Speaking to The Observer, the Pulp frontman said: “I think Brexit has been an ongoing mental health crisis for the whole country. With it being a split vote, you’re kind of pitching half the country against the other. In the past people always accepted the fact that while you might not agree with everybody, it’s more important to just get on with them.
“But now it’s everybody screaming at each other: ‘Ooh I’m not talking to her!’ It’s very pertinent in my life, because my mother voted for Brexit, so what am I gonna do, am I gonna disown her?” He adopts a petulant theatrical voice: “You Are Not My Mother Any More!”
Cocker also went on to say that the UK’s obsession with ‘losing its identity’ isn’t something he sees elsewhere in Europe. “The French aren’t any less French for being in Europe; the Germans aren’t any less German and they have the Euro.”
He’s quite right. It is a sort of ongoing mental health crisis. And it is about identity, about who we are. And it’s a new social social division that didn’t used to exist: leavers and remainers.
You could also say that smoking bans are another ongoing mental health crisis. And that’s another new social division which used not to exist: smokers and antismokers.
Another way of seeing it is that remainers think we’re all the same, and leavers think we’re all different. And in fact a great many matters of contention would seem to boil down to this. Are women the same as men, or are they different? Are blacks the same as whites. or are they different? Are the French the same as Germans, or are they different? Are Muslims the same as Christians, or are they different? Is one the same as two, or is it different?And so on.
Or it’s the individual and the society. We’re all unique individuals who belong to a single society. We’re all the same, but we’re all different as well. And either one gets emphasized or the other does. If you’re an individualist you place the emphasis on individuals: if you’re a socialist you emphasize society.
Margaret Thatcher was an individualist. She said: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”
The wave of nationalist populism that is sweeping Europe is just a re-assertion of individual national identity in the face of European uniformity. The nations of Europe are not all the same: they’re all different. One size doesn’t fit all: it fits no-one.
Even in Britain, us British are not all the same: we’re all different. The Scottish are not the same as the English, nor are they the same as the Welsh. Even a city like London isn’t all the same everywhere: it’s all different everywhere. And London today is different from the London I knew 50 years ago.
In times of rapid change, the same quickly becomes different. Or else the different becomes the same. When the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris in 1887, I imagine many Parisians regarded it as an eyesore. But now, 130+ years later, it’s part of Paris’ identity, and Parisians would probably feel bereft if it fell down.
One might regard the European project of the past 70 years as being all about making Europe the same everywhere, and extending that sameness as far as possible. But it’s a superficial sameness that conceals the real differences beneath this veneer. Because in fact the peoples of Europe aren’t all the same: they’re all different. And it’s these differences that are beginning to re-assert themselves.
And part of the superficial sameness of Europe are the smoking bans that have been imposed over much of it, largely at the behest of the EU. It’s a forced sameness. And it’s inevitable that the differences between people will re-emerge: because we’re not actually all non-smokers. And when I vote on Thursday, mine will be a smoker’s protest vote against one-size-fits-all European antismoking sameness. We might all vote the same way, but we will all be doing so for individually different reasons.