Remainers are the ones truly obsessed with nostalgia

Remainers are the ones truly obsessed with nostalgia

In the ten months since the people of the United Kingdom made the intrepid decision to leave the European Union, the 52% who formed the majority have come in for some truly appalling hatred. Not only are we all racists, gnashing our teeth at the sight of any and every immigrant who dares venture to Britain’s shores to better themselves, but we’re old – and stupid, too. Perhaps the most appalling insult, however, by sheer force of its condescension, has been that our motive was a wistful nostalgia – quaint and charming, but nonetheless fatally deluded.

Well, like many others, I dissent. Since our vote, last June, it is, in fact, Brexiteers and the suitably gracious-in-defeat swath of Remainers who have been minded of the future – and the archaic dinosaurs of Project Fear who have clung with increasing fanaticism to the past.

Their usual charge is that we Brexiters were motivated by pretensions of Empire, as if we honestly believed that leaving the EU would overnight restore the Raj, and undo the damage of Suez. In fact, we have done little more than note our historic tradition as a democracy, governed by institutions accountable to the people, and vote accordingly. Aside from restoring the universal ideal of self-determination, our eyes have been focused on what awaits us, not what lies in our wake. We were not hankering after a golden age of Mary Whitehouse and unlocked front doors, and it was not an attempt to cancel out or deny the progress we have made inside the EU over the last four decades. Rather, we simply believed that this progress had propelled us to a position where we could once again reliably chart our own destiny, as an independent country of sufficient clout and ambition to reassert its rightful place on the world stage.

Contrast this with the carping outrage of those seeking to overturn the vote. In a role-reversal that could best any bed-time parable, it is the leading Remoaners who are now possessed by the nostalgic rage they once alleged in their opponents. Mandelson, Heseltine, Blair – all are names from a bygone past, and this is instructive of their motivation. They yearn for an age when European integration seemed an inexorable direction of travel, and when Ode to Joy, the EU’s anthem, was a celebration of common spirit and achievement, not an insult to the millions immiserated by a currency project doomed to fail from the off.

Anthony Grayling, Master of the New College of the Humanities and preeminent vanguard of the Remoaners, recently penned an article on his website entitled (caps his, not mine) “WE ARE ANGRY!” But in doing so, Prof. Grayling clearly didn’t realise how close he came to aping the “we want our country back” rhetoric upon which he usually pours such vitriol. Examples of scorn are rife in academia, with the LSE publishing a blog describing how Vote Leave triumphed through appealing to four distinct groups of voters. No, not the C2s or emergent service sector to which social scientists might be expected to refer, but “Imperial nostalgists”, “Non-racist and non-imperialist nationalists”, “Older voters”, and, of course, “Racists”.

But Britain will, by hook or by crook, be leaving the European Union. In what is a testament of faith to an oft-derided younger generation, it is now rare that I come across contemporaries who wish to overturn the referendum result. Overwhelmingly, millennials voted to remain in the EU – but most have found their stiff upper lip, and now determinedly choose to be optimistic – for it is a choice – about the prospects that await us outside. Curiously, it is the elder statesmen who insist on prophesying the doom of their descendants, should Brexit happen – and their indignance at their inability to foment a wave of regret and fear among the electorate is a clue as to who is truly gripped by a desire for times long past.

It is rare that longings for the past are not accompanied by delusions of its grandeur. And where have these delusions been more evident than amongst the Remoan luminaries? Brexit, they insist, will deny all us silly coots of the imperial glory we are so keen to regain. But to the most devout believers in their number, the last decade never really happened to the EU – and even to the moderates, it was an aberration, a catalogue of disasters surely out of character for a European Union they are equally certain can shoulder no blame.

What they yearn for most of all are the bygone heydays of unaccountability, when people did what they were told. Blessed were the times when referenda on European integration that delivered the “wrong” outcome could simply be repackaged, rebranded and represented to voters as if new, until they gave the answer expected of them. But these days are gone, rooted firmly in the pasts of European electorates reimbued with a healthy scepticism of their rulers. When Tony Blair declined to impose transitional controls on immigration from the ten countries to join the EU in 2004, criticism was at first muted, and niche; the economy was performing well, and so few were inclined to scrutinise their government. Could anyone imagine a similar failure to criticise and condemn such a wretched decision now?

Messrs Blair, Heseltine, Mandelson & Co. (and now Tim Farron as well) are the real peddlers here of nostalgia for an age of imperialism, then. Not a geographical, colonialist imperialism (by most accounts Blair was positively champing at the bit to gift Gibraltar to Spain), but instead a golden age of imperialism over voters, when their democratically expressed wishes could be held in contempt. Doubtless one of the reasons the Leave campaign won was that it felt real and human to voters, like its agents not only had a genuine desire to win over both their heart and head, but recognised the onus was upon them to do so. The heavily choreographed excursions into the public realm by Remain panjandrums, conversely, were characterised by an attitude that they were doing Joe Public a favour by wasting their time reminding him why they were right.

But let’s not waste time on dinosaurs in denial; an exciting future beckons, and few wish to walk through the portal toward it whilst being tormented by the anguished howls of Tony Blair any more than they strictly must. Ultimately, neither side has got their country back, and neither side will. Brexit is a momentous juncture in our history, a wholesale, epoch-defining departure from the present – but it is not, and never will be, a return to the past. A voguish argument that endures amongst Remoaners holds that a change of such constitutional gravity should require a 2/3 majority – but a January YouGov poll showed that 70% now believe that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, with just 26% insisting we should attempt to remain. A coalition of supermajority size has now formed behind Brexit, clearly comprising the 52% who voted to leave, and a sizeable chunk of those who wished to remain but recognise the mandate delivered by the ballot.

Make no mistake, it is this supermajority from which Theresa May draws the hegemonic support the polls suggest she will receive on June 8th. By dint of her political savvy, she has recognised the frustration amongst voters at politicians unwilling to accept and implement the result; it is to both their shame and detriment that senior Opposition politicians refuse to follow suit. The mood amongst the public of late is one that demands final closure, in order that we might get on with the business of extricating ourselves from the European Union: not attempting to return or regress back into our history, but instead drawing from it the confidence to embrace both the challenges and opportunities ahead.