In 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, said of the crisis brewing in Europe that it was a “quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing“
Nearly 80 years later, politicians of practically all hues are keen to adopt Churchill as their mascot. He’s held up as the exemplar of British stoicism and moral right. But not many people quote Chamberlain.
And that’s strange, given that so many of our nation are adopting his views; and given that today, as then, there are a number of appalling, intractable, violent wars destroying the lives of innnocent people on the borders of Europe.
Britain had a hand in stoking many of these conflicts. It armed, and continues to arm, many of the parties involved. Its policies contributed to the hatred tearing the Islamic world from the West.
Yet we run from the outcome. Turkey has taken 2 million refugees. Our policy is to take 6,000, and we’ve barely started even that pathetic process. Yet even such paltry window-dressing is considered a betrayal by those, like Farage, Gove and Boris Johnson, who claim Churchill’s mantle.
In 1939, to our nation’s eternal pride, we did not run from the world. We opened our doors to refugees. We fought despicable, angry, xenophobic nationalism. And at the end of the conflict, we led the process that healed Europe by first proposing, then helping to draft, the treaties that became the EU. It was us. We did it, because we were a great nation with a great vision. We were not, then, little Englanders terrified of foreign accents and jealous of our village green. We knew what was right, and we proudly did it.
The European Convension on Human Rights, which the Tories, UKIP and most Brexit supporters wish to tear up, was written by the British and based that Churchillian moral sense.
Brexiteers say they want their country back. So do I. That country. The country with that sense of what is right.
Today, and to our nation’s eternal shame, we slam the doors on refugees. We don’t want to welcome immigrants. We shun, belittle and abuse them.
And we ignore the compexity of the world; we conveniently forget the cuts we voted for, and the politicians we elected are leading to too few doctors, too few engineers, too few homes, too few skills.
We try to forget the truth that, in the absense of investment, any business has to buy in services: which is exactly what we, as a nation, are doing. We’re buying in 26% of NHS doctors because we’ve been too stupid and short-termist to train our own.
That’s our fault, but we don’t want to admit is. We’re angry, but refuse resonsibility. We (yes we) voted repeatedly for parties – New Labour and Tory – which boastfully cut regulations that protected us from the worst excesses of the City. But we refuse to acknowledge that we gave politicians permission to risk our economy. We encouraged it. We celebrated it. We rewarded it with electoral success.
But now we say: it’s not our fault. It’s theirs. Them. The other.
We are now the ethos we once fought; we are now that despicable, angry, xenophobic nationalism.
The desperate millions (and yes, I agree they are millions) find no help from Britain. Force-fed on a diet of lies about the benefits and absolute social and economic necessity of immigration (which are many), our people would riot if we did the right thing.
Katie Hopkins writes in our biggest selling newspaper that she wishes to shell and sink the “cockroaches” crossing the Mediterranean, and a large swathe of our country cheers. Circulation rises. No politician dares to confront her, and many sidle up to her to bask in her radioactive, cancerous glow.
Politicians even more right-wing than David Cameron or Margaret Thatcher, such as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson (who both voted for less regulation before the 2007 crash, and who both propose privatising the NHS) now cash-in on the terrifying mood sweeping the country, and have the temerity to persuade Labour voters that the Tory Leave campaign is on the side of the poor.
They promise a rosy future of huge NHS investment, having spent a lifetime voting against it. They promise better communities and more jobs, having spent their entire careers undermining workers’ rights, with the aim of creating a passive, weak workforce for corporations to manipulate and expliot. In Europe, our nation alone voted against workers’ rights and against restrictions on bank bonuses.
Yet now we blame godawful workers’ rights and out-of-control bankers on Europe. No. We did it. Us. Europe tried to stop us, but we arrogantly refused.
The Brexit camp promises that ejecting the EU will Make Britain Great Again. But it won’t. It’ll make it easier for people to exploit us, because the EU, in a reflection of its founding principles, is practically all that is protecting us from extremism. But now it’s our extremism.
What will Make Britain Great Again is compassion. Investment. Equality. Honesty about the value of the EU and its people, and our shared heritage, culture and values. Recognising that the world is out there, and longing to be part of it. Aiding the poor and nationless, treating them well, and helping to cure the ills abroad (and at home) as part of a larger movement.
It’s doing what we did during the war: taking in Hungarian, Latvian, Spanish and Polish people (like my grandfather, who came here to fight for us in the Battle of Britain) and making them love us rather than fear us, mock us and condemn us.
It’s doing what we did after the war: being part of a greater, international struggle to solve the crises on our borders and help build a fairer, stronger world.
Is the EU perfect? Of course not. I think of it in the same way I think of my gym: it costs me £65 a year (the actual amount the EU costs each citizen), it’s annoying sometimes, it’s a bit inconvenient. But it’s good for me.
Let’s do what’s good for us on June 23rd.
Let’s accept the pain of collaboration in the stoical way Churchill represents. Bullish and proud, fearsomely British, but with an arm outstretched to the world.
And let’s ignore Nigel Farage, just as we now ignore Neville Chamberlain.