Six months after the country’s momentous decision to leave the European Union, Peter Bingle assesses the state of modern Brexit Britain.
So how is modern Brexit Britain in January 2017? Despite the prophecies of doom and despair during the EU campaign the economy seems in pretty good shape and consumer confidence is high. The Chancellor expects a turbulent time over the next few years but there are many in his own party who think he is being needlessly pessimistic. Perhaps in a post-truth world it really doesn’t matter.
Public opinion is troubled. They are in a rebellious mood. Having destroyed Valhalla in 2016 they show no signs of reverting to servitude and obedience. Gone are the days of deference. They want to have a say in determining their own future. Many politicians continue to misunderstand their own constituents. They will pay the ultimate sacrifice at the next election.
The liberal metropolitan elite – once brilliantly described by Howard Becker as ‘moral entrepreneurs’ – are on the defensive. For them populism is both offensive and dangerous. Their privileged position (combined with a breathtaking hypocrisy) is under attack like never before but they have the means and the power to protect their positions for as long as possible.
The established church is in a bad place. Faced with the threat of secularisation the Church of England’s response was to itself become secular. Bishops feel uneasy talking about matters religious and therefore lecture their increasingly small flock about pay day loans and the failings of government. Is this now the time to finally separate church and state? The alternative would seem to be irrelevance.
The British public love the Queen. Of this there is no doubt. She is regarded with a powerful mixture of affection, admiration and respect. Love for the Queen, however, is very different from love for Monarchy. The Queen’s illness has caused many people to think for the first time about a modern Britain without her. Will rebellious anti-establishment Britain ever come to love let alone respect Charles III? Will the ghost of Diana haunt his reign? Perhaps the monarchy isn’t as secure as it seems today…
The Rule of Law is no longer a given in Modern Britain. When senior judges rule in a way that offends the media they are subjected not just to criticism but personal abuse which even extends to their sexuality. Gilbert’s Lord Chancellor once famously said: ‘The law is the true embodiment of everything that is excellent. It has no kind of fault or flaw and I my Lords embody the law.’ In modern Britain is this still the case?
The Body Politic is in a state of decay. It is not just the Palace of Westminster which is on the verge of collapsing. So too is the public’s respect for the political class. Never since universal suffrage was introduced has there been such a schism between politicians and the electorate. The Labour Party in Scotland paid a heavy price for ignoring their supporters. Is the same going to happen in the North of England? More generally and crucially Brexit will force MPs to listen to their constituents. If they don’t I fear what will happen next. The omens are not good.
At the heart of modern Britain’s problems is the lack of an accepted moral code. Morality is no longer absolute but relative. The difference between right and wrong has become blurred. Without order there is chaos and during a period of profound change such as Brexit it is all the more critical for a sense of morality and goodness to exist. As of January 2017 there are no promising signs.
So Britain is in a challenging position. The people want change. Servitude is no longer acceptable. They want their place at the table. At the moment, the mood, whilst rebellious, is nonetheless optimistic. If the liberal metropolitan elite do not respect the new reality, however, that mood may become malign and angry.
Behind the pomp and circumstance of Elgar’s music there is a wistfulness and poignancy for a bygone age. I now understand why. Rapid and profound change is terrifying, particularly when there is no morality to underpin it. This is modern Brexit Britain.