Sunday, 26 June 2016

A Great Read

Someone cut and pasted this and didn't tell me where it is from so I cannot give it full attribution, (thanks, Dave Lull, it is apparently from The Times, although I don't know what date). It is by AA Gill and, whatever your views about the EU, it is a hugely good read:

Brexit: AA Gill argues for ‘In’
It was the woman on Question Time that really did it for me. She was so familiar. There is someone like her in every queue, every coffee shop, outside every school in every parish council in the country. Middle-aged, middle-class, middle-brow, over-made-up, with her National Health face and weatherproof English expression of hurt righteousness, she’s Britannia’s mother-in-law. The camera closed in on her and she shouted: “All I want is my country back. Give me my country back.”
It was a heartfelt cry of real distress and the rest of the audience erupted in sympathetic applause, but I thought: “Back from what? Back from where?”
Wanting the country back is the constant mantra of all the outies. Farage slurs it, Gove insinuates it. Of course I know what they mean. We all know what they mean. They mean back from Johnny Foreigner, back from the brink, back from the future, back-to-back, back to bosky hedges and dry stone walls and country lanes and church bells and warm beer and skittles and football rattles and cheery banter and clogs on cobbles. Back to vicars-and-tarts parties and Carry On fart jokes, back to Elgar and fudge and proper weather and herbaceous borders and cars called Morris. Back to victoria sponge and 22 yards to a wicket and 15 hands to a horse and 3ft to a yard and four fingers in a Kit Kat, back to gooseberries not avocados, back to deference and respect, to make do and mend and smiling bravely and biting your lip and suffering in silence and patronising foreigners with pity.
We all know what “getting our country back” means. It’s snorting a line of the most pernicious and debilitating Little English drug, nostalgia. The warm, crumbly, honey-coloured, collective “yesterday” with its fond belief that everything was better back then, that Britain (England, really) is a worse place now than it was at some foggy point in the past where we achieved peak Blighty. It’s the knowledge that the best of us have been and gone, that nothing we can build will be as lovely as a National Trust Georgian country house, no art will be as good as a Turner, no poem as wonderful as If, no writer a touch on Shakespeare or Dickens, nothing will grow as lovely as a cottage garden, no hero greater than Nelson, no politician better than Churchill, no view more throat-catching than the White Cliffs and that we will never manufacture anything as great as a Rolls-Royce or Flying Scotsman again.
The dream of Brexit isn’t that we might be able to make a brighter, new, energetic tomorrow, it’s a desire to shuffle back to a regret-curdled inward-looking yesterday. In the Brexit fantasy, the best we can hope for is to kick out all the work-all-hours foreigners and become caretakers to our own past in this self-congratulatory island of moaning and pomposity.
And if you think that’s an exaggeration of the Brexit position, then just listen to the language they use: “We are a nation of inventors and entrepreneurs, we want to put the great back in Britain, the great engineers, the great manufacturers.” This is all the expression of a sentimental nostalgia. In the Brexiteer’s mind’s eye is the old Pathé newsreel of Donald Campbell, of John Logie Baird with his television, Barnes Wallis and his bouncing bomb, and Robert Baden-Powell inventing boy scouts in his shed.
All we need, their argument goes, is to be free of the humourless Germans and spoilsport French and all their collective liberalism and reality. There is a concomitant hope that if we manage to back out of Europe, then we’ll get back to the bowler-hatted 1950s and the Commonwealth will hold pageants, fireworks displays and beg to be back in the Queen Empress’s good books again. Then New Zealand will sacrifice a thousand lambs, Ghana will ask if it can go back to being called the Gold Coast and Britain will resume hand-making Land Rovers and top hats and Sheffield plate teapots.
There is a reason that most of the people who want to leave the EU are old while those who want to remain are young: it’s because the young aren’t infected with Bisto nostalgia. They don’t recognise half the stuff I’ve mentioned here. They’ve grown up in the EU and at worst it’s been neutral for them.
The under-thirties want to be part of things, not aloof from them. They’re about being joined-up and counted. I imagine a phrase most outies identify with is “women’s liberation has gone too far”. Everything has gone too far for them, from political correctness — well, that’s gone mad, hasn’t it? — to health and safety and gender-neutral lavatories. Those oldies, they don’t know if they’re coming or going, what with those newfangled mobile phones and kids on Tinder and Grindr. What happened to meeting Miss Joan Hunter Dunn at the tennis club? And don’t get them started on electric hand dryers, or something unrecognised in the bagging area, or Indian call centres , or the impertinent computer asking for a password that has both capitals and little letters and numbers and more than eight digits.
Brexit is the fond belief that Britain is worse now than at some point in the foggy past where we achieved peak Blighty
We listen to the Brexit lot talk about the trade deals they’re going to make with Europe after we leave, and the blithe insouciance that what they’re offering instead of EU membership is a divorce where you can still have sex with your ex. They reckon they can get out of the marriage, keep the house, not pay alimony, take the kids out of school, stop the in-laws going to the doctor, get strict with the visiting rights, but, you know, still get a shag at the weekend and, obviously, see other people on the side.
Really, that’s their best offer? That’s the plan? To swagger into Brussels with Union Jack pants on and say: “ ’Ello luv, you’re looking nice today. Would you like some?”
When the rest of us ask how that’s really going to work, leavers reply, with Terry-Thomas smirks, that “they’re going to still really fancy us, honest, they’re gagging for us. Possibly not Merkel, but the bosses of Mercedes and those French vintners and cheesemakers, they can’t get enough of old John Bull. Of course they’re going to want to go on making the free market with two backs after we’ve got the decree nisi. Makes sense, doesn’t it?”
Have no doubt, this is a divorce. It’s not just business, it’s not going to be all reason and goodwill. Like all divorces, leaving Europe would be ugly and mean and hurtful, and it would lead to a great deal of poisonous xenophobia and racism, all the niggling personal prejudice that dumped, betrayed and thwarted people are prey to. And the racism and prejudice are, of course, weak points for us. The tortuous renegotiation with lawyers and courts will be bitter and vengeful, because divorces always are and, just in passing, this sovereignty thing we’re supposed to want back so badly, like Frodo’s ring, has nothing to do with you or me. We won’t notice it coming back, because we didn’t notice not having it in the first place.
Nine out of 10 economists say ‘remain in the EU’
You won’t wake up on June 24 and think: “Oh my word, my arthritis has gone! My teeth are suddenly whiter! Magically, I seem to know how to make a soufflé and I’m buff with the power of sovereignty.” This is something only politicians care about; it makes not a jot of difference to you or me if the Supreme Court is a bunch of strangely out-of-touch old gits in wigs in Westminster or a load of strangely out-of-touch old gits without wigs in Luxembourg. What matters is that we have as many judges as possible on the side of personal freedom.
Personally, I see nothing about our legislators in the UK that makes me feel I can confidently give them more power. The more checks and balances politicians have, the better for the rest of us. You can’t have too many wise heads and different opinions. If you’re really worried about red tape, by the way, it’s not just a European problem. We’re perfectly capable of coming up with our own rules and regulations and we have no shortage of jobsworths. Red tape may be annoying, but it is also there to protect your and my family from being lied to, poisoned and cheated.
The first “X” I ever put on a voting slip was to say yes to the EU. The first referendum was when I was 20 years old. This one will be in the week of my 62nd birthday. For nearly all my adult life, there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t been pleased and proud to be part of this great collective. If you ask me for my nationality, the truth is I feel more European than anything else. I am part of this culture, this European civilisation. I can walk into any gallery on our continent and completely understand the images and the stories on the walls. These people are my people and they have been for thousands of years. I can read books on subjects from Ancient Greece to Dark Ages Scandinavia, from Renaissance Italy to 19th-century France, and I don’t need the context or the landscape explained to me. The music of Europe, from its scales and its instruments to its rhythms and religion, is my music. The Renaissance, the rococo, the Romantics, the impressionists, gothic, baroque, neoclassicism, realism, expressionism, futurism, fauvism, cubism, dada, surrealism, postmodernism and kitsch were all European movements and none of them belongs to a single nation.
There is a reason why the Chinese are making fake Italian handbags and the Italians aren’t making fake Chinese ones. This European culture, without question or argument, is the greatest, most inventive, subtle, profound, beautiful and powerful genius that was ever contrived anywhere by anyone and it belongs to us. Just look at my day job — food. The change in food culture and pleasure has been enormous since we joined the EU, and that’s no coincidence. What we eat, the ingredients, the recipes, may come from around the world, but it is the collective to and fro of European interests, expertise and imagination that has made it all so very appetising and exciting.
The restaurant was a European invention, naturally. The first one in Paris was called The London Bridge.
Culture works and grows through the constant warp and weft of creators, producers, consumers, intellectuals and instinctive lovers. You can’t dictate or legislate for it, you can just make a place that encourages it and you can truncate it. You can make it harder and more grudging, you can put up barriers and you can build walls, but why on earth would you? This collective culture, this golden civilisation grown on this continent over thousands of years, has made everything we have and everything we are, why would you not want to be part of it?
I understand that if we leave we don’t have to hand back our library ticket for European civilisation, but why would we even think about it? In fact, the only ones who would are those old, philistine scared gits. Look at them, too frightened to join in."


  1. Anybody who reads A.A.Gill will end up as silly as he is. Read your friends Steerforth's posting and Tony Ben's arguments if you want a saner slant.

    1. I don't think he is silly as in stupid - I think he was probably sent away to prep school at 6 or 7 and has been so outraged ever since that he tries to be provocative and get a rise whenever he can. Nevertheless I still think he has a fantastic ability for articulating things I am vaguely aware of & recognise as having been crystallised by him. I love Tony Benn's arguments on the then EC but he also could be silly (given his class, could he also have been hurtled off to prep school at a tender age and never recovered from the shock?)

  2. " after 9/11 itis hard to get too enthusiastic about increasing the numbers of people from that faith".

    Hmm. that sounds a bit like the little England view of things that Gill is talking about.

  3. Ah well, few of us are utterly consistent. Thank you for coming by again. Trust all is well with you

  4. swap around some of the epithets for "pardner", "spread", "going to see the elephant", "critter", "low-down skunk", "dogies", and similar descriptors, and you'd be talking about the good old us of a...


    1. I think the assumption that the majority of people want - or should want - a more energetic anything is the big mistake Gill and many others like him. I always used to think the astonishingly energetic Mrs Thatcher had a blind spot in that area: very dynamic people cannot even begin to imagine the desire of so many of their fellows for nothing more than a quiet life - a quiet "dull" life as Gill would perceive it, I suspect, but a happy one for many, whose main desire is not to be disturbed. I can hardly write that without fear of deafening sneers, but my impression is that is how it is.

    2. that's true, i think, and it's a fact many "leaders" take advantage of...

    3. Going to find my slippers, have a quiet cup of tea and do a few other "dull" things. See you soon

  5. Yeah, well-ish. Thank you.

    Good point about consistency ( " a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds") but I think it's a bit more serious than a lack of consistency in this case. To tarnish all Muslims by associating them with 9/11 is a rather nasty thing to say in my opinion.

    1. Fair enough.
      Sorry about the -ish. Hope it will be unnecessary soon

  6. Gill's amusing as ever, but his sneering attitude towards the lower orders is a very good illustration of why so many people felt alienated by the metropolitan elite. I really don't think most Leave voters wanted to turn the clock back to 1953, or purge the country of foreigners. They simply objected to the pace of change. A net migration of 300,000 a year, in one of the most densely populated countries in the world - one that has a housing shortage - is a recipe for disaster. It's a pity that the EU were so intransigent about this issue, as I'm sure that most people in the UK would have been happy to remain if a more realistic settlement could have been reached.

    It now looks as if even the promised reduction in immigration won't be happening, but I suspect that many migrants won't want to come here now after seeing us at our worst.

    I still hope that in the long run, something good might come out of this and we'll have even done Europe a favour, but in the meantime I see years of economic and constitutional strife ahead. What a mess.

    1. Re Gill, I admire his way with words but not his point of view. Re Brexit, I think the media is dominated largely by Remainers and therefore a doom laden scenario is being painted. Shockingly, according to the Sunday Telegraph, Downing Street expressly instructed the Civil Service to draw up no plans for Brexit. The cry is that the Leavers should have done their planning but anyone who knows anything about government knows that it is impossible to make any useful plans from opposition or outside government - without the expertise and information available within the relevant departments you are groping in the dark. Supposedly even Harold Wilson - who I always disliked in childhood because on gloomy winter weekend afternoons he would have broadcasts to the nation and the grown ups would go into the sitting room and watch these on the huge (though rather small screened) wood encased television and always come out looking bowed down with depression - ensured that detailed plans were made for each contingency when he held a similar referendum. I feel really annoyed with David Cameron not only for being the architect of this mess and walking away from what he's created but for exacerbating things with this insane pre-vote policy of no planning. I hope that some kind of scrutiny of his behaviour will be published before too long. I think the EU itself may disintegrate anyway so the decision for all the weight that is being given it may not actually be important in the wider scheme of things. I'm puzzled by the devotion of so many people to the European organsations. It is almost religious. I suppose for me the issue was wider than immigration and went to a dislike of arrogance and intellectual snobbery, which I see a bit of in Brussels, to put it mildly. I read that Brussels plans to try to give the UK a really tough deal to deter others but as a tough deal will hurt those others - eg France, where the EU is hugely unpopular - because retaliatory measures putting up equally severe import barriers will mean that French people lose income - I don't know how that will be a deterrent. If only the rulers of Europe would recognise that they are unpopular and try to understand why and do something about it rather than simply blaming the British for being difficult and slamming the opposition in other countries as merely rightwing - when it is rightwing but saying that will drive more people into its arms rather than making it go away - things would be better. My brother also tells me that Scotland may be able to stop Article 50 from being triggered. I think that would be awfully dangerous. I can't quite imagine what even a fraction of 17 million voters feeling thwarted might do. Yes, what a mess. But, quite madly, I still think the decision was essentially the correct one. It's just that one of the reasons it was correct is that it was a vote against entrenched elite power and unfortunately that elite power is still being exercised. The longer the elites resist though, the worse the result may be. Damn, I think I've just begun to frighten myself

    2. This 300,000 figure includes 150,000 students doesn't it? And isn't 300 the total? How many are from the EU ( since that's what the discussion was supposed to be about).

    3. If people voted to slow immigration, which is debatable, then I don't think they cared where immigration came from - their view was that too many from wherever were coming in. By limiting EU immigration, they would slow the flow, regardless of where it was from. The issue for them was overcrowding - access to schools, doctors et cetera - not ethnicity. Whether they were right either about whether immigration is a problem or whether, if it is, leaving the EU will decrease the difficulties, I honestly do not know

  7. Er...300,000 weren't all from Europe! Less than half that number were ( I think).

    If this was mainly an anti- elitist vote ( with little to do with a suspicion of Johnny Foreigner) it's quite surprising that the electorate couldn't see that it's been the " elites" that have been screwing them over ( think austerity, inequality, and poor public services).


    1. Re where the 300,000 come from, see my answer to Billoo above.
      Re anti-elitism, an opportunity to take a swipe is what a vote can be for an unsettled electorate in strange times. We are living through something which is probably equivalent to the industrial revolution in its impact on people and work. In a confused state of transition, people ar unsettled and not necessarily always rational (if we ever are)