BREXIT Episode One - Jerusalem

Episode One - Bradford, Yorkshire, UK

Everyone thinks they know Brexit. I went to the UK for two weeks on assignment for Arte TV to report the truth behind the referendum and all that has transpired since.

There is a poem by William Blake called ‘Jerusalem’. It talks of Jesus walking upon the lands of England, God shining forth and blessing our nation. Jerusalem has become the de facto National Anthem of the Leavers, of the populist right, a call to arms to make Britain great again.

But in fact, Jerusalem is the antithesis of what it appears to be - it is not a proud pronouncement of a great nation, it is a cry of protest against Industrialisation and the orthodoxy of the Church of England, against the greed of capitalism.

Jerusalem - by William Blake

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England's mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On England's pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,

Shine forth upon our clouded hills?

And was Jerusalem builded here,

Among these dark Satanic Mills?

To understand Brexit, you have to have context, a sense of history. I spent a week in Bradford in the north of the England.

The ‘dark satanic mills’ that are spoken of in Blake’s poem, refer to the factories of Bradford - a reference to the scourge of ‘wealth over poverty’, where people laboured long and hard in disgraceful conditions, to make Britain great.

Or to make a few, very rich.

Bradford, once the richest city in the world, as seen on a Friday night - a feeling of utter emptiness.

In the late 19th century, Bradford was the richest city in the world. It is now one of the poorest in the UK. What happened to Bradford to precipitate such decline, and what does it tell us about Brexit?

Bradford’s wealth came from textiles and mechanised industrialisation - once the largest exporter of woolen products in the world, the countryside that surrounds it was unsuitable for the growing of crops, but perfect for grazing sheep. And from this simple fact of geology, a mighty city, and an empire was built.

The Yorkshire Dales - perfect for farming sheep, producing wool - the raw material upon which an empire was built.

But Bradford is also about the history of how we arrived at Brexit - it’s about economic migration, and the destruction of local economies after the collapse of industry, followed by the deprivations that most are suffering under globalisation.

The irony of this advert - a trillion dollar bank advertising globalisation in the poorest white neighbourhood of Bradford, Buttershaw - an area destroyed by globalisation.
Bradford has suffered a decline in wealth unlike almost any other British town.

It is a rich metaphor; from wealthy empire Britain, industrialization that made Bradford and the UK the richest places on the planet, post World War Two colonial economic migration, the collapse of industry, the growth of the EU and freedom of movement, the unchecked arrival of eastern europeans, and finally the sovereignty of a nation and the voice of the people.

Bradford's population is 25% muslim - post World War II colonial economic migrants.

In all my conversations with the British public, Brexit seems to be about just a few simple things:

  • Economic Migration
  • Poverty - The broken industrial landscape in a world of high finance
  • The People and their voice - Big Government, and the power of the European Union
  • The sovereignty of a proud nation

Over the next nine episodes, I will explore these ideas, walk the streets and meet the people, the 52% who want to leave, and the 48% who wish to stay - in hope of finally understanding how Great Britain arrived at this turning point in history.


© Martin Middlebrook | All Rights Reserved

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