I was eighteen years old when the Common Market Referendum took place. An impressionable youth with little experience of politics I fell into the trap of believing that politicians, especially Prime Ministers, were honourable people who told the truth. With one exception since then I have come to see that this is not the case. In hindsight I was naïve and too full of the optimism of youth. Forgive me.
It is a difficult thing to come to terms with. The realisation that you have been told lies and that your life is immeasurably changed because you allowed yourself to be reeled in so readily is galling and disturbing. It makes you cautious, rightly so, and ill inclined towards those who seek thereafter to sell you a dream. However, with a change of course redemption is possible.
Europe is far from a dream. It has evolved, or rather been shaped into something that resembles a nightmare, one from which you wake in a tremble and a sweat. I remember Athens in the days when it was inhabited by Greeks and it was a place of peace and laid back hospitality; the kind of city where you felt that one day you would like to bring your kids. Not so now. Three years ago my wife and I stopped over on our way to Piraeus to board a cruise. We walked some of the streets that I had trod all those years ago but passing burned out shops and failed businesses, and alleyways where shadowy figures lay on mats, we did not feel inclined to linger. The sight of pensioners rummaging through bins in the streets of a capital city left me feeling that Greece has been raped of whatever shreds of pride and self-respect that it had had before, and left to stand shivering in the cold icy landscape of idealism. This is what happens when you hand power to those who do not know you, against whom you have no come back, and who are prepared to sacrifice you and your loved ones on the altar of their ambitions.
This is not about Greece. The country I love and care about is Britain. As I have said before I find it both a blessing and a curse to have lived in better times. I do not like what this nation has become. Its young so often shaped by those those who see education not as a form of inculcating knowledge but as a form of social engineering. They may pass exams in larger measure than in the days of yore, but that does not make them wise. In my younger days wisdom was something that if you did not possess it yourself, you were inclined to seek from your elders. Having lived through upheaval and the threat of extinction in WW2 and the Cold War Years the elderly, now largely gone, had an outlook on life that was realistic and gritty, and they seemed in those far off times to have known that you need to be careful in choosing those in whom you must place your trust. They were by and large, conservative in their approach to life’s great issues. They seemed to know in their bones that you have to empower your rulers with care.
Sovereignty is a word that will be bandied around a great deal in these coming weeks. This, for me is the most important of all the issues. On 4th March 1972 Powell gave a speech in which he said: “The House of Commons is at this moment being asked to agree to the renunciation of its own independence and supreme authority—but not the House of Commons by itself. The House of Commons is the personification of the people of Britain: its independence is synonymous with their independence; its supremacy is synonymous with their self-government and freedom. Through the centuries Britain has created the House of Commons and the House of Commons has moulded Britain, until the history of the one and the life of the one cannot be separated from the history and life of the other. In no other nation in the world is there any comparable relationship. Let no one therefore allow himself to suppose that the life-and-death decision of the House of Commons is some private affair of some privileged institution which at intervals swims into his ken and out of it again. It is the life-and-death decision of Britain itself, as a free, independent and self-governing nation.”
It is impossible for any Assembly meeting across the Channel to govern in the interests of Britain. It is impossible for the interests of Britain to be seen as the same as those of Bulgaria, or Estonia or Slovakia. There is no equivalence between Berlin and Athens. To pretend that there is and to govern in such a way as to ignore the individuality of the nation state is a form of fascism; unaccountable, insensitive, unyielding, idealistic, despotic and the very antithesis of democracy.
The challenge that we face in Britain is in establishing once again that link between Parliament and the People. There is an estrangement, a mistrust of politicians that is not without reason, given that so many have proved to be dishonest in smaller things, and therefore potentially untrustworthy in larger matters. I do not know how this Democratic Renaissance might be achieved, but I do believe it is much more in the interest of Britain to seek it than it is to seek a different marriage to neighbours who might look like us, but who have some very funny ways.