Brexit was always destined to bring Britain to a constitutional crisis. After all, it was the first moment in British history when a majority of people outside of parliament asked for something that a majority of people who had been elected to represent their fellow citizens in parliament did not want to give. This profound disconnect is why, as my academic colleague Vernon Bogdanor argues, what happened on that fateful day in June 2016 is probably the most important constitutional event in Britain since the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. In one fell swoop, the shock vote left a lot of people who were used to feeling like winners suddenly feeling like losers and a lot of other people who had grown used to feeling like losers suddenly feeling like winners — at least for a while. For all of these reasons, what happened next was never going to end well.
Here I must interject that “it” has not ended yet. But Mr Goodwin is on to something with his focus on the shock and disbelief felt by those whose previous experience of electoral defeat had been the relatively trivial one of seeing “their” party dislodged for five years by some very similar people from the other party.
Just after the referendum Rafael Behr wrote a piece for the Guardian called “How remain failed: the inside story of a doomed campaign”. Behr, a convinced Remainer, saw the same phenomenon then as Goodwin sees today:
But over the course of the campaign, the most senior remainers found collegiate sympathy in a shared world view. As one put it: “We were the pluralist, liberal, centrist force in British politics.” Pro-Europeanism became a proxy for the fusion of economic and social liberalism that had been a dominant philosophy of the political mainstream for a generation, although its proponents were scattered across partisan boundaries. These centrists were the ruling class of an unrecognised state – call it Remainia – whose people were divided between the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems; like a tribe whose homeland has been partitioned by some insouciant Victorian cartographer.
And yet I suspect from his more recent writings that Mr Behr regards talk of a “deep state” as Trumpian paranoia.
Culturally, and in some respects politically, I am closer to the ruling class than to most of those who wounded it so deeply on June 23rd 2016. Goodwin goes on to write,
Liddle chiefly rails against what one might call “double liberalism”, the relentless pursuit of social and economic liberalism and all that flows from it
On economics, meanwhile, most people worry about the growing gap between the rich and poor, between London and the regions, and have no problem with more equitable taxation and nationalisation.
I would put “equitable” in quotes and I do have a problem with nationalisation. I would be quite happy for our relentless pursuit of social and economic liberalism to end by successfully catching them both – though I mean “liberal” in the old sense. I would know the right answers to the questions on the Remanian citizenship test. I even believe some of them. But however wise and sensible and liberal it is, I do not accept that the “ruling class of the unrecognised state” is entitled to hold on to power after being voted out.