Pause to savour the moment. Before we move on to the implications of the stunning Brexit vote yesterday – for European policy as well as the Tory and Labour leaderships – it is worth reflecting on what has been achieved.
In the teeth of fierce opposition from the Prime Minister and the leaders of the two mainstream parties – let alone the panjandrums of politics, economics and business from across the world – the people of Britain, especially the less privileged classes, voted clearly to sever the ties that have bound us to the European Union for the last 40 years. The result was nothing short of a miracle.
Yesterday, in the Westminster bubble, all the talk was of a win for Remain. The bookies lengthened the odds on a Leave victory to 10/1, the markets soared, presumably on the strength of private polls by hedge funds, and the talk turned grimly to the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox as the moment when the Leave campaign lost its momentum and liberal left denunciation of the “politics of hate” turned the tide.
As it transpired, it was all nonsense, as so much Westminster talk is, particularly now that Parliament and its hangers-on has become a playground for ambitious young public school thrusters and holier-than-thou warriors for the public sector and endless right-on charities.
A poll conducted in the bubble yesterday would have given overwhelming victory to Remain. Media and political folk, consumed by how they appear in the eyes of their peers, regarded Leave, even with the metropolitan figleaf of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, as beyond the pale, especially given its links to the rumbustious Nigel Farage and his Ukip contingent. To the very end, Vote Leave, the official anti-Europe campaign group, kept Farage at arms length.
But hidden below the blizzard of Westminster virtue-signalling, some things were happening.
First, the orchestrated grief-fest over Jo Cox’s appalling death made little impact on the country. Despite repeated efforts to link her killing to a supposedly ugly mood whipped up by Farage’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and poster, ordinary people concluded that there was no such connection. She died at the hands of a maniac as happens too often in the modern world. This was no political parable.
Second, Tory support for Brexit probably faded a bit in the final week or two as the scaremongering of Cameron and Osborne and their acolytes hit fever pitch. But any slide in support was balanced by growing numbers of Labour supporters, infuriated by the impact of uncontrolled immigration on their lives and the failure of their MPs to respond to their concerns, switching to the Leave side. As Kate Hoey, one of the few Labour MPs to back Brexit, commented, perhaps as many as half of Labour voters decided to turn their backs on Brussels. No wonder Jeremy Corbyn is facing a leadership challenge.
Much of the metropolitan media, certainly on the Left, failed to notice the scale of the defection by the rank and file of the People’s Party. Not so Mr Farage and Ukip, who campaigned relentlessly in the downtrodden north and Midlands. The strategy paid rich dividends as Newcastle and Sunderland led the way on the night towards the Great Escape and towns and cities outside the comfortable Home Counties duly followed suit.
Two interlinked themes dominate now that David Cameron has stepped aside. One is the battle for the Tory crown – the other the pressing need for the Government (now effectively leaderless) to devise a divorce strategy that delivers the will of the people. The 17 million plus who voted for Independence Day will not forgive any attempt by the Westminster bubble to subvert their instructions.