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Why all sides are LOSING the Brexit war

Everyone thinks they’re losing—Leavers and Remainers, left and right, liberals and conservatives, young and old, men and women. How did this happen? And what does it mean for our politics?

It is a mild January morning in Winchester, beneath the shadow of the cathedral. Middle- aged women walk small dogs down cobbled streets, square-jawed boys pour out of the nearby public school, and American tourists pause to study the blue plaque on the house where Jane Austen died. Meanwhile, a group of academics gathers in a room next door to the cathedral tea shop, to discuss Englishness in this most English of settings.

Or to be precise, the “cultural eradication” of Englishness, at least according to Colin Copus, a professor at Leicester’s De Montfort University. What is happening, the shirt-sleeved professor tells the audience, is a modern-day equivalent of what the Normans did in 1066. A conquering elite is deliberately suppressing a national identity, although what he calls the “neo-Normans” (roughly defined as the sort of middle class, Remain-voting, establishment types who proudly describe themselves as British or even European in spirit rather than English) come armed more with dinner party chatter than William the Conqueror’s bows and arrows.

The evidence that he provides for Englishness being unmentionable in polite society ranges from his inability to find so much as a fridge magnet bearing the flag of St George in the gift shops in Winchester, to the way our national broadcaster brands itself as BBC Scotland or BBC Wales in the relevant places but in England as the plain old BBC. The English may be the dominant power in the union, he argues, but they’re losing their identity.

That same day, a few hundred of those he might call neo-Normans are gathering a few streets away from parliament for The Convention, an emergency conference arranged by groups demanding a second referendum on Brexit. It’s designed to be uplifting and hopeful, with energetic young campaigners taking the stage to discuss how 20-somethings could be mobilised. But the audience is chiefly older, and deeply frustrated. Many are angry that the Labour Party doesn’t seem to be listening to them. When the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole suggests that a speech by the Green leader Caroline Lucas urging a full-throated defence of the EU is the one Jeremy Corbyn should have made, a great primal roar of approval goes up.

How many in the audience are Labour voters, someone asks? Hands shoot up everywhere, although the man behind me shouts “Not for much longer.” This audience may look as if they are winning at life—overwhelmingly middle class, articulate and free to set aside an afternoon to debate the future of the country—yet they find themselves impotent bystanders on the most critical issue in a generation. When it comes to politics at least, they feel as if they’re losing something. But then lately, who doesn’t?

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In Prospect’s March issue: Gaby Hinsliff explains why all sides of the Brexit debate feel like they’re losing. She says that the Brexit war has raged on for two and half years and disfigured British politics in the process, leaving Remainers in mourning and Leavers crying betrayal. Elsewhere in the issue: James Ball, Martin Moore and Barbara Speed examine how we should be less worried about the tech giants Facebook, Amazon and Google and more worried about the data they hold about us. Ball argues that breaking up these huge companies isn’t the answer; Moore asks what would happens when a tech giant wants to run a smart city, and Speed looks at the increasing trend of tracking everything in our daily lives from the amount of water we drink to how many notifications we receive to our smartphone. Also, Rachel Sylvester profiles Sajid Javid, the Cabinet minister positioning himself for the top job.