Journal 13. Parking your Arse on the Union Jack

I wrote this response to David Cameron’s speech about the EU (23rdJan 2013) back in 2013. Scarily, it’s time for a revival.

I’ve managed to avoid writing too much about politics until now, but after this week’s news from the UK the moment has come. I mused over whether  or not to comment about the new format to  A’ Levels (when is there not a major change in education?); I held the pause button over vilifying  Eric Pickle’s announcement to re-organise the ‘Troubled families Unit’  (local authorities are cutting back….derrrr…) and I made a memo to self re the social division that has been identified with regard to housing (33 is now the new ‘starter’ age). But it is Cameron’s European speech this week that has finally burst the seams of tolerance and now I need to write…….!

It wasn’t the timing of his speech that has prompted my reaction, although much has been made of this. Hasn’t he heard? We’re in a triple dip recession (like I know what that means – sounds like something I should be doing in yoga). Precisely HOW he thinks making a speech like this is going to impact on businesses I don’t know. Imagine the scene, if you will. I’m a company director talking to the bank:

Company Director: Please Sir, I’d like lots of money to invest in a really good company which will create lots of jobs, boost the economy and contribute to the infrastructure of my local environment

Bank Manager: Who will your trading partners be?

CD: Well Europe of course

BM: How long will you trade with them for?

CD: I don’t know: we’re in Europe for the next 5 years defo but we’re not really sure what’s going to happen after that and if we do pull out, well I guess we’ll have to do some kind of pre-pull-out-planning before the end of the 5 years is up so, realistically you’re looking at investing in my company for 2-3 years with any kind of certainty………………………….

BM: Why the hell would I want to do that?

CD: Because you’re British and a good chap?

BM: Well actually our bank is becoming more and more Americanised, since you mention it.

CD: Well I’m not really that fussy as long as I get my money.

BM: Sorry mate – no one is going to invest in your company with the kind of  uncertainty that we currently have about the future of Britain’s membership of the EU. Not even Jonny Foreigner

No, it is not the timing of Cameron’s speech.

Was it the prospect of losing some key features of being in the EU, such as the working time directive or free movement of labour? Am I the only person who remembers life before the minimum wage? And getting rid of the working time directive would not only affect eg junior doctors but, if employers were free to ‘negotiate’ with their employees exactly what kind of hours, pay and working conditions should be, what are we going to end up with? In a triple dip recession. Surely it will be 

‘Do what I tell you employee, or you won’t have a job’? 

The current celebration that women have more opportunities in the workplace and with their pensions than ever before, may be a tad premature. (In any case, this celebration is false in my view – since it continues to create more pressure for women to go out to work when many would choose to have more time at home with their families). And re the free movement of labour, I cannot begin to describe how important it has been to me over the past 4 years to be able to travel freely, often as I watch my colleagues and students from other nations queue for hours at customs or get refused visas and even jobs – when their OWN COUNTRY CAN’T SUPPLY ANY DECENT ONES. What precisely is envisaged? Picking and choosing which nationality arrives on Britain’s shores? We’ll have one Belgium and 3 French but no Turkish today thank you very much.

No. Not is not the prospect of losing these 2 features of being in the EU.

Was it any other of the  obvious benefits to being in the EU in recent years? Such as the amount of money that was thrown into Cornwall in the 1990s to help re-generation: building the Universities (and keeping talented people down there); building the Eden Project (creating jobs); investing in the Arts as never before?

No not even that.

It was Cameron’s tone that really got me. His language and his tone. 

He may well be right in his observations of the challenges that face the EU – God knows, it’s not a perfect institution but, to stand on a podium so arrogantly and set out how he thinks ‘we’ should go about putting the EU  right, smacks of the worst excesses of imperialism – 

‘Well we don’t think you’re getting it quite right chaps so move over and see how the Brits  handle it’. 

What kind of arrogance thinks that anyone in Europe is going to let him come in and tell them how to re-invent and re-organise the EU when he takes such a hectoring stand now? 

I cannot pretend to be an expert on the 3 main points raised by Cameron as  concerns – I know nothing about international trade – but I do know something of international relations and it breaks my heart to see him get this so wrong.

How did he do this?

Within the first 5 minutes of his speech he refers to the second world war. Oh dear. Oh very dear. Who still bangs this particular drum unless they’re really, really desperate to be popular with a British audience? I’ve just been out to lunch with my Aunty Gretel (who is German and in her 70s). I have known her all my life. She was born in the war and after it became a pen-pal with my Mum thanks to 2 far sighted teachers in their respective schools who set up a post war pen-pal initiative. Through knowing Gretel, not to mention all the wonderful German people I have come to know since living and working here, I have learnt to be very careful about how one refers to the war. There is such a lot that we, as UK citizens will never fully know, understand or appreciate from a German (and European) perspective. Has Cameron any idea how hurtful, patronizing and downright rude those remarks sounded to so many German people? Especially those of Gretel’s generation – and there are lots of them still about. Britain wasn’t the only country to lose millions of lives on the battlefield and if Cameron’s history lessons were as simplistic as mine were, he would not have been taught about the many Germans who tried to resist fascism over a very long period of time.And he probably knows nothing about those who fought so bravely to bring down the fall of the Berlin wall and why this was so crucial to the German’s sense of national identity. What does he know about it? How can he refer to it so glibly and then move on?

It is BECAUSE European countries (including Germany) have experienced this kind of tyranny and, outside Germany, occupation, that their views are so different to those of the UK right now. When borders shift as easily as they can do (especially if you’re Geographically adjacent to another country and not surrounded by water) you learn to be just a bit flexible and open minded. You have no choice. The area of Sud-Tirol has, within a reasonably short period of time (historically speaking) been Italian, German and Austrian. The Alsace region has gone from France to Germany to France to Germany, and back again. I can’t remember the precise logistics of the borders of Poland and Czeckoslovakia without looking it up but they are two countries who have seen as many changes to their borders and with it their national identities as David Cameron has had hot dinners in a posh club. And, of course there are many Germans and other Europeans still alive today who have lived through these changes. The beer-hall and hiking culture that is part of everyday life here, have meant that it has been possible for me to meet such people and listen to their stories and the stories of their ancestors – I have heard first hand, what it was like to live in occupied territory and to have your national identity challenged. Hell’s teeth, come to think of it I WORK with people who have experienced being water cannoned in Poland, been held captive in Bosnia, escaped Tiananmen square…..and more.

Cameron says with pride:

“We have the character of an island nation. We are independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty. We can no more change this British sensibility than we could drain the English Channel”

He talks whimsically about the characteristics of an island nation flagging it up as some kind of badge of honour. That this makes us “More practical than emotional” and, wait for it – that 

”Britain is characterized not just by its independence but by its open-ness”. What does he know about open-ness? Is this the same kind of open-ness that creates the “argumentative and strong-minded member” views? Has he ever considered what it is about the other 26  states that makes them stick together and the UK set apart? Might it have anything to do with being an island? Mightn’t we be the odd one out? 

When was the UK last invaded? 1066? Oh I forgot – that’s because we’re an island nation.

Has it never occurred to Cameron  and others of his ilk that it is BECAUSE Europeans have had to be patient, tolerant and prepared to give just a little bit with regard to their territory that they want the EU to work so much? Most of the 26 states I dare say also want to “maintain peace and to secure prosperity”. But they are prepared to sit round a table and HAVE A CONVERSATION, rather than stand on a podium and tell each other what to do……..and  he only has to come into one of my lessons (idea?) to see Spaniards, Italians, French, Polish, Bulgarians, Germans, Belgian, Swedish, Danish, American and, oh yes and the English  ALL fiercely proud of their sovereignty/institutions,  cultures,  musics, football teams, religious festivals, food……..need I go on? Does he seriously suppose that Britain is the only independent, forthright and passionate country?

Don’t talk to me about “independence and open-ness”. He’s making the UK look more and more dependent and closed off………

So –  not emotional but practical. Well, fear is an emotion and it’s coming off him in spades. Fear of his back -benchers; fear of the next election; fear of what he doesn’t know. And now he’s inducing fear in the British people. I used to think only the Daily Mail did this on a regular basis but now I see it in him. He does it every time he raises the issue of Europe and he does it through his communication. UKIP’s main attack is always to tell the British people that they have no power – that it’s all been taken away from them and is in Brussells. This is a highly persuasive technique, mentioning the “p” word. What does it remind us of? Somebody needs to be in charge and it’s not us………….It’s a word that scares people as they remember the war, continue to wallow in stereotypes and fail to embrace change. The prospect of sharing, listening, persuading, negotiating is not something that comes easily to a “strong minded and argumentative” person. If he continues to happily paint our nation in this way how does he think we come across?

I’ve heard a ton of fantastic clichés this week re this speech. I’ll certainly use them in an English lesson one day:

“The Genii is out of the bottle”

“Europe is not a one  way ticket with no returns”

“Europe is not à la carte…..”(this from a French man and then something about turning up to a football match and playing rugby!!)

“Europe is not a Cafeteria service – you can’t just leave with what you want.” 

And best of all (but I can’t quite remember it) somebody talked about a bun and not thinking you can just “pick the raisins out of it”.

I’m now going to add a few of my own. David Cameron should come to the party. He should sit round the table and have a chat. He should bask in the delights of diversity and collaboration and try listening for a change. He should stop being such a pompous egocentric, xenophobic little twat. TWAT, TWAT, TWAT. Such a good word.

Ah……feeling much better now. I’m now off to write a letter to Aunty Gretel thanking her for being so nice and supportive and caring and loving and giving and clever and experienced and worth listening too……………….

Sarah Halliday

January 2013