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The pencil and the mouse

As democracy and the common good break down, expect a Brexit re-vote

For nearly 20 years before his death in 1989, my father, who left school at 11 and drove a mailcar for a living, railed against the undemocratic evil of the European Thing. He brought me to understand that its operation depended on replacing intelligent politicians with stupid ones for the purpose of absolute control – the mechanism operating to lift from the shoulders of politicians all requirement for thought, vision, creativity or foresight, providing them with the wherewithal to enable their countries to function after a fashion for as long as they do what they are told.  Once the transfer of sovereignty is achieved, he said, anyone can run a country. Hence, Enda Kenny.

The world catches up – slowly. For sure: our former nations, even our former empires, have now become as dependent on the bureaucratic girdle of the EU as, in the years of the Iron Curtain, were the peoples of the former communist satellites in Czechoslovakia and Poland on the Soviet apparatus.  We know no other way of being, never mind living.  Both as an upshot and a driving factor, we are nowadays incapable of producing anything other than functionaries and middle-managers whose odd admixture of timidity and egomania allows them to become mini-dictators in their own countries, implementing the will of their foreign masters. Just don’t ask them to pronounce an original thought, a vision of independence or a promise of self-realisation.


One thing that we have gleaned from Brexit is that, almost for certain, there are no grown-ups left in British politics.  There are boys, and certainly one or two girls, but no adults. The daily tableau of happenings is like a series of scenes from a tale written by Frank Richards: a story with a constant tumble of intricate twists arising from the flaws of its cast of hapless and villainous anti-heroes: the toffy-nosed school captain done down by the incompetent scheming of the Fat Owl of the Remove; the Fat Owl in turn done down by the beasts and bounders of the lower fourth.

But Theresa may. She may yet emerge as the only one capable of looking convincing in long trousers.

We move ever closer to Alexander Mitscherlich’s prophecy of a mass society stripped of responsibility, where everyone’s a sibling, looking sideways, waiting to be fed, and there are no adults left to lead the people back on to the vertical path from history to the future. No one looks up to the top of the stairs, because there is no one there to see.

In 1975, when the UK last held a referendum on membership of the European ‘Thing’, it was mainly left-wingers like Michael Foot and Tony Benn (labelled, interestingly, the ‘Minister for Fear’ by the Daily Mirror)  who opposed it. The result was two-to-one in favour of remaining in what was then called the Common Market. There were many interesting similarities and contrasts between that contest and the recent one, but one thing that has to be said is that the calibre of leader available to Britain at that time – on both sides of the argument – was infinitely greater than it is now.

It has gradually become clear that most of those advocating the Leave position did not want to win. Boris Johnson played a faux populist tune in which he didn’t actually believe. He may well have been the most dismayed of all, having hoped for a narrow defeat. The main purpose in his elbowing in was to deny Nigel Farage the mileage to be gained from winning or losing narrowly. As the polls closed, he was predicting a narrow win for Remain. In the immediate aftermath of the result, faced with having to step up to cope with all the fallout, you could see his chagrin and confusion. “It was just a lark”, he seemed to say, “why take things so seriously?”. It was no surprise when he jumped at the first excuse to cop out altogether. Farage duly followed shortly afterwards.

Michael Gove is far worse, a man utterly without qualities, run by his appalling wife. He was the first politician I ever registered who believes, “We have to get over our obsession with biological parenthood”. He was sleeping, clearly anticipating defeat with an easy conscience, when they called him to say that his side had won.

I had the feeling from the start about the Vote Leave campaign that they were a bunch randomly picked to make a case they didn’t believe in. Boris et al seemed simply to parrot off-the-peg populist arguments in a manner designed to sound convincing to the hoi polloi but without conviction, as though the Brexit campaign was intended as a controlled explosion of Euroscepticism – a managed letting off of the known negativity but in a manner as to ensure that, no matter how it went, the situation would be steered back on course and the Tories would be the victors. Nigel would be bypassed, Cameron would if necessary fall on his sword. But both sides of the argument would be controlled by essentially the same forces.

This result was a long time coming. Avoidance by those whose duty it was to do otherwise pushed the UK’s demographic and cultural nightmare under the carpet, making the present moment all but inevitable. Nigel Farage erupted from the resulting silence, propelled into the public arena by virtue of media bullying and the cowardice of mainstream politicians, who emitted mixed and coded signals about immigration because they knew it concerned a lot of people but remained a dodgy topic under PC rules.

Fifteen months ago, I wrote: “There’s something slightly too obvious about him – like a poorly drafted comic character in ‘EastEnders’, a likely lad with an over-developed patter and excessively large lapels. Farage says wholly predictable things in a wholly foreseeable way, but he represented something of the suppressed feelings of Britain’s uneasy gut, and the studied condescension he attracted from the media was the most reliable indicator of his significance. The straight vote system will probably do for Ukip this time, but Nigel is a precursor to something we will see a great deal more of, there and here”. It remains to be seen if his retirement endures.

Another thing we learned in the referendum aftermath is that the commitment of the elites of both Britain and Ireland to the much lip-serviced resource of democracy is no more than lipgloss-deep. Democracy was not merely consigned to a back seat – it was tied up,  gagged, wrapped from head to toe in bubblewrap and bundled into the boot.

In the British ‘liberal’ press, we have been subjected to articles assuring us that parliament had voted to have the referendum and could therefore vote to ignore it. In the days following the result, experts discovered something they hadn’t mentioned before: that the (unwritten) British constitution makes no provision for referendums – the people should speak through their elected representatives only. A Labour Party MP declared the referendum merely ‘indicative’. The distinguished diplomat Jonathan Powell said the vote of the people should not be the “last word”. Lawyers have been trotted out to tell us that, indeed, the decision of the people ‘might be unlawful’. No less a personage than Sir Richard Branson called on parliament to take a second look at the result. Tony Blair said a second referendum should not be ruled out. The Guardian sent its reporter into the Welsh wilderness to count the EU handouts to villages which had had the effrontery to  vote Leave. Thousands of protestors marched on the Houses of Parliament in London protesting at the outcome: people ‘out there’ were daring to tell Londoners how things should go!  One such protest was “organised on social media” by a comedian who wanted to express his “anger, frustration and need to do something”. On that march, the pop singer Jarvis Cocker held up a placard adorned with a map of the world and the question: “You cannot deny geography. The UK is in Europe. How can you take it out?”. Nobody pointed out to Jarvis that what had occurred was a referendum on Britain’s place in the EU, not its place in Europe, which remains secure – the same Europe that includes the non-EU territories of Russia, Switzerland, Norway, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Iceland and a small slice of Turkey.

Although 52 per cent of the UK’s population had made a clear statement of intent and desire, the coverage and commentary which followed was 98 per cent hostile, scathing and ultimately dismissive. Democracy had worked in an unacceptable manner and therefore had to be put in reverse. Scotland would secede, maybe Northern Ireland too, possibly even London. Northern Ireland might consider joining the Republic!

Virtually everything was discussed except the dismal record of non-democracy which led to this moment like a snail’s trail through sand. The elites had been defied, cheeked, by those who had previously acquiesced in their cannon-fodder function and now seemed to think themselves entitled to use their votes to throw the plans and strategies of the elite back in its face. Well, we would have to see about that!

The virus quickly crossed the Irish Sea. Gene Kerrigan, writing in the Sunday Independent, reflected on the demographics of Leave voters: “The old, those least likely to have a passport, to know anything about anywhere beyond their own narrow borders, wanting their country back”.

But is there really something wrong with wanting your country back? What are countries if not the birthright of those who were born in them, those who live in them, who built their cultures and civilisations? What else might a country be? The idea that there is something morally awry in ‘wanting your country back’ is a figment of political correctness called up in the service of global capital, which seeks to insinuate a universal placelessness to render the entire globe safe for its dominion.  I’m being deliberately obtuse: the construction ‘wanting your country back’ is, of course, a coded accusation of racism – the handy reflex of lazy commentators seeking to bait a mob and raise a cheap cheer.

The virtual is not the real, especially in the city
The virtual is not the real, especially in the city

More disappointingly, in the same newspaper, the usually judicious Eoghan Harris had this to say: “A chart circulating on social media among younger Britons calculates how long, on average, each generation will have to live with this reactionary result. The 18-24 age group, 75 percent of whom voted to Remain, will, on average, have to live for a long 69 years with the regressive referendum decision. But those over 65, some 61percent of whom voted Leave, will, again on average, only have to live with their selfish decision for 16 years. Although I am in that same age category, I am tempted to add ‘and a good thing, too’. Because this bunch of fearful old farts has made the future of their grandchildren more fraught than it needed to be. What are they fearful about? Immigration. The influx of workers who will staff the health service and look after them in old age”.

In the future, then, perhaps a vote needs to be issued with an accompanying algorithm by which its diminishing value may be calculated over time? An 18-year-old’s vote will have maximum value, a 90-year-old fart’s practically nil. But where will this leave the monuments of unageing intellect? And is not the demographic crisis to which Eoghan Harris alludes in that last sentence not a function of precisely the skewed policies that have dominated the European Community over the past four decades: pro-business, anti-family policies which drove women out of the home and forced the birthrate down? Now they propose that Syrians will fill the financial holes left by this unconscious stab at self-annihilation.

Gradually, our public discourse reduces towards oblivion, bypassing reason and logic as it goes. Eoghan Harris went on: “Just because we got the right result on same-sex marriage does not mean that referendums are the right way to decide contentious matters in a parliamentary democracy”. In other words, the people are to be regarded as trustworthy when they deliver the ‘right’ answer and affirm the demands of the elites, but otherwise must keep their peace.

Under the attrition of the conditions my father predicted, the former nations of Europe move inexorably towards oligarchy. Our ‘democracies’ are now constructed in such a way as to impose the will of the true ‘governments’ at all times regardless of the fact that approximately half of all populations do not agree, are not represented and have no right to be listened to. “The howls of despair that have greeted this result from the elites on the losing side”, wrote David Runciman, professor of politics at Trinity College Cambridge, in the July edition of Prospect, “is a sign of how rare it is that they find their interests genuinely challenged by the democratic process”.

The elitism we sometimes speak of in a manner we imagine to be rhetorical has moved even beyond our paranoia.  Elections and referendums are retained purely for show. In general it is hoped that the media and parliamentary quasi-consensus will be sufficient to ensure that the verisimilitude of democracy is preserved while the ‘right’ outcome is always guaranteed. This has come unstuck with Brexit, and so, with a nod to Lord Denning , the British elites are presented with such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say that it cannot be right that the wrong answer be allowed to stand – even if, as a consequence, they risk exposing the existence and mechanics of the pseudo-democracy.

When you factor out Scotland and Northern Ireland – two entities best described as addicted to subvention – the picture you get of England and Wales is the cities and large towns voting to Remain and the rest voting overwhelmingly to Leave. The priggish but predictable analysis that those who voted for Brexit were uneducated, doddery dupes from the countryside who had never ventured beyond Britain goes down well with the self-important readers of liberal newspapers, but it is, apart from being insulting, a distortion of what has actually happened. The divide is not between educated and uneducated, or between young and old: it is between those who are more deeply engaged with their society at the most fundamental level and those who simply trot along on top, barely making contact with the ground they travel on. “Some younger voters”, David Runciman wrote in Prospect, “have complained that the older generation, who are going to be dead soon, shouldn’t be allowed to set the terms for a world they won’t inhabit. This is grotesque and unfair. Older people care about the future, including for their children and grandchildren, just as much (perhaps even more) than the younger generations do. It’s simply that they don’t like what they see”.

Education, then, becomes a loaded word. In a certain light it is ungainsayable that Remain sentiment tended to dominate among the more schooled and diplomaed elements of society. But does a doctorate in social media or gender theory amount to evidence of an education? Can it be said that a watchmaker who has served for five decades in his craft remains, as it were, uneducated?

In one rather superficially axiomatic sense, Brexit was the unexpected expression of a suppressed democratic sentiment: the older voters, those who work hard but are not rich, those who continue to think and observe, those who read their news on paper, those who are free from the propagandist deluge of the BBC, Guardian, Facebook, Twitter etc – all finally saying, ‘Enough! No more!! Please, listen to what we are saying, please respect us and our lives  and our thoughts also!’. The media, now desperate in the face of extinction, trying to limit the damage of their own fraudulence, seek to revise and reduce the meaning of these events with terms like ‘Little Englanders’, ‘xenophobia’, ‘rightwing’ etc., when what is happening is in large part a refusal of media bullying and manipulation, precisely of their own refusal to allow the discussions they are there to provide for.

Terms like ‘right wing’ (in the Guardian it has become one word), ‘conservative’ and ‘reactionary’ nowadays have meanings only of an ideological nature. These words imply that there is a certain rightness which is being denied or frustrated, and there ought to be no space for such dissent. Their use is designed not to explain anything but to invoke a set of pre-programmed demonic descriptions – almost in the nature of hypnosis – with which to detonate an explosion of disapproval calculated to dispose of truth and common sense (‘right wing’/’conservative’) and protect in a manner immune from scrutiny all that is opportunistic and false (‘progressive’/’leftwing’). When these words are uttered now, almost no one actually encounters or is prompted to a thought, but most feel themselves stung as though by a cattle prod or an electric fence, thereby experiencing a kind of shame which in the vast majority of cases is sufficient to cause an immediate falling into line. Newspapers have become ragmags issuing shrill demands that the world be reconstructed in accordance with a new and untested blueprint. Radio and TV programmes are not intended as arenas of discussion but are more in the way of public trials of thoughts and behaviours, courts of political correctness, the statute of the cultural nihilism that has become the unholy writ of the new virtual world.

Some inconvenient facts for the benefit of commentators: a Sky survey found that, based on the advance expression of intent, the percentage of 18-25 year-olds who planned to vote on the issue which was afterward to exercise them so dramatically was… 36, slightly more than one in three. The percentage of over-65s who intended voting was 83. The figure for 25-34 year-old was 58%; that for 55-64 year-olds 81%. These numbers were based on people who said they were certain to vote and had done so in the past. Data extracted from the actual results by the various media groups – Guardian, Telegraph, FT and BBC –  tended to confirm these projections, bearing out that areas with older populations had much higher turnouts than those with younger demographics.

Ten days after the result, there was a pointed attempt to suggest that the turnout among younger voters had been much higher than these projections calculated. An article in the Observer, ‘Poll reveals young Remain voters reduced to tears by Brexit result’ suggested that “almost half” of voters aged 18-39 had “cried or felt like crying” when they heard the result, and that the poll found turnout among young people to be “far higher than data has so far suggested”. The poll, organised by the London School of Economics, seemed to be addressed more towards gleaning and highlighting an emotional response than verifying precise turnout figures, but still its organisers dropped in the claim that they had found that young people voted at much higher rates than previously believed. “Young people cared and voted in very large numbers”, a spokesperson for the pollsters told the Observer. “We found turnout was very close to the national average, and much higher than in general and local elections”.

There was, however, a curiously unscientific air about the presentation of the results. Aside from the emphasis on the emotional responses, there was the odd conflation in the report of the term ‘Remain supporters’ and ‘voters’.

The poll also avoided looking at the conventions categories – 18-24 and 24-34, instead opting to stretch the concept of ‘young people’ to its furthest reaches – first-time voters to 40 year-olds.

And then there was this rather vague intervention: “After correcting for over-reporting [people always say they vote more than they do], we found that the likely turnout of 18- to 24-year-olds was 70% – just 2.5% below the national average – and 67% for 25- to 29-year-olds”.

This is remarkable: firstly for the fact that the number of people who claim to have voted is almost twice the figure indicating intention-to-vote, and secondly because the figure is actually lower in the older category. There is also the fact that, if the LSE figure is correct, the turnout would have had to be perhaps 76 0r 77% overall. The total truth is that, overwhemingly, Leave supporters voted in significantly greater numbers to those who said they wanted to Remain.

The true pattern is remarkably similar to those which emerged from our own recent general election. Young people, it seems, like to tweet, post, comment, ‘like’ and the like, but need the incentive of a fashionable issue, and possibly a few celebrity gee-ups, to get them down to the polling booths.

We observe yet again a manifestation of Jean Baudrillard’s concept of the ‘Unrepresentable’: “What interest does the modern individual have in being represented – the individual of the networks and the virtual, the multifocal individual of the operational sphere? He does his business, and that is that”.

The post-Brexit map-charts confirmed once again that the locus of this unrepresentability is overwhelmingly in the cities, which now seek to force the remainder of the world into their way of being and seeing.


Cities have always been essentially parasitical. Traditionally, they were necessary hubs, deriving their life from the productive labours of their hinterlands, providing markets, services and government but contributing little to the sustainable productivity of their societies. Cities do not feed themselves. In modern times, the word ‘market’ has become corrupted out of all recognition, denoting a place where money is played with in a mockery of economic activity. Indeed, the word ‘city’ has itself come to signify something other than the exuberance of humanity it once summoned up: a nest of stock-jobbers skimming pseudo-wealth from the tokens of real trade.

The city speaks of risk and sex, but also of avoidance.  Its inhabitants do not know where their life comes from, do not even recognise the validity of the question. It seems obvious: life is everywhere, why bother asking? But the life of the city is that of the peel rather than the fruit. Still, the city imagines itself the fruit. It preens and flatters itself and hogs the resources that are diverted its way to claim that its munificence is what makes the world turn.

Never was this tendency of the city more explicit or more dangerous that in the postmodern age of networks, technocracy and virtualism.

The postmodern city forgets that it merely supposed to be a conduit for money and power, and insists on claiming what passes through it as its own, even though it is intended to be merely a pump to disperse the benefits of economic life to the peripheries and the heartlands. The modern metropolis is no longer a crown on its own nation, but a satellite of the global, a colonising force within its own borders, a cuckoo in the nest that is now permitted to belong to no one.

If Europe had been run from its villages, there would have been no crash of 2008.  The city lives off tips and taxes. It gives back value in all kinds of ways, but it is not, of its nature, productive. Its inhabitants, therefore, do not require to look fundamentally at things in the way that people in the countryside must if they are to survive at all. In the city, it is not necessary to know your neighbour’s name, and so it becomes easier to hold to abstract beliefs about things like multiculturalism and diversity and rights and freedom. In the country, it is necessary to be aware of the ecology of community life and the delicate balance of economic forces. The countryside and its villages survive by sweat and strength – physical risk. The modern city shifts money around, turning tricks, adding halfpence to the pence.

What is called multiculturalism works, or appears to work, in cities. But it does not work in villages or valleys. It is easy in the city to pretend to progressive values which cost you nothing, while you go about the place avoiding eye contact with your fellow citizens.  Just as villages have to create the means of their own survival, their inhabitants need to face, on a daily basis, the actual reality in which they must live. A streetscape can be walked or driven through indifferently: it invites no sense of responsibility, threatens no ecological backlash to those who ignore or disrespect it. But fields and true marketplaces make demands of those who live beside and by them. Their life speaks loudly of consequences, costs and limits in a way the city manages to conceal or elide.

A parochial community possesses a balance utterly different to that of a metropolitan neighbourhood. The idea of a host community is vital to the former, but relatively unimportant to the latter. If you see a street as simply someplace to move through, it doesn’t really matter who inhabits it. In the city, I can privatise myself, so that nothing bothers me about my environment except what I choose to see and engage with. I don’t have this luxury in the countryside or the sráidbhaile, where the encroachment of the alien can represent a fundamental threat to the survival of the host community.

Progressivism, which emerges from the city, is like this also. It affects attitudes and positions which pass their costs on to the innocent and unknowing: to the breadwinner seeking to live by the market he has constructed, to the child in the womb waiting for the light of life; to the left-behind parent before the family court; to the brown-skinned poverty-stricken woman whose womb is treated as an oven for someone else’s fantasies. This is really why what is called ‘conservatism’ is associated with the countryside: because the countryside is unforgiving of those who seek to live lies, shrug off responsibility and ignore consequences.

Cities need not necessarily have become corrupted to this extent. Civic life implies a togetherness that involves, to a high degree, the eschewing of individuality in the interests of solidarity and communal well-being. But, under the influence of consumerist ideologies, our public realms have headed full tilt in the opposite direction: towards increasing fragmentation and diversification, a marketplace of rights and wants and attitudes and demands rather than a community of mutuality.  One of the symptoms of this is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to persuade an electorate of the idea of a common good, a concept that seems dull and reactionary compared to the claim of some exotic grouping wishing to achieve its objective or vindicate its theories while prohibiting discussion of the broader impact. Younger people in particular, swamped by propaganda, just don’t seem to grasp the idea of a politics directed at the common good, but only as either a spectacle to be enjoyed or a mechanism or market for delivering demands.

David Runciman almost nailed it: “The digital revolution has opened up the prospect of a future in which knowledge is the primary currency, connectivity the primary asset, and physical geography is at best a secondary concern. People who are rooted in particular places, who work in industries that produce physical goods, and whose essential social interactions do not happen online are the ones who wanted Out. They have glimpsed a future in which people like them are increasingly at the mercy of forces beyond their power to control. And they are right”.

But Runciman, while celebrating the fact that flesh-and-blood people “still have the power to surprise faceless networks”, appears to argue that the virtual model is indeed ultimately sustainable. Yet, he fails to look to the source of its life, which is in the accumulating debt which weighs down every ‘modern’ society in the world. “‘The problem is that virtual people and a virtual economy, built around network effects and tradable knowledge, can escape the bounds that national politics tries to set for them”, he writes. “Many on the losing side in this referendum possess the resources for navigating a networked world that those on the winning side tend to lack. And that’s how the ‘Remainers’ can, and will, bypass the result”.

For a time, yes. But ultimately the bills will come through the digital letterbox and plop on the virtual doormat.  The juggler cannot keep all his balls airborne for ever: either he recalls them carefully to earth or they go tumbling and ricocheting all over the place.  Brexit may not hold right now, may succumb to the corruption of the oligarchy, but it will, yes, remain, a prophecy of the restoration of what is, after all, a natural order.

Meanwhile, the result has laid bare the true nature of the divides in our modern societies, as well as the hypocrisies that guard them from scrutiny. The divides are not really, as David Runciman correctly diagnoses, between old and young, traditionalists and progressives, left and right, or even, in the old sense, between metropolitans and rednecks. The divide can be tracked in terms of wealth and privilege, but that can lead us into an ideological cul de sac. Deep down, they are divides between those who are committed to the concrete and those who have grown up thinking that the virtual is the only true kind of reality. And it is a measure of the intellectual disintegration of our cultures that it is the concrete that is being left behind, that the thinking elements of our societies appear to hold that a virtual world based on debt and babble is sustainable in the long term. In the wake of Brexit, we can observe, again, the two kinds of unrepresentability: those who refuse to be represented because they cannot see the point of politics, and those whose appeals to the political process are ignored in favour of those who decline to become engaged. This is what the EU has fostered – with faux benevolence, passive aggression but most of all with boredom.


But the most crystal-clear divide of all exposed by the Brexit referendum and its aftermath is that between the pencil and the mouse, the real as opposed to the virtual, The People as opposed to the Unrepresentable. The pencil, the implement with which the damage was done, has dignity, backbone, sharpness, renewability, correctability, an internal life that is both softer than its exterior and also capable of making a discernible and enduring mark. The pencil’s function defined by the paper at which it is directed, wood and lead making love to the real world; it does not operate in abstraction.

The mouse, on the other hand, is well named: its user cowers behind a screen, manipulating his or her avatar in a virtual world, becoming more and more terrified of – and hostile to – actually existing reality.

The Brexit vote, seen from this perspective, was a probably doomed attempt at a wake-up call. Although the message was directed primary at the ‘national’ elites, it has a certain undertone intended for the EU, since it is the EU which has appeared to supplant the indigenous powers and capacities of our nations. And of course it’s true that, whereas Remain was a simple idea (stay in), Leave was a multiplicity of possibilities, most of them unformulated.  The vote was, in this context, a blurt of rage and desperation –  the villages answering back, in harmony with the dales, the fens, the valleys.

It was most of all a striking out at those who constantly devolve their loyalty upwards in attempts to evade reality: the anger of those whose lives rooted in the real have been supplanted and derided by an unsustainable virtualism with its feet in the iCloud.

Communities which once lived off the iron and coal their menfolk hacked from the underground rendered mendicant by an economy based on nothing but money created ex nihilo without benefit of priesthood – answering back.

The Leave vote was therefore as much a shot in the air as it was a reasoned plea to stop the nonsense and restore Britain to some degree of transparent self-sustaining coherence. In Wales, voters were reminded by the Remain campaigners that the EU gave £79 to every Welsh citizen every year. The problem with people who say things like this is that they haven’t a bull’s clue what the problem is: human dignity depends on being independent. The income of the average Welsh worker is 42% of that of the average Londoner. For this it is de rigueur to blame Margaret Thatcher, who for sure laid waste to Britain’s indigenous industrial base, but Labour, in power for 14 of the past 19 years, did nothing but formulate false promises and allow things to grow worse.  A persistent failure to invest in the future has rendered the UK increasingly dependent on the ‘splash’ of the global economy – rather than its own indigenous resources. Meanwhile, increasing immigration forces down the rate for what work there is in many places; people who instinctively think of themselves as workers are now bystanders and spectators on an economy that seems no longer coterminous with the life of their communities.  Their villages and towns are dotted with takeaways, bookies, charity stores and poundshops (‘Poundshopland’ having become, after the Brexit vote, one of the favoured taunts of the metropolitan elites).

But still, Richard Branson will have his way – in democratic terms an outrage but in reality the only safe or sane option. There is every probability that, come October, the elites will have established the conditions for another referendum and whoever is pretending to run things by then will be only too happy to agree this in return for a renegotiated relationship with ‘Europe’ that will fall short of Brexit.

The alternative would be worse than Jarvis Cocker is capable of dreaming. The UK that subsists after more than 40 years of subservience to bureaucracy, its quality of leadership diluted beyond reversal, is now at least as incapable of self-government as we are. It therefore doesn’t matter who becomes its next prime minister.  We could swap them Enda for Boris and Theresa and it would make no difference to either country. The world now churns around without reference to those whose faces continue to grin down at us from poles as imminently obsolete as themselves.

By John Waters