John Harris

Journalist & Author

Britain is less polarised than the media would have us believe | John Harris

In Milton Keynes I found few signs of the Brexit culture war that supposedly defines our times

Last week I spent four days in Milton Keynes, the Buckinghamshire new town that sits in the English imagination as a byword for modernist architecture, endless roundabouts, and the fact that many of us still think that anything remotely futuristic is best sniggered at. The Conservatives’ conference provided the mood music; in between nights spent in a short-let, new-build house in the neighbourhood of Bletchley, I drove and wandered around business districts and ever-expanding housing developments, trying to get a sense of where the country has arrived.

Contrary to the received idea of the place as somewhere strange and almost unique, Milton Keynes reflects English politics in imperfect microcosm. Though it has two Tory MPs, 2017 saw its voters split pretty evenly between the Conservatives and Labour. The local electorate narrowly voted in favour of leaving the EU by a margin that matched leave and remain’s shares in the UK as a whole. The population reflects the diversity of modern Britain, and there are depressingly familiar signs of inequality: child poverty rates across its council wards range from just over 6% to about 40%, and the centre of town is smattered with those grimly familiar clumps of tents in which homeless people sleep.

A discourse of bitter partisanship, on both right and left, is leaving a lot of people cold

Related: Lewis Hamilton misspoke on Stevenage’s ‘slums’. In fact, this town can teach us a lot | Gary Younge

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