London/Bozen – Would Maggie Thatcher turn or rejoice in her grave knowing of the present clash over the UK’s continuing membership of the European Union, and would it be the ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ campaign, which would have her vote? The “Iron Lady” certainly had her battles with the then-called “Common Market” and yet even she was not always consistent in her views, although she would probably deny such declaration.
As the Labour Prime minister of the sixties Harold Wilson said “a week is a long time in politics” and the stance of politicians can shift alarmingly over seven days. Nowadays it seems that the equivalent of a week has become an hour or two as politicians constantly jostle for position.
“Democracy thrives because no better system has been invented” is the citation often heard but sometimes there are circumstances, which make the electorate wonder as to where they are being led and even in the case of a referendum, it is not so easy to rationalise the arguments put forward by many of the elected representatives. In the past fortnight in the UK, there has been a split in opinion of titanic proportions and one, which will only be resolved on knowing the outcome of the referendum on Thursday 23rd June. Yes, the big decision will be taken of a Thursday because tradition has it that British General Elections and similar plebiscites are held on this day, as once upon a time it was market day. As a result of this, most people would be in town and, therefore, be able to vote in addition to purchasing their wares. Maybe as the concern this time round is to do with markets it is a fitting choice.
The ramifications of the vote are considerable indeed and what is fascinating, and perhaps a little disturbing, is that there has been a rupture in the ruling Conservative party over this. A few months ago, it seemed that the Conservatives would rule in the UK far into the foreseeable future. They had won a significant victory at the previous General Election, no longer had to rely on the Liberal vote in a patched-up coalition, and had a leader in David Cameron, who had successfully diverted the annexing of Scotland from the UK in a hard fought referendum, and had also enjoyed squashing the misfiring Labour party at the national polls yet again. His standing was enhanced, so much so that he was content to confirm that this next five year Parliament would be his last term in office, and he would presumably retire to take his place alongside Churchill and Thatcher as a Conservative great. “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” seems a suitable reference in this instance as Cameron is now faced with an Olympian task to keep his party together and his legacy intact. The fact is that Cabinet Ministers have been given freedom of conscience to vote one way or the other in the forthcoming vote, and at last count approximately a third of the twenty-odd ministers were in favour of voting to leave the EU. Principal among these is Boris Johnson, “the blonde bombshell”, who is the actual Mayor of London, eloquent, controversial and tipped by many as a future leader. His siding with “the vote no to stay in” campaign is seen by many as political manoeuvring and an attempt to oust Cameron from his Prime Ministerial throne.
Irony of all ironies is that Cameron’s allies in the campaign to remain are the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party, both of with whom he jostles aggressively with on a regular basis and probably loathes to a considerable degree in private. Such is the nature of politics that it can at times be the support of your worst enemies, which saves you from an unwanted fate. It is likely to be a “battle royale” and there will be no way back for the losers, be they blonde, be they ginger, or be they bald.
As is often the case it is nigh on impossible for normal folk to know which side to come down in favour of. The man on the Clapham omnibus, the description historically used by English law to define the reasonable citizen, will certainly have to think hard before deciding whether to jump off at Clapham in South London or stay aboard to reach the European mainland.
Is the choice to stay “a stride into the light” or “a leap in the dark”, does the decision to remain “expose the UK to greater terrorism” or does it make the island territory “safer and stronger”. The learned Members of Parliament will need to stand on the boxes in Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park to get their message across effectively.
Of course, now is the time also when stakeholders spring into action also and signed petitions from categories as far apart as “ex security heads” and “the top 100 companies in the Financial Times Index” have their say on the matter. Lobbying will be a valuable instrument in influencing many as vested interests are highlighted and the opinion pollists will have a field day. Such exciting debate is all very well and good but perhaps the real issues at stake are worthy of consideration. Much has been made as to whether Cameron obtained valuable concessions from the EU as a whole and anyway what are the issues, which merit a separate consideration of the UK question.
British sovereignty has always been a prized possession for the Brits themselves and the pride of having a constitutional monarchy with the Queen at its head has always been cited as a reason for not getting too close to other European states and risking an erosion of all things particular and deeply cherished by British citizens, or at least that was the argument as it once stood.
Another cause for concern has been the refugee crisis, and the fact that the UK social services and child benefit system is relatively advanced and comprehensive in its reach and that immigrants have been able to take advantages of the system immediately upon arrival in the UK. And this has created an atmosphere of hostility and claims of abuse by unentitled persons.
On an economic level the UK of course never agreed to membership of a monetary system (do we hear cries of Thatcherism from deep down somewhere?) and sure in its opportunity to reach world markets because if its colonial links and “special relationship” with America, there is a reluctance to become just another cog in the wheel of EU bureaucracy. The expansion of the EU in recent years to embrace many new and economically poor performing countries has exacerbated this issue. To set against this point however is of course the fact that many Japanese and far eastern companies in general who have set up their European hub in the UK would not be too happy to have their relationships with a large number of EU countries affected by import duties or similar charges.
As always there are contrasting arguments to all issues and one wonders if at the end of the day the decision will just come down to a gut reaction of individuals as to whether they feel comfortable with their present status as part of a top heavy bureaucratic machine, yet one which offers integration and supposedly shares common goals or if they prefer to strike out and try to recapture the uniqueness of operation and freedom, which the British Isles once enjoyed in the world. Will the British play ball and not give up on the team ethic associated with the European Union or will the desire, somewhat engrained in the character of the Brits but maybe misplaced in a 2016 context, to strike out and show the world how things should be done prevail? In the absence of a crystal ball only time will tell and the genius of man will compete against the folly of our ways.
to rejoice: jubeln, frohlocken, seine Freude haben
stance: (Grund-)Haltung, Standpunkt
to jostle for the (best) position: sich um die (besten) Plätze rangeln
fortnight: vierzehn Tage, zwei Wochen
ramification: Auswirkung, Effekt
to rely on: auf etw. angewiesen sein, sich auf jdn./etw. verlassen
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch: Kümmere dich nicht um ungelegte Eier/Mach die Rechnung nicht ohne den Wirt.
to oust: verdrängen, ersetzen
to loathe: verabscheuen, nicht ausstehen können
nigh on: nahezu
opinion pollist: Person, die Meinungsumfragen/-forschung durchführt
cherished: geschätzt, gepflegt
hostility: Feindseligkeit, Anfeindungen
cog in the wheel: ein Rad im Getriebe
to exacerbate: verschlimmern, verschärfen
gut reaction: gefühlsmäßige Reaktion