Brexit and Beyond

Young, metropolitan Remain voters don’t realise there’s more to England than London

The Article: Young, metropolitan Remain voters don’t realise there’s more to England than London

There's a giant wall of ice hundreds of feet tall that snakes from coast to coast, ending in a deep, swollen ocean at either end. Behind this monstrous fortification lies 'North of the Wall' - a barren, ravaged wasteland where men fear to tread, home only to an army of the undead that has been kept at bay for thousands of years.

For those who are not familiar with this landscape, it is the island of Westeros - the setting for HBO's vastly popular mega series Game of Thrones.

But to many Londoners it is all too real and much closer to home. They call it 'The North' - and they have never been.

I had a frightening exchange with a friend a few weeks ago.

He has lived in England for all 24 of his years and has been lucky enough to visit a vast swathe of Europe and a surprising amount of the rest of the world. Then we got to where he'd been in his own country.

"Oh, er. London.”

"Yes, that's where we live."

He paused, deep in thought.

"And, er. Oh, I've been to Oxford. And Cambridge! Bath, actually too. I think I could have been to Bristol once... that’s the one with the pier?"

He is not alone. There are too many Londoners who have experienced next to nothing of the country in which they live. Endless pseudo jokes about the north "starting above the M4" are everywhere, cultivating a myth that Londoners eventually catch themselves believing - that the rest of the country really isn't worth visiting.

I had to practically kidnap a friend to get him to Manchester last year because he thought "there's not much there". 

Manchester is the third most visited city in the UK by international tourists - after London and Edinburgh. It has a staggering stock of splendid Victorian buildings, lively canals, a media city, a world famous Science and Industry museum, a renowned university, a bustling Chinatown, literally thousands of restaurants and bars.

The aggressive overlap between London and the Remain campaign has been well documented - 60 percent of the capital voted in favour of remaining in the EU. In some areas, the Remain vote was 70 percent or above. Only 4 of 33 boroughs voted to leave. Among London's student population, the depth of support for the EU was overwhelming. There were moments where coming out as a Brexiteer would likely have led to one being summarily executed. The more widely travelled young people are, the more they appear to laud the European bloc as some kind of benevolent saviour to a lost and floundering British state that they've never seen.

I always assumed that these feelings were a result of the privilege of being well-travelled, and consequently more international in outlook.

But this precludes a more hollow truth: young people are ignorant of their own country, and that has led to a dangerous lack of cultural introspection - and bankrupted any sense of national identity.

It is this hole that they seek to fill through jaunts on Ryan Air to Copenhagen and Salzburg, Brussels and Bruges. But this is no substitute for understanding and appreciating the length and breadth of one's own country.

It has widely been said that many Remain voters didn't live in the same England as those who pressed to leave. This tends to be considered a metaphor for age, class and education. But the more I listen to the army of young, middle class Londoners who ally automatically with Europe over the United Kingdom, the more I feel that this statement is literal.

They have never seen the England that they're in such a hurry to resent, and are, therefore, every bit as myopic as the 'ignorant' Leavers who 'didn't know what they were voting for.'

More on Brexit and Beyond