"It zoomed in on some of the most sensitive zones of the British national psyche"by Jay Elwes / June 25, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
The European Union referendum was the most politically traumatic event in British public life since Iraq. And after the billboards, the battle busses, the slanging match of claim and counter-claim and the frenzy of political back-stabbing, we arrive at the question that hung over all those months of political self-abuse, and it is this—why was the referendum campaign so nasty?
The answer is that it zoomed in on some of the most sensitive zones of the British national psyche, and exploited them mercilessly for political ends. It forced us to confront a host of subjects from which the British instinctively run a mile, among them: our attitude to foreigners; our willingness to co-operate with others; our sense of international self-importance and position in the hierarchy of nations. It was the freedom with which politicians bandied about questions of such immense importance, and their willingness to appeal to our irrational instincts, that lent the campaign its deeply unpleasant, almost neurotic edge.
The Leave campaign made the most intensive use of our national weaknesses. It had to—a great deal of political energy is required to shatter the status quo. David Cameron and the Remain side had the advantage of inertia, which meant they could present a mor…