That Britain is a divided country was clear from the EU referendum, the debate, the result and the aftermath. The divisions go beyond Remain and Leave, hard Brexit, soft Brexit or no Brexit at all, but it was the referendum that brought them out front and centre of political and national life.
As the new Prime Minister who emerged from David Cameron's strategic calamity, Theresa May should have taken it upon herself to seek to heal the divisions. Instead, egged on by three of the chief Liars and Charlatans who took the Leave ball over the line, whom she appointed to the key Brexit jobs in government, and motivated like several of her predecessors more by Party unity at a Conference than national unity over time, she has if anything made the divisions worse.
There is now a new division emerging – between those living in the real world as they survey the Brexit carnage developing; and those in the parallel universe where everything is just working out fine and anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is a moaning, sneering, unpatriotic member of the metropolitan elite (a body which seemingly does not include Cabinet ministers who went to Eton, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre, Richard Desmond, the Barclay Brothers and the other drivers of the Brexit Lie Machine.)
If those five Brexit barons had the slightest commitment to truth and real public debate as opposed to using their papers to suit their own propaganda purposes, they might think of shelling out a few bob for some detailed polling on where the public now stands on the referendum and what has followed it. That they don't, I suspect, is because despite the 'Booming Brexit Britain' headlines they urge their editors to trot out, they know that public opinion is shifting, and shifting hard and fast.
This week, with a new volume of diaries to promote, I have been in various parts of the country, at various kinds of events. From the Oxford Union to a comprehensive school in the north of England. From two literary festivals to two meetings with business groups, one British, one international. It has meant lots of train journeys, lots of random encounters, but also lots of access to different strands of public opinion.
Now I freely accept that people who wander up to me for a chat are more likely than not to be on or close to my wavelength. Likewise I suppose that people who book to hear me speak at a literary festival are going to be interested in what I have to say, and that might mean they are already sympathetic to the kind of view they may already have heard me express.
Brexit is going badly
But at all these recent events I have done, I have done a little polling myself. At one of the business gatherings, I asked for a show of hands on whether they thought Brexit was so far going well or going badly. Badly won by around eight to two. Optimism about their firm's future lost to pessimism by roughly the same margin. Confidence that Mrs May and her three Brexiteers had a 'clear strategy' was met by more laughter than raised hands.
At all of these meetings, I sensed a growing despair at the state of UK politics more generally. Mrs May, I might tell her advisors if they are reading, has a growing mandate issue. But one big thing she does have going for her is that hardly anyone thinks she will lose the next election if Jeremy Corbyn is her main opponent for the role of Prime Minister.
I asked for people to raise their hands if they wanted a Labour government. At the Oxford Union, not the most left-wing body in the world, something over half of the hands went up. Slightly more at the Chester comprehensive school. Around the same at Chester and Ilkley literary festivals. I then asked for people to keep their hands up if they thought their desires for a Labour government would be met at the next election. At the Oxford Union, a handful stayed up. At the school, one. At Ilkley, three out of five hundred.
Merely reporting this will provoke the usual abuse and criticism from well-meaning Corbynistas and the less well-meaning posh boy revolutionaries busy trying to hijack the Party for their hard left views. But if – and it is a big If – they are serious about winning a general election, Labour's leadership can no longer live in its own parallel universe where they assume the love for JC at a Momentum rally is being felt in the homes and hearts of people we need to win over to have any chance of power.
From these 'we don't do spin' people I keep hearing that Labour were neck and neck with the Tories, or ahead in the polls, until the so-called coup. We weren't. That there are no policy disagreements. There are. That provided the Party unites we have a winning position to build from. We don't. Living in denial does not amount to a strategy. Saying you want to see an end to austerity does not explain how you will deliver it, or win the right to do so.
Time and again this week I heard from people who said they felt politically homeless, disenfranchised, desperate to see a stronger fight against Brexit and the fears it is arousing, desperate for a strong Labour Opposition capable of becoming a Labour government some time soon. And desperate because they can't see it happening.
That Corbyn has a mandate to lead Labour is unarguable. But he has to show he is capable of winning over the former Labour voters who say they simply cannot vote for the kind of politics he represents. More than that, he has to show he can win back Tories, Lib Dems, SNP supporters, UKIP supporters. Where is the strategy to do so? If there is one, it has not broken through to most of the hundreds of people I met this week.
One final piece of polling. At Upton by Chester High School, I asked the sixth formers how they would have voted in the referendum. Two said Leave. The rest said Remain. It is their future that is being betrayed. They asked what they could do. They have to keep fighting. We all do.
Later, at Ilkley, someone at the other end of the age range, and a Tory, but a Remainer, asked me the same question. 'Is there anything we can do to stop this from happening?' There is, and she had taken the first step – passionately wanting to stop it. We cannot give up. The public simply must not do the British thing of just shrugging shoulders and letting the Liars go unchallenged over the lies – Boris Johnson and Co should not be able to go out in public without being challenged over the £350m they promised weekly for the NHS. And MPs must be put under relentless pressure to accept that if they reach the view that our economic and other interests are going to be severely damaged, they have to stand up and say so, and fight for a different way.
Keir Starmer has made a good start as shadow Brexit Secretary. There were some good speeches in the debate on Wednesday, and the signs at last that Parliament is beginning to reassert itself. It is only a beginning. There is a long way to go before the full implications of Brexit are fully understood. As they become so, the Commons has to lead the country in making sense of a process about which, thus far, Mrs May and the Brexiteers seem alarmingly vague.