Today's thick blanket of snow is having a therapeutic effect on me. Having watched Question Time last night, I'm sorely in need of a Mogadon Cocktail. Grant Shapps was on (just the one of him this time), lying with his half-Blair, half-Delboy smirk. Then Caroline Flint, the Labour's Party's Madame Mao only more rightwing and less charismatic. Roland Rudd, another Tory, Mary Beard (whom I like) and the egregious Nigel Farage.
And if you think that was a panel of gargoyles, the Lincoln audience was living proof that we're only an EU referendum away from pogroms, flaming torches, pitchforks and crosses burning on lawns. If I learned one thing from last night's episode it's this: however lovely the Cathedral may be, never go to Lincoln.
What most enraged me about the show was the panellists' determination – with the honourable exception of Mary Beard, who didn't have a political or financial dog in the fight – to lie, distort and mislead for tactical advantage. Not a shred of idealism or principle between them. Especially Shapps, who while he attacked Labour's (tepid) Europeanism failed to mention that the traitorous Fritz-lover who signed the Single European Act was one Margaret Thatcher. Nor that the Charlemagne Prize for efforts on behalf of European Unity was once awarded to that notorious garlic. Meanwhile, Mr Farage failed to explain why one economic and political superstate encompassing several national and linguistic groups, nations and economies is oppressive (the EU), while opposing Welsh and Scots nationalism.
And while we're on the subject, I find that the more opposed to immigration a British person is, the prouder they are of the British Empire – which as far as my admittedly weak grasp of history gets me, involved lots of heavily armed British people immigrating to lots of other peoples' countries, taking their jobs, land, wives, children, gold etc… Or am I missing something? Perhaps it's just that British people only like repressive superstates when it's them doing the repression. Having to reason things through with foreigners as equals… it's just not cricket!
So here's my point of view on the European Union.
Maybe it's because I'm an Irish citizen with recent ancestors who fought the British on two continents, but I find all this Empire nostalgia plain embarrassing. Give it up! Have some self-respect. Look at Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. They all had a go at being imperialist powers. Some of them behaved even worse than you Brits (looking at you, Belgium). But they moved on. They don't sigh with regret at what they lost. They're all rich, peaceful and (mostly) nice to each other inside and outside their borders. They don't wander round the world tugging at America's sleeve shouting 'me too, me too'. They don't feel the need to wave nuclear weapons in people's faces as though the power to devastate the planet somehow confers the right to moral and political leadership. That's the politics of the playground. I don't think the British realise that far from leading an 'English-speaking world', their white colonies slightly pity them and everybody else hasn't yet forgiven or forgotten. This fantasy of once again standing alone (i.e. just being America's butler) is embarrassing.
Europe's full of interesting, quirky, well-meaning and rich cultures. Why not just try being one of them? Just for a bit. You don't have to eat the horse or drink the local moonshine. You can keep your clothes on at the beach. Nobody's going to force you to replace that can of Carling with a Belgian fruit beer or a German Dunkel. Your kebabs are safe, as are your awful trains, nightclubs and architecture. You don't even have to learn anybody else's language, or stop believing that they all think in English and are just trying to be difficult.
|David Cameron debuts a new look for his Europe speech|
Just try negotiating rather than shouting at everybody like a country-sized street drinker with a grudge.
I'm for it. This is unfashionable on the hard left of which I count myself a part, but I see it as an extension of the left's internationalist tradition. I wouldn't keep the EU we have – much of it is a capitalist plot – but I'd happily be a member of the United Socialist States of Europe. Even the EU we have is better than living in a UK stuck on its own.
Why? Because the EU has consistently given British workers and citizens better protection than the British Government. Whatever party's in charge, British governments serve their corporate masters. Remember Tony Blair? When he wasn't prosecuting illegal wars, he wandered the world boasting that Britain had the 'most flexible' workforce in the West, by which he meant 'least protection against exploitation, unfair dismissal, unsafe working condition', the worst pay, the worst benefits and the fewest rights of organisation of any European country. In office, he took the UK out of the Social Chapter, ensuring that British workers could be made to work for longer with even fewer protections. The British Establishment's Utopia is one in which the masses work for low pay in the services industry: doing each other's nails, picking orders in an Amazon compound, offering oral pleasure in out-of-the-way lay-bys. No union rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no collective bargaining, no health and safety laws. Result? Massive shareholder gains, workers unimportant.
Then enter the Tories and their Lib Dem puppies. They've spent the past two years stripping away what little was left of these protections, and mounting a sustained attack on the European Court of Human Rights. It's not an EU body, but it still has Johnny Foreigner making rude comments about Britain's nasty little habit of kidnapping suspects, suspending habeas corpus, turning a blind eye to torture, suppressing war crimes yada yada yada. My MP wants us to delete the Human Rights Act because apparently we've all got too many rights. Yes, you heard me. Too many!
And there are a few other things the Europeans gave us apart from decent justice and workers' protection. Clean Air: Boris Johnson is currently lobbying to prevent EU prosecution for decades' of illegal levels of pollution in London's air. Clean water. Some semblance (however insane) of a farming and fishing policy which isn't just 'help yourself lads'. Decent transport and infrastructure: go anywhere outside Central London and you'll find a discreet EU flag next to major improvements because South Wales, Scotland, the North-East and all sorts of other areas have been left to rot by the cosmopolitan financiers and their tame UK political parties. Who dredged and cleaned the Thames? The EU. Who's paying to electrify the North-West train system? Not the train companies: the EU! Who gave the UK £2.282bn for research and development? Those perfidious Europeans! Who keeps those rabidly anti-European farmers in business? Europe! How much does it cost us? Well, if you earn £50,000 a year, you give the EU £70. That's even better value than the licence fee!
There's just one more thing Europe gave us. Peace. I'm really enjoying it. Before the EU there were lots of wars between European states. Since the 1950s when it was founded: none. No more gas chambers, no border squabbles, no military coups in member states. Ireland fought the British for hundreds of years. And now we're partners. The British v the French, the French v the Germans, the French v Spain, Spain v the Netherlands, Germany v Poland… I could go on. But never again.
So apart from workers' rights, justice, a cleaner environment, decent transport, infrastructure investment and peace, what did the Europeans ever give us?
Oh yes: sensible, thoughtful politics without the braying, brachiating willy-waving of cynical, dishonest blowhards of the type we get over here.
EU Super-state? Yes please.
And now I'm off to build a snow Nigel Farage. He'll like it: it'll be blanc de blancs.