This interesting article in the New York Times does a good job of explaining why and how nostalgia for a past phase of the UK’s achievements came to dominate decision-making by local electors at the expense of an understanding of current reality.
This problem is endemic when extractive and exploitative land and sea-based industries decline due to the exhaustion of resources, or the Tragedy Of the Commons. Local and regional economies built on those industries have trouble dealing with the decline, partly because it is often dramatic and sudden, and it impacts such a high percentage of local employment. The decline in steel manufacturing, followed by coal mining in parts of the UK that began in the 1960s left large areas of the UK in severe economic distress, which in turn fuelled resentment and antagonism towards governments (who were perceived to not give a damn) and experts, whose exhortations about “technology” and “re-training” were unlikely to be received well by workers who left school at 16 precisely because they hated the school system.
The underlying reality is that the image of Grimsby as a fishing port that electors want to restore is totally out of touch with present-day reality. The Golden Age Fallacy won out over reality when it came time for the electors to vote. These kinds of situations never end well. Reality tends to win when it collides with fantasy.
The fantasy of the UK as a present-day Great Imperial Power, the stuff of history textbooks, is still fixed in the minds of many UK residents, as exemplified by this piece of bluster from a Grimsby resident:
“Europe needs the U.K. more than the other way around,” said Ian Thompson, a Grimsby resident and former merchant marine, having a drink under one of those sepia-toned photographs. “We will prevail.”