“There’s a fin-de-siècle sense that modern British politics has run out of road,” said Mr. Davies, author of “Nervous States: Democracy and the Decline of Reason.” “Maybe the best thing to come out of this is the recognition that the political elites — people just want them to get off the stage. I don’t know who they want to replace them. But there’s a sense that a reboot would be something people would be in favor of.”
It was barely seven summers ago that Britain presented itself to the world as a confident, outward-looking, post-imperial country. The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics — featuring a flock of sheep, a snippet of the Sex Pistols’ music and a skit about a skydiving Queen Elizabeth — suggested a country unburdened by longing for its more orderly, homogeneous past.
It’s hard to conceive of that now. The referendum question has divided Britain into warring tribes, unable to settle on any shared vision of the future. An ancient, robust democracy is groaning under the weight of conflicting demands — on the executive, to carry out the will of the people; and on the members of Parliament, to follow their conscience and to act in what they believe to be the people’s interest.
In such a situation, the country might have united in its resentment of the European Union, which had vowed to make Britain’s withdrawal painful. But that has not happened. Britons are blaming their own leaders.
“I think people have totally lost confidence in democracy, in British democracy and the way it’s run,” said Tommy Turner, 32, a firefighter. He was perched on a stool at the Hare & Hounds, a working-class pub in Surrey, where nearly everyone voted to leave the European Union. Among his friends, he said, he sensed a profound sense of betrayal that Britain was not exiting on March 29, as promised.
“You’ve got egotistical people in politics, and they want to follow their own agenda,” he said. “They don’t want to follow what the people have voted for.” Asked how he felt about the approaching Brexit deadline, Mr. Turner said, “worried.”