While we’re all reeling from the impact of the Leave vote, there seems to be a pain peculiar to those of us who wanted to Remain, but whose towns and cities chose otherwise.
I live in Sunderland, where 61 per cent of people decided we’d be better off outside of Europe. Like most, I was shocked by the overall result. Like many in the North-East, I felt betrayed by those I lived and worked with who chose to reject the security of the status quo in favour of uncharted territory.
In common with the political elite, I’d assumed that when it came to the crunch, people wouldn’t risk the economy – and ultimately, making themselves worse off – by taking a decision that everyone from big banks to President Obama had warned against.
What I and those in power had failed to register was that for many, this simply didn’t factor. For people living in Sunderland and other areas of high economic and social deprivation the question was this: does being in the EU make my life any better? The answer was, quite clearly, no.
What’s hard to swallow about the vote is that it’s exactly places like Sunderland that have benefited most from EU funding, which, in recent years, has helped pay for things like an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a modern university campus. I’ve found myself wondering why people didn’t get this – and what made them think that all this money was now going to flow from central Government, hardly famed for its generosity to former industrial heartlands.
But it’s more fundamental than that – and the Leave campaigners knew it. They tapped into a deep vein of resentment and disaffection that no doubt surprised even them. People in my city, and others like it, feel let down by their own politicians, so why would they trust those in Europe? They feel marginalised and cut adrift; desperate to claw back their dignity. That’s why they can’t bear the thought of immigrants benefiting in any way from this country and why, today, as I go about my business, I see the standard of St George flying from buildings and men wearing Union Flag shirts.
What we need now is a politician brave enough to address the poisonous malaise. During the Leave campaign, we were fed lies and propaganda. This week, we had Boris Johnson thumbing his nose at us with the “punchline” that he wouldn’t stand in the leadership race. It will take a lot to get us out of this mess, but let’s hope that now, finally, there’ll be a candidate who can put self-aggrandisement aside, admit that we’re living in a fractured society, and start tackling this.