Spleen

Looking at the regional distribution of voting patterns in the British referendum there seems to me enduring patterns, not just responses to the last five, let alone thirty-five years of politics.

The areas which most vociferously opted to abandon the European project, and by implication reject the political status quo in London, have, at times, chosen their own course, regardless of the consequences. It was these regions which rose to fight the king in the Civil War; it was from the same areas that the pursuit of individual faith led people to emigrate to America.

It is dangerous to draw such long conclusions between current circumstances and the historical record. However, English atavism is stubborn and proud; it is repeated frequently, not just on football terraces to abuse German supporters: Two world wars and one world cup, doo-dah, doo-dah, but through more respectable media and a plurality of voices

Deep-rooted beliefs and myths bind a polity. Their expression in literature provides coherence. English writing often forms and exhibits a clear identity of England, a country and people, which is singular and separate from any other.

John of Gaunt’s sceptred isle soliloquy is the touchstone of English patriotism in words, while Henry V’s happy few underscores the impossible odds of a small band defeating a much larger army in France.

The laureate of the English provinces is Philip Larkin: insular and anti-many, many things, most of all, anything cosmopolitan. His work is abrasive with anger, with resentment: he comprehends the essential inequality between himself and some other.

There is in Larkin a very strong sense of quiet desperation, the English way as Roger Waters phrased it. On the day of the referendum it was thought the bad weather might induce people to stay at home and watch the rain but, nonetheless, the turn-out was very high. Desperation turned to rebellion.

The best English novel to describe this regional landscape and its attitudes is Middlemarch. Eliot’s book is about various characters, both high and low, who in their own ways hope for something different and purposeful, but in the course of the novel they discover their own illusions.

It is certain the same thing will occur across middle England before too long.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2016. All Rights Reserved.