Whatever the outcome of the UK EU referendum, it will have brought to the surface and solidified two large groups of the English population that - at best - don’t understand each other, and - at worst - detest each other. Roughly speaking the two groups are at their core (A) metropolitan university-educated liberals and cosmopolitans, and (B) white working-class from the regions, including many who are traditional labour voters but are “conservative” on key issues.
In thinking how to behave as an elector, my main concern is to contribute to the best outcome for constructively managing this likely-to-remain endemic fracture in English society (I am assuming that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are solidly behind “remain”). I am not really hearing the leadership of either side addressing this issue head on. Issuing a timetable for legislative disengagement (as the “leave” leadership have just done) or a prediction of what the next budget would have to contain (as the “remain” leadership have just done) is not an answer to the question.
The outcome of the vote will give one or other group of English politicians a mandate such that they will be the ones who face this issue (as they will have to start doing on 24th June, intensively and persistently). So my voting decisions are beginning to veer towards choosing the English politicians who are least likely to completely mess this up (since none will do it well).
If “leave” wins, the political legitimacy can be claimed by Johnson, Gove, and Farage. Johnson is an unprincipled political operator only interested in his own fortunes who, until 6 months ago was a “remain” proponent. Gove and Farage are “conviction” politicians, but Farage has never held office and has never even been an MP so knows nothing practically about how to get things done, and Gove’s version of “take control”, means government taking control of the people and reducing grass roots freedoms. Are these the people well equipped to manage the fracture of English society? Not very plausible!
If “remain” wins, established political leaders (in the leadership of Conservative, Labour, Lib-Dem, Greens) will have their legitimacy enhanced. Triumphalism won’t work for the nation however. An ability to see (and pronounce that one sees) the issues of the other side, is vital. And here, curiously, Cameron and Corbyn’s somewhat half-hearted support for “remain” begins to become an advantage.
A post-result moment when Cameron and Corbyn stand side by side and pledge to address the disaffection of Group B head-on could possibly save the nation from becoming ungovernable. What could they offer? Well - however it is dressed up - they need to say that London (particularly epitomised by the Westminster political elite, and their sponsors in business and the media) will no longer be allowed to dominate the English agenda as it has for the past decades. In this process they should welcome, possibly even encourage, processes which might split open the two-party dominance of our political life (e.g. proportional representation, further devolution including possibly an English Parliament, etc.). Thanks to Anthony Barnett for helping me see this!
What could encourage such an outcome? Probably a very narrow “remain” victory with substantial abstentions and spoiled papers (indicating everything from “couldn't be bothered” via “can’t make up my mind” and a plague on both your houses” to “wrong question at the wrong time”).
Given the fact that polls are predicting a substantial “leave” lead at this point, and that quite a high abstention is also likely, I seem to increase the chances of the “least bad” result I by voting “remain”.
This may seem somewhat convoluted to those of my friends and associates who are voting “remain” because they feel in their bones more European than English and want to endorse ideals of cross-national collaboration and solidarity that they see a “remain” vote as expressing.
My vote may also seem a cop-out to those of my friends and associates who equally ardently believe that "leave" is the right option. To them I have to say that ultimately they don't have a political leadership I can believe in even though I sympathise with some of the core tenets of the "leave" campaign.
The issue for me comes down to this. Who is best equipped to address the real and deep concerns of both electoral groups, Johnson, Farage et al, or Cameron, Corbyn et al? For all their manifold imperfections I am inclined to think the latter are the least worst option! But they must be held to it if their side wins.