Believe it or not the town of Staines-upon-Thames is ancient. Ad Pontes (“The Bridges”) is the Roman name for the town. It was a settlement on the road between the provincial capital Londinium (London) and Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) where the Thames river was crossed. Maybe a day’s march each way. The name Staines means “stones” and it was highly likely this referred to a prehistoric circle of nine stones which has long since been lost.
Why this history lesson? Today, standing on windy Staines High Street you need an exceptional imagination to visualise what it may have been like around AD 50. That said, because it was on an important Roman road going west it’s likely that there was trade and commerce as there is to this day. People from all over Europe probably passed through the town everyday nearly 2000 years ago.
Lunchtime this Saturday there was a regular market in the High Street. Lots of hustle and bustle where you can buy a pasty, a plant or print for the wall. Three groups were out campaigning for the forthcoming referendum: The Lib Dems, The Greens and Vote Leave. So, the two opposite camps of REMAIN and LEAVE were roughly equally represented.
What did I discover? Top line for me was a real mix of responses making it impossible to call if there was a poll of people on that day. There was a civility on both sides of the fence that nicely restores one’s faith in humanity. Naturally, not everyone was interested and a surprising large number of people were still mulling over the information still to make their minds up which way to vote.
If you walked all the way down the High Street you could get leafleted by McDonalds, a chip shop and an evangelical church group. Next to us a market stall was offering samples of their feta cheese. Watching if a passer-by tried the feta cheese was a good indicator that they might take a leaflet.
Approaching couples provided interesting moments especially when one person was for IN and the other was for OUT. Or that one had assumed that they both shared the same point of view and they didn’t.
Unsolicited stories popped up too. One woman told me her retired Dad had done important work for De Havilland. Being an aviation professional he had convinced her to vote to REMAIN. One man stopped me after he had spoken to the Vote Leave camp and said: you know they are still telling lies that we spend £350 million a week on the EU. No prompting from me at all. Without stereotyping too much there was a tendency for younger people to be much more willing to take a leaflet and read it than a number of the older passers-by.
It was a Saturday lunchtime well spent. The overall response to our REMAIN message was positive. Let’s hope that’s the same up and down the Country.
This week, mindless production line phrases have been the speciality of the Brexiters. The EU is a dictatorship. Like hell it is otherwise they would have banned this vote. The EU has passed its sell by date. What on earth do they mean? We (Brits) can’t make our own laws. Sheer nonsense on the week of the opening of Parliament. This strange disposition is like knowing grass is green but swearing that its black or blue. Or reverting to pre-Copernicus ideas that the Earth is at the centre of the universe. He was from Poland by the way. Or taking-up David Icke with his conspiracy theories about shape shifting lizards in Buckingham Palace.
What’s even more bizarre is that if you ask difficult questions or raise awkward facts then suddenly you are cast as anti-British! Just waving the flag of St. George is supposed to wash away any inconvenient information. If published claims don’t measure up, then it’s because you’re not listening properly or you’re biased.
It’s not only the in/out debate that stirs-up peculiar reactions. This week’s opinion polls have shown an increase in the lead of the REMAIN side. Several reactions have been along the lines of; these are not real polls but simply made up by a propaganda campaign. However fair, professional and objective the analysis is the ostriches bury their heads in the sand. There are times when I feel the need to say: you need help or clam down and take it easy but I know its wiser not to.
I’m sure there are genuine, serious and thoughtful Brexiters who can construct coherent and rational arguments but where are they, where have they gone? Have the EU’s secret police locked them all up and thrown away the key? That’s a joke – just in case the next e-mail tells me it’s all true and it’s not fair.
The UK’s referendum to be held on Thursday, 23 June will decide whether Britain leaves or remains in the EU. It’s the biggest vote in my lifetime. My plea is; don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I truly believe that we can shape the EU to work better for everyone. Separate out the false from the true. If it sounds over the top, then it probably is over the top. A vote to REMAIN.
Tuneful it’s not. Discord, insults and random noise fills the air from the referendum campaigns. Leavers in a perpetual stage of outrage are oblivious to the outrage they are causing. The same question gets asked a hundred times and the same exaggeration or downright fib gets rolled out each time by those wanting to leave the EU. But I’ll put this annoyance to one side and focus on something more interesting. Now is the time to mention a few musical connections.
It’s good to hear that BBC Radio has taken up using: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” from The Clash. Although I’d change their lyrics to say: “If I stay there will be trouble. An’ if I go it will be double”. Definitely music from my era. 7 February 1980 at Tiffany’s in Coventry was probably the most memorable concert I ever went to as a student. It was a menacing battle of leather, light and fierce electric energy that mixed in a way that hasn’t been matched.
On a lighter note, bunches of bananas have been in the news. That takes me back to being a 9-year-old when colour television was still a novelty. Now when I see Boris Johnson, the “Banana Splits” Tra La Song comes into my head: One Banana, Two Banana. Can’t help it.
Since I’ve touched the 60s and the 80s my next songs come from the 70s and ought to sum up where we are with a month to go. After all it’s the 1970s when the last referendum took place. There’s that well-worn disk that always got played at the end of discos: “If you leave me now” by Chicago. On the same theme there’s: “Don’t leave me this way” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Then on the really slushy side there’s: “Without You” by Harry Nilsson.
In the end I’m drawn to: “False from True” by singer and songwriter Pete Seeger. In the hope that people can cut through the discord, insults and random noise to separate the false from true.
Statistics can be fascinating. Our lives are governed by numbers however much we would like to escape the fact. Yes, passion and ethics have their part to play too. It’s a complex mix where we often make big decisions that might not be all that rational. Preferences are personal. That said, good choices maybe be shared with many other people as well as the reasons for those choices.
The Economist has just published figures on who likes tea and who likes coffee. This sounds trivial but the global businesses in this sector are huge.
I’m on a personal journey over drinking preferences at this moment. Having just returned from a decade in Germany to the UK, I’m going from a predominantly coffee culture to a tea culture. Not that the national drinking culture in each Country is static or simple or easily explained.
Across the wider Europe the tea drinkers tend to be; UK, Ireland, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Poland Turkey, Ukraine and Russia. Others Countries prefer to drink more coffee than they do tea. According to Euromonitor International, the research company that did this work, the UK drinks 3 times as much tea as coffee. Americans, on the other hand, are the other way around with 3 times more coffee than tea.
My instinct and experiences tell me that these numbers are on the move. The continuing invasion of coffee shops is changing the habits of people in the UK. The love of quality and speciality teas in Germany is having an impact there too. A real tea-coffee convergence is underway in Europe. Slowly but surely our historic drinking preferences are shifting and coming together.
Does this have any relevance to the up and coming UK referendum of EU membership? I’d say it does on a couple of levels. One is that our preferences are free to change and the single market makes that change easier. It gives UK consumers easy access to more choices of drinks and more variety at a reasonable price. On another level, UK tea exports by well know companies are popular on mainland Europe. UK brands have the opportunity to sell more because of the single market.
I’m not sure tea or coffee can be used to strengthen cross-border security or tackle climate change but I’ll bet in every one of the European meetings where those subjects are discussed one or other will be on the table.
Do you try to manage or do you prefer to the laissez faire approach? I guess that’s one of the questions at the heart of the EU referendum debate. It’s clear that the European economy is at the centre of the referendum campaign. On both sides of the argument: REMAIN or LEAVE.
The detailed pros and cons of Britain’s EU membership can be debated until the cows come home but it doesn’t seem to move people’s voting intentions. Everyone agrees that the “pound in your pocket” is a big motivator but that’s set against lots of contradictory arguments. All but understating the fact that most economic big guns have come out firmly in support of REMAIN.
Let’s go back to the start; do you manage, that is plan, implement, check and make changes to meet your goals or do you kick-off your heals, throw caution to the wind and just see what turns up? That latter laissez faire approach would seem to be the one most favoured by the LEAVE camp.
Let’s be frank, I don’t think that will work at all. It certainly won’t work for the vast majority of people who are finding life financially hard going. What irritates me about much of the LEAVE campaign is the casual manner of saying that no matter what happens it will be “all right on the night”. That’s not reassuring if you’ve major bills to pay and a large mortgage.
I think, Britain needs to continue to take a managed approach. One of the most significant factors to consider is the governance of the EU and relations between euro and non-euro members. Outside the EU, Britain is more vulnerable than it is inside. Inside the EU, Britain can manage the relationship it has with the member states that use the euro. Outside the EU, there is the danger that economic conflict will emerge. Inside the EU, Britain can use its political power to ensure that there’s a level playing field.
It’s likely people’s voting intentions are moved by the balance between economic security and insecurity. My case is that we need to keep our seat at the table in the EU. Britain needs to REMAIN in the EU.
What’s in the Fear Brothers shop? Its full name is Johnson, Gove, Fox and – I can’t remember the name of the others. That’s enough to put the frighteners on anyone. The shop has a heavy smell of mildew and moss. It hasn’t been given a lick of paint in years. Copies of the Mail and Express soak up the damp. Great picture framed windows have now been white washed so that only a dim light gets to the shop floor. Faded signs remind one of days long gone by.
You can still make out the names of the departments although the signs are getting shabby. One section is called “Worries” – it’s got stacks of tee shirts on immigration and you can still buy “red tape” socks and blue yarn. Another section is called “Dreamers” – full to the roof with glossy posters of the 1950s. Lots of pre-digital age memorabilia everywhere and not a mobile phone in sight. Down the hallway there’s a section called – “Grumbles” this is innovative since you can complain about anything at all and get to blame it on Europe. The walls are plastered with scribbled notes that range from; a complaint about an old kettle to a story about the size of bananas. In the basement there’s what remains of a privative caveman section. It got too dangerous to go down there but recently the owners have talked about opening it up again. Upstairs there’s a room people don’t normal go in. It’s called the “H” word room or Mr Johnson’s room. There’s only the remains of 1930s photographs pinned to the walls and a few sketches with odd looking symbols.
It’s not an attractive place but its surprising how many people still go there in the day light hours. Not a place to stray after dark. Around the end of June, a demolition crew are booked to come and knock down this old store. It’s about had its day.
Normally I don’t do hyperbole. I don’t like adjectives all that much. I think it’s better to say something in plain English. Too much flash and gloss is great if you are a second-hand car salesman but that doesn’t work for someone who trained as I did. Today, I will make an exception. It’s because there are parts of what has been reported in the news that strike as personal criticism.
Ex-Mayor of London Boris Johnson has compared the European Union’s aims to that of Hitler. Unifying Europe under a single “authority” is portrayed as dangerous and evil.
When earnestly campaigning for a cause there are many cards that can be played. Some have high values others you don’t want to see in a life-time of Sundays. In this case, I think monstrous mad ego man Johnson just wants to get our attention but by playing the “Hitler” card but he’s gone too far. It’s an abomination. It’s deeply offensive. The EU has prevented despotism and works for human rights which is a million billion miles from Hitler’s aims.
Essentially the LEAVE campaign are insulting people. People like me who worked for an EU Agency. In my time, we did work that was vital to keeping European citizens safe, making it easy and more environmentally sustainable to travel.
Now, Johnson is implying we worked for an evil empire hell bent on world domination. I can almost hear the Star Wars theme in the background. Befuddled, bonkers, buffoon Boris knows he has lost all other arguments so he’s hit the press with this utterly shameless nonsense. He has learned nothing from the recent London mayoral election or the mistakes of Ken Livingstone. The leader of the LEAVE campaign likes to play the comic jester but he shouldn’t be trusted for one single second.
The referendum is on 23 June, when voters in the UK will be asked if they want the country to REMAIN in the EU. The patriotic, sane and rational vote is to REMAIN.
Chancing my arm writing on this subject. I’ll narrow it down to the suburban British Character. I’ll leave the country set to another time. There’s about 25 million of us packed into the South East of England and lots more scattered across this fair island.
It used to be possible to draw a picture of a British policeman or woman and compare that picture with an American or a Continental European equivalent and the differences were immediately obvious. Not anymore but with one visible exception – a gun. The idea that the police were just citizens in uniform is different from viewing them as an arm of the State employed to enforce the law. Some of this British picture is mythology but that still matters because it impacts public behaviour. Undeniably there is a convergence going on where in years to come it will be impossible to tell police officers apart. Perhaps this is inevitable given that the threats we face are likely to be common ones.
Moving on. There are a lot of images locked in our collective memories, usually based on black and white movies that stereotype the British character or should I say characters? Now, I will get into trouble. Except for the gifted few, there’s reason to say that the British are not good at the art of conversation. It’s true the British weather in its infinite variety always gives us a place to start. Moaning about the trains, busses and planes provides a good kicking off point too. However, these paths are so well trodden than no blade of grass can grow. Our humour is full of stereotypes verbally tripping over themselves to the amusement of others. Pedants will pick you up on grammatical errors with a smug smile knowing how much irritation they cause. Freely expressed opinions can be trumpeted without any consideration for the consequences.
I recently came across a Punch cartoon by Pont. It’s beautifully concise. A middle aged man, presumably a neighbour, is leaning on a garden wall with his arms folded look straight at you and saying: “I suppose you know you’re doing that all wrong.”
That one small drawing from the 1940s communicates a whole doctorate of study on the British character. I can see elements of this in the way the debate is going in the run-up to the referendum on UK membership of the EU. It’s coming more from the Leave camp than the Remain camp but it’s there nevertheless. Maybe in our public conversations we need to find a better way to persuade people rather than saying to them bluntly: “I suppose you know you’re completely wrong.”
Fundamentals remain the same. Arguments rage, careers rise and fall and it’s easy to get lost in the tidal wave of media. There’s noise everywhere trying to obscure the essential facts. The basic question is a simple one. Regardless of the flurry of questions that get asked there will only be one on the voting paper on 23 June 2016 – remain in or leave the European Union. All the huge complexity of Europe then boils down to heads or tails, on or off, in or out. Most critically, that basic question is only going to get asked once in a typical lifetime. The long-term consequences for Britain, right or wrong are massive. It’s a trip without a return ticket.
I think long-term. It’s the EU in a world where China, India and South America are powerful. Keep that in mind. It’s a more interconnected world where goods and services move ever faster. It’s a world where disasters natural and human caused will need commitment, coordination and resources used for the best interests of everyone.
My position is that Europe, working together can meet the challenges coming our way. There’s a strength in diversity and unity. These two are complementary but there is real effort required to succeed. Britain has what it needs to take the lead in the EU. A vote to remain is a confident vote. It’s a vote with a plan. It’s the choice that makes sense for future generations.
On another subject, perhaps its time to look for positive spin-offs from this UK referendum. For the moment, let’s assume that Britain remains in the EU. There are a couple of good outcomes that will help address problems highlighted during the debates on the big question.
For a start, after the vote there will be many more British people acquainted with how the EU works. Consequently, that should encourage more engagement with elected representatives and officials. This is not just for the general public but there’s a clear need for Councillor, MPs, MSPs and MEPs to talk to each other more often. To bring down barriers and work constructively together more often.
Additionally, the EU reports already published for the sake of accountability, openness and transparency should get a greater readership as interest in knowing what goes on, how and why grows. In time, greater feedback from the public will help improve the information provided.
I see those in Britain who want to leave the European Union say they want to; restore the Country’s power over its laws. They expect a dramatic improvement in accountability if we leave. Then there’s a claim about how many of Britain’s laws are influenced by the EU. In my mind these are a weak set of arguments wrapped in naked nationalism. Here’s some reasons why I think that these slogans are extremely misleading and out of touch with reality.
The EU is based on Treaties. I guarantee that if we left the EU, Britain would continue to sign Treaties. Every Treaty creates rights and responsibilities. These are worthless unless they are enforceable in law. Britain would exchange one set of Treaties for another set and spend decades doing so for little or no gain. In fact, being in a poor negotiating position post Brexit would mean less control over the Country’s destiny.
It’s not a restraint from the EU that stops us changing to ensure a “dramatic improvement in accountability” rather it’s our backward way of Westminster governance. Reform is long overdue. Every time reform is proposed national vested interests come out of the woodwork to block it. After the referendum I hope all the energy campaigners are now exerting is directed at changing our voting system, our excessive use of patronage and empowering the English regions.
Of course Britain’s laws are influenced by the EU. The EU is not separate from Britain. We are part of the EU. We are sitting at the table making and amending those European laws. Those regulations and directives are of great advantage to Britain. They ensure that a British citizen can work, play or retire in 28 States. They ensure that goods and services can be traded without barriers. They increase our power in negotiations with the world’s major economies.
These reasons are reason enough for me to say that REMAIN is the best option. Let’s remember, the spectre of naked nationalism stalked Europe in the 1930s. Following that path always leads to disaster – its guaranteed.
Britain in the EU is a powerful combination. There’s peace and stability in unity. Let’s keep to that road.