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Thirty years, eh?

Posted by Helen Monday, June 06, 2005

Well, well, how time flies. It seems but yesterday. Well, actually, it does not, since the years 1975 to 1989 were taken up largely with all attention on the fight with Communism (and a few other matters that are too personal to discuss in this blog).

Still, I have to admit, I, too, voted no in that famous referendum. My reasons were, I think, prescient and, even though I say so myself, quite intelligent for someone who was still wet behind the ears.

To me it seemed absolutely clear that the Common Market was going to result in another layer of government and there was no need for that so far as I could see.

I did have an enormous advantage over many other people who voted in the referendum (and many more who did not bother). Politics was and is in my blood. My family is intensely political and all my parents’ friends were, too. All political issues were discussed heatedly and at great length and Britain’s possible membership of the Common Market was no exception.

I have written elsewhere about my upbringing and the intense Anglophilia instilled into me from an early childhood.

In the same piece I mention an interesting category, the “cold-war intelligentsia” that my parents were part of for the few years they lived in Britain. I think I may be a hereditary member of it, but let that pass.

The “cold war intelligentsia” that, despite the untrendiness of its ideas, consisted of the brightest and the best in academia, journalism, literature and politics, may have been united on its attitude to Communism and the need to fight it but was split on other issues. The idea that they all saw the Common Market as a bulwark against the Soviet Union and a necessary weapon in that fight is completely wrong – a theory propounded by people who have not bothered to find out what really went on.

They were split along several lines. Some, like my own parents and many of their immediate circle, were uncompromisingly against it. There was no need for it. It would link Britain into a unit that would be uncongenial to her own constitutional and legal structure and to her trade patterns; it would weaken links with the Commonwealth and the United States (this, despite the avowed American support for the EEC); it would strengthen the movement to greater and greater bureaucracy.

There were others who thought differently. Many, in those circles and outside them, looked at the power of the unions and their political agenda and posed the question acutely but despairingly: “What choice do we have? Rule by Brussels or rule by Moscow?” In the circumstances, rule by Brussels seemed preferable.

There were those, largely the economists around the IEA, who saw membership of the Common Market as the only possible way of opening up the British economy to free market reforms and destroying the socialism in all but name that had engrossed the country in the post-War years.

Their equivalent are the few French free-marketeers who are despairingly battling for the opening up of the single market and see the no vote as a set back to all their hopes.

And there were many who have come to Britain as a refuge from the totalitarian states of the Continent and were horrified by the growing tendency to look inward, to ignore the world, to feel scared. They thought of the EEC as a way of opening the country up again.

Like my colleague I do not recall a great deal of the actual campaign, beyond a sense of unfairness at the famous three documents that were sent to every household: in favour, against and the supposedly neutral government one, that was, actually, in favour.

I do, however, recall one particular radio discussion, which took place some time in 1971 or 1972, that is, before Parliament passed the European Communities Act. Usually, as we know, the BBC picked individuals from the no side who put people’s backs up with their various arguments that were easily demolished.

This time, they made a mistake. I think it was Angus Maude MP, but I may be wrong. He was arguing extremely ably and cogently that we should not go into this organization because it was not democratic.

Hmmm, I thought. That is interesting. I wonder what the opposing argument will be. It came fast and was unsatisfactory by any standards: of course, it is democratic, said whoever was arguing in favour, all its members are democracies.

This seemed to me so absurd, that I never took another argument in favour of membership seriously again. I remained convinced of the absurdity of it all during the referendum campaign (those cosmetic changes did not amount to much, after all) and am still convinced.

I do not think we shall have to mark another thirtieth anniversary. Against all odds, we have seen the collapse of the Soviet system, though not of socialist ideology. There is no question in my mind: very soon we shall see the collapse of this statist, corporatist political system as well. This time we must make sure that we scotch the ideology, too.