Giles Fraser writes movingly today about the erosion of our ‘imagined community’ as a nation. He worries that that the dwindling of this overarching sense of solidarity could undermine our capacity to recover from political divisions following this most fractious of general elections, and come together as a nation.
I want to offer a message of hope: outside London, Giles, it really isn’t that bad. I live in a small town in the shires and while the invigilators at my polling station report that turnout has been high so far, the mood in the polling station was cheerful. And ordinary small-town life is trundling on: our preschool daughter’s nativity show took place his morning, and the talk between parents over coffee and biscuits afterwards was about three-year-olds in adorable costumes, not whether people who vote this way or that are evil.
It is much easier to feel as though communities have collapsed into antagonistic echo chambers if you live in a big city with a large and relatively transient population. Only these conditions can provide both the volume and turnover of people necessary to cherry-pick your acquaintance for perfect consonance with your own views, and to excommunicate friends for a single political transgression.
It is far harder, if you live in a small town, to have a political quarrel with (say) the local butcher, given you are likely to want a pound of mince off him next week as well and the next nearest butcher is five miles away.
All of this is really to say that a key thing that binds communities together, even more fundamentally than imagined communities, is needing one another. If we want to bring the nation together, we could do worse than starting with how and why we need each other, and working backwards from there to the values that we share.