Yesterday, in a pique of slightly desperate pleading, I said that I voted to remain in Europe as I believed it was the patriotic thing to do.
Today, I woke up to the news that, of the approximately 73% of the population who voted, more than half disagreed with me.
I’ll be honest, I’m feeling pretty emotional at the moment and I think it would be easy for me to lash out verbally. To let my emotions take control and sink into a tirade of despair and name-calling which, I’ll be honest, I’ve already indulged in a little. I’m human. It happens.
But it also happens that I am English. British. European. And that means a few other things as well.
Britain has always survived. It wasn’t easy, and we seldom emerged unscathed, but at the end of all periods of unrest, we emerged. Perhaps we were a different shape. Perhaps we were battered and bruised and almost unrecogniseable. But we were there. We have always been there.
We have a strange history. It’s not a peaceful one, and in a great many places it’s not a proud one either. Whether or not you agree that voting to leave the European Union was a good idea, you cannot deny that a great many crimes have been committed in the name of this green and pleasant land. A great many cruel people figure highly in our history books. A great many countries, past and present, have no good reason to think favourably of us.
But that’s speaking as “we”. It’s speaking for millions, billions, past and present and future. It’s taking the wide view, and right at this moment, I don’t believe the wide view is a lot of help.
What happens now is beyond my control. It’s beyond your control. In fact, the only people who really have a say are a small core of politicians and bureaucrats who very few of us could put faces to, let alone names. Perhaps I should say it’s a bad thing. From where I am sitting, I honestly can’t say I feel very optimistic about it all.
But I am English. I am British. And laying aside the fact that I am also European for a moment, what this tells me about myself is that I hail from a nation of people who cling to stubborn pride. Who, by and large, endure through adversity. Who don’t know when to give up.
I said yesterday that we are United in name, but while that is true, there’s another story running counter to it. We are united, but we are also in constant discord. It’s a knife edge which we have run for centuries – millenia, in fact. Our history as a group of nations is one of ongoing strife and discontent. One of protests, successful and failed. One of dissatisfaction and equality and prejudice.
I look back at our history and I see rotten boroughs and workhouses. I see a class system so entrenched that it has formed a part of our very language. I see discrimination and intolerance at every turn, for every reason. I see political lies and misinformation, and at the heart of it all, I see real people with no say in their lives, who get caught up in the events around them.
During the Roman invasion, Celts marched into battle against an army which outclassed their weapons and strategies. In Tudor times, you could be burnt at the stake depending on your religion. At the start of the industrial revolution, weavers took to breaking the looms which they knew would put them out of work. During the 1800s, thousands were locked up in workhouses for the misfortune of poverty.
Britain was not the same after these things. Britain could never be the same after these things. And many people simply did not survive these things. But these are some of the events which shaped our nation. Which led, by long, indirect roads (definitely not the Roman ones), to a nation of people who, when faced with wartime rationing and bombing raids, displayed a courage and unity which baffled their foes.
I don’t bring up the Blitz lightly. It is a rallying call for many kinds of people, and it is a period of our history which carries as many shames as it does virtues. But I know it’s a spirit many people recognise, and I think there is something fundamentally British about the everyday attitude people displayed.
As a nation, we don’t expect good things to happen. We view each sporting event as an anticipation of failure, and we work ourselves into a frenzy when we succeed because it is almost always against the odds. We are a nation against the odds. Fractured kingdoms, united by a border of water which steadily eats into our shores; a melting pot of opinions and ideas which froths and simmers and occasionally boils over, for good or ill.
We are a nation of complaints and grumbles and persistence. We delight in self-satire, and if we have a political elite who do not understand us, we are unsurprised – they have been entrenched for over a thousand years, and beneath their towers and castles, the ordinary people labour on.
When we rise in protest, we do not always succeed. We cut off the head of one king, only to realise that we had made a terrible mistake – and eventually offer the crown back to his own son. Wat Tyler marched upon London to fight for the rights of the common people and wound up dead, his revolution meeting a fruitless and mostly painful end. In the immediate wake of the Peterloo Massacre, the government’s response was to crack down on those who campaigned for the rights of the common man.
Times have been hard. Times have been brutal. Times have made us suffer. But I am a child of this turbulent, contradictory nation, where courage and cowardice walk hand in hand. Where progressives and conservatives exist side by side. Where ignorance and education mix and learn from each other. Where the wealthy and the poor must co-habit. Where the constant unrest and upheaval of millennia has forged a nation who do not expect good things, but carry on regardless. Where pride and stubbornness are forged by adversity into endurance.
Where, no matter how bad it gets, no matter how bad it looks, no matter what life throws at me, I look it in the eye and I say I will not lay down. I will not be beaten. I will not give up. I will stand proud and tall for my children and they will not see my fear, or my shame.
And one day, be it near or far, I know that the hard times will pass, and we will still be here. Probably not the same, but here nonetheless. And perhaps the next time, we will emerge as a Britain who is ready to leave the days of empire and isolation as far behind as we did our feudal system and rotten boroughs.