In 1975 I was recently married, recently settled into an entirely new life in every way. I was in business in a modest way, I was surrounded by people of many different cultures and origins, faiths, beliefs and philosophies. I was learning about an array of curious and wonderful foods from around the world, seeking them out and serving them up to an eclectic clientele whose appetite for such things seemed insatiable.
Edward Heath had taken us into the EEC just three years before, the crowning glory of his political career, much good it would do him. Inflation was rampant, we’d just emerged from the three day week, regular power cuts, an oil crisis, it was a dark and dirty world where rubbish didn’t get collected for weeks, all industry was engulfed in strife and dispute as indeed was Harold Wilson, our then Prime Minister.
To solve his internal divisions within the Labour Party he determined to hold a Referendum on our continued membership of the EEC. He believed the country would grab at the opportunity as a way to protect against further deprivations and, in doing so, would shut down his back-bench dissenters and allow him to continue to govern. He was right. We did what he expected and he got what he needed. It was the first public Referendum in the history of these islands.
That was also the very first time in my life I voted, for anything. It was the first time I felt motivated to vote. I had absolutely no interest in any political party, none of which had ever sounded like something I could relate to. I had no faith or belief in the “democratic system”. I saw it then as I see it now, a mechanism, a device, a platform from which those that seek power over the rest of us, those with an ideology to lord over us in pursuit of their own goals, can ensure a reasonably stable, peaceable society that won’t stand in their way. Another religion, if you will, a drug some have suggested. It was clear to me that the system was built in such a way as to deny me any kind of real democracy and grant me merely the appearance of it. I was well aware of the critics of my position, that this was the best we had, that all else led to dictatorship, that it was my duty to participate. I never had any truck with those inanities then and I have none now. This, however, was different.
This was a simple yes/no, a simple majority verdict, no arcane processes or procedures just a straight percentage choice – do you want to remain in the EEC or leave?
I had spent a little time travelling in Europe – France and Spain to be precise. I had lived for a short while on the island of Ibiza, a world then more foreign than I can paint in a few words and perhaps I’ll return to it later. I was, as I’ve already stated, bitterly opposed to nation states, to the requirement to prove my nationality to others by virtue of a passport. The world, in my mind, belonged to the human beings that inhabited it, not to the national governments of the countries of the world. How dare they decide where and whether I could travel. I was, and still am, the proud possessor of a World Passport which proclaims that I am indeed of this earth and this was the passport I had used on my foreign travels.
I voted to remain and was happy to be on the winning side which made me feel it had been worthwhile to participate. I looked forward to the promises I was given: the dissolution of national borders, freedom of travel and the removal of any need to carry a passport. That was all I heard, all I voted for. I’m sure trade was discussed because I’m told it was but it figured not one jot on my agenda. I certainly wasn’t told that I was going to supplant one government, the one that had just given me this gift, for another in a distant land whose constituent parts were driven by an ideology that I would never and will never concur with. A government that, compared to the limits on my existing access to democracy, saw no need even for that much. It never occurred to me that such a transformation would take place over time, with it foisted upon me by stealth, by my own government representatives.
In 1979, perhaps high on my previous success, I was tempted into General Election participation because I thought, why not, about time we gave a woman a chance….. I thereafter declared myself unfit to participate in democracy, I clearly lacked the intellect.
I had never voted again until the Referendum on 23rd June 2016, the second time I would get my chance to express an opinion about Europe or, more specifically, the European Union as it had by now become.
The Referendum campaign stretched my imagination and forced me to confront, to evaluate, even to reconsider my longest held beliefs and when I did, I determined there was only one way to vote and that vote I must https://whatnowdoc.com/2016/03/13/eu-referendum-internationalist-to-brexit/ and https://whatnowdoc.com/2016/06/16/if-we-vote-to-remain-we-are-done-for/https://whatnowdoc.com/2016/06/16/if-we-vote-to-remain-we-are-done-for/
Three votes, three “wins” all, in all probability, hollow victories.
Most of my adult life I’ve been made to feel guilty of my capitalist leanings. Perhaps never more so than during the “reign” of Margaret Thatcher, a very dark period in British political history for which we, the world, today continue to suffer in so many ways. No, I’m not one of those who believes, belatedly, that she was a great leader. She was in fact a very ordinary human being but worse, in the beginning, she was a blank canvas onto which so many were able to paint their own distorted philosophies and she a willing pupil, becoming drunk on power and believing of her own sense of immortal, moral right. Her “success” infected so much of politics around the world and nowhere more so than in the USA where Ronald Regan, another blank canvas, won the presidency in the election of 1980. The seventies had not been a good decade, economically, for any country and people everywhere wanted a change. Populism was alive and well then, too and the Western democracies, ever sensitive to economic privations, were voting for change and investing their faith in low skilled, low brained leaders who could rally the crowd and promise the good news they craved. I didn’t know then what I know now, that a new economic and political philosophy called neoliberalism was going to change my world, the whole Western world.
Margaret Thatcher had swallowed wholesale the neoliberal economics of Hayek, Smith, Friedman and others, we were all capitalists now. “Trickle-down economics” is the phrase people remember. “Let them eat cake” is perhaps another. Globalisation was on a roll, as was unemployment, privation and debt.
Mine could have been a tale of rags to riches. As it was, it was a tale of someone from humble but middle class austerity to a relative luxury that 99% of the world’s population might be envious of. With a little luck, it could have gone way beyond that but lack of luck probably did me a favour. With a little luck and a lot more Thatcheresque cold, hard calculation I would have been wealthy but in truth I never had the stomach for it. I have the comfort and contentment of knowing that I worked hard, very hard, for everything I have and that I never intentionally hurt anyone in the process, nor broke any deal or agreement that I made.
I’ve made some others very well off by my efforts. I’ve given employment to a great many people in what I’ve always tried to make a happy and rewarding work environment. I’ve not always paid everyone as much as they would have liked but I’ve always paid more than I needed to and tried to offer comfort and support, in addition, wherever I could. I’m happy to describe myself as a caring and thoughtful employer though I’m sure there are examples where I may have fallen down, may not always have done everything that I could have, had it occurred to me at the time or had I felt able to do so. I am a capitalist, through and through but I have always carried a guilt with me about the millions of the Earth’s population who can only dream to have lived the life I have lived.
For many millions of those, in far off places, the task always seemed too great to resolve and still does. For many millions of others who live in the same “Western World” as me, there are things we can do, things we must do and, in time, we can help lift those in the far off places, too. We can make the world a better place, for a short(ish) time at least and we should indeed try.
What I learned most poignantly, over the process of a lifetime, is that the youthful urgency with which most of us are gripped in our early years, is born of an ignorance and an arrogance of time. We know something of what came in the few decades before we were born, we know a lot about the present and we think we can see the future. What we fail to understand is that our miniscule slice of time, the length of an average human lifetime, is really no time at all.