It struck me today that all of us are being manipulated at the moment. All of us. I'm not sure if we should be blaming the media or the politicians, but I'm entirely convinced that the forthcoming referendum has been designed to divide us. In my view there is no way on earth that the European issue should be settled in this manner: A referendum should never be based around taking something away, or presenting people with two options which no one can get their heads around without resorting to general hysteria and panic. If there are genuine economic issues at stake, the experts need to be sorting them out, rather than us from our sitting room arm chairs.
Wherever the truth in the European question lies (probably somewhere in the middle) the fact remains that this country has allowed itself to become divided. Bitterly so. And it's reaching fever pitch. People have stopped posting pictures of kittens on Facebook and are suddenly discussing issues, which ought to be good, but we're all so entrenched in our views that we can't bring ourselves to respect the other side. I'm more guilty of this than almost anyone. A friend of mine today posted with horror that she'd called a complete stranger a "silly bitch" because of her intolerable views on immigrants. People are rowing with their own families. Everything that comes up in the news will suddenly come back round to to Brexit. It's like we've all decided that there are just two tribes in this country and we have to join one or the other to avoid catastrophe.
...And I guess there's nothing entirely new here, except that the battle lines that we've drawn up for ourselves are on new ground. This country is no longer divided into the old-fashioned right and left wings. The new divide is between the cosmopolitans and the conservatives (with a small c.)
The cosmopolitans tend to be younger. They tend to see the benefits of immigration. They are more likely to be atheist and bothered about environment issues. They are forward-thinking have a more global view of the world. They tend to be less concerned about what the other side might call "permissiveness." (Gay marriage, sexual liberation etc.)
The conservatives are older and more inward-looking. They are scared of immigration and are more likely to be religious. They have issues with permissiveness and tend to believe that the future of this country should be based on models from the past.
The Brexit vote, for the first time, divides us exactly along these lines. The Brexiteers (conservatives) are terrified of immigration and convinced that there was a golden British era somewhere between the war and 1974 which no one from the younger generation could possibly ever know about or understand the importance of. This utopia is so golden that all other issues simply float out of the window. The cosmopolitans, on the other hand, scour the Brexit politicians for their views on OTHER issues which matter to them. What kind of a country will we be living in if the Brexiteers win? What's Boris' stance on the environment? On gay marriage? If he doesn't change his mind that is...
A divided Britain, of course, was the central feature of Thatcher's utopia. Unlike Blair, who just wanted to be loved by everyone, she realised it didn't matter if half the country hated her with a passion. Who cared if the miners were starving? They wouldn't have voted for her anyway. Who cared if Liverpool went down the shitter? The Scousers already hated her. She used the mass media and propaganda to promulgate fear and to encourage those who were doing okay under her that she was protecting them from the horrors of communism, or permissiveness (HIV) or state scroungers, or criminals or anything that she knew people were scared of. Exactly what the Brexiteers are currently up to. Just different battle lines.
Of course the big issue is that politics hasn't yet caught up with this new shift in the way that people perceive themselves, which is why both major parties are presently in meltdown. As many traditional Labour voters are in favour of Brexit as Tories are in favour of staying in. We don't have political parties which represent our views any more. Sure, UKIP have more policies which appeal to the conservatives, just as the Greens have marginally more which appeal to the cosmopolitans, but both parties are seen as deeply flawed, somewhat jokey, single-issue alternatives. So almost all of us are presently standing on one or other side of this very tall fence with no leadership whatsoever. The vote on Europe won't suddenly make these differences go away, so British politicians have no option than to decide which side of the fence they want to be in, or else they will continue to be in free fall, and the British people will continue to tear each other apart.