The Great Realignment of Britain

The Great Realignment of Britain, by David Frum (The Atlantic).

It’s chaos.

It’s chaos not only because so many British people intensely disagree with one another. It’s chaos because two key British people do not disagree nearly intensely enough. Prime Minister Theresa May wants the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. And so—probably even more so, and certainly over a much longer span of his political career—does the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. …

All of Corbyn’s actions are consistent with the widely cited theory that what he wants is Britain’s exit from the EU, with the Conservatives taking the blame.

But while May openly avows her plan, Corbyn must conceal his. Brexit splits both of the U.K.’s two large parties, but Labour is, if possible, the more divided of the two.

As Tim Shipman observes in his history of the Brexit crisis, Labour is the party of both the most pro-EU and the most anti-EU voters in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, the pro-Brexit Conservatives find themselves estranged from their natural base of more affluent, more educated voters. University graduates voted two to one to remain; high-school dropouts, two to one to leave. Those parts of Britain with the highest median incomes voted to remain; those parts with the lowest voted to leave. Brexit was a right-wing project carried out with left-wing votes. …

It’s not about membership of the EU, directly:

Even now, I doubt there is much authentic pro-EU feeling among EU Remainers. But there does seem to be a lot of anger against those pushing Britain out of the EU….

It’s an anger against exactly the nostalgia politics that Galloway and Farage, in their different ways, express. Antipathy to nostalgia binds people who did not have much in common before: the banker with customers in Germany, the farmer who sells her lamb to restaurants in France, the college lecturer hired to teach students from Italy and Spain. …

If Britain quits the EU, the relationship between Britain and Europe is bound to become more adversarial. Corbyn opposes the EU because he wants to protect and subsidize British industry against competition. The Tory Brexiteers envision a Britain that competes against Europe by undercutting its taxes and regulations. In either vision, the land boundary between the Republic of Ireland and British Northern Ireland will seethe with smuggling and other forms of lawless trading.

Under those circumstances, the question of whether to stand up to Europe or work with Europe seems likely to emerge as the great culture clash in British politics, replacing the ancient politics of social class.

Oh grow up Mr Frum. This has been the biggest issue in Britain since the Romans. The English Civil War and the American Revolution were fought over this very issue — whether to follow independence, liberty, common law, one law for all, a small army so the government fears the people, and a bottom-up power structure, or go the continental way with centralized control, the Pope, the divine right of kings, Roman law, a large army so the central government can boss people around, and a top-down power structure. (The American Revolution was not initially about the colonies breaking away form Britain, but about restoring traditional British rights in the face of a monarch who was denying them.)