We spent New Year nestled between Dorset’s Purbeck ridges. Here is a sea fret.
Dorset is an unevenly wealthy Conservative county with UKIP running second in half the constituencies, and has poorly maintained stretch of coastal public foot path to match. We drank in the local pub most evenings and on New Year’s night as we emerged into the hard frost at closing time, last to leave, the governor took me aback by asking us which way we voted on Brexit. We told him we all voted Remain. Then he asked where we were from. We replied London/Essex borders and Brighton. He then began an unprompted, strangely intense appeal on behalf of the Leave position.
He did not, he said, hold with the anti-immigration case – a lot of his income is from overseas visitors. His impetus was regaining control. He cited health and safety and the EU Working Time Directive which constrains the shifts. Then the conversation went free-range. He welcomed all the lucrative Chinese visitors to the area. The area has changed. He can’t put the local oysters on the menu since the strict provenance regulations make them too expensive, but actually somebody had got ill recently. I expect traffic is bad – but that is the price of success. I expect there is no off season these days, but again… Our role in this was to leave (two of us), sympathise (one), and politely disagree (me, which I think was alright given he started the conservation and in fact was making it hard for us to leave). He concluded in a mild way which belied the melodrama of his sentiments, that he is considering closing down the pub and going on benefits along with unspecified others in the vicinity, since there is little point in working as hard as he does when others receive handouts for nothing. But we’ll be the ones paying for that, he told us, as if we hadn’t been drinking and eating there all week. As if we weren’t going to have our holiday spending power dented by Brexit.
The pub landlord is still campaigning. He doesn’t think it’s over.
The journalist Andrew Marr begins his most recent substantial piece on Europe, ‘An optimist’s guide to Brexit‘ this way,
“If parliament asked the people of the UK to vote on a subject of such huge importance; and if, after exhaustive and exhausting debate, they made their decision, by a clear majority; and if they were then told that it wasn’t going to happen, or at least not without a second vote, the glossy fabric of British democracy would be ripped to shreds. Frankly, I dread to think what would follow.”
He doesn’t think it’s over either.
I expect May to steer us out of the single market followed by a gradual Conservatively uneven decline in circumstances for basically all of us.
Here’s what I thought of the conversation, after the event. If the regulatory burdens on a small, independent enterprise are the same as on a larger company with economies of scale on their side then some extra support is probably in order, and I sympathise. I also sympathise with his resentment of neighbours defrauding the benefits system. Of course tax avoidance costs more (why I avoid Amazon, Facebook &c &c) but the little guy has a locally corrosive effect, and no less needs to be stopped. But what I can’t accept is the implication that he doesn’t care whether his tourist money comes from China or London.
As usual with these conversations there were few specifics. He didn’t ever mention his elected representatives or ever campaigning for change. In his mind, he was simply acted on. Consequently I have no confidence that Brexit will bring him joy. If people don’t have the – what – self-efficacy? Sense of responsibility? Social capital? to attempt the political groundwork to make things go their way in the European Union, why would they expect to prevail in (what I will presciently call) England? If (as the couple from Nadine Dorries constituency we got into a similar conversation with in the same pub earlier in the week did) you think your elected representatives are corrupt, then whose responsibility is that? I know it’s a difficult message to swallow, but Marr’s optimism depends on it.
I’m sympathetically frustrated.