John Harris

Journalist & Author

Brexit? Britain’s divides run far deeper than that | John Harris

Tensions have been bubbling away for decades. Political parties have smoothed them over – the Brexit vote exploded them

Underneath this country’s worst political crisis in 80 years and the Westminster drama that looks set to reach a crescendo lie deep cultural and attitudinal divisions that will sit at the core of this country for decades to come. For millions of people, a basic stance on Brexit runs much deeper than any affinity they might feel with a political party: recent work by the psephologist John Curtice found that 77% of us identify with either side of the debate to a strong extent, as against only 37% who feel a similar allegiance to a party, with the respective figures for “very strong” put at 44% and a miserable 9%. This is not a country essentially split between Labourites and Tories: we are now either leavers or remainers, with large swathes of each camp motivated by boiling passions.

Obviously, the Brexit divide is only symptomatic of even more fundamental differences. Not long after the referendum, it was no great surprise to read that how voters felt about Europe slotted into their opinions on multiculturalism, social liberalism, the internet, globalisation and immigration; nor that such factors as age, class and education had been central to how people voted. Indeed, when I was out on the road during the campaign, it felt as if an even simpler question would decide the outcome: whether your view of the globalist, liberal future into which the country seemed to be inevitably heading was optimistic, or whether prejudice or a pessimism rooted in deep economic insecurity (or both) had pushed you to the opposite conclusion.

Related: Divided Britain: study finds huge chasm in attitudes

Related: A party at war: could Brexit split spell end of the Tories?

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