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“The Brexit vote has exposed a gulf between London and the North”: A tale of defeat from a Remain campaigner in Yorkshire

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Stylist contributor Molly Lynch charts the harsh impact of a Remain defeat in Yorkshire - and considers the gulf it has exposed between the north of England and London

2.36am. The foyer of Leeds arena. All around me people are glued to their chairs, paralysed by the weight of defeat. A look of hopelessness, confusion and shock, tears forming in the space which had been so wide and optimistic at the beginning of the day.

In a split second I knew that was it. Weeks of relentless photocalls, debates, press releases, ministerial visits had failed to yield the desired result. What’s more, the north of England appeared to have stuck two fingers up to the political establishment.

I joined the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign relatively late on, at the beginning of May, as press officer for Yorkshire and the Humber.

Vote Remain campaigner Molly Lynch

Vote Remain campaigner Molly Lynch

For me, the EU was always a philosophical thing. I feel an affinity with our European neighbours. I love French men, Italian wine, Spanish tapas, German football and Yorkshire Tea in equal measure. I think that by embracing one another’s cultures and quirks, we can be a leading light for the rest of the world.

In my naivety, I signed up because I wanted to inject some positivity into what I felt was a pretty downbeat campaign.

I wanted to remind cities like Leeds and Sheffield that EU money had been a vital part of the regeneration of regions in post-Thatcher Britain.

I wanted to celebrate how EU subsidies for farmers in rural North Yorkshire maintained its postcard-perfect landscapes of plush countryside dotted with fluffy white sheep. And I wanted more women’s voices to be heard.

The ‘core message’ was the economy. Don’t risk it, we said.

But as the campaign went on, I found myself frustrated with the constant diversion tactics out stakeholders, political champions and spokespeople were told to deploy.

 

A polling station in Hull

A polling station in Hull

The buses rolled into towns and cities and the debate became Immigration versus Economy, Young versus Old.

The difference between how Londoners voted when compared with the north of England is a telling portrait of how cut off we feel from the capital.

The liberal elite of Islington North who would be lost without their Polish nanny against the northern, working-class pensioner who can’t get a doctor’s appointment because an influx of Romanians in his community has stretched resources.

This gulf could be seen particularly within cities like Sheffield, which in its heyday was considered the steel industry capital of the world. The decline of that industry ripped its heart out. The thousands of steelworkers who lost their jobs then fell victim to public services cuts. Teens coming out of school found themselves with fewer prospects. It’s human nature to want to blame something, or someone. And Vote Leave tapped into that.

In what now seems an unspeakably cruel irony, one of the people to recognise this, and who desperately tried to tackle the issue head-on, was Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen, just outside of Leeds. Just days before her death, I proof-read a brilliant piece she wrote for our campaign, which appeared in The Yorkshire Post; empathetic, reasoned, understanding, knowledgeable and with the sort of purity of heart which has become all the more evident in the wake of her death

Jo’s colleagues, like Rachel Reeves, Mary Creagh and Yvette Cooper were all similarly amazing voices for the campaign, but they were drowned out by the Corbyn-Cameron sideshows.

The Remain campaign in Yorkshire

The Remain campaign in Doncaster

Last night showed that Labour can no longer rely on the support of northern, working-class communities to do as it says. The Labour MPs were worried sharing a platform with the PM would put their traditional voters off, but perhaps what they failed to understand was that they are off-putting enough without the PM.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of being politically, professionally and personally crushed.

My spirit seeped away with each cheer thatcame from Vote Leave’s side of the room in the early hours.

I’m frightened for what an autonomous Government will do to workers’ rights and public services. I’m frightened of another recession and job losses. But most of all I am struggling to recognise this country at the minute. 

I’ll always be proud I did my bit.

But today we are a not-so-United Kingdom. It’s a scary place.

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