

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    2. "what the EU might become without our cultural influence" ...

      You mean the particular political culture & political elites that landed Britain in not one but two spectacular foreign political disasters in the past 13 years (Iraq, Brexit)? Pray, what exactly have we benighted continentals to learn from you?

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  11. No doubt you are aware of the LSE research demonstrating a clear relationship between wanting to bring back the death penalty and tendency to vote for Leave?
    http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/personal-values-brexit-vote/

    I believe that extolling 'sovereignty' isn't necessarily the same thing as wanting to bring back empire. I think it is a word that sounds nice, like many other intangible nouns. Who doesn't want sovereignty, or freedom, or democracy? The problem is, what do these words mean in practice?

    There's deep arrogance in thinking that the UK can do better without working in partnership with others. On what basis is this confidence based, coming shortly after the Chilcot report revealed failure and incompetence in UK politicians, UK civil servants and UK military officers?

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    1. "I believe that extolling 'sovereignty' isn't necessarily the same thing as wanting to bring back empire."

      Logical.

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  12. Another small, strange sub-group of Leavers I have come across would further support this. They are patriotic British Asians of South Asian origin (note: not via East Africa - those tend to be very keen on open borders) who think a) Britain is great, b) Britain is inherently different to, and separate from, Europe and c) Britain has betrayed its former colonies by looking to Eastern Europe for cheap, young labour. A *lot* of references to WWII come up ('my grandfather was imprisoned by the Japanese for fighting for Britain'). They also tend to hold Daily Mail-type views of Eastern European migrants and the benefit system.

    Complicated times.

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    1. I've come across many of that sub-group too and given that I think Brexit is absolutely against the interests of the UK, find it hard not to see them as a kind of unwitting fifth column.

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  13. If we were to look at the school history text books of those born around 1950, I bet it would corroborate your theory. The curriculum then was built to perpetuate the Empire, and encourage the correct attitudes and behaviours to enable its survival, even though it was over.

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  14. Interesting stuff. I think mixed in with imperial nostalgia are Atlanticist fantasies (51st state guff).

    Janan Ganesh wrote s good piece on how many Britsh political types spend the summer in US, read stuff like Caro's multi-volleyball bio of Lyndon Johnson, but couldn't tell you the first thing about French or German post war politics.



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  15. I regret you do not understand just as other Remainers and the Leavers you point to do not understand. The EU is bust, the Euro monetary area is bust, the future is bleak and all the "noble ideas" of the past are as of dust. Moreover the future that is to be is going to be very different from that of the last couple of decades let alone the ancient past of the pre 70's. The UK is better off getting out and making its way in this very new world to be, because in the EU it will be a secondary unit. Purely incidentally when the Desert Rats marched out of the Army of Occupation into the new Federal Republic of Germany in May 1955 I was in the Honour Guard.

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  16. Well done Frances. As usual you've hit the nail on the head.

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  17. The legacy of World War II and the loss of the British Empire aren't a no-go area. Its discussion is implied in many analyses discussing the breakdown of the U.K welfare state. Its implied in the discontentment of the 'British working class' towards a ruling class that abandoned them to favour globalisation. The empire nostalgia comes with the economic and social gains that it represented in the past...this is what the 'old white working and ruling class' is missing...and this point has been discussed at some length. The anti-immigration vote, the protest vote, the anti-European vote and anti-austerity vote all have in common the obvious fact that the British working class wants a better deal AND a return to the previous post-war consensus. Of course that the legacy of the World War and the loss of British empire in terms of a current anti-German empire may exist, but its role shaping the Brexit debate and its result is certainly marginal -- maybe that's why, in this specific sense, this legacy is a no-go area'. Your neighbour and a book launch do not really build a case (But data may prove me wrong). A much more interesting no-go area is on the fact that the British working class "cannot understand why what used to work before does not work now. Simply belonging to a rich, imperialist country does not mean that you necessarily get a decent share of the rich pickings".

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    1. Unfortunately you fall into the same trap as far too many Brexit analysts. You assume that Brexit voters = British working class. This is not supported by the available evidence, which clearly shows that age is a far more important factor than either class or income. How do you explain the fact that the Tory shires voted to Leave? And rich commuter towns like Sevenoaks?

      But of course if you would rather believe a simplistic argument that this is rebellion of the British working class against a global elite, it's up to you. The 48% of voters who opted for Remain would disagree with you, though. And as many of us are neither global nor elite, we might resent your assumption that we are, too.

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    2. Oh no Coppola, I don't assume this [silly] identity Brexit voters = British working class. You’re right, it is indeed simplistic and that's why I used the term ‘British working class’ between brackets. The idea of a British working class is complicate. In fact, it makes me think: if (only if) we could possibly talk about a ‘British working class’, would this be the same than the working class in Britain? I guess not. Anyways, yes age was undeniably a great factor -- I saw the data. I guess my point is: even when we look at the data by age, income, race, foreign-born population and so on, couldn't we consider the empire nostalgia in terms of the economic and social losses that happened in the last 3-4 decades? Maybe this was a more relevant determining factor that's all...more than an anti-German empire sentiment or a political hegemony nostalgia. If yes, so the no-go area you mentioned has been somehow debated, as these losses are directly connected with the legacy of World War II and the loss of the British Empire. And for the record, no, I don't think at all that this was a rebellion of the 'British working class' (no way!), but I don't think that voters from poor areas – areas deeply affected by globalisation and the Tories government – are simply xenophobic either (I know you never ever said that). I'm just trying to say that different sentiments in this referendum were easily co-opted and channeled to the Leave side given the long dismantlement of the welfare state and sluggish growth (and the European refugee crisis of course). But these sentiments on their own wouldn't have done much damage. Would’ve the same outcome been reached in a different historical moment? A moment of economic prosperity, for example!? I'm not so sure. So I do not think that there is a taboo or white elephant in the room. At least not in the sense – and with the emphasis – you put it.
      – and, just in case you are wondering, I do not agreed with the Leftexit argument in its entirety either. Remain was definitely the way to go.

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    3. Carolina, you make some good points and i believe the normally excellent Frances is certainly guilty of over-simplifying this in terms of her empire nostalgia characterisation - that there are so many Brexiteers out there that believe we can be "great again".

      However, you yourself might also be failing to understand that the fallout from WW2 is very real even today and that an initial distrust of the Germans has over time relaxed and morphed into a more milder wariness as we have seen the Germans transform into a more progressive and successful country (and less war mongering country than sadly the UK). Yes, in many ways we have fallen behind them.

      So why haven't the British been able to fully move on from this "German obsession"?! The answer is tragic and of epic Shakespearean proportions. When the single currency was created helmet kohl understood perfectly from the outset that the economic viability/sustainability of the currency was only possible if further down the road there was political and fiscal union. He and the other architects knew this to be a fact carved in stone. They also knew that over time "periphery" nations would become uncompetitive and require fiscal transfers. They also knew how difficult it would be for these nations to escape their debt burdens or leave the single currency as their debt burdens would be denominated in euros. But they must also have known how difficult it would be in the future to secure any kind of democratic mandate to allow closer integration. In their arrogance they believed future governments would be able to force through this political integration. Alas, we now know it to be impossible and just a pipe dream - too late!!

      So, Germany is now "stuck" in a dreadful trap whereby it can't/won't pursue further integration and as a result has no choice but to be the "villain" that meters out harsh austerity to the periphery. The Germans are also reluctant to provide stimulus because of their historical paranoia of hyperinflation. This whole mess is less the fault of Merkel and more the fault of the founding fathers. The British "working class and/or older generation" see this "bad German behaviour" and the declining trajectory of the euro and eu and combined with a general "wariness"(not xenophobia) of the Germans tipped their decision to leave. It's tragic because the current German administration come out of this looking bad and it fosters this general anti-German antipathy. Ironically, Frances neighbours may have reached the right conclusion but for the wrong reasons. They rail against the current German hegemony when it was Helmut Kohl and the founding fathers that created the current system which is a machine that over time erodes democracy and transfers wealth across nation states.

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    4. While empire nostalgia explains why the Tory shires voted Leave, might not working-class Leave voters have been been motivated by something more akin to Ostalgie in Germany?

      I'm sure that for many working-class East Germans the certainties that came from having a job for life followed by a generous state pension more than made up for the lack of political freedom, access to luxuries or freedom to travel.

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    5. Ostalgie perhaps, but not the certainty of a job for life or a gold plated pension but more a sliver of a chance of escaping from poverty/owning or being able to afford to rent a home/finding a school place close to home for their children/getting access to medical care - generally a bit of hope and self-respect......

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  18. It's not completely taboo: it's one of the factors John Kay mentioned in his FT columns, before the vote as well.

    Sadly, similar delusions of grandeur on the part of some French people may help explain some of the gridlock in EU institution building. Maybe Brexit will help everyone to get to the acceptance phase.

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  19. Some more anecdotal evidence: Many of the leave voters I know have this "we didn't fight two wars to be run by the Germans" mentality. Immigration was the bigger issue but sovereignty and independence (often referred to as "we used to run the world") was an important secondary issue.

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    1. If we were to change "we didn't fight 2 wars to be run by the Germans" to:

      "We didn't fight 2 wars to liberate Europe only to see many of these nation states be re-inslaved thanks to a daft single currency project that forces uncompetitive nation states forced into a fiscal straitjacket from which they can never escape".

      Aside from the fact that most average joes won't have a clue what that means or how pretentious it might sound it's way easier to say the former.

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  20. I think you're onto something about the role of Germanophobia in the Leave vote -- my mother knew that I was a strong Remainer (perhaps because my employer's most important client is Audi, although my discovery that most Brexiteers weren't protectionists also helped swing it) but still felt compelled to vote Leave in the end.

    I suspect she felt like voting Remain would have been a betrayal of her own mother (rabidly anti-German as a result of encountering SS POWs while working as a nurse in London). If my grandmother had still been alive and had read my copy of Stuart Slade's The Big One, she'd probably regard it as something of a utopia (minus Britain spending five years under Nazi occupation of course).

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  21. I find the whole idea that a significant number of people pine for the glory days of the British Empire totally unrealistic. I've never come across anyone who suffers from that illusion.

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  22. I was born during WWII and I am a Remainer. I agree with this analysis, and I think our leaving the EU precipitates the end of the imperial story-that is to say, independence for Wales & Scotland, and the reunion of Ireland. Then each part of the UK will have given up empire, especially England. This I welcome. Each country, England particularly, has to find its right place as a small country in the world, each having plenty to offer when properly developed. I am not advocating nationalism, which is an ugly aspect of belonging. Therefore I would have preferred we all stayed in the EU in order to at least promote the ideas of co-operation, peace and culture, which we should now start workig hard to do without the benefit of EU structure. I think leaving the EU is part of a worldwide moveemnt of drastic change, a shifting of tectonic plates, which we have to make positive and not hell, poverty and destruction for the poorer people of the world. Younger generations, I am sorry some of us deserted you, but I rely on you to make soemthing out of this chaos.

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  23. When the Eurostar was built, english villages protested when they learned they would be on the path. French villages protested when they learned they would't be. Was there some premonition in that?

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    1. I doubt it -- I think the difference is just that the French tend to be far more generous than the British in offering compensation for those whose property is taken for infrastructure developments like this.

      Also, the English tend to be far more NIMBYish in general -- probably because we have 413 people per square kilometre while France has only 118 people per square kilometre.

      Probably also why we have so much anti-immigrant sentiment here in Britain too, as it is easier for such agitators to make the claim that England is a grossly overpopulated country.

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    2. George, I fear you're taking a dishonest argument at face value. Large cities tend to be more pro-immigrant than less dense conurbations. When people exclaim "Britain's full!", they're really saying - at best - "I can't get appointments at my GP" (or similar). At worst, it's "Too many browns, not enough white English". Nout to do with actual boots on pavements.

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    3. Less than 30% of Britons believe that their own localities have an immigration problem, but almost 80% believe the UK as a whole does, which suggests that a lot of anti-immigration sentiment is fomented by the right-wing press rather than by personal experience.

      Both immigrants and young Brits (especially those with good skills) tend to flock to the big cities in search of work, leaving a disproportionately old and sick population behind in the small towns. The Brexit vote was driven by the older generation – while Ms Coppola's post here points to imperial nostalgia, David Timoney suggested in a post on Tuesday that the anguish at an older generation as their home towns were abandoned by their children may also have been an important factor. In these terms, hostility to immigration is as much about hostility to an economic system which does not provide good local jobs (and thus forced people to move about more in search of work) as it is about xenophobia.

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    4. Back on the subject of NIMBYism, it seems like it is most intense not in long-term residents of country villages, but in people who moved in more recently in search of a quiet life in a rural idyll.

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  24. Thank you, Frances, for this excellent article.

    My Gran, who lived through WW2, is viciously anti-German. She point-blank refuses to be served by Germans: at supermarkets or cafes, social services or hospitals. Her children inherited this view, if quieter. They're all anti-EU, pro-death penalty.

    The other side of my family are Russian. They approached the referendum with ambivalence.

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  25. 'Bout time we gave Jerry a taste of British Steel.

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  26. Hi Frances. I've been reading a couple of your old posts regarding housing and property, it's a concern for me as I believe housing supply shortage is negatively affecting the UK's economic future. I also think it may have had an impact on the referendum vote. On several occasions in the news people were recorded saying things along the line of 'there's already too many people in the country'. I'm not saying it's the primary driver but lack of affordable housing could possibly be fueling this attitude. Personally I'm an advocate of increasing housing supply via state sponsored social housing schemes and also relaxation of planning laws, especially in green belt areas. Surely it must be more productive to build housing on farm land rather than pay farmers ''set aside'' money for decades just to leave land as grass fields for example?

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    Replies
    1. I doubt this was the cause of the Brexit vote, as Leave voters tended to be disproportionately those who weren't affected by Britain's housing problems (either because they still live in social housing, or because they own their homes outright).

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  27. Given that it was certainly the older generations who voted for Brexit, how much impact did Vote Leave's cynical "leave the EU to get more money to fund the NHS" argument have on the referendum result?

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