They say England has only had one Civil War, from 1642 – 1651, when a bunch of Parliamentarians went to war with a bunch of Royalists over the nature of the English government. One King was executed, another was exiled and the monarchy was replaced with the Commonwealth of England and then a military dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell. After that failed the exiled monarch came back to carry on being King. However, I would suggest that England has always been at war and that this war is still being fought throughout Britain. It is a class war, a war of the rich and poor, and with the recent referendum result its truth has never been more stark.
It is not necessarily a war of guns and trenches but it is a war of status, money and shame. It is played out in political and economic policy, what with a welfare state being created to support all in Britain, especially those on lower-incomes, now being rolled back as the current government imposes austerity. Austerity that eviscerates local communities and takes money away from local libraries, social support and healthcare. As the social fabric frays it’s no wonder people turn their ire on one another as the media stirs conflict with inciting stereotypes and scapegoats. This civil war also drenches our culture as ‘chavs’ and ‘poor people’ are routinely demonised and mocked on television (see also, Owen Jones’ book Chavs: The Demonisations of the Working Class for more of this). Of course, the rich get mocked as well but they’ve got all the cash and can afford private healthcare. This war heated up in the 1980s when the Conservative establishment under Margaret Thatcher went head to head with the Unions and miners under Arthur Scargill. The left put in a good fight but the establishment won in the end and have been turning the screws ever since.
And now, after the referendum, our class war has worsened. Many are falling back on old stereotypes of ‘ignorant, racist working class’ people who voted for Brexit whilst others are blaming ‘self-serving, posh, toffs’ for doing the same. Meanwhile, ‘foreign scum’ are being vilified and abused. It seems the better angels of our nature have fled as we’re left with plenty of worser demons but anger will not rebuild broken Britain. Yet after a revolution a power vacuum is left. This is often filled by more of the same/ worse (Cromwell, Robspierre, Stalin, Franco) but there is still a chance to build something new, to stitch the social fabric back together. For Britain, this will take a heroic effort on behalf of all classes. We must transcend petty differences and intolerances, we must work together and share our resources (including our wealth…especially our wealth) and call on the government to follow our lead because, right now, we lack good leadership. We can end this class war now and transcend the violence and suffering that it perpetuates. We can rebuild Britain and keep it great, for all the right reasons. So let’s seize this moment of uncertainty and fill that power vacuum with love (it sounds cheesy but, my god, none of us will want to be here if hate wins the day).