In your referendum anniversary issue (TNE #346), both John Kampfner and Peter Kellner assert that Britain would find it difficult to rejoin the EU on similar terms to those it enjoyed before. Don’t be too sure.
Putting that same assumption to a Eurocrat friend, he replied: “You forget we want you back.”
Leavers were fond of referring to Brussels as an “army of bureaucrats”, but they forgot that in that army the British were the Brigade of Guards. Many who work for the EU miss the rigour, clarity and discipline that British Eurocrats brought to the party.
True, Europe’s politicians may want to make a British return look difficult. Many of Europe’s staffers, however, would give us our old concessions and opt-outs once more in the blink of an eye, if it got British Eurocrats back to Brussels any quicker.
I find it hard to believe that the EU would insist upon the most stringent conditions before letting Britain rejoin. They too have been damaged by Brexit (though nowhere near as badly as us).
Mr bright side
I enjoyed TNE #346 on the anniversary of the Brexit vote. But I am concerned that Remainers are recreating one of the errors of 2016, in telling people how bad life outside the EU is while not discussing the positives of being in it.
As a Remain voter with no emotional attachment to the EU and having voted purely on economic lines, I long for someone to give me a positive feeling above mere rationality about why we should rejoin.
David Kynaston’s “Borne back ceaselessly into the past” was fascinating on Leavers’ emotional look back to the 1950s. What is the positive vision for the Rejoiners for what is good about the EU?
David Kynaston offers a good analysis of why so many Leavers, especially the older ones, based their fateful decision seven years ago on a desire to return to a lost world, a supposedly golden age of the past.
David identifies the 1960s as a time when the rot began to set in: de-industrialisation, globalisation, the loss of working-class communities and social conservatism. But should we go back further, even further than most of us remember?
Since the end of the first world war, when the UK was economically crippled, the country has been on a long and steady decline. Each decade since then has seen, with some notable but rare and non-lasting exceptions (Bevan’s NHS in the 40s, Macmillan’s housebuilding boom in the 50s, the social liberalisation of Roy Jenkins in the 60s, Blair’s emphasis on education in the 90s – and the steady stream of technological improvements), a gradual slide in our national prosperity, our infrastructure and public services and our international standing.
I was born at the end of the second world war. My experience has been watching an endless cycle of boom and bust, stagflation, recession and implausible hopes and promises of something better tomorrow. Brexit has just put the tin hat on it all.
Pessimistic? Perhaps. But where is the evidence for any period of sustained national progress and improvement in the last century?
Letchworth Garden City, Herts
David Kynaston’s article should be required reading for all candidates of all parties at the forthcoming general election. Abandonment and alienation can be powerful elemental forces in politics.
Boris Johnson’s Brexit appeared to offer millions of English people a vision of a better future. Here was someone directly addressing their concerns. They felt less abandoned. He appeared to be on their side. It is little comfort now to record that Johnson destroyed almost all he touched.
In Scotland, Alex Salmond, then Nicola Sturgeon, were also seen as “being on our side”. The critical difference being that while the Tories at Westminster were slashing the role of the state in people’s lives, Holyrood was doing the opposite. The contrast with Westminster is stark.
Johnson’s promise of a better Britain built on Brexit has left those who voted for it with less, not more. Salmond and Sturgeon delivered for ordinary people in areas like poverty alleviation, student fees, social care, civil rights, early-years support, prescription charges and bridge tolls.
I wish TNE would stop wrestling with the question of what caused the normally sane British public to vote for Brexit. It wasn’t the numerous lies; it wasn’t the social backdrop so expertly set out by David Kynaston, it was very simply the single big lie on the side of a big red bus.
Poll after poll showed that the NHS was always at the very top of voters’ priorities. Poll after poll showed that negative gutter press misinformation about the EU was working.
So we were presented with a straight emotional choice: EU or NHS. In other words, something we knew or cared little about versus the one organisation that we all know and love, that looks after each of us in our hour of need. A very astute bit of campaigning.
Severn Beach, Gloucester
“Gruesome twosome of the right” (TNE #346) states that “Isabel Oakeshott and Richard Tice rose to the top of the culture war pile through charm and ruthlessness”. He’s utterly witless and she’s got all the charm of the village harridan selling homemade cakes at a fete to unwilling passers-by – “Are you going to buy these or fucking what?”
Speak no evil
Reading Liz Gerard’s article “The gutter Express” (TNE #346) made me think of the law in France that forbids newspapers from telling their readers how to vote for two days before a referendum or election.
On the day of the 2016 referendum, most of the tabloid press and some other papers instructed their readers to Vote Leave. Given what has happened since, we should follow the French example and prohibit this in Britain too.
David J Hogg
Fight for truth
In two telling articles Matthew d’Ancona identifies the crucial nature of truth in government, and later asks what changes Britain might need to demonstrate to the EU27 ahead of rejoining. Given the subject of the first article, it seems odd to highlight the democratic shortcomings of the second chamber but not mention the institutional dishonesty of the first.
It is not just that MPs can be required to vote against their own judgment and the wishes of their constituents if their parties demand it. At least this dishonesty is transparent. However, the failure of George Eustice, when a government minister, to give his true opinion of the trade deal with Australia while in office emphasises that covert dishonesty is also ingrained in the system. We talk much about the unelected nature of the Lords, but I am not sure what higher ground an elected body such as the Commons can command if the electorate cannot be sure that their communication reflects their honest beliefs.
In “Seven years of hurt” (TNE #346) Matthew d’Ancona equates Brexiteers with those westerners who supported Soviet communism.
The first thing he gets wrong is that these were from the upper middle class; my parents belonged to the Communist Party in the 30s and were inspired by the Russian revolution. They were Australian middle class with working-class roots, certainly not part of an elite.
He is also mistaken about the nature of the two groups. They have opposing values with nothing in common.
Communist sympathisers in the 30s were appalled by the poverty of their times. They wanted to live in a fair, egalitarian world where every citizen was free from want.
At first my parents believed the propaganda coming out of Russia. When they realised that the original idealism of the revolution had been betrayed, they left the party. That is not delusion; it is believing according to the facts available.
Delusion is believing something despite evidence to the contrary. Brexiteers are adhering to their beliefs despite compelling evidence that their predictions about the consequences of Brexit were wrong. They come from a place of hatred for others. The two groups could not be more different.
Catherine Wilson Eiles
Turn it up!
Amusing though national stereotypes are (“Why you hate the summertime”, TNE #346), let me assure Marie Le Conte that there are many Brits who both long for and love a good summer. I hate the cold, get bored and tired of endless grey, rainy days, and generally thrive when the temperature goes to 23C and beyond. Yes, many of us also enjoy summertime bon vivant.
My daughter would agree with Alastair Campbell (Diary, TNE #346) about Bristol University’s private school students. She got her PhD in chaos theory from Bristol thanks to excellent maths teaching at her comprehensive school, but was asked by a group of Old Etonians there if one really could take A-levels in a state school.
Then in the same issue, we get Josh Barrie’s ridiculous throwaway remark in Taste of Europe about a “chaotic home counties comprehensive”. It’s not funny, Josh. All the comprehensive schools I know are well-run and far more dignified than that school near Windsor that produces such disreputable alumni.
Former chair of governors,
Josh Barrie writes: “Apologies, Janet, but I attended a ‘chaotic home counties comprehensive’ and it was shambolic. However, we did study Wordsworth – born in Cockermouth, unless I’m mistaken.”
Nigel Warburton’s piece (Everyday Philosophy, TNE #346) on the inevitability of a dystopian Mad Max world that would come after nuclear war in Europe, plays into a trope that is increasingly being shown to be wrong.
The idea that if you remove trappings of civilisation then society degenerates very quickly into a dog-eat-dog hostile world was set by Hobbes, reinforced by Golding’s Lord of the Flies and rounded off by Cormac McCarthy.
However, scientists now say that examples of where this has actually happened show the opposite occurs. People collaborate, they put in place their own rules; in essence they rebuild a civil society from the bottom up.
I would urge Nigel to get a copy of Humankind by Rutger Bregman, an articulate take-down of the notion that beneath the trappings of civilisation, we are all savages. We are not!
War and peace
I’ve been to Oradour (“Some things cannot be forgotten”, TNE #346). It’s chilling. Most people think war is just young men going to fight. At Oradour it was everyone. Old ladies, little kids. The cemetery is heartbreaking.
The suffering of towns like Oradour is one of the reasons the European Coal and Steel Union was formed in the first place and still one of the reasons for ever closer union. Peace is what the EU has always been about.
In his article on books seen on screen (“Characters in search of an author”, TNE #346), Charlie Connelly writes: “During the lockdown, when everyone appeared on television via Zoom in front of a bookcase, my head was so often tilted sideways I think the left side of my neck is now permanently longer than the right”.
I’m afraid both sides of his neck would have been equally exercised, as anyone who uses bookshops knows only too well. The UN should pass a law that all books in the world should have the title printed on the spine from top to bottom.