I suspect the truth is something more blunt, something symbolic, something captured in that image of the Asos warehouse flying the EU flag. It is simply this: as Britain advances down the Road to Zero, as its average, working-class citizens find themselves losing more power over their lives, as austerity deepens, and as they watch their way of life crumble, they will (like we Americans) grab at any chance they are offered to take a swing at society’s winners.
That Brexit will do little to restrain those winners, and will instead injure the people of Barnsley, Grimsby and Sheffield, is almost certainly true. That it will result in yet another triumph of the hated Tories seems highly likely. That it will conclude in outright disaster like the miners’ strike of 30 years ago is also very possible.
But it is not hard to understand. Just as in America, a certain chunk of the British ruling clique now traces its legitimacy to its globalist enlightenment and an intimate familiarity with the thinking of the new-economy god. They meet every year at Davos; they conjecture about the nature of creativity and how innovation will save the world; and in happier times they swooned for the idea that Britain’s great national virtue was its coolness. And it is bullshit, all of it.
But there was much that I found refreshing in the north of England. For example: almost no one boasted about their university education. Many of the people I talked to had indeed collected university degrees, but with only a few exceptions, no one mentioned this unless you asked them about it directly. Absolutely no one talked about their kids’ test scores or shared their anxieties about early admission or boasted about being accepted at some highly selective liberal arts college. Indeed, the whole great honking meritocratic scramble that defines life for people in our wealthy American suburbs was simply absent in the neighbourhoods I visited.