‘If we do leave the EU, it should be more in a spirit of regret than of celebration’
Now the results of the great EU renegotiation are in I suppose I will have to vote “Out”. Like many people, I waited to see what the Prime Minister could get from his renegotiation, but the results could only be applauded by people who want jobs from him. All the charade negotiation proved was that the EU remains unreformable, leading me to conclude that we are better off out. Not so much abandoning a burning building as exiting a building that appears to be run by arsonists.
To me the central question has always been one of democracy. There are few lessons to be learnt from the late Tony Benn, but the questions he used to pretend to ask people in power (“Who gave it to you? How can it be taken away?”) are useful. And not just for those governing the EU. Go into any room in Britain and ask people, however educated, to name the head of the European Commission or their own MEPs. Not one in a thousand will know, just as no one knows how the rules are made or unmade. It is easy to dismiss some of this as laziness, but there is a type of laziness that is justifiable. Any criticism of over-arching EU powers was responded to with corrections framed as “Ah, but that relates to the Court not the Commission” or “But that is encompassed in the Convention rather than the Statute.” All the time those in charge avoided the fact that democratic government needs not only to be approved by the people but understood by the people.
Now the scares are beginning from the “In” campaigners. We have already been told that the Premier League will suffer if we “Brexit”, that paedophiles will roam free, and that our intelligence capabilities will be destroyed. The last is especially strange. After all, among the “Five Eyes” alliance which constitutes our major signals intelligence asset, not one other member is inside the EU. Having lost on the specifics, I suspect we will finally be threatened by the likes of David Cameron and Eddie Izzard that leaving the EU means “turning our backs on the future”. But there is no reason why we cannot be a successful country on our own, as history suggests we were before entering the EU. And if the disaster that Chancellor Merkel is creating right now on the continent constitutes the future, then I for one would rather have no part in it.
That said, if we do leave then it should be more in a spirit of regret than of celebration. The EU was one solution to a European problem, albeit a problem Britain was never part of. Nevertheless, none of the troubles we will all go through in the years ahead will immediately be solved by our exit. We will only be able to face them more clearly and with swifter reflexes. Yet the troubles will remain.
The other evening I was in Paris for a friend’s birthday party, which had been postponed because of the November attacks. It is startling when arriving there to be reminded that France remains officially in a state of emergency. The Eurostar is cheap and quiet, even at weekends. Hotels are discounted and barely full. Late in the evening, an Edith Piaf song comes on and every couple of every age leaps up and begins waltzing ecstatically. As she kisses my cheeks on her way out an older French friend whispers in my ear, “You young must enjoy the rest of the evening, especially now we know what such evenings can bring.” It is impossible not to love France, and hate what is being done to her. What a shame we cannot start again with some simple civilisational coalition.
Is there any more gruesome aspect in the race for the White House than the scrapping over who is least “establishment”? The effort on the Right by Republican Senators, Governors and billionaires to pretend they are “anti-establishment” is equally matched on the Left by the Bernie Sanders vs. Hilary Clinton renditions of the same. In one recent exchange Sanders portrayed Clinton as “establishment” because she has taken millions of dollars from “Wall Street”, not least in speaking fees. Clinton’s retort was to look and sound utterly amazed and wonder how Sanders could dare to describe a woman as “establishment”.
It is possible that Hillary Clinton is the only person left in America with the impression that there is something wild, transgressive and different about being a woman. Or that anyone who has spent decades as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State can pretend to hail from the wrong side of the tracks. Good for him that Jeb Bush avoided it, but this is also a shame. I should have liked to hear him say, “It was hard growing up in my family, knowing the others would all be President first.”