The New European’s Editor-at Large, Alastair Campbell, on why he feels European and why you should too.
‘If you love Europe so much why don’t you just f**k off and live there?’ It has become the Brextremist social media jibe of choice.
It has yet to replace ‘war criminal,’ or ‘Blairite scum’ in my own Twitter abuse charts – there were plenty from that stable last week when I dared to suggest Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell might put more energy into the Brexit debate – but it is getting there.
We should not read too much into social media slandering. We all know that what is said by keyboard warriors can be far harsher than face to face conversation and debate. But in addition to motivating me further to fight for what I believe in – Britain in Europe, and a socially just, economically strong British government that puts power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few – the abuse is worth analysing for what it says about one’s opponents.
The ‘war criminal/red Tory/Blairite scum’ line of attack comes from a place in which the New Labour record must never be seen as anything other than the all purpose, four-letter term of abuse – Iraq. Otherwise the Blairhaters may have to analyse, in greater depth than ‘red Tory/Blairite scum’ tweets allow, how and why we were able to win three elections, the third of which in 2005 came after the fall of Saddam.
But that is the past and, as I reminded Jeremy Corbyn last week, when he posted a 15-year-old video of his own speech at an anti-Iraq war rally, just as Boris Johnson was setting out the pot-holed ‘road to Brexit,’ and the Northern Ireland political crisis was deepening, there is a lot going on TODAY that needs attention and leadership. Indeed, it was my suggestion that he might show some in relation to these pressing 2018 issues that prompted the latest wave of Corbynista ire, up to and including suggestions that it was he and Tony Benn, rather than Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair, who led the way on peace in Northern Ireland. It is at this point that you realise with some, rational fact-based debate is not possible.
So let’s get back to today, Brexit, and what the ‘if you love Europe so much why don’t you just f**k off and live there?’ jibe says about opponents on that front.
What it says is that for some – mainly on the Brexiteer side of the debate – ‘Europe’ and ‘EU’ have become conflated. This has been of much benefit to the Brextremists. For decades, including in those much better days when New Labour was in power, we have struggled to see ‘Europe’ as something of which we are part. To many, it has always been something that is done to us, rather than something we choose to do ourselves.
It also sets up a false choice, and one which again helps the Brexiteers. Are you British? Or are you European? But what if you’re both? Identity is a complex, and also a deeply personal, thing. I was born in England, yet because of my parentage, childhood holidays and musical tastes, have always felt much more Scottish than English, more British than both. I was born in Yorkshire, yet the support of my Lancashire football team, Burnley, gives me a sense of identity across county boundaries too.
And I feel European for all sorts of reasons:
• because my favourite singer is Jacques Brel;
• because I speak fluent French and not bad German;
• because one of the best years of my life was teaching as a student in Nice;
• because I busked all over Europe with my bagpipes;
• because I have worked with European politicians, including at nightmarish all-night summits;
• because my kids have been with us in France every summer holiday since they were born;
• because Steven Defour (Belgian) and Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Icelandic) are two of Burnley’s best players;
• because some of my books have been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese;
• because I am editor at large of The New European (that’s enough becauses – Ed).
So even if I weren’t European by temperament, I have become so by experience, and my the impending sense of loss. Yet just as Brexiteers should not deny that Remainers can love the UK, nor do I imagine they all hate Europe.
Iain Dale, when he is not presenting his LBC show, is also the publisher of my latest diaries, and if you listened to us debating on his programme recently you might have been surprised to find us agreeing in our warm feelings towards Europe. He is as passionate a Brexiteer as I am a Remainer. But he loves Europe, especially Germany.
Indeed you may be even more surprised to know that when Iain and I meet away from a microphone or a publishing meeting, we often speak to each other in German. It is partly because his is slightly better than mine that I have recently taken up German conversation lessons to refresh brain cells and recover the fluency I have never lost in French.
Iain is clear that whatever happens with Brexit – ‘when’ we are out, as he puts it, whereas I am still an ‘if’ man – he will always love Germany and Europe. He will not be alone in that on either side of the Brexit divide, if more so on mine.
It was reported last week that the DNA of the average person in Britain is 60% European. So that will include a lot of Leavers too, a thought worth bearing in mind when so much of the rhetoric we hear is inflammatory, and a reminder of our own shared identity, all of us, whatever side of the argument we’re on.
I recently took the opportunity of getting a DNA test done – a simple saliva analysis – and it revealed my blood was 42% Ireland/Scotland/Wales; 31% Great Britain; 16% Europe West; 11% Scandinavia. Happily it means I’m a Celt ahead of an Anglo-Saxon – I wonder if it will help my campaign to get an Irish passport if we leave – with a decent mix of French – my Mum and was always going on about ‘The Auld Alliance’ of Scotland and France v England – and probably a dose of Viking.
So the next time a Brexiteer tells me to ‘f**k and off live in Europe’, I will tell them I already do. And so do they. So they should learn to love it. Because love is so much better for you than hate. You only have to look at the trolls to know that!