It was 1975, I was not quite 22 years old and my then wife and I were running our own retail business. Courtesy of what became the runaway inflation of the then Labour government, we were about to do rather nicely, thank you, as prices the following year would start to go up every week without fail. In truth, the inflation was of course a legacy of both the past Conservative government and our joining of the EEC two years earlier.
I had never taken part in the democratic process. I’d had a chance or two, both general elections in the previous year, but I felt no particular motivation to participate. This one was different. Despite the Brexit campaigners being wheeled out onto my TV screen today – who insist that when they voted in ’75 they thought they were just voting for a free trade agreement – I have a totally different recollection. A very vivid recollection, actually. I was born just a few years after the war, the second world war. My entire life to that day, and this, is significantly coloured by the events of that time. Back then, I was told all day, every day as a boy growing up in that depressed and shattered world that I should be grateful to every adult, grateful, respectful and obedient, because each and everyone had “fought and died” for my freedom. Well, apparently not. Given that they were, to a man and to a woman, standing there fully flesh and blood giving me this well-worn lecture. Of course they had a point but when you hear this, day in day out from the day you were born, well, it wears a little. I learned a lot of history, a lot about religion, about kings and queens and governments and the disagreements between each. I noted that in none of the recent wars of our continent had any of the protagonists actually sacrificed themselves for these fanatical beliefs they held but it seemed to me that they had been more than willing to sacrifice a great many others.
Much of it seemed to revolve around the incestuous sexual and familial relationships of Europe’s aristocracy and other hanger-on wannabes with rather too much wealth, power and privilege. You’d think that could turn me into a rampant socialist but I was lucky, I was born with a little too much savvy for that. I wasn’t, however, born with any more power to resist all this nonsense than any other mortal being. Those in power had power over me and I resented it, I opposed it and I shall continue to do so till my dying day which, thankfully, is a little further off than it might have seemed on some previous occasions.
It became clear to me at a very early age that it must take an incredible power to be able to convince lovely, warm, innately nice human beings to commit such acts of savagery and brutality as it takes to kill just one other lovely human being, let alone to kill them in their tens of thousands. Though there is of course much more to it than just this, the culprits, the real weapons were blatantly evident to this very young boy and thus to anyone with half a brain and the questioning need which we are each born to sate. Every army had a rallying call.
Every army needed a uniform to wear, a flag to march behind, and a god to fight for.
For a light-hearted interlude on the topic you must check out Eddie Izzard on the subject of flags and conquest but for now you’re stuck with this more serious rendition. Is it any wonder that I grew up with an abhorrence of national borders, patriotic identities and don’t get me started on the religious nutters. Here’s how passionate about this, I was. I have in my hand my passport issued by the World Service Authority on 13th April 1973 in Basle, Switzerland. Now here’s one for autograph hunters everywhere, it’s signed by the one and only James Haynes.
That’s Jim Haynes, co-founder of IT (International Times) and also co-founder with Garry Davis of the World Passport Authority whose document number 03543 I possess and cherish. Amazingly I discover Jim is still very much alive and well and some eighty-two years old but still the coolest of guys who, it appears, is about to invite me to Sunday dinner at his home in Paris. In March of 1974 I travelled out of the UK (that was the most difficult part and a whole chapter in its own right) for the very first time in my life and through France where I was greeted as travelling royalty and then into Spain, where the immigration officer was too busy picking his nose to care about what passport I was carrying or even whether I had one at all. My wife (to be) and I had made it to Ibiza, where we would later have to run for our lives due to the lack of a work permit and the then legal foundation of denunciation. Later that same year the French government put an end to my most favoured passport office and found both Jim and Garry guilty of “confusing the public” – only in France, and after they’d been so magnanimous to me at Calais!
You might think I digress but I assure you not. The point is this, albeit a very long point and I’m sure to some a tedious one. It’s about the EU referendum. You see, what I recall of that matter in 1975, the very first referendum ever held in this country and, as now, for all the wrong reasons, was that a great deal was made about peace and security. Something which played to the heart of what I’ve been talking about. I probably didn’t mention it but I was also, at the time, a great advocate of coalition government. I’ve just had one recently, the only one in my lifetime and I must say, whilst far from my idea of perfect, it was probably the best government of that lifetime – and for exactly the reasons that this, then, seven year-old figured it would be, way back then. Not holding political parties in any esteem whatsoever, that’s another chapter, and not being a lover of monarchy or, in particular, the Pan-European monarchy headed by that illustrious family from Hapsburg and belatedly of Windsor, that most of us call simply “The Germans”, the idea of a coalition of nation states across Europe – especially involving the two key protagonists, France and Germany – seemed to me like a bloody good thing. A lot less chance of bombs across the border and a lot more chance of a good debate across the dining table. The clincher for me, however, was the promise, and I remember it as if it were yesterday, of “the dissolution of national borders, freedom of travel across Europe and the lack of any need to carry a passport”.
Coming just over a year since a Special Branch officer did everything he legally could to stop me leaving my own country and then, three month’s later, everything he illegally could to stop me re-entering – all because I’d had the audacity to carry a “Mickey-Mouse passport” as he put it – what other way could I possibly vote? I took up the democratic challenge with gusto and made my mark on the ballot paper. The very next day it was announced, I had been on the winning side! Any day now I would get my wish….my right….the fruits of my democratic labours…. One year …and then it went, a decade or four passed and to this day I still cannot leave my own country, despite any law to the contrary, without presenting a valid passport to, well, not even to the authorities, no, just to a fledgling flight attendant who will then allow me to board a plane, a bus with wings. Those with wheels are perfectly safe, apparently.
I could feel harshly treated. I do. I could feel that they didn’t exactly play the game, that this wasn’t exactly cricket. It wasn’t and I do. I actually feel cheated, rather badly betrayed. But then I remember, it’s democracy, init.
..and now I feel foolish. I played their game by their rules and I should know better. In 1979 it was too early to realise that. I was still giving them the benefit of the doubt, still waiting for it all to come to pass so when someone suggested that having a woman run the country might be a good idea, I agreed. I voted. I won. I’ve never regretted anything more in my entire life. Frank Skinner got it right on the eve of the ’97 election when he said, “The thing about Margaret Thatcher was, you always knew where you were with her. Shame I didn’t have a paddle”.
It was clear to me that this democracy thing was a tricky old bugger and perhaps I wasn’t clever enough to play this game. Or perhaps that’s all I really realised, that it was a game and that I was winning was just an illusion, shurely shome mishtake. I could cope with all of that but what really pisses me off? really? well it’s the fact that I’m now being told that we’re to have the same vote all over again, oh and why? Because people younger than me were never given a say, last time. This is true but only because they weren’t fucking born, you muppets! There must be a great many things they missed out on for the same reason. Luckily for them, penicillin was invented before they (and I) were born, should we do away with that too so they can experience life before antibiotics? Perhaps we could restart world war two, I’m sure Putin would play ball, then they could pick up a gun and play a full and equal part in that little tea party? Why stop there? We could bring back the Spanish Inquisition, restart the Crusades (oops we tried that didn’t we) the Witchfinder General, the Plague, the Great Fire of London, re-stage events at Runnymede and have the kiddywinks redraft Magna Carta in text-speak. Fuck it, Tony Blair got to do that, rewrite our ancient constitution and he’s the same age as me, much as it galls me to acknowledge it. The real “why”, of course, is anything but. That first referendum, the first the country had ever had, was all because the Labour Party of the day was split down the middle over Europe and Harold Wilson hoped to cling on to leadership of his party….and the real reason we’re having another one, the third in our history, (not to forget the little one on changing the electoral system) is because the Tory Party is split down the middle over Europe and David Cameron is desperate to hang onto leadership of his party…. But even that’s not it, no, what really pisses me off – apart from democracy, political parties, the European monarchy and religion, well it’s workers who won’t do the job they’re paid to do, continue to take the shilling but are constantly asking others to pick up their slack.
Call-me-Dave is currently paid £142,500 a year – by me personally, I think. Honestly, you should see my tax bills. On top of him we have twenty-one cabinet ministers and an unknown but ever increasing number of government ministers who are each paid £134,565/year. To that we should add that there are some six hundred more MPs each paid £74,000/year and then there’s the civil service….I can’t readily obtain a number but it runs into billions of pounds…
So, let me get this right. We all pay all of you. We pay you to keep the streets clean, keep us safe in our beds and to keep the hell away from our bank and Internet accounts. We let you play in “The House”, wield your “power”, enjoy your games, declare war on smaller defenceless countries when you feel like it and to keep the lights on, if you would, please. In short, we pay you to run the place whilst the rest of us are busy trying to earn enough money to keep you in this comfortable lifestyle. We pay billions of pounds so that you can be surrounded by the brightest and best university-educated civil servants, statisticians, researchers and economists so that you can do your job and have, at your fingertips, the very best information on hand to help you make decisions in the course of your work. Well, frankly, if all of that doesn’t buy enough knowledge and brainpower to figure out whether we’re better in the EU or without, then I hardly think the rest of us can help you out much. Nonetheless, you want us to make this decision for you so as to deflect blame or responsibility from you and your legacy? Is there anything you can do on your own? What is it exactly that we are paying all that money for? Didn’t we just spend a big fat sweaty wad of cash having an election to put you into those jobs in the first place? There. That’s what really pisses me off.
A plague on all your houses oh and while I’m at it, well done. I’m now an avowed Brexiter but it’s nothing that any of you said. No, it was Angela Merkel’s unashamed electioneering, handing a despotic nation like present-day Turkey the keys to our front and back doors (and another big fat sweaty wad of cash) using shell-shocked migrants as pawns on the European chess board and under the heel of her legacy. Closely followed, two day’s later, by Mario Draghi, head of the ECB, printing yet more imaginary, digital billions to hand out to zombie corporations and hapless banks. He and his lunatic colleagues in about 20 or more other EU nations, of similar philosophical belief, genuinely think that the route to prosperity is at the expense of the EU m, our children, and our great-grandchildren so he and his ilk can carry on riding this massive gravy-train. The truth, that neither he and none of these Central Bankers or politicians will admit to, is that they don’t have the faintest idea how to resolve the global mountain of debt they have collectively accumulated and under which we are all being suffocated. Their favoured weapon of choice is to create as much inflation as they can – that’s inflation that every man woman and child will have to pay rather than the real culprits. They do this in order to devalue that debt to a manageable number…and that’s going to require a great deal of inflation for a great many years. You know what happens to the rest of us when we can’t pay our debts, dont you? Unfortunately, as they very well know, if every over-indebted country in the world were to declare the truth – bankruptcy – it would be the end of civilisation as we have come to know it. Some claim he came late to this s conversion having had eight years to study the failure of similar policies elsewhere in the world….personally I think that after procrastinating for so many years, and in the absence of any good idea, just following the lead of others seemed like the one option he could take and claim that he was just doing the same as every other country. What he doesn’t seem to realise is that it hasn’t worked, anywhere so far. Japan is still in the same position as they were three decades ago but hey, at least he won’t be blamed for coming up with such a bad idea all on his own. So I’m for out and I can hardly believe I’m uttering those words but I am, I really am.
The one thing I promise I won’t be doing in this election/referendum, and haven’t since learning my lesson all those years ago, is to vote. I would probably end up on the “winning side” but we’ve learned that lesson now, haven’t we. As someone far better known than I once said, “You really shouldn’t vote, you know. It only encourages the bastards”.