Wednesday 29 June 2016

Finding a path from Europe to Europe

How to break through the film of dread and write something, anything?  

One option’s to quote from the terrifying vision of W B Yeats’ ‘Second Coming’ (1919) and hide.  No: two sentences of prose instead.   

To be defeated and not give up, that is victory. To be victorious and rest on your laurels, that is defeat.

He should know.  That was said by Józef Piłsudski, Polish hero of the fight for independence and leader for many of the interwar years.  (Quoted by Timothy Garton-Ash in the Guardian – a piece like many this week but with added historical depth.)  It’s looking as though we’ve rested on our laurels of peace and security within (most of) Europe for far too long. 

Now the 48% need to not give up.  So often we only really care about something when we risk losing it.  

The bitter irony of the referendum is that it’s the people who voted Leave because their lives are fraught with difficulty who will suffer most.  Their expectations have been failed in the last 8 years and will be failed again – and then what? 

Scotland, Europe...
It would be madness not to try to find a path through this that ends back where it started: in Europe.  The country’s future is at stake!  Leave campaigners’ lies/promises are already being reneged on. Scotland’s heading for the door (my biggest dread throughout the campaign: nightmare of a truncated UK with all that it implies) and  Northern Ireland is smouldering.  Racism’s rearing its head as if given the stamp of approval.  Money is falling out all over the place and Putin & co are having a laugh. 

Reasons to be positive: the passion of the 48% and of the young, the parliamentary majority for Remain, the referendum’s advisory nature, the political and economic turmoil, Leavers’ regrets, a new urgency about addressing Leavers’ concerns, Angela Merkel being calm.  Reasons to be negative: the political and economic turmoil, the tabloids, the Eurocrats who want to teach us a lesson so others don’t follow, the main UK parties’ failure to address the problems and perceptions (most of all those around immigration) that motivated the 52% leave vote. 

It must be possible to call another referendum on the terms of departure, once these have been negotiated.  And/or delay until circumstances and opinions have changed.  And in the meantime do some hard thinking about how to address things that aren’t working well in the world (here’s Gordon Brown on globalisation).  A general election might help, if one gets called; or not help.  The scary thing is that various complex elements would have to fall out right for there to be a good outcome. 
So: back to Piłsudski and not giving up.  For Europe, for peace and stability, for a UK that remains united, for equality of opportunity, for progress on the environment, science etc, and for tolerance.  For the 52% as well as the 48%.  Shelley, too, 100 years before Piłsudski and Yeats, 200 years before us, ended this sonnet with hope:

England in 1819

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th' untilled field;
An army, whom liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;
A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.


  1. Richard Powell1 July 2016 at 11:16

    A very good piece, Fiona. It's a pity that the passion of the young didn't extend to turning out to vote, though!

    What we need now is a period of quiet reflection which the timing of the summer break makes easier. The longer everything is strung out, the better, at least up to a point. On a technicality, a referendum on whether to accept the terms of our departure is only possible if the negotiations take place before the button is pressed on Article 50, which can only happen once Parliament has voted in favour. (At least that's what the more credible interpretations of the constitutional position say.) The Eurocrats who say there can be no negotiations before Art 50 are ensuring a stalemate, during which we remain a full member of the EU.

    What would a modern Shelley say? And how much of it could be expressed in sonnet form?

    1. Thank you for this, Richard - not least for sparing me the trouble of updating this post to make your point that the invocation of Article 50 would - theoretically - start an irreversible process. Not that such absurdities should prevent a solution if people have the will to find one. Not much of that will to be seen at the moment, alas.

      PS - have just seen that WALES BEAT BELGIUM!!! Congratulations. Are you there now (In S Wales, not France)? If so everyone must be going wild. GO WALES!

  2. Richard Powell2 July 2016 at 21:39

    Yes, I was in the Colliers for the final goal. A happy occasion, though the place wasn't as full as I expected - partly because rugby is the big game here, and partly because the committed supporters were in Lille. We only have to beat Portugal to reach the final. Fingers crossed for that!

  3. Yes, fingers crossed indeed!

  4. Dear Fiona

    I stayed up to watch the referendum result and finally went to bed around 5 am feeling profoundly depressed. I think another general election would only increase instability so I think the best we can reasonably hope for is for Theresa May to become prime minister. The only good news recently has been Wales reaching the semi-final of Euro 2016 with serious prospects of making the final.

    Best wishes from Simon R. Gladdish

    1. Thank you Simon. At least we can agree on what's been the only good news!

  5. A good article, Fiona. Leaving Europe is a disaster and you're right, the very people who voted leave will be the hardest hit.

    Freda Kvesic

    1. Thank you Freda. The other irony, of course, is that those who claim to be so pro-British may well have triggered the break-up of the UK..