What will happen now?
In January I outlined a nine-stage process by which David Cameron's premiership could end within the year. The referendum's timing excepted, that has turned out much as predicted. Cameron's translation from PM to dogmeat is complete. The referendum campaign has been a Conservative leadership primary, and the blond populist has come out top dog.
A backlash against the Leavers will doubtless follow, as it would have against the Remainers had they won. As I wrote the other day, Leave's campaign has certainly been cynical and manipulative, but so has Remain's. Its pitch has been stolidly conservative with a small(ish) 'c', fought in terms that recall Baldwin's 'Safety First' election campaign in 1929. Remain did nothing to cater for those who aren't doing well, who see little or no benefit in Britain's EU membership. Scaremongering works least well on people for whom things are already crap, especially coming from those who have made things that way.
Jeremy Corbyn will get blamed for not having broken a lance, in fact barely a cocktail stick, on Remain's behalf. But his stance made good political sense, as well as being born of sincere lack of conviction. The EU is a technocratic capitalist club. Remain had no convincing story, in fact no story at all, about how it can benefit unskilled and semi-skilled workers and the long-term unemployed, or how the structural tensions between its central institutions and democracy could be resolved. From the Labour leadership's standpoint it made and makes good sense to lie low while the Tories slugs the daylights out of each other. Liberal Remainers' fancy that the EU is a benign despotism friendly to worker and refugee alike has proven remarkably resilient to the facts.
What will happen now? Precise predictions at this stage would be rash. The immediate upshot has already been position-staking by interest groups, notably from Scotland and Northern Ireland, both of which backed Remain in the poll. Sinn Fein has already called for a referendum on sovereignty. It's unlikely that Nicola Sturgeon will be too quick to follow suit on Scotland's behalf, first because in the short term the oil price collapse undermines an independent Scotland's viability, and because a Scexit from the UK won't quickly lead to Scotland's reabsorption into the EU – existing members can veto accession, and Spain (and the Commission) will be loath to bless a precedent for secession, specifically of Catalonia.
If Scotland or Northern Ireland or both do peel off, the immediate prospects are fairly grim for people in what – the term is obsolete – used to be called Labour's 'heartlands' in Rump UK. The kingdom of England and Wales would become, still more than it already is, Londonia, the capital a city-state as dominant over the rest as ancient Athens was over the surrounding demes. National politics is likely to be steered by the political wing of the Faragist falange, almost certainly with Johnson as premier. Its payroll vote skewed the Tory parliamentary party's public stance in the referendum towards Remain; now it's free to become what it is, an English nationalist party figureheaded by Johnson. Europhile Tories will be isolated. It's not impossible that a major reconfiguration will occur, as happened with the Peelite Tories after Corn Law Repeal in 1846 or with anti-coupon liberals after the 1918 election, which eventually put paid to the Liberals as a single party of government.
A civil cold war in Britain has been waged between Europhiles and Europhobes since the 1990s or earlier. Civil wars have a habit of continuing indefinitely, as T.S. Eliot observed in a talk about Milton in 1947. The question W.H. Auden put about the country's future the same year is relevant now, but still admits of more than one answer. Auden asked if the late imperial isle could be more than
And dilapidated province, connected
To the big busy world by a tunnel, with a certain
Seedy appeal, is that all it is now?