Monday, 29 July 2013


The elephant of course is the EU which, having been heavily exercised in the Spring, now appears to have bored politicians, The Tories have sprinted off on their holidays in fine spirits after seeing DC beat up Ed Miliband in the Commons and then being fed burgers at No. 10. Quite simply elephants have stopped being important.

Yet an “in-out” referendum will determine our grandchildren’s lives. And the debate, in so far as there has been one or ever is one in the political forum, is neither particularly rational or thoughtful.

It’s clouded with prejudice, short termism and narrow self-interest. Too much bluster, not enough calculation.

Even Matthew Parrish, not unknown for saying what he thinks, confesses he just doesn’t know what to think when it comes to Europe.

We start from the fact that many of us simply don’t seem to like foreigners at all. It’s in our DNA. And the Europeans are the most convenient to dislike.  And then we seem short of the skills which we used to have and which inspired that board game “Diplomacy”. I’ve been watching the “White Queen” on BBC TV and listening to Philippa Gregory and others on the Wars of the Roses and the purposeful way the major players of that time worked out how to secure advantage.

Give Margaret Beauford, Elizabeth Woodville or, a few years later, Thomas Cromwell the situation we face and they’d come up with a somewhat more creative solution than one involving taking your bat and just leaving the game. (Machiavelli from about the same era would have loved it too.)

All our competitors have been seriously weakened by recent events, particularly France, but also Spain and Italy and even Germany. Meanwhile Britain stands in reasonable stead with  an economy on the upturn and  reputational kudos through a good Olympics, recent great sporting successes, London being acknowledged the capital city of the world as is our status as the global arts centre.

Weak competitors mean it’s time to advance not to retreat.

If we choose we can be a real lead player inside Europe helping Germany re-construct it. Our 15th and 16th century strategy role models would unblinkingly have seen the opportunity of advancing Britain by such a powerful alliance.

When it comes to being rational I have to imagine that the vast majority of businessmen who want us firmly in the centre of the EU represent left brain thinking. Why would they say this if they couldn’t see how important it was?

(Incidentally I thought a potent downside of separatism was well expressed by a top Scot who confided that wealth and talent would flood out of Scotland if independence were to be voted in there.)  And it’s not just the world of business. Ask America or Japan (and probably China and India too) and they’re mystified why we aren’t striding up to the Board Table as the player to replace the role the waning and woeful France once had.

Britain at 1% of global population isn’t a great world power any more but it’s a great European power.

That’s where we can exert real influence and where we’re needed.

Those who disagree probably take a similar view of social media…they don’t like it, understand it or even want it. They say they’ll ignore it and that it’s not that important. Yet 93% of business use it in their marketing and, like it or not, Facebook, were it a country, would in terms of population be the third largest in the world.

The elephant can’t be ignored.

The debate may be tough and nasty.

But a bit of a thoughtful punch up is better than potentially acceding to a generation or so of isolation and decline, isn’t it?

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