After this vote the UK is diminished, our politics poisoned
Meanwhile a section of London-based commentariat anthropologised the British working class as though they were a lesser evolved breed from distant parts, all too often portraying them as bigots who did not know what was good for them. Having assumed themselves cosmopolitan, the more self-aware pundits began to realise just how parochial they were: having experienced much of the world, they discovered they didn’t know their own country as well as they might.
But if the remain campaign was incompetent and patronising, leave was both inflammatory and irresponsible.
It is a banal axiom to insist that “it’s not racist to talk about immigration”. It’s not racist to talk about black people, Jews or Muslims either. The issue is not whether you talk about them but how you talk about them and whether they ever get a chance to talk for themselves. When you dehumanise migrants, using vile imagery and language, scapegoating them for a nation’s ills and targeting them as job-stealing interlopers, you stoke prejudice and foment hatred.
The chutzpah with which the Tory right – the very people who had pioneered austerity, damaging jobs, services and communities – blamed migrants for the lack of resources was breathtaking. The mendacity with which a section of the press fanned those flames was nauseating. The pusillanimity of the remain campaign’s failure to counter these claims was indefensible.
Not everyone, or even most, of the people who voted leave were driven by racism. But the leave campaign imbued racists with a confidence they have not enjoyed for many decades and poured arsenic into the water supply of our national conversation.