Bath – A Leaver’s diary
By David Kernek
WE Leavers in Bath are few in number – it takes guts to come out from our EUphobe cupboards and shock our friends – but we fight the good fight with our Brexit badges, Out Now banners and flyers asking the questions the town’s Remainers in their blue and yellow berets seem, when pressed politely, unable to answer coherently.
Questions such as: What it is about the happy family that is the European Union that makes you so convinced that Britain should remain a member of the Brussels Empire. Unemployment in Greece at 18.6%, Italy 10.3%, Spain 14.3%, and France 9.1%, the latter around double the UK level? Could it be the enduring attractions of Paris, now being torched by rioters every weekend?
Or perhaps it the exciting growth of extreme right-wing movements in Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland and Hungary? Or there’s the useless gravy train that is the European Parliament, unable – perhaps mercifully – to instigate legislation or remove unelected commissioners?
The answers range frustratingly from the illogical ‘Oh, I just feel European’ – a feeling, one must suppose, in no way shared by the Swiss, Norwegians, Icelanders and the lucky Channel Islanders – to the downright erroneous ‘We’re such a titchy country, we couldn’t survive on our own’. When you offer the view that 66.8 million people isn’t the titchiest of numbers, they tend to switch to defence. I’ve been told, by sane and apparently well-educated people, that it’s the EU, not NATO, that kept us safe from Russia during the Cold War, at which point emerges the normally undeclared anti-American theme that permeates the Britain Under Brussels worldview. When the topic turns to the union’s corrupt bureaucracy, its reckless use of public money, its five presidents and its disdain for democracy when referenda outcomes in nation states aren’t to its federalist taste, they tell me – as if reading a script – that Britain can sort all that out by staying in. We Leavers are said to be thick, yet Remainers seem to be in denial about the failure, decade in-decade out – of British commissioners – now on handsome pensions – and MEPs in the reform department.
These conversations are almost always polite, since many of them are with friends and neighbours in a town – Bath is not a proper city, as it currently has no police station and has never had a concert hall – that considers itself urbanely metropolitan, with one of Britain’s 11 Liberal Democrat MPs and many more coffee shops than are needed by the day-trippers who traipse through here littering the streets with fast-food wrappings on their way to Stratford-on-Avon, Chester, York and Edinburgh. A rare exception was the angry woman – some sort of Momentum ranter bussed in from Bristol – who told me I was a ‘disgusting Nazi’. What I didn’t tell her – talk and brick walls came to mind – was that would be unlikely, since my mother was a refugee from Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938. Why do these people associate resistance to the European One Country project with fascism?
Bath’s Remoaners fit by and large into the category identified by Professor Robert Tombs as people whose attachment to the Brussels Empire is emotional and idealistic, a one-worldism which sees “national identity as outdated or even dangerous, and sometimes holds a vehemently negative view of Britain”. They have, he’s noted, a vague sense that integration promotes harmony, peace and welfare, adding that “these assertions are rarely examined, and stand up poorly to critical analysis. They often seem little more than clichés backed by personal convenience … ease of travel, ownership of property overseas”. Provence and Tuscany remain among their favourite vacation spots, so uninterrupted supplies of Roquefort and Prosecco are essential, so let’s not worry overmuch about, or take too much of an interest in, the tedious less romantic realities of the EU machine. Not much change, then, since 1975, when the Marxist historian E.P. Thompson, in an essay published by the Sunday Times recalled: “The first person who enthused to me … about ‘going into Europe’ went on to enthuse about green peppers. This gave a clue as to what the great British middle class thinks ‘Europe’ is about. It is about a belly. The Eurostomach is the logical extension of the existing eating habits of Oxford and North London.” Thompson figured that once replete, the “euro-stomach will want to euronate … the present idea is to do it on the British working class”. Of course, he couldn’t southern Europe getting it, too.
Bath is a World Heritage status tourist attraction, but it hasn’t been immune from the tide of High Street shop closures, the latest and saddest being a stationers that’s been in the town’s Georgian centre for some 220 years. The local council, disingenuously citing Bath’s 2,000-year history as a rest and recreation resort, has been going all out to give tourists what they want, which is fast-food, bars and nail parlours, not pencils, pens and paper. Our Remainers, of course, have not been slow to place part of the blame on … yes, you’ve guessed.