‘Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.’
I think this is how quite a few of us are feeling right now, we Brexiteers. We’re over the initial giddy disbelief, the euphoric rush of ‘My God, we actually did it!’ and heading towards the Wednesday Blues stage of our trip. Why, after all that agonising and hard work, does victory taste so bitter?
Well I know that in my case it has nothing to do with buyer’s remorse. I’m still very proud of what we achieved; prouder yet of the overwhelming outbreak of common sense I witnessed last week in so many of my fellow countrymen and -women. What bothers me is the evident misery and upset it has caused those — lots of my friends among them — who didn’t get their way and now feel like strangers in their own land.
The hurt runs deep. In the hospitality area at Glastonbury on the day of the result, I ran into an old mate from my rock ’n’ roll years who could barely bring himself to speak. Our kids used to play together; he came to my wedding; but he just wasn’t interested in comparing notes — as old friends usually do — about all the weird shit, good and bad, that’s happened since. He curled his lips like I was something particularly foul that had got stuck on the bottom of his wellies.
This, I’m afraid, is how Remainers see us Brexiteers. They don’t remotely buy into this vision we have of ourselves as the plucky freedom fighters who saved British sovereignty. Rather, in their eyes, we’re a bunch of reckless, racist Little Englanders who threw away the UK economy and the right of their groovy, open-minded, cosmopolitan offspring to settle wherever they wanted on the Continent, all to prove a petty, spiteful point on behalf of that horrid, vulgar little man Nigel Farage — one which isn’t going to make the damnedest bit of difference anyway because we’re all globalists now.
Tell me, all you gutted Remainers out there, that my caricature isn’t close to the mark. You think we Brexiteers are a bunch of Jeremy Hunts, don’t you? No argument I make here, however eloquent, is going to change that. Nor, sadly, will it make any difference if I turn up at your next dinner party — not that you’ll ever invite me again, but still — being exactly the James Delingpole you once found so attractive: the snarky, excitable, funny one with the sundry odd obsessions, the big teeth and the manner you couldn’t quite resist. It’s not the actual me you care about any more. The problem is the hateful things you think I represent.
How do we bridge this awful rift? First, we Brexiteers need to be magnanimous in victory — which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Especially not when the defeated appear determined to act so gracelessly — demanding a second referendum, crowing with schadenfreude at every stock-market blip, and now trying to engineer a Remain coup whereby the thing that over 17 million people voted for ends up, as per usual, being denied them by the scheming elite.
So I’m certainly not arguing that we Brexiteers should suddenly come over all needlessly conciliatory: to deny the majority their clearly expressed wish would be a betrayal of democracy and a recipe for even greater bitterness and division. What we can and must do, though, is resist the urge to gloat and snigger — and try to remember how it felt when we ourselves were on the wrong side of history.
Which for most of us Brexiteers would be more often than not. If, like me, you believe in limited government, free markets and British sovereignty, there really has never been a time — not since at least the Thatcher era, possibly not even then — when you’ve come close to achieving your desires at the ballot box.
Heaven knows the Blair and Brown eras were bad enough, but it was almost worse under Cameron’s Conservatives. This was supposed to be my party — but they’d been taken over by a man who openly boasted about being the ‘heir to Blair’. I’m sure the working-class Northern socialists who voted Brexit will have felt just as betrayed by the various Labour administrations which claimed to represent their values but so obviously didn’t.
This is why Charles Moore struck such a chord with some of us when he wrote after the result: ‘It is the most momentous thing I have seen in nearly 40 years covering British politics, and the most moving.’
Moving because we scarcely dared dream it would ever happen; moving because we’ve given so much of ourselves to get there. Try being on our side of the political argument: it costs you ease, it costs you money, it costs you friends. The one thing that has kept us going all this time is our unshakeable conviction that if ever we got our way, it would, on balance, lead to more prosperity, freedom, security and happiness for everyone.
Not just for Brexit voters. All voters. Which brings me to the most important thing we Brexiteers have to do to heal that rift. We have to make this enterprise work. We need to show all those doubters in Remain-stronghold London that, yes, becoming an independent trading nation really has been better for our prosperity. We need to show all those disenfranchised voters in the regions that the government can address their concerns about immigration and jobs and inequality. The only way we Brexiteers are going to win back the nearly half of the country that hates us is to prove to them we were right all along. It’s the only chance we’re ever going to get, presuming the Remainers let us. So let’s not blow it — for we really are all in this together.