28 May

I wonder how many of us who are to vote in the EU referendum next month really know what they’re voting for? Both sides of the debate throw statistics at us and both sides are not afraid of lying.
Don’t forget – lying can come in many different shapes and sizes, from plucking statistics wildly out of the air to assuming that the Britain of today is in any way similar to the Britain of yesterday. Things grow with time, and that includes countries. Our UK these days is a better place than it was and when I hear anti-EU people suggesting there was some magical golden age some time in the past, when the sun shone more brightly, when people lived their happy lives in chocolate-box cottages, I wonder what on Earth they’re on about.
I was born in England and much as I find a lot of pleasing qualities in the country of my birth there’s no reason to be proud of it. Being born here wasn’t an achievement, not something I did using skill and judgement and my innate intelligence to achieve, so I don’t need to be proud of it. No: being born here had nothing whatsoever to do with me and if it was anything it was like a number in a lottery, a casual touch by the finger of fate when it came to where my parents holidayed – though there wasn’t much chance to travel anywhere in 1943.
And if I look back there are quite a lot of things that were disturbing about life in this country. The twentieth century was riven by two gigantic wars in which millions were slaughtered and apportioning blame for those conflicts is far from easy because everything I have read about them was written by the victors and it’s long been said that such necessarily biased reporting skews the facts. Anyway, I’ve never understood why the First World War had to happen (and I seem to recall neither did Baldrick, so I’m in good company) and my teachers at school just about convinced me that the Second World War was part Two of the same conflict.
But wars aside, there have been other undesirable features of my country. Homophobia made the lives of many intolerable (how many good men and women had their lives wrecked by their very natures?). It was even written into law, when Victoria was on the throne, that intimate behaviour shown between men even in the privacy of their own homes was punishable by imprisonment – women, I believe, were excluded because nobody dared suggest to a sulky monarch that women were anything but perfect.
Then there was the way children were beaten – and in my life-time, too. Some schoolmasters were proud of the way they administered six of the best to boys quivering with fear because their school-issued pen had made a blot. Not today, thank goodness.
And have you read tales of small boys sweeping chimneys or crouched for hour after hour in mines, under the ground?
No, there was no golden age but bit by bit what was best about life has been whittled away by greed and the need for ever more wealth. During her time as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher set the ball rolling, selling off anything that was portable so that the “market” could be in charge. And the market was. In charge of telecommunications, electricity, gas, water, housing, everything, so prices went up in order for dividends to trickle into the pockets of those who could afford to buy wads of shares. Not me, you’ll notice. I’ve never been able to afford to buy wads of shares.
This week the utilities company visited us and fitted a “smart” meter. For free, they said. Free? Toenails! Wherever there’s a private company nothing is ever free. The cost will lurk somewhere, in price rises, in sneaky little ways that private enterprise is so good at finding.
So those who want to go back to those good old days, when were they? Did I blink? Have I missed something?
We had an empire once. Huge parts of the map were coloured pink (at least they were in my childhood atlas) and the pink denoted the British Empire. Or, to put it another way, the countries we’d stolen from their natives on whom we’d imposed a crown and a wretched religion. That wasn’t great, though the soldiers with their fancy hats and shining swords might have called it glorious.
If we leave the EU, though, it’ll be sad to lose the cheap booze at Calais and all the other perks we travellers find, and even sadder to have to join the queues at customs where they can decide how much tax we should be paying on this or that bottle of whisky, and confiscating it if we can’t afford it….


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