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I’m disappointed about Brexit – but the snobbery of some pro-EU protesters is hard to take

There’s something about that march, and about pro-Remain discourse in general, that is making me uneasy.

Of all the brilliantly scathing lyrics on Pulp’s 1995 classic Different Class, my favourite has to be this line from “I Spy”: “Take your Year in Provence and shove it up your ass.”

Even if you’ve not read your Peter Mayle, you know exactly who the target is: a self-satisfied middle class that has mistaken educational privilege for intellectual and moral exceptionality, and is to be found using cultural tokens – the cottage in France, the wine from Tuscany, the opera tickets for Bayreuth – to state and restate their presumed superiority over the common masses.

I couldn’t get this lyric out of my head when looking at images of last Saturday’s anti-Brexit March for Europe in London. I didn’t want to think of it. I’m an out-and-out pro-Remain Europhile. I studied languages at university, completed a PhD in German literature and have worked in modern language publishing for the past 12 years. My relationship with European culture is not a casual one – it is committed and passionate.

Yet there’s something about that march, and about pro-Remain discourse in general, that is making me uneasy.

For instance, this is how Spiked’s Tom Slater wrote up what he called the “march against the masses”:

“For all the Remain camp fearmongering about post-Brexit xenophobia, its own fear and loathing of the Leave-voting masses was on full show.[…] Anyone who believes in democracy, whether Remainer or Leaver, should be appalled by the bald, elitist sentiments now being expressed.”

I don’t agree with Slater’s position. I think it’s laughable to see those who have pushed the Leave message hardest as anything other than an elite. But ultimately they’re not the ones who voted to leave the EU. I don’t think those who marched were expressing fear and loathing – indeed, I wanted to be among them – but we should be concerned by how easy it is to demolish a complex argument with accusations of snobbery.

There’s a particular kind of snobbery associated with a love of “old” European culture. It’s the kind that allows Nigel Farage to stand there in his Union Jack shoes, not caring one jot about your long-term welfare, and say: “Look at the Europhiles over there! See, they’re laughing at you! I wouldn’t stand for that.”

You can say it’s nonsense, but it’s an argument works. And besides, just how nonsensical is it? There’s a difference between cultural elitism and favouring a politics that serves to prop up a social and economic elite. Unfortunately, it can be the former that has the most immediacy and provokes the biggest reaction.

My own background is not particularly Year in Provence. It is solidly middle-class, but my parents had risen up the social ladder. Europhilia struck them as pretentious and showy, the province of pseuds who were eager to catch you out. My dad would get in there first by boasting about having got 2 per cent in his French O-level and making jokes about “who won the war”. It’s a defensiveness that can be easily dismissed as xenophobia, but it is not without some justification.

Had I been in London, I would have attended the march. Apart from anything else, the referendum result makes me feel embarrassed in front of the rest of Europe, and mightily pissed off that having devoted all of my adult working life to European languages and literature, I’m going to get tarred with the same “insular Brit” brush.

“Not in my name!” I want to yell, as though it is all about me. “I’m not like that lot over there!” But is this because I am more open-minded, or rather because I feel more affinity with middle-class French and Germans than with working-class Brits?

Whenever a British person talks of how insular “we” all are, you can guarantee that they’re not really including themselves. The differences between countries can be superficial compared to those within them. Indeed, how we respond to the former often illustrates the latter. For instance, ever since 2004, when the study of languages ceased to be compulsory at Key Stage 4, uptake of French and particularly German has fallen significantly.

Meanwhile the profile of those gaining MFL qualifications has become increasingly privileged, concentrated in private schools and grammars. European culture is not equally accessible to all. You can’t shame people into loving their neighbours once they’ve witnessed so many doors being slammed in their faces.

The Remain campaign was always naturally on the back foot. There’s nothing sexy about advocating that things stay as they are, especially not when people are struggling. The Leave campaign told lies and appealed to racism, yes. But for many I think it also provoked a deeper emotional rebellion. Take your Year in Provence and shove it up your ass! Whatever the practicalities of our deeply entwined relationship with the EU, it may be that only a lucky few have ever really felt the love.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.