The grassroots Cambridge for Europe campaign brings together a buzz of Cambridge’s communities from local businesses to researchers and universities, from political representatives to local interest groups. It’s the first such self-organised regional campaign in the country, and the fiery multi-community nature of the effort makes the campaign a model for how other pro-EU groups can get among their local communities to make the case for remaining in the EU. But what has driven Cambridge to be the first to rally itself?
Cambridge is a multi-cultural, vibrant and successful city. It’s open, engaged and looks naturally to the wider world. Walking through the city centre recently, I heard a group of people talking in French and grumbling, as Cambridge residents do, about the number of tourists. I went into a pub and found myself sitting by a table where people who didn’t seem to be visitors were talking in Italian. Being European is woven into the fabric of the place.
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.