Friday 24 June 2016

The Next Chapter

Let us look at the breakdown of the referendum calmly.

Out of ten people, three said nothing at all.  Of the next six people, three wanted to Remain in the EU while three knew they wanted to Leave. The last person eventually voted for Leave, taking it over the dividing line.

This is not a landslide.  It would be wrong to make the mistake of 1975 and paint this as a definitive expression of national sentiment - not with almost a third of voices silent.  But now we know exactly the strength of  feeling in significant part of it, which is all that was ever necessary.   The elites have annoyed enough people over the political spectrum that only half the active electorate can be relied on to follow their recommendations.

The first thing is to stop annoying people by making enemies unnecessarily. Instead, look closely at the texture of people's lives and ask what can be done to foster the historically successful identity of the United Kingdom. It was last seen in 2012 at the Olympics, and it was confirmed - just - at the Scottish Referendum. 

Note, however, that almost half the active electorate voted Remain, and it is their country too.

The opportunity now is to take this solid expression of disapproval and let our ruling elites show they have understood: they got it wrong.  Sackcloth and ashes, please. 

Next, a delay while the parties take on board what has happened. They are so tired that they can barely think straight.  And that includes the Leavers.   Nothing in legal terms has happened, nor is it going to for months. 

A signal has been sent to the European Union - specifically Ms Merkel - "This is not your border to open."   Germany has twice plunged Europe in to war.   This signal prevents them from making the same old mistake but in a new way: i.e. thinking they own the place.

Now, let us have a cup of tea and remember we are British.  Exactly as we were yesterday.

Thursday 23 June 2016

Story Arc

Back in 1975 the world looked like this:

The USSR was, we were assured, a thriving economy.  But it was rapidly running out of basic things such as bath plugs and soap.  However, it was not running out of nuclear warheads or the will to dominate the bordering countries, which included East Germany. 

The USA was economically bouncy, although it was struggling in competition with the Asian states which were rapidly advancing in electronic goods, such a Nikon cameras.

Canada and Australia and New Zealand were Far, Far Away.  People who went there were emigrating, and that meant you would not see them again.

Europe, however, was getting closer.  Coach tours, package holidays which included flights, and ambitious car drivers, all went to Europe for their holidays.  To the surprise of many Brits, there was more than one kind of wine.  Beautiful gifts came back from these romantic places; fans made of white lace, packages of nuts in a sweet and crispy coating, enamel bracelets with abalone shell insets, woven bags with twisty white shoulder straps, china cockerells; all the glamour of the Silk Road cascaded on to The Continent.

If I had to think of Europe in just one thing, it would be a tiny cup of thick black coffee; sweet, slightly gritty, the aroma of adventure.   Nothing like the bitter watery beige back home.  Apparently coffee is made from roasted and ground beans, not gravy granules. It is like the wine; there is more than one kind.

In 1975 homes had a telephone in the hallway and everyone remembered how, the year before, the electricity had been rationed.  A modern society had been flung back 100 years, only without the quantity of oil lamps and open fires, so people were reduced to hunching over candles and organizing their lives so as to go to bed to keep warm and save the torch and radio batteries for emergencies.

In 1975 it looked like a good idea to stay in the European Economic Community.  That way, at least the children could emigrate to Spain and not freeze to death, which was better than having them go permanently to Australia.

However, within ten years, the world began to look very different.

Developments in air travel meant that if someone went to Canada, Australia or New Zealand, they could come back to visit.  It was no longer like colonizing a distant planet.  Freddie Laker proved that there was a market for a budget airline, and that ordinary people could afford to fly to New York.

Mobile phones were the size of house-bricks and only certain people had them, but everyone could see the price coming down. By 1985 computers had migrated from the data departments to the desk top and were busy taking their jump in to the household and thence to the handbag.

Perhaps in front of you at this moment is the data relic of The World Before: the QWERTY keyboard, designed to stop metal printing arms from tangling.  In 1975 we learned to touch-type on manual machines. The layout is so engrained that there is no point in trying to change it.  But by 1985 the mighty manual typewriter had gone, replaced by electronic versions, and then by word processing software. 

There was determination to end the Cold War, not by fighting but by showing that to have the fight would be cripplingly expensive, even for the victor.   In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down.  Germany re-united.  In 1990 I unknowingly worked for a few weeks on the last of the Star Wars projects, convincing the remnant of the USSR that the Cold War  really was over.  It was more of a PR stunt; no security was taken at all  - I did not even sign the Official Secrets Act -  and I suspect I was faxing materiel manifests direct to the Soviet embassy, having produced them on an IBM word processor.  The aim was to show them that they could be comprehensively, bankruptingly, out-spent. 

Meanwhile, Tim Berners-Lee was writing the code which meant that anyone could use the giant file structure which is the Internet, not just Unix programmers and computing students. 

In 1975 it was not apparent to most people that technology was changing the world, so they made a sensible decision based on the visible situation at the time.   The technology had been incubating for decades but it still seemed like science fiction.  It took only fifteen years, less than the time than for a child to grow and leave secondary school, for the changes to become visible in every home.

Britain joined the EEC not on the morning of a new world,  but on the eve of the old post-war, Cold War, world.

It is in the nature of life; you have to take a decision based on imperfect information, knowing it will have long-term consequences.

Last week I bought a pair or shoes which had been designed in the US, manufactured in Germany, but coordinated by a British company which operates a portfolio of international fashion brands out of an office in Norwich. It is the company which stands behind the authenticity of the shoes so that I am not being scammed in to buying a knock-off.  They make some of the brands in Britain, and I wear those, too. 

I also bought a dress which is designed and manufactured in London.   Kindly do not tell me I am raaaaycist; the owners can trace their family back to Cyprus in the 1950s and have over half a century of experience in the rag trade.  They now manufacture in London where they can guarantee the production standards and the care of the workforce.  They ship world-wide.  Do I pay over the odds for that?  No I do not.  I pay no more than in any high street chain, and I know that this dress helps secure the families in London.

It makes sense to vote Remain.  It is an insurance policy, but it is not the horizon of opportunity it once was. Forty years on I sip an expensive ethical coffee and it is still exotic.  I can tell you where it was grown in South America and who bought the crop,  which small-outfit roaster processes it, and the family-run farm shop which is one of the distribution points.  Opportunity is now out in the world, via the web, via transport.

So that's where I'll be looking, outwards towards the world, because that is where the best chance to build prosperity for our children is; but they need a secure country in which to stand in order to do it.

That country is Great Britain.