The campaign for a vote to remain in the EU has been taking up a lot of my energy for what feels like a long time. Why does it matter?
The quick version
The short, doorstep comment is that the EU matters because of the peace and the stability, the opportunities and possibilities it brings.
The longer version…
The European Union matters enormously. It has been the context of British political and economic life for decades. It’s tended to under-state its contribution, so people are often not aware of how many development projects or pieces of investment begin in the EU. The contribution has been so great that we can take it for granted — and sometimes rail against its supposed shortcomings without bothering to look at the whole picture. The referendum changes this. Suddenly it might not be there. This posting is not about whipping up fear, but is about expressing some of the richness in which it is rooted, and the contribution it brings.
Culture and history
Europe has a long and convoluted history. There’s an intertwined heritage of culture and religion. There have been centuries of Europeans trading with each other, fighting with each other, sharing cultural influence and sharing faith. Up close, it looks like a story of rivalry. At a distance it looks more like the squabbling of long-married couples, where the words shouldn’t obscure the depth of the connection.
My eye was caught recently by a super watercolour of the Houses of Parliament in the mist, viewed from the Thames, in the days before motorised boats on the river. As it was hanging on the wall of the room where the Liberal Democrat European Group held its AGM, I was tempted to quip that that might be the age to which Eurosceptics seek to turn back the clock. This was the age of empire and Rule Britannia. I can see the appeal of that romanticised vision but golden ages don’t usually stand close scrutiny, and this vision is particularly deceptive.
The European Union is a newish body, but it builds on a rich heritage. The Britain that “ruled the waves” was one of the European powers with a colonial story. We have been rivals, but we and our European neighbours were neighbours across the world.
Scratching the surface barely more deeply, there are the seemingly-unending stories of migration, preserved in some of our surnames, and in the genetic mapping of the UK which shows England’s genetic debt to the Saxons who settled here.