It’s about five minutes before we start shouting about Brexit. I find myself sat in the car, my brother driving me and my dad through the glorious mountain ranges and valleys of Wales. It’s the sort of landscape to make it appear as if all this had to have been planned. This type of beauty looks coordinated and engineered.
But despite the landscape I am terribly embarrassed for my father and brother, two people who I happen to love.
As we’re driving through this landscape I think back to all the late night phone calls trying to convince them that Brexit is a foolish and cruel idea. I think back to when I first heard members of my family defend Farage and Johnson and (sweet heavenly lord) Rees-Mogg. How are these sheisters the men we find inspiring? How are these the men that we trust?
I ask myself these questions on the drive back to Plymouth through these beautiful twisting valleys. But there’s one in particular that I’m obsessed with: how can I love the people who want to hurt and break our union?
And is this love bigger than Brexit?
As I walk around the park near my brother’s house I spot a small English flag flapping in the wind on a pole in someone’s garden. Since 2016 I’ve noticed this flag become more popular in people’s homes and there’s something about its resurgent prominence that upsets me. As if somehow the meaning of the symbol changed whilst I was away. And after staring at it for some time I realize in a flash that the English flag is now a symbol of isolationism.
After Brexit, the English flag is to the United Kingdom what the Confederate flag is to America.
It’s a symbol of watching Syria collapse and turning our backs on them. It’s a symbol of looking at Wales and Scotland and Northern Ireland, looking at this rich culture and heritage between us all, and tearing it up and running away. It’s a symbol of casting aside our economic and cultural bonds with the largest single market on earth and it’s a symbol of an ideological poison. An idea that can’t be stopped, that can’t be expunged or removed. An idea that has poisoned the well and now we’re all drinking from it, despite both sides knowing that it’s poison.
The next day I’m walking around London and I spot the English flag in a shop window and I clench my fist and try to hold back tears.
The English flag is an embarrassment to us all.
This is mass hysteria on a scale I’ve never seen before. It’s in every conversation, on every television and radio, printed on every newspaper, and I swear to god every small act between members of my family.
As soon as I land I want to leave. And this fills me with so much guilt that I struggle to sleep at night.
On the train back to London yesterday I was listening to James O’Brien’s show on the LBC where he takes calls from Brexiteers and hopes to explain how they’ve been lied to and cheated. But for the most part he does so in a very kind way. He sees correcting their mistakes and facts as an act of kindness. An act of intellectual courtesy and respect.
Although when a particularly illogical or cruel argument is hurled his way James does lose it sometimes. He’ll sigh into his microphone and roll his arms over his head, unable to grapple with the sheer ridiculousness of the situation.
Overall the show is pretty difficult to listen to but it’s...remarkable, too. James focus is on facts rather than opinions and he confronts every half witted and dim rhetorical device uttered on his show. “What was the prize?” he asks a Brexiteer in one segment. “When you won the election, what was the prize?”
It reminds me that this is what great journalism is really. James’s show is the living embodiment of Orwell’s essay on Politics and the English Language – a master class in how to think and structure your thoughts coherently.
Another caller, in a shroud of tears and stutters, apologizes for his vote after he listens to James’ show. He can barely say the words. “What have I done...what have I done to my country?”
Any other presenter would have taken this as an opportunity to gloat or say I told you so but not James. He tells the caller that isn’t his fault. He was lied to and tricked by wealthy newspaper companies and fraudsters that wanted nothing more than to be elected. You can tell that James is overwhelmed though.
“Don’t be sorry,” he says as he leans towards the microphone. “Be angry.”