There’s yet another of the Euroseptics — sorry, Eurosceptics (and, yes, that was Ted Heath’s joke originally — whinging on the comments to Nick Robinson’s eminently sane and sensible piece:
I DO think that [Cameron] – and the country – needs a Referendum, regardless of the Lisbon Treaty or any other agreements, just so we can find out, once-and-for-all, how the British people truly feel about this whole EU concept.
Thank you, Khrystalar @ 10:26am: don’t call us, we’ll call you. Perhaps.
We’ve already done that. Been there. Still got the pamphlets (if the tee-shirt rotted long ago). It was 6th June 1975. Two-to-one the Great British Public voted for EU membership. Curiously enough, the arguments then against membership (mainly coming from the Left) sounded very like those today coming from the Right. Try this one:
TUC General-Secretary Len Murray … remained adamantly opposed to the EEC. “Many of the most important decisions about our future can only be taken here in Britain,” he said.
Or, for real UKIPpery try the selected speeches of Tony Benn.
Malcolm went into the Referendum campaign a convinced anti-marketeer. He spoke from platforms, denouncing the whole Euro-thing. During the campaign, he did the politically unthinkable: he listened to the argument. At some point, he recognised it was a lost cause. He had to acknowledge he had been wrong. Come the day, he did not even use his vote. As Alcuin had it, twelve centuries gone, and dismissively as a matter of fact, Vox populi, vox dei.
But, of course, the matter will never be settled to the satisfaction of the lunatic fringes in either direction. Memories are short — political memories barely reach the intellectual capacity of a gold-fish. So, we are doomed to go through this febrile cycle in each and every generation.
Once more Malcolm is reminded of that sad, instructive story of the English tenor, singing at La Scala. His soaring aria was concluded in wholesale, deafening applause. The tenor bowed graciously, and went into a reprise. Again, the audience rose as one and demanded a repeat: encore! encore! After the third iteration, the tenor came to the front of the stage to express his gratitude; but demurred. Only the great Gigli had ever had a fourth encore at La Scala: that was a record he could not want to match. A voice from the Gods called down: You will do it again. And again. Until you get it right!
Last week, the New Statesman had a neat little fantasy by Dominic Sandbrook (who was a mentor of Malcolm’s Pert Young Piece, while both were features of Sheffield University’s History Department). In it Sandbrook invented an alternative history: what if the 1975 Referendum had gone the other way?
Today, no household is without its beloved New Zealand butter and Canadian cheese, yet it is a chilling thought that if Britain had stayed in the EEC, we might have become a nation of Brie and Gorgonzola addicts. And if we had remained in thrall to Brussels, we would never have had the chance to forge such strong links with Europe’s other freedom-loving nations, now our political and cultural partners – our Scandinavian cousins in Iceland and Norway.
Indeed, if the decision had gone the other way, many of our 21st-century tastes and habits might be very different. Would Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim still attract hundreds of thousands of British holidaymakers? Would Reykjavik be a Mecca for spa lovers and stag parties? Would the National Gallery’s Edvard Munch exhibition have been such a blockbuster? Would the RSC put on its sell-out Ibsen season every winter? And for that matter, would pickled herring still have become the nation’s favourite comfort food?
There are always those who think that we would have been better off staying in the EEC, and that today’s Britain, with its environmentally friendly monarchy, its entrenched social democracy and its taste for meatballs, is all a bit dull. But it’s surely a small price to pay for trains that run on time, redistributive taxes and the world’s leading whaling industry. And who wants to be like Italy, anyway?
Err … yes.