One of the things I’ve noticed, as part of the campaigning for the referendum, is the accusation that a lot of us older voters want to go back to some fantasised Utopia that supposedly existed before we joined the EU.
They accuse us of wanting to drag the UK back into the last century with all our talk of how it was before, when in reality all we are trying to do is point out that a lot of what they are telling us the EU had to ‘force’ us to do, was already beginning to happen.
A lot of younger people are really quite fuzzy on the details of how life was ‘back then’ but it’s not entirely their fault. The teaching of modern history often seems to stop short at the end of the Second World War. Films and television programmes aren’t much better at dispelling the myths either, seeming to focus either on upper class frolics or the drudgery of the working classes.
Of course we didn’t have the internet then for instant communication and had to rely on newspapers and televised news for much of our information, so perhaps the great strides forward were less well known. Even the sixties are best known for mods and rockers, the Beatles, the mini skirt and teenagers getting out of control.
However, the British people did fight for progress, not just in two world wars, but in all areas of life. If you consider the amazing progress we had made from Victorian slum living to 425,000 houses built for ordinary people in 1968 alone.
In 1918, for the first time, women over 30 were allowed to vote in elections, then in 1928 all women over 21 were allowed to vote. In 1970 that age was dropped to 18 for all voters.
We went from expecting children to work at all sorts of menial tasks from a very young age to wanting them to remain in education until aged 16 (1972).
We progressed in many areas including equal rights for men and women, decriminalisation of homosexuality, clean air act, abolition of the death penalty, workers rights on pay, conditions and holidays, unions, the National Health Service and many others, all before we were signed up for the ‘Common Market’ by Ted Heath in 1973.
The ‘Common Market’, by the way, was sold to us as just that, a means to help our industry and farming trade more easily with European countries. We weren’t made aware until much later that this involved stockpiling things like milk and butter in order to keep prices artificially high or that it would involve protectionist policies which meant that those doing their job well would need to subsidise those doing badly and all sorts of other policies which would deny us the right to trade directly with countries outside the EU, even those in our own Commonwealth.
My point is, that we weren’t ‘forced’ to any of these advancements in our daily lives. We, the British people, demanded that it happen and would have continued to demand advances and improvements even without joining the EU. We would probably have arrived at all the niceties of modern life without the EU holding our hand, plus we would have retained our unrestricted access to commerce and scientific development with the wider world.
In a number of areas we actually have higher standards, better performances and better quality public services and institutions than the rest of Europe. We have demanded better than even the EU wants us to have. Which is why we are such an attractive place to come to live and work and why being in the EU often places us at a disadvantage. Most recently affecting our ports, which are for the most part privately owned and doing very well. The EU have voted to put in place regulations to standardise activity across all EU ports, a lot of which, in other parts, are state owned or subsidised. This will limit the potential for innovation and growth, scare off private investors and reduce all ports to a state of stagnant mediocrity.
This is not the future I want for our country. I want us to be able to continue going forward using the great minds, and the great hearts, that we already have here, to interact with the rest of the world as ourselves and not just as part of a bloc which is becoming even more restrictive than the old USSR used to be. The EU’s concept of a level playing field, expecting the competent and innovative to prop up and pay for the incompetent and traditionalist, is almost Marxist.
So for those that say we are old fogeys trapped in the past I just want to say that we look at our past to give us inspiration and the knowledge that we are capable of great things, not on our own, but as part of something more dynamic and forward looking than the EU. We don’t want to go back, we just want to be able to move forward under our own steam.