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Don't Blame Us ALL for Brexit

EXCLUSIVE: Babyboomer & acclaimed novelist Judy Astley takes a wry look at the UK vote to leave the EU


“Abroad is utterly bloody and all foreigners are fiends.” So said the irredeemably biased Uncle Matthew in Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Pursuit of Love’.


Uncle Matthew is one of my favourite comic characters: irascible, uncompromising in his disdain for outsiders and uncaring who knows it. But these last weeks, since the Referendum result, I’m not finding his foibles so amusing. I used to think of him as a colourful one-off, a product entirely of fiction and a long-gone age. But it seems not so, right now. The nation suddenly appears to be full of people who hate Johnny Foreigner with an alarming passion. The word “immigrant” is too often spat out with a dose of venom, even for those who work so hard clearing up after care-home residents or keeping our streets clean, work often scorned these days by UK residents.


Where did this newly-voiced shriek of hatred come from? Too many have now found someone to loathe and a vicious, ugly voice with which to express it. Was it always there, lurking beneath a quiet, outwardly tolerant surface, hidden under a too-thin veneer of traditional British fair play? Had the woman who screamed to a friend of mine: “You must be fucking Polish” when he accidentally pulled out at the traffic lights in front of her, always wanted to shout with such spite or did the Referendum result (presumably the one she wanted) give her some awful kind of permission?


The young now openly express contempt for the old. According to statistics, the over-60s voted more than any other age group to leave the EU, so it must be their fault. A friend’s daughter declared that no-one over 65 should have been allowed to vote: “Your fate has been sealed by backward, bigoted, ignorant old people,” she wrote. “They’re all going to be dead soon. The future doesn’t belong to the adults. It belongs to the kids,” she said, blithely overlooking the fact that although the young voted overwhelmingly to Remain, only 70% of under-25s are even on the electoral roll, and only 64% of those actually got their faces out of their phones long enough to go and put a cross on the ballot paper.


At 65, a person could be looking at another 30 years on this planet – plenty of time to suck up the effects (disastrous or otherwise) of this referendum. There is no way that citizens whose own grandmothers weren’t even allowed the vote at all till the suffragettes forced the issue are going to sit back calmly and be disenfranchised on the whim of a bunch of miffed teenagers who are worried that the cost of an EasyJet mini-break is going to double.


Another furious young soul curses, “...the entitled baby-boomers, with their free education, NHS, cheap housing etc etc...” having no clue that only 2% of that generation (my own) went to university and those ‘free’ grants depended on your parents’ income, their willingness or otherwise to let you go at all (for girls, too many fathers said: “What’s the point? She’ll only get married... Perhaps a little secretarial course...”) Most teenagers over the age of 16 were out earning a full-time living. Our so-called cheap housing came at a mortgage cost of up to 15% interest per annum.


The disappointed Remainers are despised by the Leave voters who sneer at them as the ‘chattering classes’, and tell them to stop whinging, get over it and get on with making Britain “great” again. Asked by someone on Facebook what exactly they would do to achieve this greatness, one spark started rambling about re-opening the shipyards, oblivious to the irony that to do so would only be possible these days with a massive dose of money from... er... Europe. Faced with practical reasons as to why this isn’t going to happen, all I’ve seen as a counter-argument is a lot of waffle about “Well we’ve got our country back” or “We have our sovereignty” without offering the remotest clue about where they’ve got the nation back from, as if it’s been allowed to wander off like a naughty toddler in the park, or defining what exactly this elusive ‘sovereignty’ actually is.


My personal contempt is reserved for those who voted Leave for reasons other than a carefully thought-out view that, as a nation, we might really be better off outside the EU. I’ve been shocked to find that I actually know people whose Leave vote was “to shake up this government” (well done sweeties, that worked) or because “I just hated Cameron”. How thick did they have to be to think the vote was about this? And how extra-dim then to claim: “Oh but I didn’t really think Leave would win”. Did they think putting their X on the ballot paper would bring them world peace and a puppy?


What those clueless Xs brought is political chaos and a tragic confirmation that deep down, far too much of the UK holds opinions on Abroad that are as shamefully xenophobic as the fictional Uncle Matthew’s. My own father, back in the 60s as the first wave of Asian immigrants started to arrive here, held firmly to the view that “Wogs start at Calais”. Still mentally fighting the war, if he’d lived long enough to see me driving a German car, he would certainly have disinherited me. I naively trusted that such opinions had died out a good half a century ago.


Much of my post-war generation, who could – in my youth – get on a bus at Victoria and stay on it all the way to Istanbul, were lucky enough to start travelling the world and embracing cultures way beyond this smug little island nation. Most of us – certainly the better-educated ones – really thought (and certainly hoped) we’d obliterated this mistrust of “foreign”. Now I understand that too many people here would sympathise with Uncle Matthew and cheerfully join him in keeping an entrenching tool in pride of place over the fireplace with which to disembowel any non-English invader who dared set foot on their premises.


They would certainly find nothing wrong with that old journalism joke headline which pretty much sums up a revived and ugly sense of deluded self-importance: “Fog in the Channel: Continent cut off.”



EU flag with missing star image c.c. Impolite Conversation



Judy Astley

About the Writer

Judy began writing novels in 1992 after working as a dressmaker, illustrator, painter and parent. Her specialist areas (based on years of hectic personal experience) are domestic disharmony and family chaos with a good mix of romance and humour thrown in. She has also been a regular magazine columnist. Judy has two grown-up daughters and lives in London and Cornwall.


You can find out more about her on her website.


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